Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A. Jase Jones, part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

(I originally posted this on the TBMaston Foundation blog, Weighty Matters, on June 21, 2011. Last Friday, September 2, would have been Daddy's 98th birthday.)

I've been thinking a lot about my Daddy the past few days. He passed away 4 years ago this week at the age of 93. Father's Day brought to mind our family's last visit with him. We celebrated Father's Day with him a day early that year, on Saturday. He died exactly a week later.

That last visit was a precious gift from God. Although Daddy had struggled in his last years - as so many do at that age - with a fuzzy memory and mental faculties that weren't as sharp as they once were, that Saturday he was truly his old self. He was recalling family memories as if they were yesterday, and he was laughing and joking with us - and we had a wonderful time together as a family that day.

As the rest of the family said goodbye and started toward the door to allow workers to take him back to his room, my son Travis and I lingered behind for one more goodbye. I had a pretty strong feeling that I might never see him again in this life. One more time, I told him how much I loved him, and he told me the same - and how proud he was of the man I had become. What a gift! Thank you, Lord.

Dr. A. Jase (Atwood Jason) Jones was a special man. Most people - even Baptists - don't know his name, because he was never prominent in national leadership. Yet he spent 22 years (January 1957 through December 1978) with the SBC Home Mission Board's Department of Interfaith Witness, leading the department's work in about a dozen midwestern and southwestern states.

Daddy surrendered to the ministry in the late 1930s, only after struggling against God's call for quite a time. When he finally surrendered to God's call, he was a rising young assistant manager in the F. W. Woolworth chain. In fact, he was told he was being transferred to a store that everyone knew was the final stepping stone to being promoted from assistant manager to manager.

Unfortunately for Woolworth, their timing was all wrong. Daddy had recently decided to stop fighting God's call to the Gospel ministry. When he told his manager that he couldn't in good conscience accept the transfer because he had decided to go to seminary to study for the ministry, his manager laughed at him and said, "You're going to be a preacher? There's no money in that!"

But now Daddy was the one who was laughing. "Don't you think I know that?" Money, he explained, had nothing to do with his decision; it was all about being faithful to God's call.

Daddy had graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1936. He was a Texan through and through, having been born in Corrigan in 1913 and grown up in various Texas towns.

Daddy married my Mother, Vivian Louise Otting, in January 1938, and they would soon be starting a family (my sister, Patsy, was born in 1941), so a Woolworth manager's salary would have made life more comfortable, but that wasn't what Mother and Daddy were about. They would trust God to provide what they needed.

Read part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

Read part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

A. Jase Jones, part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

(I originally posted this on the TBMaston Foundation blog, Weighty Matters, on June 21, 2011. Last Friday, September 2, would have been Daddy's 98th birthday.)

Mother & Daddy with our kids, Alison & Travis (1991)

Daddy began study at Southwestern Seminary, but his study was interrupted when, in early 1943, he enlisted in the U. S. Army as a chaplain. For the next 2 years, he served under General George S. Patton's command in the European Theatre of Operations.

In the summer of 1945, after victory in Europe was achieved, his regiment returned home on the Queen Mary. They were expecting only a brief stay at home, for they were scheduled to ship out for the Pacific in the fall. Only Harry Truman's decisive actions, leading to Japan's surrender, changed those plans, meaning Daddy was home to stay.

He soon resumed his seminary work while pastoring small churches. He received his Master's degree from Southwestern in 1948 and decided to pursue a doctorate in theology, with a major in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston.

In fact, my connection with Dr. Maston goes back to my birth. Daddy was scheduled to take his spring 1951 oral exam on March 16, but Mother was expecting, and the due date was right around the time of his exam. Although he was studying diligently (while also carrying out his pastoral responsibilities and working a part-time job with Foremost Dairy), his mind was preoccupied with taking care of Mother and preparing for the birth of their second child. So he requested an extension from Dr. Maston, and Dr. Maston granted him an extra month, rescheduling the exam for April 16. I was born on March 14.

Daddy received his Th.D. in Christian Ethics from Southwestern Seminary in 1956, just months before his 43rd birthday.

He continued pastoring small Texas churches until January 1957, when he began work with the SBC Home Mission Board. His work was co-sponsored by the Dallas and Tarrant Baptist Associations, and – for a time – by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He had offices at both the Dallas and Tarrant Baptist Associations.

At that time, the department was known as the Department of Jewish Evangelism. He began studying the Jewish culture, the Jewish faith, and the Jewish people, and he developed a special lifelong love of - and admiration for - the Jewish people. In fact, in 1973 he and Mother spent a 6-month sabbatical in Israel, where he studied at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, and he obtained a working knowledge of the Hebrew language.

In 1962, we moved to Kansas City. He was still with the Home Mission Board, but his work was now co-sponsored by the Kansas City Baptist Association (where he had his office) and the Missouri Baptist Convention. In 1974, he and Mother moved "home" to Texas, and he spent his final 5 years with the Home Mission Board officing from their home in Marble Falls.

Through the years, in addition to his daily work as pastor and then home missionary, Daddy remained in the U. S. Army Reserves as a chaplain attached to hospital units, attending monthly meetings and performing his annual required 2 weeks of active duty (including a stint in 1963 as chaplain in the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth). Shortly before retiring from the Reserves at age 60 in 1973, he attained the rank of Colonel, an achievement of which he was especially proud.
Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

Read part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

A. Jase Jones, part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

Thanksgiving 1998: We're all wearing caps commemorating the recent reunion of Daddy's WWII regiment, the 398th Engineers. (missing - Michael, Patsy & Palmer's son)

L to R: Daddy; Alison; Travis; Patsy; Stephanie's husband, Jim Markgraf; Joanna; Stephanie; and yours truly

Jim is holding the cap belonging to Palmer McCown, Patsy's husband, who is taking the picture.

(I originally posted this on the TBMaston Foundation blog, Weighty Matters, on June 21, 2011. Last Friday, September 2, would have been Daddy's 98th birthday.)

Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Maston and Tom Mc, their elder son, were visitors in our home on several occasions. Daddy always considered Dr. Maston his primary mentor and influence in his own ministry, but they were also close friends and stayed in touch regularly by mail and by phone.

A vision eventually began to form in Daddy's heart and mind - a vision of an entity that would keep Dr. Maston's life and teaching alive, long after Dr. Maston and his students were gone, as a legacy for generations yet unborn. When Daddy retired from the Home Mission Board at the beginning of 1979, he was able to focus more directly on this vision. He had already begun talking about the idea to some of his friends - fellow Maston students like Bill Pinson, Jimmy Allen, James Dunn, and Foy Valentine. In 1979, he flew to San Francisco and met with Bill Pinson - then president of Golden Gate Seminary - to discuss funding.

The T. B. Maston Scholarship Fund was born, ultimately becoming the TBMaston Foundation. In 1987, the Foundation held its first biennial Awards Dinner and honored Foy Valentine with the inaugural T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. Dr. and Mrs. Maston were in attendance. Dr. Maston died the following spring.

Daddy chaired the Foundation's Board of Trustees from its inception until 1992, after which he continued to support the work of the Foundation throughout his life. At the Foundation's 1993 Awards Dinner, the Board honored A. Jase Jones with the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. I doubt that any recognition or award ever meant more to him than this one, because T. B. Maston had been the major influence in his life and ministry. In the years following, as Mother's failing health and then his own required him to step back from active involvement, Daddy remained pleased to see the vitality and work of the Maston Foundation.

I've tried to share just a little bit about Daddy's ministry - barely a nutshell view. But that doesn't even begin to tell the story of A. Jase Jones.

Father's Day reminds me of the caring Daddy who was patient and understanding when I lost my faith during my college years. He was the major influence in helping me to find my way back to Christ. Father's Day reminds me of the caring Granddaddy who doted over his grandkids - first Stephanie and Michael (Patsy's children) and then Alison and Travis (our kids), and then his great-grandchildren Jon Michael and Christopher (Stephanie's boys).

Father's Day reminds me of the loving husband who insisted on keeping Mother at home where he could personally take care of her day and night after she had become unable to care for herself. For him, the blessed marriage that lasted 59 years and ended only with her death in 1997 seemed much too short.

And last night, as I sat rocking our second grandchild, Anderson James Clements (born yesterday afternoon), in Alison's hospital room, I couldn't help but think how much Mother and Daddy would have loved Anderson and his sister, Avery Lin, if only they had lived to see them.

Above all else, they were loving parents, and Patsy and I - and our families - know how very blessed we've been. Thanks be to God.

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

Read part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heroes of Baptist Freedom: Bob Stephenson & Associated Baptist Press

On September 8, Associated Baptist Press (ABP) will honor Bob Stephenson with its Founders Award at a dinner at NorthHaven Baptist Church, Norman, Oklahoma, where Bob and his wife, Norma, are members. When I received the announcement, I immediately emailed David Wilkinson, ABP executive director, and congratulated ABP on making such an outstanding selection.

Bob Stephenson is a valued friend to me and everyone at TBC. He is a longtime TBC Board member and generous supporter. More than that, though, Bob Stephenson is a friend of Baptists. No one has done more to defend and promote our Baptist heritage than Bob Stephenson. Truth be told, he has been one of the driving forces of Texas Baptists Committed almost from the beginning. But his generous support and tireless activity have extended to any and every front on which Baptist principles have been under attack.

In announcing this award, ABP noted Bob's "17 years of distinguished service to ABP and his steadfast and generous support for a free and responsible press for Baptist Christians worldwide."

This is a commitment and cause that we cannot afford to overlook or diminish. A free press is essential to a free people, Baptists or otherwise. We in Texas risk taking it for granted, because we have grown accustomed to the Baptist Standard's consistent commitment to journalistic integrity and independence, under the leadership of Marv Knox. But taking it for granted is the first step toward losing it. Just ask Baptists in other states!

In the 1980s, when Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers, and their friends were in the midst of their effort to take control of the SBC, Southern Baptists took Baptist Press for granted. It was led by two men, Dan Martin and Al Shackleford, who were dedicated to rooting out and telling the truth. But the truth is uncomfortable to some.

Associated Baptist Press was founded in response to the SBC Executive Committee's firing of Martin and Shackleford at Baptist Press, which took place only a month after the SBC annual meeting in June 1990 (Baptist Brief, March 24), at which Morris Chapman's presidential victory over Daniel Vestal had assured Fundamentalist leaders of a majority on all SBC committees and boards.

In his chapter on ABP's founding, in Walter B. Shurden's 1993 book, The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement, Stan Hastey writes, "the freedom tyrants seek first and foremost to obliterate upon assuming power is that of the press, to the end that the flow of information conveyed to the public about the new regime is controlled."

The New York Times quoted Martin as saying, ''We were fired because they want to have their own minister of information, a spin doctor who'll put the spin on stories the way they want."

Hastey goes on to write that Associated Baptist Press was born out of "the longstanding concern of several of the editors of Baptist state newspapers that the days of Baptist Press as a credible news operation were dwindling."

To learn more about ABP's beginnings, as well as the founding of TBC, CBF, and others that began as responses to the Takeover, I recommend Shurden's book. But my point here is that ABP has continued, for over 20 years, to tell the truth and provide an alternative to the Baptist Press house organ and its "spin doctors" to whom Martin referred.

As its Web site points out, ABP is "a non-profit, member-supported news organization. . . . made possible by Friends of ABP -- individuals, churches, and organizations that believe a free and unfettered source of news and information is essential to the health and integrity of the Christian witness and the Baptist movement. Contributions account for more than 86 percent of our annual operating budget."

Reporting the news "free and unfettered" isn't an easy job. Courage and unwavering commitment are required. Persistence and ingenuity are often required to overcome barriers placed in your way to discourage transparency.

For over 20 years, ABP's staff has demonstrated all of these and more. Under David Wilkinson's leadership, ABP continues to daily provide sound and comprehensive reporting of Baptist news as well as relevant national and world news, backed up by adherence to Baptist principles. If you're not subscribing to ABP's enews services, you're missing one of the best ways to stay informed about Baptist life.

