Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Howard Payne students interact with Currie-Strickland lecturers

This year, the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics, previously a one-day public event, added a new wrinkle: following the Thursday afternoon public lectures, a Friday morning of closer interaction between Howard Payne University students and the lecturers.

Breakfast with Ministerial Alliance officers
The morning began with a breakfast between the presenters - Suzii Paynter, Welton Gaddy, and Stephen Reeves - and the six students who have served this school year as officers of the Howard Payne Ministerial Alliance. It was an informal setting in which the presenters got to know the students and vice-versa. During the discussions, the students shared their own ethical concerns and the particular calling from God that each has sensed. But they also took the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters and gain a better understanding of the paths on which God has led these Baptist leaders.

Preaching class
Following the breakfast, Welton Gaddy spoke to a preaching class. Again, there was an informal atmosphere that made the students feel free to ask questions and interact with the speaker, and they did just that.

Gaddy stressed to the students that "preaching is not an isolated task" and that they should be respectful and attentive when others are making their own "gifts of worship," such as, for example, an organist playing a prelude.

Gaddy also pointed out that preaching must be relevant to the times. He quoted James Cleland, former dean of the Duke University Chapel, as saying, "The Gospel is best diagrammed as an ellipse, with the contemporary situation at one end and the biblical text at the other end."

"There must be interaction," Gaddy said, "between then and now."

He urged the students, when writing a sermon, to know their congregation, envision those who will be hearing the sermon, and be sensitive to how they might hear what is being said. "The preacher," he said, "should ask him or herself, 'what time is it . . . in the Christian year . . . and in the community?'" In other words, he explained, "are there recent events in the community that call for a response from the pulpit?"

On the other hand, Gaddy reminded the students, there would be times when they might find themselves stumped for a word from God in response to a particular issue or situation. "Don't ever be afraid to say, 'I know we need a word from God, but I'm not sure what it is.'"

The congregation, he said, will tend to trust a preacher who admits that she or he doesn't always know what to say. "There are few people who can pastor from a pedestal. You need to be down where the people are."

Ministerial Alliance members
The Lectures ended with a presentation, to the members of the Howard Payne Ministerial Alliance, by Suzii Paynter and Stephen Reeves on the work of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. Students were given an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

Paynter emphasized that the Baptist General Convention of Texas, often thought of in terms of its institutions, is truly a relational body, not an institutional body. She emphasized the growing number of Hispanic and African-American churches relating to the BGCT, as well as the 700 chaplains serving in the BGCT's Advocacy and Care Center, which she directs. These chaplains serve a diverse population, including bikers, prison inmates, hospital patients, and members of the military.

Paynter mentioned that, in serving the Christian Life Commission, she and Reeves are registered lobbyists with the Texas Legislature. Then she contrasted the CLC's brand of lobbying with that of other lobbyists and political action groups. Other groups focus on one main issue and maybe two or three side issues, she said, whereas the CLC is involved in 12 different issue areas. Because of this, the CLC "convenes disparate groups, a witness to the whole community."

Paynter urged the ministers-in-training to "connect with elected officials. By virtue of your call, you are already a leader for Christ. Part of your responsibility is to work with civic officials."

Reeves said, "We need to talk with each other, including those who disagree with us; model Christian behavior in how we treat others."

Meeting Baptist leaders can change students' lives
I owe a debt of gratitude to Dean Donnie Auvenshine for inviting me to attend Friday's student-focused events. It gave me an opportunity to speak with some of the students one-on-one, particularly at the breakfast with the Ministerial Alliance officers. But it also let me see, up close, the value of personal interaction between our Texas Baptist students and Baptist leaders.

Dean Auvenshine told about his first meeting with Phil Strickland, the late director of the Texas Baptist CLC. Auvenshine and David Currie were Howard Payne students, and Strickland came to speak on the Howard Payne campus. Auvenshine and Currie went out to dinner with Strickland, and it changed their lives. Getting to speak one-on-one with someone who was making a serious contribution to ministry in Baptist life made an impact on them.

So it is with the opportunities Howard Payne University is now providing students through the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. This lecture series is made possible through the generosity of Gary and Mollie Elliston, and their investment is paying dividends in the lives of students.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 Currie-Strickland Scholars in Christian Ethics

On March 29, Howard Payne University hosted the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. One of the highlights was the recognition of the 2012 Currie-Strickland Scholars in Christian Ethics.

