Saturday, July 29, 2017

Whither Texas Baptists . . . after Texas Baptists Committed?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

In the 1990s, David Currie and Texas Baptists Committed fought tooth-and-nail to keep Texas Baptists free to be faithful. As the Fundamentalists, in the late 1980s, neared their goal of achieving full control of the Southern Baptist Convention, they set their sights on the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) . . . because it was far and away the largest state convention, owning the most assets and institutions, the most prized of which was . . . Baylor University. More than anything, Paul Pressler wanted control of Baylor.

But he didn’t get it.

To gain control of the BGCT, they used the same strategy that had been so successful in the SBC . . . go after the presidency and its appointive powers . . . win the presidency enough years consecutively to place a majority of people on all convention boards and committees who have pledged their loyalty to your cause, and the BGCT will be yours.

In the 1980s, they had caught SBC leadership napping. SBC leaders trusted the people’s wisdom to see through the lies told by Fundamentalists, to resist their use of secular political tactics, and to hold to the Baptist principles that they were so blatantly violating.

Texas Baptist leadership learned from the mistakes of their SBC colleagues. They determined that, to keep Texas Baptists free, they would need to organize, educate, and fight. If Fundamentalists expected to catch Texas Baptist leadership napping, they were in for a rude awakening.

Led by David Currie, Texas Baptists Committed organized the state. David traveled the state, speaking to churches, educating Texas Baptists on what was at stake, and mobilizing them to vote for Moderate candidates at the BGCT Annual Meeting.

As for Baylor, President Herbert Reynolds and the Board of Regents voted for freedom and a measure of independence from the BGCT, ensuring that – if Fundamentalists were successful in taking control of the BGCT – Baylor would nevertheless be saved.

In 1998, after losing election after election, the Fundamentalists gave up their efforts to win the BGCT presidency and formed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). Their strategy shifted from controlling the BGCT to luring BGCT churches to leave the BGCT & join the SBTC. That has been their strategy ever since . . . though Paige Patterson’s overtures to David Hardage and the BGCT in 2015 cause me to question whether there is a new strategy of infiltration & influence toward current BGCT leadership.

The BGCT executive director position has always been a balancing act . . . balancing various constituencies and priorities. It has been even moreso since 1990. There is a spectrum along which BGCT-affiliated churches reside, a spectrum that is not all that balanced. Though the BGCT was kept out of Fundamentalist hands, and BGCT churches by-and-large hewed to Baptist principles of freedom, most BGCT churches – and the people in their pews – continue to support the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) – which was formed in 1991 by Moderates who no longer had a home in the SBC – is still supported by very few, relatively speaking, BGCT-affiliated churches. Let’s be honest – most Texas Baptists consider CBF “liberal.” Ironically, this perception of “liberalism” (the same accusation that Fundamentalists leveled against SBC seminary professors in the 1970s & 1980s) is based, essentially, on CBF’s faithful recognition of the freedom inherent in the Baptist distinctives of Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom, as described so cogently by Walter B. Shurden in his book, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms (1993, Smyth & Helwys Publishing). (And fragile they are!)

Fundamentalists will say that “the Controversy” was an argument over correct doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. We Moderates did not seek to control how Fundamentalists interpret the Bible. We sought to focus on those things that unite us as Baptists rather than on those that divide us . . . first and foremost, our love for Jesus and our desire to share Him with a hurting world . . . our worship of a gracious Father who created and sustains us . . . and our need for the work of the Holy Spirit within us to motivate, guide, and comfort us.

We Moderates recognized that none of us – Moderate or Fundamentalist – has a monopoly on God’s truth. We are all imperfect creatures, trying our best to understand God’s Word – both the Word made flesh and the written Word – and the call of that Word upon our lives. As my Daddy told me many times, “we should never presume to know the mind of God.”
Therefore, we can cooperate with each other in humility, cooperating as sisters and brothers, to share Christ. Missions have unified Baptists from our earliest days.

But Fundamentalists said no, you must agree to our interpretation of certain Scriptures and even our description of Scripture (“inerrant”), or else we don’t want to have anything to do with you.

Moderates didn’t leave voluntarily . . . we were told to leave.

In my tenure as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed (January 2011-July 2017), our focus has been on helping churches as they search for a pastor. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) has an effective network, just as their Fundamentalist forefathers had in the 1980s. When a church loses a pastor, the SBTC finds it out quickly and offers an interim pastor and proposes candidates for pastor. 

We’ve heard this story from so many corners that it appears to be typical – that when an SBTC candidate goes before a search committee, he (always he) tells the search committee he is a servant pastor, that he has no political agenda, and so forth. Then, when he is called as pastor, it isn’t long before he fires anyone on the staff who dares disagree with his interpretation of scripture. He soon begins to impose his will on the church and lead it away from the BGCT by slandering the BGCT. That church inevitably winds up in conflict and dissension, a broken fellowship that takes years to repair and, in many cases, is broken beyond repair.

At TBC, my priority has been to develop our own network – which we did in 2014, with the TBC Advisory Network – of pastors and laity who would keep us informed of churches going pastorless, a network of people to whom we could turn with questions from search committees about the qualifications and track records of prospective pastors, and a network that would keep us supplied with resumes of reliable prospective pastors. 

Unfortunately, strapped for cash, TBC has operated with only one executive staff member – me. That has handicapped us in terms of getting the word out to churches. Also, our TBC Advisory Network didn’t respond to my requests for information as I had hoped they would. Year after year, I get about four or five calls a year from search committees asking for my help. That doesn’t make a dent in Texas. So we haven’t had the impact I had hoped we would.

The SBTC continues to steal churches.

But that isn’t my only concern. Many of us are disturbed by the rightward, inward turn of the BGCT under David Hardage’s leadership. When David was announced as executive director in January 2012, he immediately announced that the BGCT’s policy of regarding homosexual behavior as sinful would remain in place. I guess I understand why he felt that was necessary – because the SBTC had lied repeatedly about the BGCT’s stance on this issue.

Nevertheless, in May 2015, I raised this issue with him, following a warning letter he had sent to churches and pastors. My point to David was that churches were increasingly having to wrestle with how to minister to the gay people in their congregation and community, and his hard-line stance toward pastors and churches was making their task more difficult. I asked him, “Couldn’t you just not make an issue of it? Just recognize the autonomy of the local church and let them minister to these people in the way they feel led of the Holy Spirit.” David replied, “I don’t know.”

I thought his reply was more encouraging than a “no.” Then came 2016 and his letter to Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas and First Baptist Church of Austin. At our TBC Breakfast the following week, David didn’t attend, but Steve Vernon, BGCT associate executive director, did. In my remarks, I called Hardage’s action a violation of local church autonomy. Later that morning, the convention voted – narrowly – to affirm his stance. In February, the BGCT Executive Board made it official – Wilshire, FBC Austin, and Lake Shore in Waco were out.

So a lot of us are concerned that the BGCT is focusing on division rather than unity, exclusion rather than inclusion. Not exactly the spirit I see in Jesus Christ.

David Hardage embraces Paige Patterson and gives the back of his hand to Bill Jones, George Mason, Griff Martin, and Kyndall Rae Rothaus.

My only encouragement is this: David Hardage is NOT the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Since I made my remarks at that November TBC Breakfast, numerous BGCT staffers have thanked me privately. Also, please note that, in my remarks that morning, my disagreement with the BGCT was prefaced by all I love about the BGCT.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas is its Hunger Offering (which Wilshire began and has now been told will not be allowed to support any longer); its Christian Life Commission; its nine wonderful universities with their great faculty and students; Buckner International; Disaster Relief . . . and I could go on. So I haven’t given up on the BGCT; I still love the BGCT . . . and miss it, because David Hardage and a majority of messengers have said they don’t want me anymore.

There will be no official “watchdog” anymore; as individuals and churches, all of us have to be watchdogs, supporting those things we love about the BGCT (those of you who are still allowed to support it), praying for it, and holding its leadership accountable for the bedrock principles . . . those "fragile freedoms" . . . on which Baptists have stood for over 400 years.

Is the BGCT becoming “SBC lite”? I hope not, I pray not.

One Layperson's Journey
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

As this incredible part of my journey, as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, comes to a close, I want to share with friends and TBC supporters a little about the faith journey that has led me to this point – or, more accurately, the faith journey on which God has led me to this point.

But this isn’t simply MY journey. It’s the journey of a layperson who God has led, who numerous people (too many to count) have encouraged along the way, who has stayed the course, and who God has blessed with opportunities to serve.

In other words, while it’s the story of one layperson, it represents the story of many laypersons, some of whom I’ve met through the years, at conferences, luncheons, dinners, through email, and so forth. Each story is unique, yet our stories are also held in common.

If I start trying to tell this in simple narrative fashion, I’m going to ramble, and it’s probably going to be unreadable, so I’m instead going to tell it, as succinctly as possible, in timeline fashion, hitting a few highlights along the way. (If I ramble anyway, please forgive me. Also, it's pretty much stream-of-consciousness . . . please forgive any inconsistencies in punctuation, tense, etc.)

Spring 1967
- As a 16-year-old boy, I make the front page of The Kansas City Star, as part of a Lenten series, “Youths Talk About Faith.” (photo to the right) My simplistic faith ultimately causes me confusion (see November 1970, below). In an ironic twist, in light of my fighting the Fundamentalism that he one day embraces, Jimmy Draper – then pastor of our church’s mission in Kansas City – sends me a copy of my article, congratulating me.

September 1969
- I entered Oklahoma Baptist University on a Church Music degree. Ever since I was around 15 or 16, I had known that I wanted to be a minister of music. Throughout my teen years, my life had revolved around Youth Choir at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO, where I grew up.

March 1970
- At a friend’s suggestion, I join what – in hindsight – is the leading Fundamentalist church of its day, First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, OK, which, under the pastorate of John Bisagno, had led the SBC in baptisms four years in a row. I joined on the day that Jimmy Draper became pastor. In introducing me to the congregation, Jimmy praised my Daddy, Jase Jones, his good friend who was on the staff of the Kansas City Baptist Association. In the coming months, whenever I would run into Jimmy in the hallways, he would always graciously ask about my parents and ask me to give them his regards. To my Daddy’s dying day, he said, “Jimmy Draper’s too nice a guy to get mixed up with those guys” (meaning Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, and other Fundamentalist leaders).

November 1970
- Sitting in Western Civilization class one day, I had an epiphany that would change my life dramatically from that day forward. Questions about God, eternity, etc., that I had completely suppressed through the years – absolutely refused to deal with them – came crashing down upon me, from a single comment by my Western Civ professor. In teaching Dante’s Inferno, he said, “there are no absolutes.” Quite apart from the context of his teaching, in that moment, it hit me – I couldn’t absolutely prove any of this stuff I believed about God, Jesus, etc. I had entered that class having all the answers. I left it having nothing but questions and doubts.

That afternoon, in Brotherhood Dorm, I told my friend, Ron Russey, that I no longer believed in God, certainly didn’t believe in Jesus as God’s son. Ron suggested I go see Jerry Barnes, pastor of University Baptist Church across the street. Ron had grown up in Jerry’s church in Hobart, OK.

February 1971
- I finally went to see Jerry Barnes and told him I no longer believed in God but that I was searching for a truth in which I could believe. Jerry’s response? “Come join our church.” He knew I needed to be in church. So I joined University Baptist Church, where Jerry’s preaching challenged me, as no preaching ever had, to dig deep for scriptural understanding. Once a semester, Jerry would meet with me in his office, where I would bring him up-to-date on my “search” or “struggle,” and then help me with the next steps. Today I consider Jerry Barnes second only to my Daddy in helping me find my way back to Christ. This past January (2017), I drove to Miami, OK, for Jerry's memorial service.