Bob Stephenson "signed on" as a key supporter and co-laborer in the early days of Associated Baptist Press and has been steadfast in his support - as he has for TBC and other areas of Baptist life - from that day forward. I hope you'll make every effort to get to Norman, Oklahoma, on September 8 to honor this man who has given so much.

Reservations are required, but there is no charge for the dinner. To make your reservation today, email Beth Campbell at, or call 1-800-340-6626, ext. 5.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Food Fight and the Loss of Community

Otto von Bismarck called politics "the art of the possible." There was a time when politics brought people together to discuss their competing ideas, priorities, and agendas and find a middle ground that would serve all of their constituencies.

Oh, there was name-calling back then, too. But campaigns were largely confined to election years; with election night behind them, the victors got down to governing. Today we have the perpetual campaign, and governing has been replaced by "posturing."

By the same token, Baptists used to discuss our differences with mutual respect. We had differences in our understanding and interpretation of Scripture, as well as differences in the Scripture passages that we emphasized.

Granted, there were a few doctrines on which we believed agreement was essential. But we also agreed that the Baptist principles of soul freedom, priesthood of the believer, and local church autonomy were all derived from Scripture and that these Baptist distinctives demanded that we respect each other's right to relate to the Lord and Scripture as led by the Holy Spirit.

Our faith built community, bringing us together to worship Christ and study the Bible together, and to "do missions" together - whether those missions involved direct evangelism or humanitarian initiatives. We were united in Christ and united by our Baptist freedom.

But compromise became a dirty word in religious faith as it has in politics. Not only among Baptists but others as well.


Well, it seems to me that, in both of these arenas, many of us have decided that we have a monopoly on truth and our understanding of truth is inviolable.

In the political arena, one side insists that no new taxes be imposed, and the other side insists that there be no cuts in spending for favored programs. In the end, a deal was cut and there was compromise - but almost exclusively on one side and only because of the fear of the worldwide economic calamity that would follow a default in our nation's debt payments.

Baptists play out a similar scenario these days. One side is certain that its views are "the truth," so it digs its heels in and cries "heresy" when its claim on the truth is challenged. There is no room for compromise.

Then there's "the other side" - we who are called "Moderate Baptists" or, as one commentator put it recently, "Cooperative Baptists." We freely admit that "now we see through a glass, darkly." (the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:12)

We state our opinions forcefully but quickly acknowledge that we don't know the mind of God perfectly. So we're willing to listen to the opinions of others. We're a community of faith, and we must depend on others in that community. One of the ways that God shapes our faith and our relationship with Him is through other Christians, but only if we stay open to new understandings.

What have largely been lost today - both in our civic life and our religious life - are humility and community, the sense that none of us has the whole truth so we must work together, listen to each other, and at times compromise for the sake of the community . . . that we're all in this together and should be cooperating for the good of the community, not just individual "constituencies."

Compromise doesn't have to mean abandoning one's principles. It might mean simply recognizing that we aren't perfect and neither are our opinions. It might mean acknowledging that sometimes what we call our "principles" are actually just our own self-interest.

Finally, it might mean - both in our civic community and our Baptist community - adding one more principle at the top of our list: respect for others who share in that community.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baptists and Freedom: What's it really all about?

At TBC, we talk a lot about freedom. So much that sometimes the purpose of that freedom gets lost. It is through Christ that we are free. But it is also for Christ that we are free.

We are passionate about freedom because we are passionate about Jesus. At least that's the way it should be. We defend freedom for believers and churches because we believe it is biblical - but also because we believe that only by being free can believers and churches build the strongest possible relationships with God through Christ; and that only free believers and churches can be their most effective as witnesses and servants for Christ.

In recent months, Rob Bell's book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived has engendered a lot of discussion among Christians and others. It has some Christians allowing for the possibility that God's eternal grace is ultimately extended to all, regardless of whether they have accepted or rejected Christ in this life.

I have one close friend who is an agnostic and another who is Jewish by birth and deist in his worldview. I've told both of these friends that I pray that God's grace is greater than I understand, because I don't want either of them - if they keep their current beliefs to the end - spending an eternity without God. However, I've also told them that I can't get around scriptures like John 14:6, which appears to put God's grace on pretty exclusive terms: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV)

But discussions such as those centering on Rob Bell's book tend to dwell on the hereafter at the expense of the here-and-now.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the importance of eternity. After all, it's . . . eternity! What's not to understand?

But when I hear people discussing Rob Bell's ideas at great length - from whatever perspective - I begin to fear that we're missing the point. I hear Christ being discussed in dry, academic terms. I hear Christ being discussed in pragmatic terms. I hear Christ being discussed in abstract terms.

So what's missing? Passion!

And where does passion come from? A future that we know about only from descriptions and promises recorded by people living millenia before us? Or a present relationship that fills our being from day to day?

There is much in the Bible that is open to interpretation and speculation. And that's what TBC is about - defending every believer's God-given right to interpret Scripture rather than having an "official" interpretation handed down by pharisaical bishops.

But there are a few things that we should expect to agree upon. And the most elemental of those things is that Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible points to Christ.
Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
John 1:1-3a - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made." 
Revelation 22:20-21: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." 
Prophets prophesied His birth . . .
Isaiah 7:14b - "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [God with us]."
 . . . and his sacrifice.
Isaiah 53:5 - "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by His wounds we are healed."
God with us!

To me, that is the most monumental - and elemental - thought the mind can conceive. God is too big, too grand for our minds to grasp. But Jesus came - flesh-and-blood, living among women and men like you and me . . . eating, drinking, sleeping, dealing with difficult people (the disciples were no picnic), discussing scripture in the temple (Sunday School, anyone?), and even wrestling with temptation. Yet He is God.

And He is with us!

That's the kind of freedom TBC is talking about - freedom to draw close to Jesus . . . to know Him . . . to draw from His strength . . . to share our darkest, deepest secrets, sins, fears, and joys with Him. Freedom to listen to Him in the quiet of our closets (isn't that where He told us to pray?) but also in the busyness of our lives and relationships . . . to find His guidance for every part of our lives. And all without the intervention of a dictator pastor telling us what we should believe . . . or a denominational high priest telling us what the scripture REALLY means.

The kind of freedom that motivates us to daily seek a deeper relationship with God through Christ. A relationship that produces passion for the God we know personally through Christ.

That's why TBC is so passionate about freedom . . . because we're passionate about Jesus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Foy Valentine and Phil Strickland - Their Prophetic Voices Still Sound the Call

Two of our great Baptist statesmen shared a conviction that all believers are called to be prophets.

In November 1987, Foy Valentine, longtime executive director of the SBC Christian Life Commission, accepted the first T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award with a ringing address entitled Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers.

In November 2005, Phil Strickland, longtime executive director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, prepared an address for the annual Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast in Austin. Phil's illness prevented him from attending; his friend and pastor, George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, delivered the speech on Phil's behalf. It was entitled Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Foy and Phil are both gone now, but their stirring messages are needed just as much today as then.

Following are a few excerpts that I chose for the blog, because I think they help to summarize the critical points embodied in these speeches. To read the full text of Foy Valentine's speech on the Maston Foundation Web site, click here. To read the full text of Phil Strickland's speech on the TBC Web site, click here.

Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers
by Foy Valentine
"Even the Lord’s anointed are subject to temptations related to . . . 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."

"At the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, there were 36,270 seats in all three auditoriums; there were 45,049 messengers registered; and there were 44,248 ballots allegedly cast (with 98.2% of the registered messengers allegedly present and allegedly voting) in the presidential race between Charles Stanley and Winfred Moore; the denominational news services and the editors of state Baptist papers chose not to report those curious statistics. Let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may, tell‑it‑like‑it‑is prophethood did not ring their journalistic bells."

"Our world needs few things more now than prophetic words and prophetic deeds. The churches now need few things more than the prophethood of crying in the wilderness like brave John the Baptist, streaking in Jerusalem like courageous Isaiah. By these words and deeds, the demands of God are understood to be not obscure or ambiguous, but understandable and doable, practical and specific, clear and concrete, relevant and redemptive."

"The prophet is the priest who is taking the longer look, listening to a different drummer, and feeling the fire in his baptism as it burns to become fire in his belly."

"As we speak of the priesthood of all believers, we may also rightly speak of the prophethood of all believers. There is nothing that would do more to revive authentic Christianity in our time than for us to find the ways and devise the means to press successfully for the prophethood of all believers."

"That incarnational witness of God in Christ puts the streaking of Isaiah in Jerusalem into perspective. Isaiah’s witness was but a pale portent, a mere shadow, of the power of prophecy when presented by the Prophet of prophets, Jesus Christ."

"The prophethood of believers can smash idols. . . . Gentleness and facile optimism sometimes need to be balanced by justice and hard reality. The prophethood of believers can foster repentance; and repentance, it is to be remembered, is the keynote of the New Testament message. . . . Voices crying seize interest . . . demand attention."

"Oh, there is one other little matter. With the prophethood of all believers recovered and then taken seriously, failure is assured. . . . rejection, loneliness, scandal, stoning, banishment, scorn, hatred, and crucifixion go with prophethood. . . . The prophet’s pay may be spit in the face.
"But the prophet’s reward is God’s 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . . . Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Matthew 25:21).
"As we believe in and practice the priesthood of all believers, so let us believe in and practice the prophethood of all believers."

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?
by Phil Strickland

"One-half the world is living on $2 a day.
"Twenty-five percent of our Texas children [are] living in poverty. 
"Religious liberty is . . . oozing away through our fingers like a fist full of sand until we open it all too late to discover there is not much of it left in our grasp. 
"Then there’s the dramatic and continuing shift of the world’s wealth away from the poor and the middle class to the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. 
"Environmental regulations are disappearing every day. 
"What about another tax cut of $70 billion that will be funded by $50 billion of cuts to children?"

"Pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. . . . The title of prophet might even apply to laymen. . . . ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions."
"Should [denominations] take risk and speak prophetically or declare that [their] only real role . . . is meeting the needs of the churches . . . ? To me, the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God."

In his speech, Phil also quoted a paragraph written by Joe Haag and published in a CLC flyer. I honestly don't think I've ever heard the challenge and demand of Christian prophethood summarized as "aptly" (to use Phil's description of it) as Joe Haag sets it forth in the following:
"To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self-absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self-righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? . . . as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

OPINION: Growing up Baptist in a pluralistic world

NOTE: This article was originally published on June 10, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site.

Written by J. Zachary Bailes, an M.Div. candidate at Wake Forest University Divinity School and editor of the blog Crazy Liberals . . . and Conservatives

In his Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, George Washington wrote in 1790: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Growing up Baptist, if someone had told me that Washington had written a letter assuring safety of a “Hebrew congregation,” I’m not sure I would have believed it. This is because I was either explicitly or implicitly taught that Christians and Jews are not to mingle. Yet in Rhode Island, it was Baptists who created the space for Jews to worship as they pleased.

Today, fundamentalist viewpoints have conflated Israeli identity with Zionist belief. As the record will show, Israel does not demonstrate the most tolerant attitude when it comes to other religions. And, yet, it was Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission this past week that advocated for America to “bless the Jews” so that God will “bless America.”
Land’s words are neither constructive for the Middle East peace process, nor do they reflect the highly held value of religious liberty. Land’s thought conflates theology with public policy in a disastrous manner. Indeed, his words stir the boiling pot of militant activity. His theological belief creates political action that demeans the religious identity of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

It is at this point Land stands against his Baptist heritage . . . . . .

Click here to read the entire article.

