Saturday, July 8, 2017

Texas Baptists Committed – A brief summary of its origins, history, and impact
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

As we approach the end of the active ministry of Texas Baptists Committed, it's helpful to look at its history and recall its impact.

For a detailed history of the origins of Texas Baptists Committed, I refer you to “The History of Baptists Committed,” by Jimmy Allen, which is a chapter of The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (1993, Mercer University Press), edited by Walter B. Shurden.

This chapter is also the primary source of my Baptist Briefs series of five videos, Founding of Texas BaptistsCommitted.

The following history of events through 1993 is a very brief summary of that chapter.

1985 – Houston layman John Baugh forms the Baptist Laity Journal for the purpose of informing laypersons of the issues involved in the battle for the SBC. Owen Cooper, a former SBC president, is board chair, and Neal Rodgers is editor, with John Jeter Hurt – then editor of The Baptist Standard – serving as editorial consultant. Baptist Laity Journal has both a Texas edition and a national edition.

January 1986 – Participants in the Baptist Laity Journal form a steering committee, calling themselves “Laymen for the Cooperative Program,” a name that is changed in the fall to “Laity for the Baptist Faith and Message.” This organization’s board members are national in scope, covering a number of states.

September 1986 – Moderate laymen Maston Courtney, Judge Connally McKay, Dewey Presley, and John Baugh invite Fundamentalist leaders W. A. Criswell, Jimmy Draper, Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith, and Charles Stanley to engage in “a series of public meetings for the purpose of restoring fellowship.” Their invitation is rejected.

December 1988 – The Moderate organization is “transformed into the nucleus of ‘Baptists Committed to the Southern Baptist Convention,’ popularly known as ‘Baptists Committed,’” absorbing the “Laity for the Baptist Faith and Message” group. Winfred Moore is elected to chair the organization. “Publication of the Baptist Laity Journal was suspended.”

January 1989 – Baptists Committed opens a national office in Houston.

April 1989 – Georgia forms the first state chapter of Baptists Committed, followed by Texas less than a week later. David R. Currie of San Angelo is hired as Baptists Committed’s first staff person, with the title of field coordinator; Oeita Bottorff of Houston is then hired as project director.

November 1989 – Winfred Moore decides to step down as chair of Baptists Committed, and Jimmy Allen is elected to succeed him.

June 1990 – Daniel Vestal is defeated for president of the SBC for the second consecutive year, assuring Fundamentalists of a majority on all SBC boards and committees. The following morning, Daniel Vestal challenges over 800 people attending a Baptists Committed breakfast to go to work on determining the future direction of Moderate Baptists. Leaders begin planning meetings intended to organize and plan the future.

August 1990 – Baptists Committed organizational meeting draws 3,000.

May 1991 – Follow-up meeting draws 8,000.

June 1992 – Baptists Committed merges with the new Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; “In Texas,” Allen writes:
the Baptists Committed organization is the functioning unit of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Many of the churches who have not yet declared themselves through Cooperative Baptist Fellowship funding channels are committed to Moderate control of their state convention. . . . Baylor University president Herbert Reynolds has been an active leader in Baptists Committed from its beginning. David Currie . . . serves as coordinator for Texas Baptists Committed. He assists in organizing Moderates to resist the Fundamentalist takeover at the state convention of Texas. Issues such as the level of Baylor funding and methods of missions are under constant attack by the Fundamentalist faction in Texas. The 60/40 vote in favor of the Moderate cause at the 1991 Texas convention was assured and predicted by Baptists Committed zone leaders at the annual session of the convention.
1990s - David Currie travels the state tirelessly, urging Baptists to resist Fundamentalists’ attempt to take control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas by winning its presidency. He speaks in churches throughout the state, informing Baptists of the issues at stake and then mobilizing them – urging them to volunteer to be elected by their churches as messengers and go to the annual meeting every year and vote for the Moderate candidate for BGCT president.

Contrary to what had taken place at the SBC throughout the 1980s, the Moderate candidate wins, year after year, at the BGCT.

1998 – Fundamentalists stop running candidates for the BGCT presidency and form the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC adopts a more subtle, but perhaps even more insidious, strategy of seeking control of local churches.

1998-2017 – A primary focus of Texas Baptists Committed is to aid pastor search committees by providing the truth about pastoral candidates and recommending pastoral candidates who will be faithful to Baptist principles.

TBC continues to protect the presidency of the BGCT by helping to ensure that candidates are committed to Baptist distinctives and are not tools of the Fundamentalist faction.

TBC encourages diversity in convention leadership and is directly responsible – through selection, endorsement, and/or other forms of encouragement – for the election of the first Hispanic BGCT president (Albert Reyes), the first African-American BGCT president (Michael Bell), and the first two women to serve as BGCT president (Joy Fenner and Kathy Hillman).