- I’m not sure exactly when I finally told Mother and Daddy that I had lost my faith, but it was sometime in 1971. They were understanding and patient with me. Daddy honestly told me that he had undergone a similar faith struggle when he was young, so he understood what I was going through. He also acknowledged that I would have to work this out on my own, so that whatever I found would truly be my own, but I always knew that he was available if I had any questions or anything I wanted to discuss with him.

1974 or thereabouts
- I read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, a great help in better understanding the nature of faith.

January 1976
- I shared with Daddy that I had come back to a place where I could intellectually accept God and Christ. A real faith and heart commitment, however, took more time . . . it was gradual, a real journey.

April 1979
- In Denver and married by this time, I joined University Hills Baptist Church, my first church home since University in Shawnee. Joanna, though she had professed faith at University in 1975 or 1976, still had not been baptized and was still struggling with the concept of faith herself.

August 1981
- Joanna professes faith at University Hills and is baptized while carrying our first child, Alison. Our pastor, Davis Cooper, jokes that it is his first infant baptism.

Through the 1980s and 1990s
- My faith grows, as does my church involvement. As the SBC Controversy grows, I read and learn about what’s going on, following it closely, and begin to fight the “Baptist battles” on my own in Sunday School classes, as the subject lends itself to such discussion. I find myself fighting a pretty lonely battle most of the time.

March 2000
- At our church in Plano, where we had been members since 1987, our pastor sent a letter to the congregation that smacked – to me – of politics, as he said he wanted to “reevaluate” the church’s relationship with the BGCT. This was the catalyst for me to do something I should have done years before – collect my thoughts on Baptist principles and my position on the “SBC Controversy” and put them in writing. The result was a five-page statement of my position, accompanied by a two-page letter to my pastor. I prayed over it and mailed it to him with fear and trembling, not sure how he would accept it. He called me the next day and invited me to meet with him. He named me to the seven-person task force considering the church’s relationship with the BGCT.

June 2000
- At a meeting of the task force (the pastor was there as an ex-officio member), I said that I no longer considered myself a Southern Baptist, because the SBC had thrown out the bedrock Baptist principles of soul competency and priesthood of the believer. The pastor said he didn’t believe that was true, and I stood my ground, saying it didn’t matter whether he believed it; it was true! The next day, at the SBC annual meeting, SBC leaders attempted to take those two principles out of the Baptist Faith & Message; only a behind-the-scenes effort by Charles Wade and others dissuaded them from doing so. The pastor, of course, never came to me and admitted he had been wrong.

September 2000
- I sent a copy of my letter & statement to David Currie, thinking Texas Baptists Committed should know what was going on at my church.

January 2001
- David contacted me, and his associate, Charlie McLaughlin, called to ask to excerpt part of my statement for the (print) TBC Newsletter. David and I start talking regularly; his friendship and encouragement become key to my involvement in Baptist life.

February 2002
- The phone in my study rings. It’s Ray Vickrey, pastor of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas.
RAY: “Would you be interested in serving on the Executive Board?”
ME (displaying my ignorance): “What Executive Board?”
RAY: “The Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board.”
ME: “Where in the world did you get MY name?”
RAY: “David Currie.”

I served a three-year term on the 225-member BGCT Executive Board, getting my feet just a little damp in the waters of Texas Baptist life. In 2004, I vote myself off the Board by voting to downsize it from 225 to 90.

During this time, attending BGCT annual meetings, I began stopping by the Christian Life Commission (CLC) booth every year and talking to Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter about my concerns over what was going on in my church. They were sympathetic and encouraging to me.

May 2003
- I had lunch with Foy Valentine at Chuck’s, his favorite hamburger joint near his house in Dallas. I shared with him my concerns about my church and my pastor. Foy, blunt as usual, said, “You’ll never convert that pastor!” I guess I knew Foy was right – after all, he was right about just about everything. In 1963, at the SBC annual meeting in Kansas City (by the way, I was there as a 12-year-old whose Daddy was on the KC Baptist Association staff), he was the only person to vote against approval of the Baptist Faith and Message, warning that some would ultimately use it as a creed. Only Foy was prescient enough to see the morass into which the SBC that we then knew would ultimately sink.

November 2003
- After more than 16 years of fighting the Baptist battles at our church in Plano, hoping to make a difference, I encounter the last straw, the one that broke the camel’s back. Knowing that I was at that time a technical writer and editor, the pastor had asked me to help edit some re-writing of the church’s by-laws. One morning, I met with him and a committee chair to discuss this project. The pastor knew that I was trying to get a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship presence at the church. He told me that he had recently met with New Orleans seminary administrators to discuss partnering with them in starting a seminary in Russia. “Of course,” he said, “ you realize that if we go through with this, we’ll never be able to partner with CBF.” “Why?” “Because it’s in their charter; anyone who partners with them is not permitted to partner with CBF.”

I was incredulous. Despite my concerns about some of his actions violating Baptist principles, I had never imagined that he would compromise local church autonomy. So I looked at him and asked, “And you’re okay with that?” “Sure,” he casually replied. I still couldn’t believe it, so I asked, “As a Baptist, you’re okay with that?” Again came the casual reply, “Sure.”

May 2004
- Joanna and I had decided we would leave the church in June, as soon as my choral ensemble (which I directed) gave its last performance before our summer break. The first week of May, I drove down to San Antonio for Phil Strickland’s CLC conference at Trinity Baptist Church. One of his speakers was George Mason, his good friend, as well as his pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. It was the first time I had heard George speak. I leaned over to my good friend, Dan Williams, and asked him, “Is he always this good?” Dan just smiled and nodded. I met George that day and told him we lived in Plano and would soon be looking for a church. George replied, “Well, we’re just down the road from you.”

We first visited Wilshire on July 4 and joined at the end of August, as Wilshire was celebrating George’s 15th anniversary as pastor. Phil Strickland was on the chancel that morning, preparing to make a presentation to George. Phil smiled as he saw Joanna and me walk down that aisle to join Wilshire. Wilshire Baptist Church and George Mason – and our wonderful Epiphany Sunday School class – have been a blessing to us ever since. Thanks be to God!

June 2004
- I met with our music minister (my closest friend at that church) to tell him that Joanna and I would be leaving and that he would need to find a new director for the ensemble. I also told him that, after a lifetime of involvement with music, God was leading me to new priorities. I believed that God wanted me to do some writing – not sure exactly what venue, etc., but I felt a strong tugging in that direction. I also knew that, after years of singing in choirs on Sunday morning, I wanted to finally be able to sit in the pew and share a hymnal with my wife, so I would not be joining the choir at our new church.

Of course, I had no idea what God’s call to “do some writing” would entail – “doing some writing” has turned out to have a much broader application than I ever imagined.

January 2006
- I was in the foyer of Park Cities Baptist Church, talking to Joe Trull, as we – and many others – waited to be called into the sanctuary for Foy Valentine’s funeral to begin. As Joe and I talked, I saw David Currie walk over to one corner of the foyer and motion to me. So I excused myself and walked over to David. He said, “If you’ll take it, the TBC Board has elected you as a member.” Here was another opportunity to serve – which I neither sought nor knew was available to me – that David Currie had provided for me. I took it, having no inkling of the challenges and opportunities that awaited me.

While still working full-time as a technical editor & writer in the corporate world, I began editing for David, who ultimately asked me to take over all of the communications for TBC, including editing the print newsletter and maintaining the TBC Web site. In 2008, the Board voted to hire me as communications editor and pay me a nominal amount. David and I had begun his Ranchers Rumblings column in 2007. In 2008, I began soliciting op-Eds from various Baptist leaders, publishing them on the Web site as Baptist Reflections.

- In the fall of 2009, David had left TBC, and our Board – under the chairmanship of first Steve Wells and then Michael Bell – began meeting almost every month to discuss whether TBC should continue (funds were already very low) and, if so, in what form . . . what would be our focus, etc. In March 2010, Bank of America laid me off, making me available. That fall, Michael Bell asked if I would be open to taking over the executive leadership of the organization. That was a surprise to me – I had never considered or imagined it. I was dubious, told Michael I didn’t think the Board would go for that, considering my lack of experience, not being a preacher, etc. Michael asked me to stay open to the possibility. A few weeks later, the Board voted unanimously to elect me to lead TBC from an executive position, effective January 1, 2011. I accepted.

January 2011
- The first thing I did was begin producing, in my study at home, a series of videos on Baptist history and principles, which I called Baptist Briefs, because they were only two to three minutes each. I meticulously researched materials for these videos, and wrote scripts, which I rehearsed while pacing up-and-down the hallway outside my study, so that I would be able to look at the cameral throughout, without looking down at a script.

I put the first one up on the Web site on Monday, January 3, and began putting up a new one daily, Monday-Friday. Within the first week, Bruce Gourley, executive director of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, called to let me know how much he was enjoying them. Great affirmation!

A few weeks later, Michael Dain, professor at Wayland Baptist University, told me he was using some of them with his classes. When I went out to Howard Payne for the Currie-Strickland Lectures, Art Allen a Howard Payne professor, said I looked familiar and then realized he recognized me from Baptist Briefs, some of which he had shared with his students.

February-March 2011
- There were two evenings at the end of February 2011 that have been pivotal in my relationship with the Lord and in everything I’ve done since. As I prepared to produce a series of Baptist Briefs on the Youth Revival Movement that started at Baylor in 1944, I read – over two evenings – Bruce McIver’s Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement. I found myself in tears both evenings.

- The first evening, it was because I was overwhelmed by the faith of those young people at Baylor, whose hearts God had touched with the need for revival in Waco. Early-on, they recognized that they were inadequate for this task, so they prayed together, night after night, in their dorms ‘til 2 or 3 in the morning. I could relate, because I, too, had been given a task for which I felt inadequate. So I had to go to God daily (and still do), saying, “Lord, you know that I’m not up to this, but you are. Please do your work through me.”

- The second night, I was in tears again, as I read the names of people – involved in that movement in the 1940s – with whom I was working on the Maston Foundation Board in 2011. Louis Cobbs was one; Jimmy Allen, who got involved when the movement spread to Howard Payne in 1947, was another. So I walked around my living room, late at night, crying, saying, “Lord, are you sure you know what you’re doing, having me working with people like this? I’ll never be able to accomplish for you what they have.” And the still small voice of God – not audible, but just as real – said to me, “That’s not your concern. All you need to do is be faithful to what I’ve called you to do.”

My testimony today is that God has faithfully granted my prayer to “do your work through me.” God has accomplished things through me that I could have never imagined, much less accomplished, on my own. That book on the Youth Revival Movement moved me more than any book ever has; God used it powerfully in my life.

A wonderful postscript to that experience: In August 2011, I got to meet Lawanna McIver Fields, widow of Bruce McIver, who had been George Mason’s predecessor as Wilshire’s pastor. Lawanna and her husband, legendary Baptist journalist W. C. Fields, attended Wilshire’s 60th anniversary celebration. I shared with her then about my videos and later emailed the link to her. Soon after that, she told me that she loved the videos so much that she had sent the link to her grandchildren and urged them to watch them. That was the best affirmation that I could get that I had been faithful to Bruce’s book – that his widow would share my videos with their grandchildren.

