thick and thin

I taught for many years at Wheaton College, which has a detailed Statement of Faith that everyone on campus signs. From this detailed statement emerges what we might call a thick theological anthropology, built up from layers of Biblical interpretation and historically orthodox theological formulations. By contrast, this is what my current employer, Baylor University, asks of its faculty:

Faculty members at Baylor University are expected to be in sympathy with and supportive of the University’s primary mission: “to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.” The personal and professional conduct of each faculty member should be supportive of and consistent with this mission.

That’s it. There can be a lot of debate about what it means to be “in sympathy with and supportive of the University’s primary mission”: in the Honors College, where I teach, it certainly requires open and substantive Christian commitment, but that’s not the case everywhere at Baylor, and as I have said before I think of us in the HC as Baylor’s equivalent of Tom Bombadil. Baylor talks a lot about being “unambiguously Christian,” but the statement on expectations for faculty strikes me as an ambiguous one — and surely intentionally so, because it gives to the administration a great deal of leeway in determining whether a particular candidate is, as administrators like to say, a “good institutional fit.” It would be possible to interpret it in ways that do not require from the faculty any religious belief at all.

There are eminently defensible reasons to do things Baylor’s way rather than Wheaton’s; if I didn’t think so I wouldn’t have changed jobs. But it’s obvious that thin communal commitments do not lead to, and are not even conducive to, a thick theological anthropology, and it would be foolish to expect people held together by such weak confessional ties to share views that only make sense within the robust account of human life generated by historic Christian orthodoxy.