Ethics is a neglected discipline at most Baptist colleges and seminaries today. There are a few that still emphasize ethics, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Southern Baptist seminaries have done away with once-influential ethics departments.
We've seen what happens when ethics training is pushed out the door - the news regularly tells of some scandal among Baptist (and other) ministers, whether it be about sex, money, abuse of power, or all three. At the same time, the ethical imperatives of Jesus, centered around ministering to "the least of these," are pushed to the side in favor of hot-button political agendas.
In recent years, Texas Baptists have made a good start at restoring a Baptist emphasis on ethics. Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary, in cooperation with the TBMaston Foundation, established the T. B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics in 1998. Shortly thereafter, Logsdon Seminary began the annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics, the 12th edition of which will take place on April 16-17. Annual ethics lectureships have also been established in recent years at Howard Payne University, Dallas Baptist University, and Truett Seminary at Baylor University.
But it's only a start. All Baptist students should have training in Christian Ethics.
For some time, friends of the late Foy Valentine have been working to establish a Foy Valentine Chair of Christian Ethics at Truett Seminary. David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary, told me last week that the fundraising is currently about a third of the way toward a chair and about halfway toward a professorship.
In stewardship and building campaigns through the years, I've often heard that, if you let Baptists know of a need, they'll respond. So I'm letting you know.
We need ministers, and laypersons as well, who are trained as Foy Valentine was - with a clear understanding of biblical ethics as taught and lived by Christ.
Foy Valentine was of a rare breed – a Baptist prophet.
Many of you knew Foy or were influenced by him.
For those of you who don’t know who Foy Valentine was, I can do no better than to point you to this Baptist Standard article, written by Marv Knox following Foy’s death in 2006. In the article, Marv uses the words of Foy’s friends and colleagues to tell the story of his uncommon courage and commitment to biblically ethical living. Even those who knew him will do well to re-read this article and be reminded of the man who lived among us.
During most of his tenure at the SBC Christian Life Commission, I knew Foy Valentine only from a distance, reading about him in Baptist papers and admiring particularly his courageous and prophetic stands on issues of race, poverty, and justice. Then I discovered that he and my dad were close friends. Both of them had received their doctorates in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston at Southwestern Seminary.
In the fall of 1987, the TBMaston Foundation, which my dad had chaired from its inception in 1979, prepared to present Foy Valentine with its inaugural T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. Weeks before the Award Banquet, I made a point of reminding my dad to be sure to introduce me to Foy. Well, by the time my wife and I arrived at the hotel, people were already filing into the banquet hall. With my suit slung over my shoulder, surely looking thoroughly disheveled and confused, I walked around outside the banquet hall, hoping to find my folks so I could get the key to their hotel room for us to change clothes.
Just when I was about to panic, a man walked over to me. Seeing my distress, he said, “Can I help you?”
I told him of my predicament and that I was trying to find my dad, Jase Jones. “Oh,” he said, “so you’re Bill?”
He stuck out his hand to me and said, “I’m Foy Valentine.”
At Dr. Maston’s memorial service the following year, Jimmy Allen said that Dr. Maston had once asked him, “If you knew Jesus was coming to Fort Worth this weekend, where do you think you would find him?” When Jimmy admitted he didn’t know the answer, Dr. Maston replied, “You’d find him with someone who needed him, someone who nobody else had noticed.”
So here was Foy Valentine, the guest of honor that evening, being the presence of Christ to someone who obviously needed help, who nobody else had noticed. But that was typical of Foy.
That evening, Foy accepted the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award by delivering a message that I have made a point of re-reading from time to time, just to remind me what being a disciple of Christ is really all about. It was titled Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers.
In this powerful message, Foy writes, “The prophetic dimension of revealed religion has everlastingly fallen onto hard times. It has never been the most coveted of callings. There are some obvious reasons for this. Even the Lord’s anointed are subject to temptations related to ‘soft clothing,’ pleasure, materialism, economic determinism, and love of comfort. When the winnowing and harrowing of Fundamentalism started among Southern Baptists, Baptists were not lean and mean, ready for the war, but soft and satisfied, flabby and floppy.”
Foy called us to live out the hard parts of the gospel, just as he himself lived them daily, and just as his mentor, T. B. Maston, had lived them. For many, T. B. Maston had been the ethical conscience of Baptists back in those days when most churches in the South still preached segregation.
Following the example of his mentor, Foy demonstrated uncommon courage and uncommon vision. Jimmy Allen told the story, at Foy’s memorial service, of sitting next to Foy at the 1963 SBC meeting in Kansas City. Foy stood alone in opposing adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message at that convention. As Marv Knox relates in his article, Jimmy quoted Foy as telling him, “It’s a step toward creedalism, and you’re going to regret it.”
As usual, Foy was right.
It's up to Moderate/Mainstream Baptists (or a new label that's beginning to gain traction, Cooperative Baptists) to restore Biblical Christian Ethics to its rightful place in the seminary and college curriculum.
In an April 2010 letter addressed to "Friends of Foy Valentine," David Garland - dean of Truett Seminary - wrote, "Whether large or small, your contribution is an investment in the future of the church. Truett Seminary remains committed to our historic Baptist principles and we believe such principles will serve the church well in the days ahead."
A professorship is the short-term goal. But Jean Valentine, one of Foy's daughters, told me last week that Foy's original dream was of a chair in Christian Ethics that would give the subject the fuller attention that it requires, and that she is still hopeful that this goal will be achieved.
So I'm reaching out to you who want to have a part in passing along, to succeeding generations of Baptist ministers, Foy Valentine's legacy of commitment to biblical Christian ethics.
To contribute, make your check out to either "Baylor University" or "Baylor Alumni Association." But be sure to write, on the Memo line, "For the Foy Valentine Chair in Christian Ethics (at Truett Seminary)."
Then mail your check to:
(if made out to Baylor University)
Gift Processing Office
One Bear Place 97050
Waco, TX 76798-7050
(if made out to Baylor Alumni Association)
Baylor Alumni Association
1212 S. University Parks Dr.
Waco, TX 76706
Donations are tax-deductible, as Baylor and the Alumni Association are both 501(c)(3) organizations.
If you would like to have additional information before contributing, please contact David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary.