Religion News Service

Amid scandal, Baylor’s first woman president brings fresh start to Baptist university

Linda Livingstone has a history of bucking tradition.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

WACO, Texas (RNS) Two decades before she took office as the first woman president in Baylor University’s 172-year history, Linda Livingstone helped break down a different barrier in this Central Texas city.

Then and now, Livingstone — who first nurtured her Christian faith in a little white church building in small-town Perkins, Okla. — insists she wasn’t trying to make history but simply to follow God’s direction.

In 1998, as a business professor during her first stint at Baylor, Livingstone served as co-chair of Calvary Baptist Church’s pastor selection committee.

“I remember very distinctly that we were given the resume of Julie Pennington-Russell and her sermon tape,” Livingstone, 57, said in a recent interview on Baylor’s tree-shaded, 1,000-acre campus on the banks of the Brazos River. “I can remember I went home, and I listened very closely to her sermon tape, and I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s really good. She’s a really good preacher.’”

But Livingstone, whose Methodist upbringing familiarized her with female pastors, worried that Pennington-Russell’s status as the only woman candidate might be biasing her perception. So Livingstone, who first joined a Baptist church while playing basketball at Oklahoma State University from 1978 to 1982, listened to the tape again. She liked it even more the second time.

A majority of the congregation agreed, voting 190-73 to hire Pennington-Russell as the first female senior pastor in the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The decision, as Livingstone recalls, caused “wonderful families” to leave the church and drew protesters on the first Sunday that Pennington-Russell preached.

“It was controversial in the church,” said Livingstone, who left Baylor in 2002 to oversee the business school at Church of Christ-affiliated Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. “But I have to say it is one of the things that I’m most pleased to have been involved in, because she was absolutely the best person we had in the pool for that church at that particular time. She did amazing things in the church.”

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Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.

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