Derek Hatch, assistant professor of Christian Studies, recognized the following three students as Currie-Strickland Scholars:
  • Adam Hardy, senior from Corpus Christi
  • Adam is pursuing a triple major in Political Science, Academy of Freedom, and Biblical Languages. After graduation, he plans to either enter graduate school in film or work as a videographer for a nonprofit organization that helps those rescued from human sex trafficking.
  • Ryan Hogan, junior from Cedar Park
  • Ryan is a Practical Theology major. After graduation, he plans to work with those ensnared in lives of poverty (and also become a soccer referee).
  • Rachel Wohl, junior from Austin
  • Rachel is a Social Work major. After graduation, she plans to work with rehabilitating women and girls rescued from human sex trafficking.

Welton Gaddy: "Preaching in an Election Year"

On March 29, Howard Payne University hosted the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and pastor of Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana, presented a lecture entitled "Preaching in an Election Year."

Gaddy began by stating, "a good minister does the same thing in an election year as in any other year." He then went on to describe good preaching as "timely more than timeless. A person reading your sermon years later should be able to identify the time period in which it was preached." Then he added that a good preacher prepares a sermon with the members of his/her particular congregation in mind. "Application of truths should be local."

Acknowledging that the country is today sharply divided along both political and religious lines, Gaddy said that "the Gospel must have something to do with reconciliation and cooperation."

He expressed grave concern over preachers who "are willing and ready to be used for political purposes and narrow sectarian values" and who "violate tax law by endorsing candidates from the pulpit."

The constitutional prohibition against political endorsements from the pulpit and the use of church funds on behalf of political candidates, he said, "is not a prohibition against free speech." Rather, he continued, "it protects the integrity of the church and the independence of the government."

Then he listed a few "observations and suggestions" about responsible preaching, among them the following:
  • Partisan politics must not be confused with prophetic proclamation. He asked those gathered to imagine, for a moment, the chaos and division that would result from a church business meeting spent debating candidates for endorsement.
  • For a spiritual leader to endorse a campaign in his or her role as a spiritual leader is (a) an abuse of pastoral authority; (b) a sign of arrogance; and (c) unquestionably bad theology.
  • Seeking to endorse political candidates in church assigns undue importance to politics.
  • The responsibility of preachers is to prepare people to make responsible decisions and to respect their freedom to do so.
  • Speak on political issues as ministers informed by the Bible, not as experts on economics or foreign policy. Ministers must function out of their primary identity.
  • Speak out of the whole of the Bible, not just selected portions that appear to support a partisan agenda; give special weight to Jesus.
  • In political preaching, deal with values, issues, and principles - not personalities.
  • As you stress the importance of political activism, don't overemphasize the importance of politics.
We should have, he concluded:
  • a secular government that is appreciative of religion and obedient to Article 6 of the Constitution
  • religious leaders speaking prophetically on moral issues
  • political activity but no tests of faith that are based on political loyalty
  • the right of the electorate to know how the candidate's religious beliefs will affect his or her public policy
  • the candidate's pledge to uphold the Constitution even when it conflicts with his or her religious beliefs or else resign his or her office

Suzii Paynter: "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible"

On March 29, Howard Payne University hosted the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. Suzii Paynter, director of both the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission (CLC) and the Texas Baptist Advocacy and Care Center, presented a lecture entitled "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible."

Paynter began by acknowledging that the principle of congregational autonomy makes being politically responsible more difficult for Baptist clergy and lay leaders than for those in other denominations. As an example, she cited Roman Catholic encyclicals, which are recited from every Catholic pulpit the Sunday after they are issued. "Baptist leaders out on a limb," she said, "can't say 'the bishop made me do it.'"

She likened Baptist leaders to Amelia Earhart, "flying solo."

Describing politics as "a process, not an answer," Paynter then proposed a few principles that Baptist leaders would do well to follow in leading their churches to be politically responsible:
  • Be the kind of leader who looks beyond the walls of your church.
  • Meet your elected officials. Drop by, and tell them about your church and its ministry.
  • Don't start with politics; start with ministry. What ministry is offering you the opportunity to speak for justice?
  • Embrace those in your congregation who feel called to speak out on political issues. Encourage and equip those who are called, even if their issue or passion is not your own.
  • Manage the hungry beasts; keep the wolves at bay, those who seek to use your church for their cause.
  • Be unapologetic about bringing a biblical rationale and theological perspective to any issue. As an example, she cited the way in which the doctrinal concept of imago dei (the face of God) has been used to minister to the victims of human trafficking and to support legislation seeking justice on this issue.

