Saturday, April 18, 2015

Baptist News Global/Associated Baptist Press: from painful birth to faithful service

Congratulations to David Wilkinson and Baptist News Global 's staff and Board of Directors as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press in Nashville on Monday.

We Baptists must always be cognizant of the critical importance of a free and independent Baptist press. To be free and faithful Baptists, we must be informed Baptists.

It's important to remember the circumstances leading to the forming of Associated Baptist Press. The June 1990 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans was the culmination of a long battle, lasting for over a decade, for control of the Convention. The irony was that only one side wanted control.

One side wanted control, and the other side sought to cooperate. It takes two to cooperate but only one to control, so the inevitable happened . . . control won out.

Once they were firmly in control of the Convention's machinery, the next act of the Fundamentalists was almost just as inevitable. They took control of the press room. Baptist Press had long been the respected journalistic arm of the SBC . . . the arm but never the footman. Throughout the battle between Fundamentalists and Moderates, the top editors of Baptist Press - Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, and Wilmer C. Fields before them - had carried out their mission as journalists with integrity and courage, telling Baptists the truth , , , the facts . . . and letting the reader be the judge of just what all of it meant.

Unfortunately for the Fundamentalists, despite their 'victory,' the truth was too often uncomfortable for them, shining light on actions that were less than honest and less than Christian.

So, barely a month after solidifying their control, they fired Shackleford and Martin. The 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press is a proud one, one that we celebrate. But it follows, in short order, the 25th anniversary of the sad day that the SBC's Baptist Press became nothing more than a submissive (a word that has become even more dear to the SBC than 'inerrancy') house organ, repeating the party line fed to it by the SBC leadership.

Stan Hastey, in The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Mercer University Press, 1993), edited by Walter B. Shurden, tells the story of the founding of Associated Baptist Press. Hastey recounts the years of harrassment endured by Shackleford and Martin, as well as W. C. Fields, previous director of Baptist Press, at the hands of Fundamentalists.

Hastey writes that the SBC Executive Committee demanded, on the Tuesday following the June annual meeting in New Orleans, that Shackleford and Martin resign, but they refused. The firing that followed a few weeks later had become a mere formality. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on July 7, a group of Baptist editors met and "conceived Associated Baptist Press. This group, Hastey writes, consisted of "Bob S. Terry (editor of Missouri's Word and Way), Don McGregor (editor of Mississippi's Baptist Record), Julian Pentecost (editor of Virginia's Religious Herald), R. G. Puckett (editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder), Robert Allen (editor of Maryland/Delaware's Baptist True Union), E. Marvin Knox (editor of Kentucky's Western Recorder), and Jack Brymer (editor of the Florida Baptist Witness)."

That was where it began . . . faithful Baptist journalists who recognized that the old Baptist Press was gone and that a new, free and independent, Baptist news service was needed.

Thanks be to God, happy anniversary, and blessings on Baptist News Global - and your journalistic partners - as you continue to keep free and faithful Baptists informed.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup . . . 200 weeks and counting

Today I'll send the 200th edition of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, the Texas Baptists Committed e-newsletter.

My initial purpose in creating the Roundup was to keep TBC's name at the front of people's minds. But TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup has become so much more. It has given me the opportunity to, among other things:
  • Highlight upcoming Baptist events and provide links for readers to learn more about the event, register, etc.
  • Shine a spotlight on the many good things going on in Baptist life, such as the work of Texas Baptists' Disaster Response team, CBF field personnel, etc.
  • Give special focus to coverage of events such as Texas Baptists' Annual Meetings; meetings of the BGCT Executive Board; CBF General Assemblies; and SBC Annual Meetings
  • Highlight the activities of Baptist students and schools, in Texas and elsewhere
Two hundred weeks - not quite 4 years - may not seem like a lot for a publication. For me, however, it's a milestone, because when I began the Roundup, I really had no idea whether it would be accepted and, therefore, whether it would last past a few months. So it's been a nice surprise in those 4 years to be told continually by so many persons - including church staff, denominational leaders, and laypersons - that they appreciate receiving it and read it regularly. Keeping that commitment for 200 consecutive weeks has meant publishing the Roundup from Hong Kong (September 2011), Israel (April 2012), and several different hospitals (while my son was recovering from his stroke in 2013). It takes considerable time each week, but I've found it's well worth the time and effort. (Truth be told, it was good therapy for me while spending 15-hour days in those hospitals.)

The Roundup's main value is serving as a "one-stop shop" for articles from a wide variety of sources. But it's those sources that do the main work, and I'm indebted to them for providing such outstanding material, week after week.