March 2012
- The T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees elected me as chair, a role I filled for the next four years. T. B. Maston has been an influence in my life from the moment I was born. Daddy was studying under Dr. Maston at that time and earned his Th.D. in Christian Ethics under Dr. Maston in 1956, when I was 5. Daddy played a key role in starting the Maston Foundation and chaired it for the first decade-plus of its existence. Here was another labor of love for me. Thanks be to God!

April 2013
- Our son, Travis, suffers a massive stroke, and we almost lose him. He was taken to the hospital around 10:30 p.m. on April 1; around midnight, the doctors come out and tell us that he has a 50-50 chance to survive this stroke. I begin texting everyone for whom I have a cell phone number and ask them to pray. Responses begin pouring in immediately. At 6 a.m., George Mason is there to pray with us. At 8 a.m., as they begin surgery, the hospital chaplain introduces himself to us, prays with us, sits with us through the entire operation, and explains – in English – what the doctors tell us following surgery. By the grace of God, Travis is still with us today. Through Travis’s stroke, and Joanna’s kidney disease, I’ve learned a lot about prayer and gotten to know God a lot better.

Well, I need to bring this to a close. So I’ll cut it “short” here. But you get the gist.

Again, this is one layperson’s journey – how God has some remarkable surprises for us along the way. God has blessed my family and me. Thank you for reading. If nothing else, this has been cathartic for me. I hope it’s an encouragement to others.

Thank you
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Texas Baptists Committed – and I personally – owe some thank yous as we say goodbye. I know I’ll overlook someone, and I apologize for that, but I want to make my best effort to thank those who have played an especially significant role in what TBC and/or I have accomplished over the years. (And, if I think of someone I've forgotten, I may "edit" this post in the next few days and add them.) Much of this is stream-of-consciousness; please forgive the inconsistent punctuation, etc.

These appear in no particular order, with three exceptions - David Currie first, because of his preeminent role in both TBC's history AND my journey through Baptist life; and saving the two best for last (you'll see who they are when you get there):

David Currie
– for your leadership in keeping Texas Baptists free at a time when they were under their greatest threat; and, personally, for trusting this layperson enough, as you did with countless laypersons over the years, to help me get involved in Baptist life – recommending me for the BGCT Executive Board (2002); recommending me for the TBC Board (2006); giving me the privilege of editing your writings (including over 100 Ranchers Rumblings columns from 2007-2009) – and, most of all, for being a faithful and encouraging friend

TBC Board members through the years
 – from those who welcomed me onto the Board in 2006 to those who asked me to serve as executive director (2011) and have faithfully supported and encouraged me in my work and collaborated with me in this important ministry

Jill Faragher and Steve Wells
- When Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, chaired our TBC Board in 2010, he recommended that we hire Jill Faragher, financial manager for South Main, to work part-time as TBC's financial manager. From the beginning, Jill has been a blessing to TBC - and especially to me after I became executive director in January 2011.

- Many thanks to Steve Wells and South Main for sharing Jill with us.

- Many thanks to Jill for the wonderful work she has done for us during the past 7 years - recording and depositing donations; filing forms required of nonprofits by the state & federal governments; managing payroll; providing the Board and me with monthly, quarterly, and annual financial statements; mailing our informational and fundraising letters to our supporters; procuring needed supplies (letterhead envelopes, donation forms, etc.); mailing annual giving statements to donors; and anything else we needed.

- Jill has done all of this with grace and excellence. By doing all of this, she has made my job much easier, freeing me to do the work I've been called to do.

- Besides all that, it has been an absolute joy to work with her. Thank you, Jill.

Phil and Carolyn Strickland
- Phil was a member of the TBC Board when I joined it in January 2006, but he passed away only a month later, so I regret that I never got to serve with him on the Board; however, in the early 2000s, when Joanna & I were still members of a church in Plano that was headed toward Fundamentalism, I would stop by the Christian Life Commission booth and talk to Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter about my concerns over that church; they listened and cared, and encouraged me

- in 2004, I drove down to San Antonio for Phil's CLC conference at Trinity Baptist Church, where one of his speakers was his good friend and his pastor, George Mason, of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas; Joanna and I had already decided we would soon be leaving our church in Plano after almost 17 years there; this was my first time to hear George speak; I called Joanna & told her we were going to have to visit Wilshire; when we did, Phil was excited to see us and encouraged us to join . . . we joined that August, on the day that Wilshire was celebrating George's 15th anniversary as pastor; Phil, sitting on the chancel to make a presentation to George, smiled as he saw us walking the aisle that morning

- Phil was a great friend and encourager to me, and I still miss him . . . more than that, he was a prophetic voice in Baptist life and played a key role in the history of Texas Baptists Committed

- in recent years, I've had the privilege of serving with his wife, Carolyn, on the T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees; Carolyn has continued to give generously to support Texas Baptists Committed; together, Phil and Carolyn have provided a rich legacy for Texas Baptists

George Mason and Wilshire Baptist Church
- George Mason is my friend, my pastor, my encourager, and an unwavering supporter of TBC; from the pulpit, he has challenged me and deepened my understanding of God, scripture, and faith; Wilshire has been generous in its financial support of Texas Baptists Committed, moreso than any other church during my tenure, and words are inadequate to express my appreciation to George Mason and my home church that Joanna and I dearly love

TBC’s founders
– particularly Charles Wade and Bill Bruster, who began talking as early as 1985 about the need to build an entity that would protect Texas Baptists from those who were grabbing power in the SBC

Bob Stephenson
– who began providing much-needed financial support to TBC in the 1990s, then served on the TBC Board and in 2011, when the Board decided to continue TBC under my leadership, made – and kept – a five-year commitment of $80,000/year; TBC would have folded much earlier without Bob Stephenson’s faithful support; but that support was more than financial – I have enjoyed many wide-ranging conversations with Bob over the years, and he has always offered me encouragement; Texas Baptists have never had a better friend than Oklahoman Bob Stephenson, and neither have I