September 2009 – David R. Currie retires as TBC executive director.

January 2011 – After meeting regularly for over a year to discuss and determine TBC’s future, the TBC board elects Bill Jones, a member of the board, to succeed David Currie as executive director.

January-May 2011 – TBC produces 71 two- to three-minute videos, entitled Baptist Briefs, on Baptist history and principles. Baptist Briefs are provided for access on the Web site and on TBC’s YouTube channel, and are later provided on a two-DVD set. Baptist Briefs are recognized by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, and some Texas Baptist university professors use them in their classes.

May 2011 – TBC debuts TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, an enewsletter linking to current Baptist news and opinion from a wide variety of sources, and highlighting upcoming Baptist events. Ultimately, over 800 Baptists from a number of states, and even internationally, open the Roundup every week.

July 2017 – Citing a lack of funding and the emergence of a new robust regional network, CBF’s Fellowship Southwest, the TBC Board votes to cease operations at the end of July.

Closing Texas Baptists Committed – inevitably but reluctantly
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

With this blog post, I am announcing that – after almost three decades – Texas Baptists Committed will cease operations at the end of July 2017. Our Board of Directors voted yesterday, Friday, July 7.

In January 2016, the TBC Board and I convened a meeting of about 30 Baptist leaders from around Texas to discuss the future of Texas Baptists Committed. At that meeting, I announced that I planned to step down by July 1, 2017, and suggested that, for TBC to make a significant impact, the Board needed to look for an executive director who is younger than I am and has stronger credentials, and provide that executive director with a staff – at a minimum, an associate executive director and secretarial assistance.

Unfortunately, the funds never materialized to support any of that.

From one standpoint, this has been an easy decision – we simply no longer have the funds to sustain this ministry.

From another standpoint, this has been a difficult, gut-wrenching decision.

Funds have been tight at TBC at least since I first joined the Board in January 2006. With no visible “battle” for control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, as there was through most of the 1990s, many Baptists just haven’t felt the urgent need for a “watchdog” like Texas Baptists Committed. “Battle fatigue” was a factor, too.

Donations dropped off even more after David Currie left in 2009, as TBC went virtually “silent” for over a year while our Board deliberated over its future, and many people thought it was gone. Some of them never came back.

So we have often had to rely on one or two large donations to offset the dwindling of the smaller ones. As I have talked with friends & colleagues involved with other nonprofits, I’ve discovered that this is a pretty common situation.

But the Board and I love Texas Baptists Committed, have a passion for its mission, and have worked to keep TBC going as long as we could. We appreciate the donors we do have, and we felt they deserved our best efforts to stay on the job as long as possible.

When David Currie was executive director, he often quoted his mother, Mary Jim, telling him to live in the “real world.” Well, the TBC Board and I have had to acknowledge that, in the “real world,” we need money to operate, and the funds just aren’t there anymore.

However, there is another, more positive, element to the timing of our move; in fact, it gives me a strong conviction that God is in this and has led us to this decision at this time. On August 1, as TBC comes to an end, our good friend Marv Knox will take over the leadership of CBF’s new Fellowship Southwest regional network.

At the founding of CBF in the early 1990s, the original national Baptists Committed organization was merged into CBF. The Texas chapter of Baptists Committed, led by David Currie, was the “functioning unit of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” in Texas (Jimmy Allen, "The History of Baptists Committed," The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement, ed. Walter B. Shurden). Later, a separate CBF-Texas organization was formed, but intentionally kept a low profile so as not to get in the way of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which remained under Moderate leadership because of TBC's efforts.

Two-plus decades later, conditions have changed. The BGCT executive director, David Hardage, has purposely established a relationship between the BGCT and Paige Patterson & Southwestern Seminary. The fox has been welcomed back into the chicken coop! Paige Patterson hasn’t changed; the BGCT, obviously, has. There are other reasons, as well, for concern about the direction of the BGCT.

So now there is a need for a more robust CBF presence; Fellowship Southwest will facilitate missions efforts across states in the region, but it also offers refuge to churches increasingly concerned about the direction of the BGCT.

