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Conservatives lament Baylor visit of controversial Archbishop Tutu

WACO, Texas (BP)–An Oct. 13 visit and lecture at Baylor University by controversial Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a self-described socialist who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa, is triggering debate between conservative students and alumni of the Baptist-affiliated university and various members of the faculty and administration.
Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus from Cape Town, South Africa, has said, among other things, he detests capitalism, supports the ordination of homosexuals into the clergy, rejects the inerrancy of Scripture and regards Christ as a revolutionary similar to Cuban President Fidel Castro and the late Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
Larry Brumley, Baylor’s associate vice president for communications, said in a Sept. 7 article in The Baylor Lariat student newspaper, “This is a tremendous opportunity for the students, faculty, staff and Waco community to hear in person an individual who’s had a tremendous impact on the world.”
Brumley, in one of about a dozen articles and numerous letters to the editor in the Lariat debating the visit, noted, “I believe he [Tutu] will have some things to say that will be stimulating to the university and that will be entirely appropriate for a Baptist institution.”
Not so, said Joshua Flynt, a junior political science major from Garland, Texas, who has been publicly ridiculed (having been compared to a Nazi in a campus newspaper cartoon) because of his outspoken opposition to the Tutu visit.
“If Desmond Tutu hates capitalism, then why does he charge $60,000 for a speaking engagement?” Flynt reasoned. “Tutu is not indicative of where the students are at Baylor, but where some of the faculty and administration want to take them.”
Tutu’s visit has fueled the wariness of conservative students and conservative Southern Baptists in Texas who see Baylor headed in a slide to the theological and political left, going the way of Harvard, Yale, Brown, Duke, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt, institutions founded by Christian denominations that are now bastions of religious pluralism and secularization.
Student organizations in which the Tutu visit has been lamented encompass the College Republicans (with more than 800 members, Baylor has the largest chapter in America), the pro-life Bears For Life, the Federalist Society composed of law students and The Liberty Forum and its “Libertas,” a conservative student newspaper not affiliated with Baylor.
“I came to Baylor believing it was a conservative Christian institution and nothing could be further from the truth as I learned from the Thatcher visit,” said Robert Painter, a 1999 Baylor law graduate, referring to conflict he found himself in with Baylor officials over his initiative to have former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speak on the Waco, Texas, campus in February.
School administrators say the Tutu should not be perceived with skepticism.
“The purpose here is educational, to give our students exposure to a wide variety of ideas, views and opinions so they can make their own decision and conclusions,” Brumley told Baptist Press Oct. 8. “That’s part of what a university is about. More than likely, after Tutu, we’ll probably bring to campus someone with a more conservative viewpoint of things. Just because we bring to campus Margaret Thatcher or Desmond Tutu does not imply that the university embraces a particular political or theological viewpoint.”
But Tutu is clearly admired by some Baylor faculty and administration.
“I think he is the most articulate prophet of our time,” Caleb Oladipo, assistant director and lecturer in the African Studies Department, told The Lariat. “Not only in terms of predicting the future, but in terms of guiding people to their spiritual destiny. When you are with him, you will feel like you are in the presence of God.”
Baylor’s vice president for student life, Steve Moore, told The Lariat that Tutu’s visit is “a tremendous opportunity. [Tutu] speaks for a number of world citizens and has shaped much of the discussion in the current day about issues of justice and reconciliation.”
Tutu’s scheduled visit also ignited a debate in Baylor’s Student Congress and has caught the ire of a Texas Southern Baptist laymen’s organization.
The Tutu controversy surfaced when Moore requested a highly unusual special session of Baylor’s Student Congress, the student governing body. The congress voted to allocate $15,000 — the same amount unanimously approved by the body for the Thatcher visit — to help pay for Tutu’s visit. The allocation, which passed by a 36-7 vote (with 8 absences), made all student tickets free, but immediately drew charges that the administration pressured the Student Congress into action.
Shortly after the Tutu visit was announced, pink triangle fliers were distributed around campus inviting students to attend the Anglican archbishop’s address. “Support your gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and other friends … . At President Sloan’s request, Baylor University presents: Desmond Tutu, Winner of the 1999 Gay and Lesbian Activism Award, October 13, 1999 Waco Hall (1 out of every 10 of your friends are gay),” the leaflets stated.
Campus security was asked to remove the fliers after several phone calls, including one from the administration, balked at their content. The Lariat student newspaper interviewed members of several homosexual organizations who said they were unfamiliar with such an award. The newspaper then editorialized, calling the distribution of the fliers “yellow-bellied, cowardly” and “fervently hateful.” It ran a cartoon — with a Nazi swastika — implying Flynt was responsible for the fliers even though campus security said they did not know who distributed the material.
“I didn’t do it,” Flynt told Baptist Press Oct. 8. “Between my commitments to homework, church, clubs and friends and family, I don’t have time for such things.”
Letters to the editor poured in with heavy leftist rhetoric, some equating the flap with the Spanish Inquisition. Words like “hatred” and “strained racial relations” appeared in others.