OPINION: Don't try to ‘fix’ women in ministry

NOTE: This article was originally published on May 11, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site.

written by Laura Rector, a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California

I’m in the bookstore at an egalitarian seminary. Unfortunately, not everyone there is an egalitarian. An older gentleman waylays me, finds out what I do, and starts telling me I’m sinning for feeling called and for being one kind of Baptist and not another kind, and that I’m wasting my education by not using it to disciple only other women. All I really want to do is get my cup of coffee and get back to my schedule, but I try to be polite so he feels heard.

Later, I’m at a conference. I’ve just presented my first professional academic paper (totally unrelated to women’s leadership). I’ve been traveling non-stop for two weeks, because a grandparent died just before the conference. I’m relieved the paper is over and, frankly, just ready to rest, yet a casual hello to a fellow conference participant somehow turns into listening to a long monologue in which the man takes the opportunity to make sure I know, among other things, that "There’s absolutely no way a woman can be a church leader if you look at Scripture."

As a woman in ministry, I walk away from such all-too-common experiences wondering, "Is there any such thing as good manners left in this world?" More importantly, where is the Jesus who said to love our neighbor?

Frankly, it takes a special kind of narcissism to engage a total stranger and question her love for her Savior -- to imply or openly assume . . .

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Yields an "aha" Moment

This morning, we observed Pentecost Sunday in our church. The lectionary Scripture passage was from Acts 2. As it was read aloud from the pulpit, I was struck by one verse in particular. After the author (Luke, according to tradition) tells us that the apostles were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (NIV), he says in verse 6, "a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language."

From that point on, my mind fixed on that verse. The apostles had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had enabled each person in the crowd to hear them speaking in his/her own language.

Today the challenge to the church . . . the challenge to Christian institutions . . . the challenge to Texas Baptists Committed . . . is daunting. Perhaps the biggest challenge is persuading people that our mission is relevant to their lives.

I'm convinced that one of the most significant obstacles we face in meeting this challenge is our insistence on speaking to others in our language rather than theirs. It may be across racial lines or cultural boundaries. There is often a wall of misunderstanding across gender as well. And one of our biggest challenges is first becoming relevant - and then communicating our relevance - to younger generations.

We will fail in our mission if we keep insisting on using "insider" jargon and focusing on long-past events for which others have no context. We need to stop preaching long enough to listen to them and learn their "language" - the context of their lives, their experiences, their concerns. We will not truly be relevant until we let the Holy Spirit fill us with understanding and speak through us in language to which the hearer can relate. It's the only way we can expect to be heard.

But even then, let's not forget that it was the Holy Spirit who enabled the hearers to understand what they were hearing. A few months ago, I did a Baptist Briefs video series on the Youth Revival Movement that started at Baylor in the 1940s. What most impressed me about the students involved in that movement was their complete dependence on God - spending hours in prayer every night as they prepared for revival.

The story of Pentecost is ultimately not about the apostles. It's about God's Holy Spirit. As we try to engage and involve people in our mission in 2011, the lesson of Pentecost is to learn their language, ask God to speak through us in their language, and pray that God will move them to hear, understand, and respond.

God has met us where we are. We need to do the same for others. Faithfulness to God's call demands it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Of Slippery Crowns and Wobbly Thrones

Last week, a prominent Baptist leader called Barack Obama "the worst president of the United States that Israel has ever had." But that was only one of what I consider to be a series of careless, thoughtless proclamations.

Here are a few of them:
  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."
  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."
Some of you are probably asking, "So what's wrong with that?" And that's fine - if we all agreed on everything, then there wouldn't be any reason for a blog . . . a dialogue . . . a conversation. In fact, if we all agreed on everything, then we wouldn't be Baptists!

On the other hand, before you take me to task, please consider carefully the basis of my concerns with these pronouncements.

  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
The speaker allows no room for disagreement. If we disagree with his brand of "social conservatism," then we simply don't believe the Bible.

The members of our Sunday School class constantly challenge each other. We disagree widely over the meaning of practically every passage of Scripture. But we never question that everyone in that class "believes the Bible"; we just have different understandings of it, and we learn from each other. 

  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
The speaker allows no room for compromise. The accusation that the president is "pro-Palestinian" is likely based on Mr. Obama's reported call for a return to pre-1967 borders. Yet what he really called for was "mutually agreed swaps" - in other words, compromise, a position that every U.S. president for the past 20 years has taken. So why does the speaker single out Mr. Obama?

Compromise is at the heart of Mr. Obama's position - the point that, as long as rigidity rules on either or both sides, peaceful coexistence will be impossible to achieve. Between nations, if there is no compromise, there is only one ultimate solution: war. To tell you the truth, I'm weary of old men stubbornly resisting compromise, then callously sending young men and women to die on their behalf.

  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
No, these United States were joined together on the basis of the Constitution, a secular document binding us together under common understandings, one of which is religious liberty for all people, even those who reject belief in any supreme being. Years ago, Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty listed the arguments made by the "Christian America" crowd and explained - clearly and definitively - why each of those arguments is without any basis in fact. To read Brent's essay, click here.

  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."

  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."

  • The speaker is promoting a works-based relationship with God, in which blessings from God are merited; we receive them only because of our obedience. My experience - and my understanding of the Bible - tell me that God blesses us because He loves us, not because we deserve it. Furthermore, we should seek to bless all people - without regard to ethnicity or nationality - because God has blessed us, not to earn God's blessing.

    That's not to say that our obedience doesn't bring us closer to God. Of course it does, and the blessings are surely greater and deeper when we are close to Him.

    But he who says "He doesn't bless us when we disobey Him" has put himself on the throne (and apparently deposed God from it). I guess that's what you get when you combine unerring biblical interpretation with obedience that has earned showers of blessings.

    But he'd better watch out - his crown is slipping, and his throne is wobbling!

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Sometimes Just Being a Dad Is Enough

    My Father's Day gift came a couple of weeks early this year - our son, Travis, got married last night, and I got a beautiful, sweet daughter-in-law, Christy. And the gifts just keep on coming, because our daughter, Alison, will be delivering our second grandchild right around Father's Day.

    I daresay none of you fathers will top those gifts!