In other words, if there were ever a propitious time to end the operations of Texas Baptists Committed, it is now, because our Board and I are confident that Fellowship Southwest will, in its own way, continue our work. Don’t get me wrong – CBF and Fellowship Southwest are not political organizations in the sense that Texas Baptists Committed has been, but they are committed to Baptist distinctives and will defend and promote them at every turn:
  • Priesthood of every believer
  • Soul competency
  • Local church autonomy
  • Religious liberty for all people, and the separation of church and state
  • Bible freedom

Rick McClatchy of CBF-Texas is also a longtime friend of mine and a longtime friend of TBC. He has done a remarkable work in Texas in a most difficult time. From the beginning of my tenure as executive director of TBC, I have considered two people to be my primary mentors in this position: Rick McClatchy and Suzii Paynter. Both have always been available to listen to my concerns and offer their wise counsel. Early in my tenure, Rick sat with me for 2 hours to educate me on postmodernism, because of its impact on today’s culture, including our Baptist culture, especially our young people.

Because of this kind of leadership at CBF-Texas and Fellowship Southwest, our Board and I can – with full confidence – encourage our donors to support them.

In the 11-1/2 years since I joined the TBC Board, including the 6-1/2 years that I’ve served as executive director, God has blessed me with the opportunity to serve alongside some of the finest people that I’ve ever known, starting with David Currie and on through a remarkable group of Board members, past and present. I’ll be reflecting on that in subsequent blog posts in the next 3 weeks.

In bringing this post to a conclusion, however, I simply want to thank the Texas Baptists Committed Board of Directors for the opportunity to lead this historic ministry as executive director. It has been a joyous ministry for me. I can only say “Amen” to what David Currie always said about this job – I never considered it a job but a joy, and I’ve loved every bit of it, every minute of it. I thank the TBC Board of Directors for their consistent support from Day One – they have been faithful to the end in their support of my work here. They have been my bosses, but we have worked together as friends and colleagues. Thanks be to God for their presence in my life, and their faithful stewardship of Texas Baptists Committed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Was Jesus nothing more than just a good example?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Earlier this week, Baptist News Global published a column by CHUCK QUEEN, entitled, "Jesus is the gate. But are there others?"

I always find Chuck Queen's columns thought-provoking and enlightening, and this one was no different in that regard. Yet I also felt there was something lacking.

For example, he proclaims that "there is nothing magical about the name of Jesus, or about his words, deeds, death and resurrection." No, there is nothing "magical," but there IS something uniquely powerful and profound about that name. Queen tosses the "name" of Jesus out of his way, in deference to ". . . the virtues he embodied, the values he incarnated, the life he lived full of grace and truth . . . what his life, teachings, works, death and resurrection represents."

But what exactly IS the "name" of Jesus? Emmanuel, the scriptures tell us, meaning "God with us." This is not just another good man, a good example. He is God come to live among us. Jesus didn't just come to give us a good example of a "godly" life; He came so that we might know the Father in the intimate way in which He did. Bringing us into relationship with the Father was the purpose, as well, of His death and resurrection. Those were profoundly purposeful events.

There is much to like, for me anyway, about Queen's column. Personally, I believe that God's grace is much greater than ours. I don't think any of us is qualified to say who's "in" and who's "out" - that's all up to God. Do I believe that long-held orthodox church teachings have interpreted scripture much too narrowly? Most definitely. Can people who have never accepted Christ as God's son be in relationship with God nevertheless? That's God's call, not mine.

I agree with Queen's contention that "Too many Christians have turned their belief system into an idol by which they seek to manage and control God by keeping God in a box." Yet it seems to me that Queen then turns around and does the very same - when he talks of God as love, to the neglect of any other qualities, such as holiness, justice, and righteousness. Has he not confined God within a box of his own making?

What bothers me most is that Queen neglects - in this column, anyway - to mention either relationship with God or dependence on God. I agree with him that how we treat people, especially those in need and those who have been marginalized by others, is critical. I guess you could say I'm a Matthew 25 (verses 31-46) Christian. That's where Christ makes it very clear just what He expects of His followers.

However, if we stop there, we neglect what seems, to me, to be the most important part of Christ's life: His relationship with the Father. Christ's love can never be separated from that relationship. He spent hour upon hour in prayer. His love - and every area of His life - flowed from His relationship with the Father.

That may well be the most important example Christ set for us. Our love - as with our holiness, our justice, and our righteousness - is to flow from our relationship with the Father. Without that relationship, our love will be a profoundly poor reflection of Christ's love. Christ was dependent on the Father working through Him, and so are we.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

SBC power-brokers' problem isn't Russell Moore; it's Jesus!
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Wouldn't you know it? The one SBC national leader I trust, and they want to get rid of him!

After Russell Moore succeeded Richard Land as president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), it didn't take long for me to notice the difference:

  • Russell Moore didn't demonize those who disagreed with him.
  • Russell Moore reached out to those of different faiths.
  • Russell Moore talked about ethical issues other than abortion and homosexuality; oh, he talked about those, but he recognized that Jesus focused most of his ministry on a lot of other things, what Jesus called "weightier matters," such as our treatment of the poor and the stranger.