Babs Baugh and the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation
– I first met Babs when I came onto the TBC Board in 2006 and we served together on that Board; she and I talked about the great legacy of our fathers; then, in 2007, our fathers passed away within months of each other; I count her and John Jarrett, her husband, and Jackie Baugh Moore, her daughter, as great friends; the Baugh Foundation has been extremely generous to TBC, including several $25,000 donations in recent years; one of those donations came at an extremely critical time in 2016, truly an answer to my prayers; most of all, Babs is gracious and generous, as were her parents

TBC’s supporters
– from the beginning to the end; though support has dwindled in recent years, there are some who have continued to faithfully support TBC to the end, and I can’t thank them enough; I’m only sorry that we can’t continue, because they are committed to this cause; we’ve even picked up a few new supporters in recent years; I found particular encouragement in a generous donation from a woman in Maryland – I have never met her, never heard from her, and don’t know what her connection is to TBC, but I thank God for her

Readers of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup
– as TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup concludes with its final issue on July 29, 2017, over 900 Baptists are opening it every week; this e-newsletter has been a solitary effort through the years, most of it done in the solitude of my study at home, so I’ve found particular encouragement when attending conferences – in Texas and beyond – over the years, because invariably at least three or four people will introduce themselves to me and tell me how much they enjoy the Roundup; at CBF one year, Otniel Buniacu, then head of both the European Baptist Federation and the Baptist Union of Romania, stopped me, introduced himself, and told me he reads the Roundup every week; at CBF this year, a field personnel to Togo, West Africa, did the same, telling me the Roundup has enabled him to keep up with Baptist life back here in the States, and I had the sad duty of telling him its days were numbered; thank you all for faithfully reading the Roundup

Phil Lineberger
– a longtime member of the TBC Board, Phil had rotated off of the Board months before he passed away in 2015; the last time I spoke with Phil had been November 2014, when we strategized together about getting Kathy Hillman elected as president of the BGCT; from the time I took this job in 2011, I had considered Phil my “go-to person” when it comes to BGCT politics; I trusted him more than anyone else in that arena; his experience and wisdom were invaluable; every year, when it came time to work on getting the right officers for the BGCT, my first call was to Phil Lineberger; but I also simply enjoyed talking to Phil . . . his sense of humor, his encouraging demeanor, his friendship; at John Petty’s funeral in February 2011, Phil helped educate many of us on depression as a mental illness; that made it especially poignant when, a little over four years later, depression took Phil from us. I still miss him.

Steve Vernon
– as with Babs, I first met Steve after I came onto the TBC Board in 2006 and began serving with him there; actually, I don’t think I met him until that November, at the annual meeting where he was to be elected president of the BGCT; by the time I became executive director in 2011, Steve was BGCT associate executive director; in those years, Steve and I have talked several times a year, sometimes at length, about possible officers for the BGCT; I’ve appreciated Steve’s counsel and suggestions, and then – in most cases – have wound up making the call to ask a prospective candidate to run

- Steve and I have worked well together; last year, we disagreed on disfellowshipping churches over the LGBTQ issue, yet Steve graciously attended our TBC Breakfast – he has always been supportive – where he heard me criticize BGCT leadership for violating local church autonomy; then that afternoon, as we both wound up in the parking lot at the same time, getting ready to head home from Waco, we hugged and agreed that it’s okay for Baptists to disagree (sometimes it’s what Baptists do best); I trust Steve Vernon 100%, he’s a great friend

BGCT staffers
– many BGCT staffers are my friends; they have encouraged me over the years, they have welcomed me to Executive Board meetings as a guest, and I have enjoyed meetings with them, as well as simply fellowshipping with them

David Hardage
– for the first few years after he became BGCT executive director, David welcomed me to his office several times a year to talk about Baptist issues and what was going on in the BGCT; in 2013, David was keynote speaker at our TBC Breakfast, and he attended all of our breakfasts except our last one in 2016; regardless of how that relationship ended, I’m appreciative of the open door that he extended to me through those years

Journalists, op-Ed writers, bloggers
– they have provided the content for TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, all I did was link to them, and they did the rest of the work; I especially thank The Baptist Standard, Baptist News Global, Ethics Daily, and Word&Way; I have friends at all of these publications, and I deeply appreciate the work they do

- I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a good many of the bloggers whose columns I’ve linked; it’s remarkable to me the proliferation of outstanding Baptist bloggers & op-Ed writers over the 6+ years since I began TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup; with the final issue (July 29), I’ve published 323 issues since it began in May 2011; after the first 250, there were so many bloggers that I decided to create an Excel file to keep track of whose op-Eds I linked every week so as to maintain variety from week to week; in the 73 issues since I started keeping track, I’ve linked to op-Ed articles by 523 different authors; incredible!

- Thank you, journalists and op-Ed writers/bloggers, for all of the challenging, thought-provoking content!

Suzii Paynter and Rick McClatchy
– When I took this job in January 2011, I felt a little overwhelmed, and that sense has never changed; I’m a layperson, not a preacher, never went to seminary, and had never led an organization until taking this job; I had no formal training for it, didn’t even have the luxury of moving up the organization through the ranks, simply BOOM! from Board member to executive director!

- From the beginning, I’ve considered Suzii and Rick my two primary “mentors.” Both were already longtime friends of mine before I took this job. I’m not sure they were even aware they were mentoring me, but I was always able to call them with questions and concerns and receive the counsel I needed.

- There was one time, however, when Rick mentored me with definite intentionality. In May 2011, we were at the Baptist History & Heritage Society conference at Dallas Baptist University. With a free afternoon, Rick asked to meet with me for a couple of hours in the DBU student building. With coffee cups in hand, we sat down, and Rick gave me a primer on postmodernism, saying that if I were going to lead an organization like TBC, I needed to understand the challenges of postmodernism. It was a most helpful  and enlightening two hours.