    But today I'm dealing with a lot of different - and, to some degree, conflicting - emotions and feelings. Fatigue, to start with. My wife, Joanna, and I have put a lot into this occasion, and we're tired - getting home at 1:15 this morning, after a long day, not to mention several months of intense planning, organizing, and anticipating.

    And then there's relief - to finally have all of the work and preparation behind us, and to know that everything went off without a hitch. It was beautiful and wonderful, meeting all of our expectations (and theirs, too, we hope).

    Sadness for those who were missing, and whom all of us are missing - especially Christy's dad, Steve, who passed away a few months ago. But I also thought about my parents, as well as Joanna's dad, who would have been so proud of their grandson last night. I'm glad that my dad got to meet Christy a few times and know her. And I'm also thankful that Travis and Steve got to know each other so well and had such a great relationship.

    But joy even moreso - joy at seeing our son happy and having a wonderful daughter-in-law who long ago became a part of our family in our hearts if not in the eyes of the law. During the past 7 years, they have supported and encouraged each other through various challenges and times of sorrow, but they have also shared their joy throughout those years. As many remarked last night, their love for each other is evident in everything they do.

    Joy at watching my brother-in-law, Palmer, perform the ceremony just as thoughtfully and beautifully as he did for Alison's wedding a few years ago. Fifty years ago last Thursday evening, we were together at another wedding - his marriage to my sister, Patsy (unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember it very well). They are very special to me, and it was wonderful to share this night with them.

    Joy, as well, at visiting with my favorite cousin, Lawana, at the wedding - she was one of the hardy souls who stayed through the entire reception!

    Joy at celebrating with my niece, Stephanie, and her family. Stephanie's remarks at my dad's memorial service 4 years ago - about the faithfulness of my parents, her grandparents - continue to inspire, challenge, and encourage me every day.

    Joy at being with many members of Joanna's family - including her mom - who traveled from Hong Kong and Toronto to celebrate with us. Their eagerness to travel so many miles to share this occasion means more to Joanna and me than they could ever imagine.

    Joy at sharing this evening with many treasured friends, including my best friend for almost 40 years, Bob. He was Best Man in our wedding in 1976. David Currie was there last night as well - David has been a great friend to me and has never failed to ask, "How's Travis doing?" It was so good to get to visit with him last night.

    And just sheer tears and lumps in the throat. Where do they come from? Joy, I guess, but also from the realization that this little boy - whom you've nurtured from birth through childhood through adolescence, from birthday parties at Sportsplex to countless baseball, basketball, and soccer games, through all these many years of school (he finished his college degree work just last week - whew!), and on and on and on - this little boy is now going to make his home with someone else and is up there pledging for the rest of his life to love and cherish till death . . . for better or worse . . . for richer or poorer . . . through sickness and health . . . this woman standing next to him and pledging to him as well. Lumps in the throat.

    And, finally, pride, in a son who understands the importance of family and the importance of loving with a love that is faithful, sacrificial, and at times even "mushy." A son who has met a lot of challenges in recent years and has learned, grown, and persevered.

    Well, each of us plays a lot of roles in life. For me, a key role right now is right here at Texas Baptists Committed. It's a role I've taken on because it's important to me that Texas Baptists stay Baptist - in the truest sense of that word. Anyone who has worked with me in this enterprise can tell you that I have a passion for Baptist principles . . . for communicating those principles . . . for preserving our Baptist heritage . . . and for encouraging today's Baptists to stay true to that heritage. And I'll give every bit of time and effort needed to further TBC's mission.

    But I have to confess to you that I have a passion that's even greater - a passion for my family. Joanna and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage in September, and she has truly made my life complete. We've raised two wonderful kids - when Alison pledged her love to Adam in that ceremony 6 years ago, I had the same lumps in my throat as I had last night. Their daughter, Avery, who is 3-1/2, was the flower girl last night, and the highlight of the evening was when Avery reached the front, and Travis bent down to call her to him. That hug between Travis and his little niece brought a lump to every throat and a tear to every eye.

    And my family well knows that, as passionate as I am about the work I'm doing, when they need me I'll drop everything to make sure they're taken care of. And I know that they would do the same.

    So each of us has a lot of important roles to play in life, but believe me - God will find someone to do His work. Serving God is a privilege that He gives us because He loves us and our service for Him will draw us closer to Him, not because we're indispensable to that service. Where we are truly indispensable, though, is to our family. We can be replaced at work, but we can't be replaced in our family.

    So I really enjoy all of my different roles in life, but when all is said and done, sometimes just being a dad is enough . . . and a husband . . . and a granddaddy . . . and a father-in-law . . . and a brother and brother-in-law and cousin and uncle . . . and so on. Nice work if you can get it!

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    What is the problem with "organized religion"?

    It's an old refrain, but I seem to be hearing it more these days - from more and different corners of society. From friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike, I hear "I believe in God, and I love Jesus, but I just don't believe in 'organized religion.'"

    Now I realize I'm preaching mostly to the choir here. Most of you who read this blog are participants, on some level, in "organized religion." Most of you are churchgoers, many of you actively serve in your church - whether as staff or laity, and some of you even give financially to support your church's ministries.

    But most of you are going to hear, at some point, "I just don't believe in 'organized religion'" - whether it be from a co-worker, a close friend, or, in many cases, a son or daughter. So we ought to give it some thought and be prepared to respond thoughtfully.

    This is the response I've come up with so far:

    So what exactly is it in "organized religion" that you don't believe in?

