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Offering A Little Good-Natured Push Back on Behalf of Waco and Baylor

by Carson T. Clark on October 13, 2012

Two years ago I moved to Waco, Texas for my wife’s Master’s program at Baylor University. The whole experience has been somewhat surreal because my dad is a native Wacoan, as a kid I regularly visited my grandparents here, and they’re buried in a cemetery that’s only a block from my apartment. There’s a strange Lion King/Circle of Life dynamic.11.To this day I’ll be driving around town and regularly have déjà vu. Whether or not there’s some sort of deeper meaning with God’s providence, I never expected to be living here. That having been said, Waco is my present home and it’s with complete sincerity that I report that there’s no where I’d rather be living. That’s why I feel the need to offer a little good-natured push back to those who flippantly dismiss the community and minimize the university’s significance.

All me to be candid. There’s a consistent pattern of prejudice, condescension, and dismissal of both town and university. When it comes to Waco, even the most congenial people tend to suddenly behave like complete… brats.22.That’s the nicest possible adjective I could come up with. It’s bizarre and irritating as heck. Those from outside Texas jokingly laugh about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. In doing so they continually project a presumption of cultishness upon the entire community. Likewise, those from Texas think of Waco as a podunk, backwater town nestled immediately between two bastions of civilization.33.i.e. Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin. The running joke is that Waco is the largest bathroom break in all of Texas. Put these two together and people just have a plain and simple bad attitude about all things Waco. Result? They ignorantly dismiss both the community and the university.

So why do I want to live here? Off the top of my head, here are five reasons:

  1. Because I’m in love with Baylor. More on that in a moment.
  2. Because it’s not homogeneous. It’s a diverse place–racially, socio-economically, etc.
  3. Because of its size. It has many conveniences of a metropolitan area without the headaches.44. There’s roughly 220K people when you include the adjacent towns that have grown together. So, for example, you get restaurants, stores, sporting events, and so on yet there’s rarely any traffic congestion.
  4. Because of Cameron Park. It’s a 416-acre park that includes hiking trails, limestone bluffs, etc.
  5. Because it’s improving. It’s exciting to see the downtown renewal, new farmers market, etc.

Back to Baylor. Christians who think it just another run of the mill university have utterly missed its strategic value. No doubt there are many institutions that are far bigger, but none is more important to the evangelical community. Baylor is the sole evangelical research university in the world.55.Even if it doesn’t publicly self-identify with the adjective evangelical because of the term’s obvious, unfortunate baggage. It has no peers. Baylor wields a powerful, growing, and largely healthy influence upon the broader evangelical sub-culture–paralleling the role of institutions like Notre Dame for Catholics and BYU for Mormons. For example, no other institution in the world so consistently draws acclaimed evangelical speakers as N.T. Wright, Mark Noll, and James Davison Hunter.66.Likewise, because of its sound reputation it’s consistently able to draw non-evangelical Protestants like Stanley Hauerwas. If one wants to influence the next generation of evangelical scholars, clergy, and laity as I do, this is the place to be.

I’d be remiss not to mention why the Baylor community has captured my heart, mind, and spirit. In short, this is precisely the sort of community I’ve been called and gifted to reach. I want to be careful not to paint in such broad brush strokes that the existing pockets of vibrancy are minimized or ignored. It certainly wouldn’t be an over-generalization, however, to say that Baylor in many ways represents a concentration of the plentiful difficulties facing American Christianity.77.From theological illiteracy to epistemological relativity, fiscal idolatry to undiscerning individualism, moral malaise to (underlying) racial tensions, fundamentalist militancy to mainline heterodoxy, socio-economic stratification to political antagonism, insidious anti-intellectualism to unbridled piety, athletic obsession to artistic underutilization, Baylor has it all. The community exhibits a desperate need for a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. Every day I interact with students who are truly in need of an intellectually, psychologically, relationally, and spiritually healthy context that both illustrates what true Christianity is supposed to be and disciples them to be followers of Christ. I couldn’t have handpicked a better place to serve.

Baylor University: Producing leaders and Heisman trophy winners.


  • B Todd Granger

    Well put, Carson. My wife is a Baylor alumna, as are her sister and brother (well, he’s an alumnus). Though she’s not a big booster of alumni functions and such, she is still proud of her Baylor education. A good friend of ours, who is in the sociology department at Notre Dame, also comments favorably on Baylor’s status as an evangelical research university and applauds the work over the last decade or so to make Baylor “the Protestant Notre Dame”.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Yeah, Baylor hasn’t attained “Protestant Notre Dame” status just yet but it’s getting there!

  • B Todd Granger

    I should add that, coming from a small town in the rural Gulf South (Louisiana), I’m more than a little familiar with the condescension with which people from culturally-despised places are treated. It’s one of the more ungodly things human beings do – to reject that sort of givenness of human existence in such a bigoted (often stupidly and ignorantly bigoted) way.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Interesting. I’m glad to know of your experience and consequent perspective on this.

  • ethan McCarthy

    Ooh, that should be “remiss” not reminisce. Fix and delete…

    • Carson T. Clark

      Fixed. Thanks.

  • Shelton

    Huh, I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and had no idea you were at Baylor. Sic ’em Bears! I’m a Baylor alum too. And yes I experience the same sort of strange prejudice you have. It is especially weird being Episcopal and being a Baylor alum. It seems unfathomable to some people that a non-Baptist would choose the school. If they only knew. What church do attend in Waco if you don’t mind me asking? I did St. Alban’s when I was there.

    • Carson T. Clark

      Hey, Shelton. Yeah, it seems like there’s a lot of poor assumptions about Baylor. For example, left-wingers think it a fundamentalist mecca and right-wingers think it a mainline mecca. Go figure. It seems like people just don’t know much about “new Baylor”–the way it has changed over the past decade or so. As for the church thing, the answer to that is far more complicated than you might imagine… Also, are we fb friends?

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