Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Having a sense in common: Bernie & the Apostle Paul

One of my most treasured friends is a retired Jewish attorney named Bernie. He resumed his law practice a few years ago, until a stroke last year - on his 83rd birthday - forced him to finally slow down a bit.

Bernie and I get together for a meal once every 3 to 4 months and spend a couple of hours talking politics. We find that we agree on much even though we arrive at our positions from different perspectives. My political positions are largely informed by my Baptist Christian ethic of justice, grace, and freedom, whereas Bernie's are informed, for the most part, by his unswerving commitment to justice, fair play, and the U.S. Constitution. But our conclusions are in agreement more often than not.

However, one ongoing disagreement we have is about the word "humility." Bernie grew up in the Bronx and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he has told me more than once of threatening to deck any guy who questioned his patriotism. Bernie has encountered too many phonies using the most spurious criteria as tests of his patriotism, and he hasn't the patience to be "humble" in responding to them.

Then I explain what "humility" means to me, and our disagreement seems to fade. Humility, to me, means accepting that I don't have a monopoly on the truth, that I don't perfectly know the mind of God, that the other person might in some instances have a better understanding of the truth than I do. In other words, accepting that I could be wrong and the other fellow could be right.

"Sure," Bernie replies, "but that's not 'humility.' That's just common sense."

So our disagreement is more semantical than substantial. And I agree with Bernie that what I call "humility" is really common sense.

Only . . . that sense doesn't seem to be very common today.

"Compromise" has become a dirty word. Why? Because too many insist that their own particular perspective is absolute truth.

Our U.S. Congress is in a permanent state of gridlock, because the old give-and-take has been replaced by simply take, with no give. Political parties insist on "ideological purity." But that assumes that one person's ideology - or philosophy - or theology - can be totally "pure." (In matters of biblical interpretation among Baptists, "ideological purity" becomes "theological conformity," again assuming that one Baptist - or a group of Baptists - has a corner on theological truth.)

In politics - whether presidential, legislative, or Baptist - "moderates" have been given a bad name. The purists - the fundamentalists, if you will - accuse moderates of having no principles, standing for nothing.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a moderate not because I have no principles or beliefs, but because I believe we all have some truth on our side, but none of us has the whole truth. After all, you'll never learn anything if you insist that you already have all the answers.

Too many politicians - and yes, too many Christian leaders - claim to know the whole truth, whether it pertains to secular politics or theology and ethics.

The Apostle Paul spoke boldly, never pulling his punches, never apologizing for strong, even dogmatic, statements in proclaiming his faith in Christ. Yet it was he who admitted, in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV),
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
For all his boldness, Paul used that chapter we know today as "the love chapter" to remind us that boldness and truth mean nothing without love and grace.

And love and grace are impossible without humility. Or, as Bernie calls it, "common sense."

For more on this subject, read David Currie's "The Certitude Disease," A Rancher's Rumblings, April 24, 2009.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"FAITH & POLITICS" theme of March 29 Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics

Next week offers a special opportunity for Texas Baptists during a presidential election year.

On Thursday, March 29, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Howard Payne University in Brownwood will host the 5th annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. The program will be presented in the Richard and Wanda Jackson Conference Room of the university’s Paul and Jane Meyer Faith and Life Leadership Center.

The topic of this year’s lecture series is
“Faith and Politics: Being Prophetic Without Being Partisan.”
Guest lecturers are:

The lecture series is made possible through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Gary Elliston and was established to honor the life of Dr. David R. Currie, retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, and the memory of Phil Strickland, who dedicated nearly 40 years of ministry to the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

Admission to the lecture series is free, but reservations are required. For reservations, please contact HPU’s Office of University Marketing and Communications by e-mail at or by phone at 325-649-8009.

C. Welton Gaddy is the author of more than 20 books and hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to politics and religion and has appeared on programs such as MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball; NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline; PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer; C-SPAN’s Washington Journal; ABC’s World News; and CNN’s American Morning.

