Monday, February 19, 2018

Texas Baptists Committed: Gone but Not Forgotten; and the Battle Continues
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director (retired)

My remarks to the 2018 Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics

(Suzii Paynter was the keynote lecturer for the 2018 Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics, held at Howard Payne University [HPU] in Brownwood, TX, on Feb. 15-16. Derek Hatch, HPU associate professor of Christian studies, moderated the evening. Derek graciously asked me to speak briefly about the legacy of Texas Baptists Committed and David Currie.)

Before I get to my written remarks addressing TBC’s legacy, Lance’s and David’s comments have sparked a couple of thoughts I want to share.

First, the connections in this room, which Lance mentioned. For me, there are several strong longtime connections:
  • Suzii Paynter was my encourager back in the early 2000s, when I would stop by the CLC booth at the BGCT annual meeting – where both Suzii and Phil Strickland were available – and I would talk to them, because I was in a church at that time that was moving toward Fundamentalism, and I was frustrated. They were both my encouragers during that time, and meant so much to me.
  • David Currie has been responsible, either directly or indirectly, for every step I’ve taken in Baptist life over the last two decades, and I’m so thankful for him and his friendship.
  • Lance Currie was the chair of our TBC Board the past few years, and I’ve really appreciated that partnership with Lance, and what he’s meant to me as a friend as well.
  • Carolyn Strickland and I have worked together at the Maston Foundation for the past few years. For four years, I was chair, and she was vice-chair; don’t let those titles fool you, because I took direction from her, not the other way around, and that was a good thing, believe me! So, lots of important connections for me in this room.

The second thing is, David talked about his ethics [calling himself ‘unethical’]. When I went on the Texas Baptists Committed Board in 2006, I had never been on a Board of that kind. I had been on the BGCT Executive Board when it was 250 members, and we just kind of rubber-stamped the reports that were brought to us, basically. But I had never been on this kind of Board.

I had a little skepticism, wondering whether I was going to find out how sausage got made here, whether I was going to see some things . . . I never went to seminary, but my dad had a Th.D. in Ethics and helped start the T. B. Maston Foundation, and I wondered what I was going to see here. I can tell you, in four years of working on that Board before David retired, I was amazed that I never heard David recommend that we do anything that was, you know, under the table, that was unethical. It was always, we’re going to do things the way Jesus would have us do it, the way Jesus set the example. David, you can talk about your ethics, but I saw it up-close, and I’ve seen it up-close for all these years of friendship, and you’re walking as Jesus walked.

I do want to thank Derek for asking me to talk about Texas Baptists Committed and David Currie, and the significance of that legacy.

The story of Texas Baptists Committed is the story of thousands of Texas Baptists working together . . . thousands who were alerted to a threat, kept informed, and then acted to keep Texas Baptists free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I’m going to give you an extremely brief version of that story. If you want a more detailed – but not a whole lot longer – version, you can go to, click on videos, then Baptist Briefs. (The Web site’s still there, and I’m keeping it there.) There you’ll find a five-part series on the founding of Texas Baptists Committed.

I know this seems like ancient history to many, especially a generation of students who have grown up in the 21st century. But every day we are reminded that each generation is called to defend freedom, which is under attack from many sides. And each generation of Baptists is called to defend the freedoms that are embedded in our Baptist heritage:
  • the freedom to read and interpret scripture as led by the Holy Spirit
  • the freedom of each individual to seek God and relate to God as led by God, not as dictated by others
  • the freedom of each believer to follow her or his call to any avenue of service, as led by God
  • the freedom of every church to govern itself without interference by any institution, and to determine whom it will or will not ordain for service
  • and the freedom of all people to freely believe or not believe, to exercise faith or no faith without interference by the state.

All of these freedoms are under attack today – from within Baptist life and without, from within the Church and without, from within the United States and without. The battle that Texas Baptists Committed fought in the 1990s is not ancient history; it’s a battle that every generation is called to fight. The faith, the life, to which Jesus calls us is one of challenge and, frankly, it's one of risk.

Two of the most courageous and faithful Christ-followers I’ve ever known are in this room with us tonight – Suzii Paynter and David Currie. Their lives and ministries are testimony to Jesus’ assurance that those who are faithful to His call will face persecution. But I have never known either one of them to let that deter them from being faithful to His call on their lives.

