Champion of Religious Liberty George W. Truett
“I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” — John 9:4 (KJV)
These words, which are carved into the side of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary building, carry a sense of urgency and duty, calling believers to neither wait nor delay in pursuing the work that Christ has set out for them.
Neither the verse on the building’s walls nor the name chosen for the seminary were chosen casually. Administration considered what name epitomized the traits and character they wanted their graduates to embody. Who could they hold up as a steadfast example of selflessness and cooperation; a figure that lived a life promoting the Gospel; a person who did the work of He who sent him?
George W. Truett’s name consistently topped the list. Truett was born May 6, 1867, on a farm two miles west of Hayesville, NC. In 1898, he moved to Whitewright, TX, and joined a Baptist congregation there. Taking notice of his strong oratorical abilities and talent for teaching, church members ardently pushed for his ordination as a minister. Despite his own objections at the time, Truett was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1890.
Truett’s rhetorical abilities were so well-regarded by the Baptist community — and seemingly anyone who heard him speak — that he was recommended as a financial officer to Baylor, which at the time was struggling to stay solvent under the burden of a $92,000 debt. From 1891 to 1892, Truett traveled the country and raised nearly $100,000, thereby clearing Baylor’s debts.
Rev. R.F. Jenkins, then pastor of Whitewright First Baptist Church, said the following: “There is one thing I know about George W. Truett: Wherever he speaks, the people do what he asks.”
In 1893, Truett was named pastor of East Waco Baptist Church and enrolled in Baylor. He graduated in 1897 and was named pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, where he would serve for 47 years. He accomplished so much in the Baptist world that Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks asked him to be the keynote speaker of the University’s first homecoming in 1909.
Truett delivered his most famous sermon in 1920 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, addressing the topic of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. He was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1927 to 1929 and president of the Baptist World alliance from 1934 to 1939. Truett died July 7, 1944, in Dallas.
In 1990, the Baylor Board of Trustees officially reserved with the Secretary of State of Texas the name “George W. Truett Theological Seminary” in the event the board decided sometime in the future to create a seminary. Three years later, the Board of Regents approved the opening of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at the beginning of the 1994-95 academic year.