“The issue should not be who printed the fliers, but whether the content of the fliers is true,” said Joel Barret, a sophomore from Murrieta, Calif., and editor of Libertas, told the Lariat. “I think it’s laughable that printing unapproved handbills is more controversial than a pro-gay, socialist, Anglican cleric speaking at a ‘conservative’ Baptist university. What have we come to?”
The flier controversy created a conundrum for Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., a professing conservative whom conservative students believe is too often influenced by a large number of liberal faculty and administrators.
“It is a shame that people are trying to leverage an event like Desmond Tutu’s visit to forward their own political agenda,” Sloan told the campus newspaper. “The implication that somehow we are promoting the gay and lesbian agenda by having him [Tutu] here is unfortunate.”
Sloan said the university has “absolutely no intention of encouraging same-sex behavior, although we are supportive of individuals wanting to seek health and help.” He went on to describe homosexuality as “wrong, sinful and utterly unhealthy.”
Flynt said there is a distinct contrast in the way much of the faculty and administration responded to Thatcher and Tutu. He cited statements made by administration and faculty members on the President’s Forum Advisory Committee (PFAC), which demonstrated their opposition to Thatcher’s visit. The President’s Forum is the banner under which such speakers are invited to address Baylor.
In a Jan. 7, 1999, memo from committee member and professor Thomas M. Featherston Jr., to Sloan, Featherston wrote, “It has never been the recommendation of the Committee that the Thatcher lecture be part of the Forum.” The memo does not give the reason for a lack of a recommendation on Thatcher.
Flynt, who attended the committee meeting involving the Thatcher visit, said one professor called Thatcher “yesterday’s news,” while another groused, (when told that the students initiated the effort to bring Thatcher to the school) “that’s not the way we do things at Baylor.”
While the Featherston memo indicates differences of opinions existed among the committee members over who should be asked to speak at Baylor, a nomination and ballot process gives an indication of a significant liberal influence. Among the leading candidates: Tutu (the most popular among the committee members), Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, former South African President Nelson Mandela, CBS news anchor Dan Rather and entertainer Oprah Winfrey. The top three recommendations to address religion/philosophy were Tutu, Jesse Jackson and Pope John Paul. The top three recommendations to address American politics were all prominent Democrats: First Lady Hillary Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and Bill Bradley, a former U.S. Senator and a Democratic candidate for president.
“The university not only did not want Lady Thatcher to speak, but actively opposed efforts to bring her to Baylor — even after they took over the project in July 1998,” law grad Painter said. “Some administrators and faculty were absolutely ruthless with me,” he added. “It was an eye-opening experience.”
Painter said administration and faculty tactics ranged from attempting to cancel payment on a check that was an advance on Thatcher’s honorarium from the Baylor Student Congress to a lack of publicity leading up to the British leaders address, which was attended by more than 5,000 people.
Painter said Sloan enthusiastically supported the Thatcher visit in a meeting between the two in January 1998, but that the “tone of the university’s support changed when Brumley walked in the room.” He said a month later the university backed out of the Thatcher event and that it was Brumley who attempted to cancel the check on Thatcher’s advance. Organizers proceeded to raise funds for the event, and in August 1998, they accepted a university offer to resume its involvement and plan and control the event.
Brumley said neither he nor the administration opposed the Thatcher lecture, but that problems arose because Painter represented himself to the Thatcher people as being affiliated with the university, “which was not the case.” Brumley said he told Painter that the administration would have to take full responsibility for the Thatcher event and that Painter declined to relinquish control of the project until he was unable to raise the funds needed to pay Thatcher the $60,000 honorarium (the same amount Tutu is receiving) required.
Painter disagreed and said he represented a student organization and only asked Sloan for $20,000, a request he said Sloan embraced until Brumley entered the picture.
Brumley said he did not oppose the Thatcher visit, only the tactics used by some students like Painter. Brumley admitted he tried to stop payment on the Thatcher check because of the way Painter was handling the matter.
“My position on Thatcher is irrelevant anyway,” he told Baptist Press. “She was very popular and it was a very successful event. The thing that has gotten twisted in all this is the problems we had relative to the process in bringing her here.
“The president [of Baylor] from the outset, has determined that he wants to bring individuals to campus who represent a wide spectrum of views and experiences, major world figures, so our students and faculty have an opportunity to hear from people who have had — or are having — a major influence on national and world affairs,” Brumley said. “He is committed to bringing people who have different views, some may be conservative, some may be liberal, some may be in between.”
Brumley said rumors that Baylor would offer a teaching position to Tutu were “absolutely” untrue and that about 3,000 tickets have been sold for the Tutu address.
The Tutu visit also has caught the eye of a conservative Texas Baptist group that wants the Southern Baptist Convention to stop funding the Baptist World Alliance (BWA).
“Even the students are wondering how Baylor could have gone so far to the left by bringing someone like Tutu in,” said Bill Streich, a member of the First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, and head of the Texas Baptist Laymen’s Association. “What most of them don’t know is that the Southern Baptist Convention strengthened its ties through its leadership last year with the BWA, just as the BWA leadership brought none other than Desmond Tutu to speak to the participants in its summer meeting. In my opinion, our ties with the BWA are setting an extremely poor example for those students.”

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  • Don Hinkle