Under the leadership of Suzii Paynter, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission addresses a variety of public policy areas, including leading the coalition against the expansion of gambling, human trafficking issues, food policy, energy issues, life issues, children’s needs, and predatory lending practices. Paynter is an active member of interfaith efforts to affect legislation and policy, including the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy network and the Evangelical Environmental Network. She previously served on the faculties of Stephen F. Austin University and Baylor University, and has been an advocate for religious liberty issues, literacy, and early intervention for high-risk children.

Stephen Reeves works out of the Christian Life Commission's Citizenship and Public Policy office in Austin. His primary duties include advocating for moral and ethical public policies in the Texas Legislature, educating church members about current policy issues, encouraging participation by Texas Baptists in the political process, and keeping abreast of developments in church-state law. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and serves on the Board of Directors for Stop Predatory Gambling and Christians for Environmental Stewardship. Before joining the Christian Life Commission, he served as staff attorney for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the midst of our disagreements, let's be Baptist

Bedrock Baptist principles, each and every one of these. From Thomas Helwys on, Baptists have gone to prison and died because of their conviction that faithfulness to Christ meant taking their stand on these principles.

God-given freedom is at the base of these Baptist distinctives. This freedom isn't ours to give. Neither is it ours to take away.

Because of our freedom, Baptists will always find ourselves arguing over one issue or another, and so it is today. Whether in Sunday School classes, within churches and/or conventions, or between churches and/or conventions, Baptists will disagree. Some of the issues today are the same issues that have troubled our churches from the beginning, while other issues have come to the fore only in recent years.

Whatever the issue, it is essential that we remember what unites us - our faith in Christ and our commitment to the freedom that He has given us . . . freedom not only for ourselves but for our sisters and brothers who are on the other "side" of one issue or another. Our commitment to listen to our sisters and brothers in the community of Baptists, with open ears and open hearts, even as we work through our disagreements. Our commitment to respect Baptist church polity, which may mean accepting a decision with which we disagree.

There's a lot of shouting going on today in our national life, and it often spills over into our Baptist life. I pray that we'll remember what we're about as Baptists, cling to the principles that birthed and sustained our Baptist movement, and live out those principles in respecting each other's freedom and giving others the grace that Christ has given us.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

End-times speculation: A sinful distraction

Last week, Harold Camping admitted he was wrong and confessed his "sin." Two years ago, the radio preacher had begun predicting that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. He boldly declared, "the Bible guarantees it."

Now he belatedly admits that critics who pointed out that his prediction contradicted Jesus' own declaration that "no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36, NIV), were right all along, and that he and his supporters had been sinful in making such a prediction. Unfortunately, it took the failure of his prediction to cause him finally to believe God's Word. That passage was there a long time before Harold Camping began his ministry, and I'm sure he had read it more than a few times. But he apparently thought he knew better than Jesus.

I guess contradicting God's Word on this subject is enough, but it seems to me there is an even greater "sin," if you want to call it that. None of us knows the mind of God perfectly, so we don't know for sure why God has chosen to leave the time of Christ's return as such a mystery, even to the point that Christ Himself doesn't know it. But, if you'll notice, Christ simply accepted it; once the Father made it clear that He would keep His own counsel on the timing, Christ didn't speculate on it. In fact, Christ discouraged any speculation on the part of His disciples, and that includes us.

Christ made it clear that our mission is to love, serve, and make disciples. Speculating on the end times is not our mission. We are to trust that matter to God and simply be faithful to what He has called us to do. The real sin in such speculation is that it distracts us from faithfulness to God's call and claim upon our lives. May we ever be found faithful.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Save OBU: Young people taking a stand for Baptist and academic freedom

At Texas Baptists Committed, we try to talk less about the "Baptist battles" than we used to. Most Baptists today, we're told, don't want to hear about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

I understand that. We who went through the Baptist battles are battle-weary; we want to turn the page to a new story, hoping that it's a story of peace and harmony.