- Thank you, Suzii Paynter and Rick McClatchy.

Jase and Vivian Jones
Mother and Daddy have been gone for many years, but their love and encouragement, and their commitment to Christ, are always with me. Daddy's last words to me, the last time I saw him, just a week before he passed away, were to tell me how proud he was of me. I told him I felt the same pride in him. My parents were special.

Joanna Jones
– Joanna has been incredibly supportive of my work and ministry, especially where it concerns TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup. For the past 6+ years, we’ve traveled very little, haven’t even been able to take a little weekend trip here and there, because every Saturday I’m glued to my computer in my study, working to finish the Roundup. And I mean all day Saturday, and usually – as many of you have commented on – into the wee hours of Sunday morning. So no going out to a movie Saturday afternoon, no going out shopping together or on a little day trip, none of that.

- She has gone to conferences with me and stood there patiently while I chatted the hours away with friends . . . I’ve noticed I’m usually the last one out of a room after a meeting, luncheon, dinner, etc., because I’m always looking around the room for friends and invariably find one, two, or more. God blessed me when He brought her into my life, and she has somehow stuck with me for almost 41 years of marriage. Thank you, Joanna, for loving me and encouraging me in the work and ministry I love.

– Well, this seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet God often gets ignored in these thank you lists. But it would be a terrible omission in this case. As I mentioned earlier, I felt pretty overwhelmed when I took this job in 2011. Then, in 2012, the T. B. Maston Foundation Board elected me as chair, a role I filled for four years. Then, in 2013, our son, Travis, suffered a stroke, and we moved him and his family to live with us. Four years later, he and his daughter (he & his wife divorced almost 2 years ago) are still living with us, and the stroke has left him with some physical limitations.

- From the time I took the role of leading TBC in January 2011, on through the other challenges that have come my way since then, I’ve had to go to God daily and say, “You know that I’m not up to this, but You are. So please do your work through me.” My testimony is that God has graciously and faithfully granted that prayer. I have seen him accomplish things through me that I know are beyond me . . . it’s all Him. I thank God for the wonderful opportunities He has given me . . . opportunities I never sought, because I could have never imagined them. God’s imagination is much bigger than mine. Thanks be to God for the grace He gives me every day.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A response to Lawrence Ware’s op-ed article in the NYTimes, July 17, 2017, Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention,
by Charles R. Wade, executive director, retired, Baptist General Convention of Texas

Lawrence Ware, Baptist pastor and co-director of the Center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University, was deeply offended by the hesitancy of the voting delegates of the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt a resolution condemning the Alt-Right political movement with its racist, white supremacist ideology. After some discussion and a rewriting of the resolution, the convention overwhelmingly approved the second resolution and condemned the racist and white supremacist vision of the Alt-Right.

This hesitancy, however, along with the perceived captivity of the convention to a far-right-wing political vision, combined with Ware’s experience with racism in Southern Baptist life, seem to have all come together, causing a crisis moment for him. His position seemingly stems from his disappointment with Southern Baptists, and he has decided to withdraw from participation with Southern Baptists.

Upon reading the article, my heart sank once again, because this is a struggle that has been going on among Southern Baptists and in our nation ever since our churches began to try to understand and respond to racism in all its ugly forms. Painful indictments can be made regarding Christian leaders, across the history of America, who have joined in racist and murderous attitudes toward African Americans, Native peoples in America (American Indians), Chinese workers who helped build our national railroads, Japanese Americans who were incarcerated after Pearl Harbor, and certainly Mexican migrants who work the fields providing food for America’s tables. This endemic racism has many sources, and prejudice is a prevailing sin that needs to be addressed and confronted in every generation and in every life.

When I was a young pastor in the early 1960’s, I was tempted to give up on Southern Baptists, even though it was the only church life I knew. What kept me engaged with Southern Baptists was the influence of some gifted and courageous men.
  • Walker Knight was the editor of the Home Mission Magazine, the communication organ of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). He told the stories of Black Americans and the ministries that were challenging the segregationist mind-set of many Southern Baptists. His approach was like oxygen to my soul.
  • T.B. Maston was professor of Christian Ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he spoke often of the need for Baptist churches to develop a new understanding of the Bible and race.
  • Foy Valentine was the outspoken leader of the Christian Life Commission of Southern Baptists (now called Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) and, in calling Baptists to a Christian embrace of all races, he, like the other two, drew the wrath and opposition of many Southern Baptist leaders and laity.
These men spoke truth to power, and they pushed against the narrow-minded and racist attitudes then prevalent in our society and in our churches. In so doing, they gave me hope!

I suspect today there are young Southern Baptists who are holding onto the hope that things will get better, fostered by the leadership of Russell Moore, who now has Foy Valentine’s job. Indications are that he will help Southern Baptists get to a good place in their understanding of other cultures and ethnicities and come to embrace a more civil, moral, and generous public life. To be effective, however, Russell Moore must steel himself against criticism. He has faced the ire of Southern Baptist leaders this past year because of his vocal concern about the moral capacities and attitudes of the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

I remember 1976, it was the year our family moved to First Baptist Church, Arlington, TX, where I had been called as pastor, when Jimmy Allen, pastor of FBC, San Antonio, TX, and former leader of the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists, was elected president of the SBC. In the fall of that year, Jimmy Carter, Georgia governor, and Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher, was elected President of the United States. I thought things were finally going to get a lot better among Southern Baptists, because both of these men were articulate and passionate about addressing the moral crisis that racism and greed presented to America and, specifically, to Southern Baptists.

But it was not to be. Jimmy Allen was followed by Adrian Rogers, who ushered in a new reality in Southern Baptist life . . . I called it “the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC.” SBC leadership called it “the Conservative Resurgence” and claimed that they could make Southern Baptists great again by emphasizing “biblical inerrancy” as the only acceptable way to affirm the authority of the Holy Bible in our churches and seminaries.