In the late 1980s, it had become increasingly obvious that those who used secular politics to attempt to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention would succeed in their quest. Their takeover was accomplished by electing as president, every year for over a decade, men who had pledged loyalty to their cause; SBC presidents, you see, appointed the Boards that oversaw the SBC’s work. After a decade of electing their man as president, they achieved a majority on all Boards of people who were loyal to them.

It was also obvious that, once they gained control of the SBC, their next target would be Texas. The Baptist General Convention of Texas, the BGCT, was by far the largest state convention, had the most institutions, the most churches, the most money. And it had the prize that Paul Pressler – one of the two chief architects of the Takeover, along with Paige Patterson – lusted after: Baylor University.

Ultimately, Texas Baptists Committed was formed, and David Currie was hired to lead it. Sure enough, as soon as the Fundamentalists gained control of the SBC, they began running candidates for president of the BGCT. But in Texas, David Currie proved to be uniquely effective at framing the issues at stake and motivating Moderates in Texas to get involved; he also built an organization that proved remarkably effective in turning out the Moderate vote for BGCT elections. Year after year, in contrast to their 1980s victories at the SBC, the Fundamentalists lost the vote for president at the BGCT. Ultimately, in 1998, they gave up on gaining control of the BGCT and formed their own convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas.

How were they defeated? Throughout the 1990s, David Currie tirelessly and relentlessly traveled across and throughout the state, speaking to people in churches, keeping them informed of the issues at stake, and urging them to go to the Annual Convention Meeting as messengers, voting for the candidate who was committed to historic Baptist principles, committed to ensuring the freedom of Baptists and their churches.

But the Southern Baptists of Texas didn’t give up the battle in 1998, they just took it underground, stealthily seeking to take control of churches, and they’re still doing that today. Sending their candidates before pastor search committees, where they claim to be apolitical, where they claim to be servant leaders. Then, when the church calls them, they fire staff members and begin to dictate to the church . . . servant leaders? Not at all! We’ve heard this story from one church after another . . . these wolves in sheep’s clothing spark dissension from which many churches have never recovered.

So that’s the battle Texas Baptists Committed has fought for the past 20 years.

David retired in 2009 after over two decades leading TBC. I was on the Board for the last 4 years of David’s tenure. In January 2011, the Board asked me to succeed David as executive director.

As I said, many don’t see the challenge, the threat as clearly as TBC supporters saw it in the 1990s. Since there is not a Fundamentalist-vs.-Moderate battle for the convention presidency, the threat isn’t as visible. So last year, the Board and I faced the reality of dwindling funds and decided to bring Texas Baptists Committed to an end.

Though CBF doesn’t have the same mission as TBC, we know that CBF has the same unswerving commitment to Baptist principles. So the Board voted, at my recommendation, to send our database of supporters and our few – and, believe me, they were almost too few to mention – remaining funds to CBF’s new regional organization, Fellowship Southwest, led by Marv Knox.

That’s the story of Texas Baptists Committed in a nutshell. We see this work continuing, we see the battle continuing, but it's got to be fought by a new generation, it's got to be fought through other media, through other methods. But it still goes on.

I’ve come to know Bill Ellis, Donnie Auvenshine, Derek Hatch, and others here at Howard Payne in recent years, and I am proud of that association, because Howard Payne University is also unswerving in its commitment to historic Baptist principles and to the freedom that Christ offers to all of us, that Christ desires for all of us.

I’m thankful for Howard Payne’s continuing commitment to the Currie-Strickland Lectures. In addition to David’s leadership of TBC for those many years, Phil Strickland also played a key role in the work and ministry of Texas Baptists Committed. In the last few years of his life, Phil became a great friend and encourager to me; it was Phil who helped my wife and me find Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, which for almost 14 years now has been a blessing in our lives many times over. So I’m so thankful for David Currie and Phil Strickland, and for their legacy, for their friendship, and for the opportunity to have been a part of Texas Baptists Committed, an organization that – though it is gone – must never be forgotten by Texas Baptists or Baptists anywhere in the world, for its legacy is freedom in Jesus Christ.

Thank you.