On the other hand, we're told that those who have come of age since that time aren't interested in history. People and events of 20 and 30 years ago have no meaning for them.

Then, just when we thought we had this younger generation figured out, along comes a story like Save OBU.

In December 2011, Jacob Lupfer - a 2002 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University - founded a blog he called Save OBU. He explains its purpose, right up there in the masthead:
This blog advocates a new relationship between Oklahoma Baptist University and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. OBU is and will be in decline until it has autonomy and independence from the BGCO.
Jacob got in touch with me shortly after starting Save OBU. He didn't know that I was an OBU grad ('73), but as he was starting his blog he found, on YouTube, our TBC Baptist Briefs videos on the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC. After watching them, he emailed me to share his concerns about OBU and let me know about his blog.

Jacob told me that his greatest concern is that the strong liberal arts education that he and his generation - and previous generations, including mine - received at OBU would not be available to future generations; that actions by the Fundamentalist-led BGCO were apparently intended to ultimately remake OBU into a center of rigid indoctrination rather than a center of free and open academic inquiry and learning.

So his first concern was the vitality of an OBU education. But he recognized that OBU's commitment to its Baptist heritage was the key to encouraging an environment of free and open academic inquiry. In turn, an environment that encourages students to question and to think for themselves is more likely to result in students whose faith is authentic and strong.

Just when we started to think we were figuring out this younger generation, they went and turned the tables on us. Some of them obviously do believe that history is relevant to their present and future. Some of them obviously do believe that there are principles worth fighting for, that those principles aren't some dusty, irrelevant shibboleths, but are instead the bedrock of a real and meaningful education.

In just 3 months, Jacob has made connections with a variety of students, alumni, faculty, former faculty, and others who care about this cause. In recent weeks, he has begun adding "contributing editors," recent alumni who share his passion and concern for OBU's future.

Their blog posts - those of Jacob and his contributing editors - are NOT the hysterical rants of a bunch of kids. They are reasoned, researched, and documented articles - both thoughtful and thought-provoking - written by young people who display a passion for Baptist freedom and a seriousness that I am finding more and more to be characteristic of their generation.

Some of these posts tell stories of specific actions allegedly taken by the current OBU administration, under pressure from BGCO leaders, such as the unexplained firings of well-regarded professors; and the administration's disregard of faculty input in making hiring decisions. Some of these posts tell stories from OBU's past and draw contrasts with the stories that are unfolding today. Other posts tell about Baptists of the past who gave of themselves to defend Baptist principles.

All of us wish we could just move on and quit fighting. Many of us are battle-weary. But God never called us to quit. God hasn't called us to ignore injustice and oppression . . . in any form. All you have to do is read the New Testament to know that Christ called his followers to take a stand for freedom and against injustice and oppression. Christ called us to be disciples, not merely fans cheering him on.

There are a lot of positive things going on in Baptist life today. Read the Baptist Standard from week to week, and you'll read inspiring stories about mission and humanitarian efforts being carried out by Baptists all over Texas. Texas Baptists Committed wants to be a part of encouraging those efforts being carried out in Christ's name, all of which are possible because of freedom . . . people free in Christ to share his grace with others.

But freedom rarely, if ever, comes without a price. We are free because others were willing to pay that price. There are still challenges to our Baptist freedom right here in Texas, and Texas Baptists Committed still works to inform about those challenges and defend Baptist freedom.

Sometimes the price is taking a stand against other Baptists who are bent on control and indoctrination. A few young Baptists at Save OBU are willing to take a stand and pay the price.

It's biblical. It's the spirit of Christ. It's Baptist.

(NOTE: For more on the subject of academic freedom, please read the article, "Academic Freedom at Baptist Colleges and Universities," written by David Sallee, a fellow 1973 OBU grad, published in TBC's Baptist Reflections series, October 17, 2008.)