So thank you to:
  • Marv Knox, Ken Camp, George Henson, and their staff at the Baptist Standard, as well as their fine collection of op-ed writers
  • David Wilkinson, Bob Allen, Jeff Brumley, Robert Dilday, and their staff at Baptist News Global, and their fine collection of columnists as well
  • Rand Jenkins and the Texas Baptists Communications staff
  • Bill Webb and his staff at Word&Way
  • Staff and columnists for The Baptist Times
  • The news & PR staffs of various Baptist colleges and universities
  • The CBF staff & contributors to the CBF blog
  • Numerous fine bloggers and op-ed writers
(And I apologize to anyone I've inadvertently omitted - the sources are many!)

I'm so thankful for what these journalists and writers do every week to keep Baptists informed and give them different perspectives to ponder and discuss. They are truly the ones who make the Roundup what it is.

Finally, thank you - TBC friends and supporters - who read the Roundup regularly. You are my commitment, because I know you expect the Roundup to keep you informed. Last week's issue set a new all-time high; more people than ever before opened last week's Roundup. Thank you so much for coming back every week.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

SEEKING TO KNOW JESUS BETTER, pt. 3: Through the life - and sacrifice - of Kayla Mueller

Seeking to know Jesus better . . . Sometimes the best way to get to know Jesus better is to know - or at least know the story of - someone whose life reflects her/his own nearness to Jesus.

And so it was with the story of Kayla Mueller, as related in a recent article by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. As I read Kayla's story, much of it quoted directly from letters written to her family, I felt that I had come to know Jesus a little better.

Kayla is the young woman who was taken captive by, as Milbank says, "Islamic State savages," and held for 18 months until her death, almost certainly at the hands of those same savages. Yet I have a strong feeling that Kayla never saw them as savages, for she truly seemed to see people through the eyes of Jesus.

She wrote her family, "I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how You are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you." I think Kayla looked into the eyes of her captors and saw suffering rather than savagery . . . she saw the One who said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me." (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

Listen to her words, written while held captive in the most brutal of circumstances: "I have been shown in darkness light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it."

Sound familiar? Listen to the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from his prison cell in Rome: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Milbank tells us that Kayla wrote, in 2010, "This really is my life's work, to go where there is suffering"; then, in 2011, ". . . if we can't handle learning about the darkest places of our world, they will turn into the darkest places in us. . . . I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

So, after joining the campus Christian ministry at Northern Arizona University, she:
  • Volunteered nights at a women's shelter
  • Protested genocide in Darfur
  • Started a chapter of Amnesty International
  • Volunteered at a summer camp for young African refugees in Israel
  • Traveled to Israel's occupied territories to show support for Palestinians
  • Protested torture in Guantanamo Bay
  • Took part in a humanitarian mission to Guatemala
  • Went to India to teach English to Tibetan refugees and to women and children living in poverty
Then came the fateful decision to go to Turkey and help Syrian refugees. But as we've seen from the list above, taking on risky, even dangerous, missions had become a way of life for Kayla, because that is part and parcel of going where suffering people are . . . going where God is.

Last week, a group at my church, Wilshire Baptist in Dallas, presented three scenes from Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons. The central figure in the play is a businessman - a wartime contractor - who had "cut corners" by knowingly providing defective airplane parts to the government, ultimately resulting in the deaths of pilots and failure of their missions. After denying his guilt for years, he finally confesses to his family yet continues to defend his actions, resulting in a shouting match between him and his youngest son. Stripped bare of his defenses, he desperately shouts, "A man can't be Jesus!"

Yes, Jesus' life is a hard one to live up to. Even Jesus struggled to do it. ("My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Matthew 26:39)

But it's not impossible, or Jesus wouldn't have asked us to "take up your cross daily, and follow me." What it takes, though, is truly knowing Jesus and truly letting Him live from within us . . . every day, day after day, no matter the circumstances.

Kayla Mueller knew Jesus. And she's helped me get to know Him a little better than I did before.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Legacy of Welton Gaddy at The Interfaith Alliance
by David R. Currie

(NOTE: David R. Currie is retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, having served in that role from 1988-2009.)

I was honored to serve on the board of The Interfaith Alliance for many years. In fact, Foy Valentine and I were on the search committee that called Welton Gaddy to be our president 17 years ago.

The Interfaith Alliance was formed by Foy and other religious leaders as a counter voice to the Religious Right. Welton was the perfect person to lead this effort, because he combined great intellect with a unique ability to communicate the truth in a way that common people could understand. He was comfortable in the halls of Congress, as well as speaking in a local church or synagogue or on national television, as he often did.

I often stated that The Interfaith Alliance was not about encouraging people to pretend there were not differences in our faith, but rather to encourage people to respect the faith of others and work together to protect religious freedom. Welton would often be a calming voice in the midst of religious extremism, encouraging persons to remember the highest teachings of religious faith, and calling others to live out the best of their faith.

As Welton retires after 17 years, he leaves a legacy of intellectual honesty and courageous leadership. I was proud to serve with him and support him as he was often (along with Brent Walker) the sanest voice in Washington!!