    • Is it Texas Baptist Men, whose volunteers are in Joplin right now, making sure that survivors of that devastation get proper medical care, as well as food and clean water? Who have similarly traveled to Alabama to help tornado victims, Mississippi to help flood victims, and even Japan to minister to the needs of earthquake and tsunami victims?
    • Is it Woman's Missionary Union, whose HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund helped to provide jobs in Southeast Asia following the tsunami, helped rebuild a nursing home in Chile following an earthquake, and helped send children in Haiti back to school following an earthquake?
    • Is it Catholic Charities Immigration Services, which provides low-cost immigration counseling and support to families and individuals who are eligible for immigration benefits and cannot afford private assistance?
    • Is it Buckner International, formerly Buckner Baptist Benevolences, which has worked tirelessly for over 130 years to meet the ever-evolving needs of orphans, vulnerable children, families, and the elderly?
    • Is it the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and its World Hunger Offering and its tireless insistence on justice for the disenfranchised?
    • Is it the local church, where Christians come together to worship, celebrating their common faith while being challenged to live out that faith?
    • Is it the Sunday School, where fellow Christians study the Bible and help each other in their struggle to understand it better and to search out its relevance to their lives?
    Well, I could go on, but by now you get the idea. There's no end to the good things being done cooperatively around the world by Baptists, not to mention the rest of "organized religion." (By the way, I thought Catholic Charities Immigration Services was worth mentioning, because I have a cousin who heads up one of their offices, and I have a deep admiration for him and the work he does there. Sometimes we need to be reminded that Baptists don't have a monopoly on ministering to the "least of these.")

    Throughout this post, I've enclosed "organized religion" in quotation marks, because it is used by many as almost a pejorative term, one that has gained a negative reputation through the worst moments of some of its practitioners. Perhaps it's a sexual scandal of some preacher or some holier-than-thou politician - thus exposing their hypocrisy; or some outrageous, hate-filled proclamation by a notable televangelist; or simply a bad personal experience in a church where the person felt ostracized and alone.

    Well, we all have our bad moments, don't we? I would hate to be evaluated solely on the evidence of my worst moments. But that seems to be the church's lot. "Organized religion" has had many bad moments, because it's populated by human beings, and human beings are sinners. Our attitudes are not always right, our motives not always pure, our actions not always perfect.

    For that matter, as I wrote in my post last week, we Baptists have done a poor job of responding to the needs and interests of 21st-century young people. We need to make the church experience relevant to their needs, or else we are not being faithful to the spirit of Christ, who always meets people where they are.

    But many of the loving, caring acts in the world would have never happened had Christians not gathered together in community and pooled their resources to do more together than we could have done alone.

    That's what organized religion - in its Christian form, anyway - is really all about. Cooperation in community - being the presence of Christ "to the uttermost parts of the earth," as well as in our own backyard, just as He commanded us to be.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Baptists' Future Depends on Young People

    Last week, I attended the annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, held on the campus of Dallas Baptist University.

    This year's theme was Baptists and Education. Among the many topics addressed by speakers in both general and breakout sessions were the legacy of Baptists in securing religious liberty in the U.S.; a comparison of women's and men's theological education among Southern Baptists in the Seventy-Five Million Campaign of the early 1920s; and the origin and development of Houston Baptist University.

    On Saturday morning, a two-part panel discussion addressed the question, "What is a Baptist university?" Part One focused on the mission of Baptist universities; Part Two focused on how they put that mission into practice. Panel members and attendees agreed in expressing concern over the difficulty of communicating the importance of Baptist history and principles to today's generation of college students.

    This is a concern facing not only educators but all who care about the survival of the Baptist movement. I don't have the answers, but I'm looking for them wherever I can find them, as all of us should be. Keep dwelling on the old solutions, and we'll lose the young people. They are the Baptist future - if there is to be one. They are the only ones who will be around to tell the Baptist story to generations yet unborn.

    During the conference last week, one Baptist leader told me, "I wake up every morning thinking about how to reach young people." It struck me that this should be the attitude of every concerned Baptist. We - and that includes me - have let our focus on perpetuating Baptist institutions blind us to our alienation of Baptist youth. We are losing them! They don't care about building bigger institutions. They don't care about doing church just for the sake of belonging or even of worshipping. What they do care about is giving their lives to something that actually makes a difference in people's lives - and their lives.

    If we truly believe that being Baptist is important to authentically sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we should be concerned not only about our loss of those young people but about their loss.

    God meets us where we are, not where our parents were; by the same token, we need to meet these young people where they are, not where we are.

    We need to start listening to our young people - and responding to them on their terms, not ours. The old rationales won't suffice! We must hear what's important to them and discover - and communicate - how Baptist history and principles are relevant to their concerns.

    That should be our mission as Texas Baptists. I can guarantee you that these young people are on God's heart - they're God's mission. If we are to be faithful to God's call, we must make them our mission as well.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Blessing God's Call - and Being Blessed by It

    On Sunday afternoon, I attended the ordination of a young woman to the Gospel ministry.

    For 2 years, I have watched as she has ministered to the people of our church and they have ministered to her. I have heard her preach . . . teach Sunday School . . . present the Lord's Supper . . . speak homilies at special services. I have heard stories of other ministries she has carried out as a pastor-in-training caring for the needs of the sick . . . the grief-stricken . . . the searching. In occasional personal encounters, I have found her to be full of Christ's grace . . . wise beyond her years . . . inquisitive . . . humble . . . confident . . . and always listening carefully to hear and understand the other person's concerns and perspective.

    None of us who attended her ordination were spectators . . . we were participants in blessing her ministry and expressing the blessing we have received from her.

    I couldn't help but ponder the contrast with the church my wife and I left 7 years ago. Shortly before we left, the pastor announced that God had spoken to him and changed his mind about the issue of women teaching men. He issued an edict that women would no longer be allowed to teach men in Sunday School in that church, and he "fired" three women . . . long-time faithful servants . . . who had taught "co-ed" Sunday School classes for years. If any member dared to disagree with the pastor's new position well, God would "prune" you from the church; yes, he actually said that from the pulpit.

    This same pastor treated the Children's Minister a woman as if she were inferior to the men on the ministerial staff. Her opinions were somehow of lesser value, her calling obviously suspect because she was a woman. Ordaining a woman in that church was, of course, not even an issue it was unthinkable!

    Which brings me to my point. Texas Baptists Committed values historic Baptist principles. One of those is local church autonomy. I would never want to restrict a church's right to decide where it stands on the issue of women in ministry, whether teaching men, being ordained . . . all of the ramifications of that issue. By the same token, I don't want a pastor co-opting the church's right by issuing "edicts," either.