Baptists like me had, and still have, a high view of Scripture and the divine inspiration of the written Word of God. We believe the Bible to be the authority by which we understand Christian doctrine and practice. We believe it to be the foundation of all we preach. But we could not in good conscience use the phrase “biblical inerrancy,” because it suggested a kind of precision suitable for math equations or an engineer’s blueprint. For many of us, it was not an appropriate or acceptable description for the inspired nature of biblical literature, which was clearly not “dictated” but is the product of the Holy Spirit’s perfect work in the life of those who were witnesses to the work of God in creation, the Exodus, and to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the early church.

It soon became clear to me that the leaders of the so-called “Conservative Resurgence” were strategically using this issue as a wedge to divide the convention and the churches. They apparently wanted control of all institutions and agencies of the convention in order to purge all who were not loyal to their agenda.

During this time, another movement began in the political life of America, often called the “Religious Right.” The SBC provided many of the leaders and foot soldiers for this alliance. They turned against President Carter, who led and served out of a deep Christian desire to bear witness to Jesus and exemplify the principles he knew as a Christian and a Baptist. They threw their support to another candidate, even though his religious background and practice showed little understanding and commitment to church life. For Christian leaders to hold up moral integrity as an important qualification for a national leader and then turn their backs on Carter was sad, disappointing, and disturbing. (More currently disturbing is a comment made by one Baptist pastor during the recent election cycle. Paraphrasing, his point was we have had a Sunday school teacher as president, but now we need a strong leader -- even though there is little evidence he has even a passing acquaintance with Christian convictions and practice.)

So, for the last 37 years, Southern Baptists have been dominated by leaders who have cherished their “victory” over the moderate wing of the Convention . . . who, of course, they describe as liberals. Some good things have happened among Southern Baptist through these years, including a growing racial diversity in the churches. But the promised victories in the churches, if Southern Baptists “purified” the leadership of their institutions and professors in the schools, has not come to pass. Southern Baptists have experienced decline in almost all areas of church life over these years.

When the leaders of the SBC “conservative resurgence” determined to take over the life, ministry, and work of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) as they had done with the SBC, many Texas Baptists opposed them, and Texas Baptists were able to deny them the control of our convention and institutions (Baylor University and the Baptist Standard, e.g.), which they so much wanted to have. Along the way, Texas Baptists stood in the gap on behalf of the Baptist Joint Committee and the Baptist World Alliance when Southern Baptists decided to defund, and withdraw from participation in, their work.

When the new SBC leaders decided not to endorse woman chaplains, made unacceptable changes in theological education at the SBC seminaries, adopted a new Baptist Faith and Message (2000) that differed in some significant ways from the previous BF&M (1963) and then required all missionaries to sign the document and effectively treated it as a creed, Texas Baptists (BGCT) opposed them and made efforts to mitigate the damage.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas continued to support and include all Texas Baptist churches who wanted to support SBC missions and ministries, as well as those who preferred to support the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) or to support only the BGCT’s mission and ministries. As for me personally, I was present for the organizing of CBF, have attended most annual gatherings, and am deeply appreciative of the role CBF has played in giving a voice to those who were marginalized by Southern Baptists. When asked what kind of Baptist I am, I reply “I am a Texas Baptist.” I am aware that Texas Baptists are not perfect. We struggle to embrace one another and to celebrate the ethnic, linguistic, and racial diversity among us. But we rejoice in all the peoples God has brought together in Texas, and we are seeking to minister to them all.

I am grateful for the years I spent as executive director of the BGCT and the opportunity to travel across Texas working with and for Texas Baptists. I saw with my own eyes our local churches increasingly filled with people from different backgrounds, languages, and ethnicities. Almost 15 years ago, we elected Dr. Albert Reyes as the first Mexican-American to be president of our Texas Baptist convention. The next year, we elected the Rev. Dr. Michael Bell, the first African American to so serve. Then we elected Mrs. Joy Fenner as the first woman to hold that office. They, of course, served with distinction, and it was my privilege to work with them in that setting. We widened the make-up of our Executive Board and mandated that 30% of the 90-member board would be from our ethnic populations. What this does is to raise the level of discourse and make it possible to increase real understanding of diverse cultures exponentially. We said at the time we made this change, “We want the face of Texas Baptists to look like the face of Texas.”

In the last few years as lay-member and pastor emeritus of FBC Arlington, I have watched the church show significant signs of growing ethnic inclusivity. We have intentionally built bridges of understanding and mutual support with African American and other ethnic congregations in our city. The missional heart of our senior pastor, staff, and congregation is on display Sunday by Sunday.

Although I cannot fully understand or experience the pain of Lawrence Ware, I fully trust that his position, so aptly expressed, will evoke a genuine conviction and a sustained willingness to change, not only within the hearts of Southern and Texas Baptists but reaching out to all America. In support, Christians and people of all faiths can immediately confront the Alt-Right movement honestly and courageously. We can deny it legitimacy and hold accountable its defenders. The Alt-Right is neither a political philosophy nor is it simply one idea among many. It is deliberately and intentionally racist, white supremacist, and xenophobic while cultivating arrogance and fear. It traces its ideology to the same roots as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany. It has no place in the lives of Baptist people anywhere.

Bottom line, I do not suggest that Texas Baptists, or my own church, have achieved an ideal awareness of the questions and commitment to the solutions. I do not criticize Lawrence Ware’s decision to withdraw from participation with Southern Baptists. But because of his discourse, perhaps we are closer to understanding what needs to happen to make a difference worth celebrating in our churches, communities, and nation. I do believe that as Baptists, and as a people, we want to be better. We are growing, and we will keep on learning and caring and making room for one another. We know God has made room for us all.