Then I spoke with Joe Trull, and it began to make sense. Joe - who earned his doctorate in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston at Southwestern Seminary, and now serves with me on the trustee board of the T. B. Maston Foundation - shared with me that Russell had studied Christian Ethics under Joe's teaching at New Orleans Seminary and asked me to send Russell a copy of Both-And: A Maston Reader.

So I sent Russell a copy, accompanied by a letter explaining my connection to Joe Trull and that I chaired the T. B. Maston Foundation. Shortly afterward, I received a most gracious reply from Russell, thanking me for the book and telling me that T. B. Maston and Joe Trull had been "formative" for him.

In the fall of 2015, I met Russell in person, when I attended - at the gracious invitation of my friend Lloyd Harsch, director of New Orleans Seminary's Institute for Faith and the Public Square - the Institute's symposium on "Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty - Left, Right, and Center."

Russell was among the speakers, in addition to my dear friends Suzii Paynter (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) and Brent Walker (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).

Russell Moore's perspective on "religious liberty" was different than I was used to hearing from SBC leaders; for example, he spoke of religious liberty applying to ALL people, not just Christians. He even criticized American Christians who complain of "religious persecution," saying flatly that Christians in America are NOT persecuted for their faith, that being made to comply with laws prohibiting businesses from discriminating on the basis of religious views does NOT constitute persecution.

Afterwards, I told Russell, "You made me real uncomfortable today, because I'm not used to agreeing so much with a Southern Baptist!" He laughed.

Don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of things Russell Moore has said with which I disagree. But, as I wrote him in that letter, even when I disagree with him, I respect the thoughtfulness he has given to the issue and the thought process that led to his conclusion. I believe his intent is always the one so often voiced by T. B. Maston: "to walk as Jesus walked."

One complaint I've read about Russell is that his views don't "represent" the majority of the SBC. This tells us a lot about the "new SBC" of the past 30 years. The role of the ERLC's predecessor, the old SBC Christian Life Commission, was to speak TO Baptists, not FOR them. It was never to "represent the majority" but to speak a prophetic word, as the Old Testament prophets had, prodding God's people toward faithfulness. In the 1960s, racial equality was far from the majority view in the SBC, but the CLC beat that drum loudly and persistently.

Today's SBC wants mouthpieces, not prophets.

Russell Moore has rubbed some SBCers the wrong way from the beginning. As I noted earlier, his demeanor is different than Land's, and his issues are broader than Land's, more Jesus than SBC-friendly. There were rumblings against Russell well before 2016 came along; the knives were already being sharpened.

Then last year, many in the Southern Baptist Convention - including leading pastors - fell all over themselves in support of, praise of, laying on hands of, etc., a U.S. presidential candidate who is a serial adulterer . . . is thrice-married . . . brags about sexually assaulting women . . . has mused publicly about dating his own daughter . . . has spent his life serving his own lusts for money, women, and power . . . has spent his life destroying those in need rather than lifting them up (racial discrimination in housing; refusal to pay contractors) . . . has stated that he has NEVER asked God's forgiveness, because he doesn't believe he needs it . . . and demonstrates not even a novice's familiarity with scripture (and even less familiarity with Jesus). And the list could go on ad infinitum.

If you were to start out to build the perfect example of a person doing everything possible to avoid the Way of Christ, I doubt that you would even come close to the man living in the White House today, because it would just seem too far-fetched. But there he is.

This is the man who way too many in the SBC - and evangelicals in general - embraced last year. Russell Moore is one of the few who had the Christian integrity and courage to take them to task for it. And they have had the gall to ask HIM to apologize? For what?

Russell did not endorse a candidate for president; in fact, he has stated that no candidate was acceptable to him, so he didn't vote. What Russell Moore has asked Christians to do is to follow Jesus - and not reject Jesus by supporting everything that He is not.

But SBC leaders - and many of their leading pastors and churches - forsook Jesus long ago. They have forsaken the one who refused Satan's temptations of money and worldly power, and they have made their own deal with the devil.

They now brag of their proximity to power. Jesus refused political power. The church loses its prophetic voice, speaking spiritual truth to power, when it seeks such power itself. It ceases to be the church.

That's why Russell Moore is in trouble - he asked Christians to follow Jesus, so now some of the most powerful SBC churches are using their power to crucify him.

Russell Moore is a godly man, he's a faithful Jesus follower.

I pray for those who want Russell Moore gone. It pains me, as a Christ-follower, to see the destruction they're inflicting on our witness of Christ to the world.

I pray for them to return to the Way of Christ. I pray for God's mercy on their souls.

And I pray God's richest blessings on the ministry of Russell Moore.