    While I would never presume to dictate a church's position on this issue, I will always reserve my right as a Baptist Christian to emphatically defend and advance what I firmly believe to be the biblical position  that we should never tell God whom He can and cannot call to ministry, whether it be as pastors, deacons, missionaries, Sunday School teachers . . .

    This isn't a "feminist" stance, though some would like to label it as such. It involves freedom in Christ for which TBC will always take a strong stand  but it's not even a "freedom" stance. In essence, it is a "knowing our place" stance and it is not our place as God's servants to tell God whom He can and cannot call to ministry.

    Our church has an interesting way of modeling this truth. At every service, all worship leaders preacher (usually the pastor but not always), music leader, prayer leaders, Scripture leaders, and so forth are seated on the chancel for the entire service. One intention of this practice, as I understand it, is to demonstrate that all of us are ministers and are all equal before God.

    Unfortunately, some Christians tend to interpret Scripture in a way that elevates them to prominence (remember James and John?), whereas we should be letting the Holy Spirit interpret Scripture for us in a way that keeps us low before God.

    Dictating whom God can and cannot call to ministry is a way of placing some of us above the others. But we don't belong there. Only God does. Take a close look at Christ's life and the people He called Christ's call was expansive, not exclusive. He wasn't interested in your station in life . . . your gender . . . your ethnicity . . . or even your past. All He cared about was your heart.

    The high point of Sunday's service was the laying on of hands. As is typical of our church, this wasn't limited to deacons or members of the ministerial staff. All of us were invited to participate. I didn't time it, but I'd estimate that it took anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes because of the waves of people who wanted to express their personal blessing on God's call to this young woman who has already ministered to all of us in such a special way.

    The ordaining council had determined that God's call to the Gospel ministry in this young woman's life is unmistakable, and every one of us was just as convinced that God's call to her is real. So we simply recognized and blessed the call that she heard from God years ago.

    I've said all of this to say that, when we limit and deny God's call, it is we who miss the blessing. 

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Baptist group says National Day of Prayer is misguided, unnecessary, unwise

    NOTE: This article was originally published on May 4, 2011, by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty on its Web site.

    Congress’ official designation and the president’s proclamation of a National Day of Prayer is misguided and unnecessary, says a Washington, D.C.-based church-state organization. A recent court decision said the law calling for the day of prayer cannot be challenged in court, but an official religious declaration by the government is still “unwise,” according to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

    “The government shouldn’t be in the business of telling the American people what, where or when to pray or even if they should pray,” said J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee.

    In the proclamation designating May 5 as this year’s National Day of Prayer, President Barack Obama stated, “I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation.” The proclamation also said, “let us ask God for the sustenance and guidance for all of us to meet the great challenges we face as a Nation.”

    “There is nothing wrong with the American people getting together to pray on a designated day, even public officials,” Walker said. “In fact every day should be a day of national prayer.”

    “The problem with the National Day of Prayer is that it is an . . .”

    Click here to read the entire article.

    Baptist Brief, Wednesday, May 4 - New Baptist Covenant: The Celebration (part 2)

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Royal wedding holds lessons about church-state separation, experts say

    NOTE: This article was originally published on April 27, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site (

    by Bob Allen
    Senior Writer, Associated Baptist Press

    WASHINGTON (ABP) – Two American church-state experts say Friday’s British royal wedding holds lessons about why the marriage of church and state is a bad one.

    Anticipating nuptials for Prince William and Kate Middleton at London's Westminster Abbey, the Washington Post’s On Faith blog posed a question April 26 about why, even in secular societies like the United Kingdom, people still turn to places of worship for rituals like coronations, weddings and funerals.

    Brent Walker

    Panelist Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said for him a more interesting question is how a country like England with deep Christian roots can become so secular in the first place.

    Walker surmised that one reason is privilege afforded to an established religion – in this case the Church of England – “sows the seeds of its own attenuation.”

    “State support for religion tends to rob religion of its vitality and, for some, turns it into a mere ceremonial exercise,” said Walker, an ordained Baptist minister. “This is one reason why I object so strongly to efforts in the United States to use tax dollars to support . . .”

    Click here to read the entire article.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    BJC: latest Supreme Court decision has 'pinched view' of congressional intent

    NOTE: This article was originally published on April 20, 2011, on the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty Web site (

    WASHINGTON – In a 6-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners cannot seek damages against the state under a federal law when their right to the free exercise of religion is violated. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty says today’s decision in the case of Sossamon v. Texas leaves prisoners with an incomplete remedy for vindicating their religious rights.

    The case involved the claim of a prisoner, Harvey Leroy Sossamon, who was denied participation in worship services and access to a room with symbols and furnishings that have a special significance to his Christian religion.

    Sossamon challenged the prison’s restrictions under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000. That federal law was designed to protect the religious freedom of prisoners and other persons in government custody . . .

    Click here to read the entire article.

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Baptist Briefs videos on hiatus until April 18

    I've spent part of this week in San Antonio for meetings with several Baptist leaders, and next week I'll be in Abilene for the annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics.

    Baptist Briefs will resume on Monday, April 18. The next 10 days will be a good time for you to "catch up" on any of the following series you might have missed: (or you can watch all 68 Baptist Briefs videos to-date on our TBC YouTube channel at

    Baptist Beginnings: England & Amsterdam in the 17th Century
    Baptists Fight for Religious Liberty in the New United States
    Bold Mission Thrust
    Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
    First Baptists in America: 17th Century
    Founding of the Southern Baptist Convention
    Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC
    Missionary Movement
    Seventy-Five Million Campaign, The
    Soul Competency/Soul Freedom
    Texas Baptists Committed
    Texas Baptists Who Made a Difference
    Triennial Convention
    Youth Revival Movement, The

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Baptist Brief, Wednesday, April 6 - Cooperative Baptist Fellowship: Organizing for Cooperation (part 2)

    I'll be on the road for meetings in San Antonio tomorrow, so I've posted tomorrow's Baptist Brief a day early.