Stephen Reeves: "A Christian Voice in a Public Arena"

On March 29, Howard Payne University hosted the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. Stephen Reeves, legislative counsel, Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission (CLC), led off this year's lecture series with an address entitled "A Christian Voice in a Public Arena."

Reeves began by declaring that Christians in America have a responsibility, both as Christian citizens and as citizens of a democracy, to "work for justice and engage the public square." Avoiding the public arena, he explained, not only abdicates our responsibility as citizens but also "leaves a vacuum that will be filled by others."

He then posed a series of questions and presented what he considers the appropriate Christian responses to them:
  • Who should engage?
  • A variety of Christian voices and perspectives; "the Christian voice should not be a monolithic one."
  • Who should we speak for?
  • The CLC speaks for those who have no voice. "We are lobbyists," he said, "for the 'least of these.'"
  • What strategies should we use?
  • Use research, facts, experience, and an in-depth understanding of issues. Reeves called this "the CLC way."
    Use personal experience; "tell your story; testify on an issue about which you are passionate."
  • How should we talk about issues?
  • "Do it in a way that makes others feel free to disagree with us. Don't act as if scripture and faith give us the last word on an issue."
    Show respect and civility. As an example, Reeves cited the recent public "discussion" between former President Jimmy Carter and Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Though they had strong disagreements with each other, they treated each other with respect.
    Show humility. Here, Reeves cited the late Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, who once pointed out, "We are God's servants, not God's spokespersons."
    Work in coalitions with disparate groups and people. Reeves cited the CLC's work with groups across the political spectrum, "from the Eagle Forum on the right to the Texas Freedom Network on the left."
    Be nonpartisan; "focus on the policy or issue, not the political party or a personality." He and Suzii Paynter, Reeves said, are welcome in any office in the Texas Capitol, on either side of the political aisle, because legislators know that the CLC will treat everyone with equal respect and work with either side of the aisle, depending on the issue.
    Do not appeal to fear and anger. "Anger should be directed at those who perpetrate injustice, not against those on the other side politically."
    Take the long-term view. "Impact the public square in a way that makes it a better place."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Funds sought for Foy Valentine Chair of Christian Ethics at Truett Seminary

Ethics is a neglected discipline at most Baptist colleges and seminaries today. There are a few that still emphasize ethics, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Southern Baptist seminaries have done away with once-influential ethics departments.

We've seen what happens when ethics training is pushed out the door - the news regularly tells of some scandal among Baptist (and other) ministers, whether it be about sex, money, abuse of power, or all three. At the same time, the ethical imperatives of Jesus, centered around ministering to "the least of these," are pushed to the side in favor of hot-button political agendas.

In recent years, Texas Baptists have made a good start at restoring a Baptist emphasis on ethics. Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary, in cooperation with the TBMaston Foundation, established the T. B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics in 1998. Shortly thereafter, Logsdon Seminary began the annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics,
the 12th edition of which will take place on April 16-17. Annual ethics lectureships have also been established in recent years at Howard Payne University, Dallas Baptist University, and Truett Seminary at Baylor University.

But it's only a start. All Baptist students should have training in Christian Ethics.

For some time, friends of the late Foy Valentine have been working to establish a Foy Valentine Chair of Christian Ethics at Truett Seminary. David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary, told me last week that the fundraising is currently about a third of the way toward a chair and about halfway toward a professorship.

In stewardship and building campaigns through the years, I've often heard that, if you let Baptists know of a need, they'll respond. So I'm letting you know.

We need ministers, and laypersons as well, who are trained as Foy Valentine was - with a clear understanding of biblical ethics as taught and lived by Christ.

Foy Valentine was of a rare breed – a Baptist prophet.

Many of you knew Foy or were influenced by him.

For those of you who don’t know who Foy Valentine was, I can do no better than to point you to this
Baptist Standard article, written by Marv Knox following Foy’s death in 2006. In the article, Marv uses the words of Foy’s friends and colleagues to tell the story of his uncommon courage and commitment to biblically ethical living. Even those who knew him will do well to re-read this article and be reminded of the man who lived among us.

During most of his tenure at the SBC Christian Life Commission, I knew Foy Valentine only from a distance, reading about him in Baptist papers and admiring particularly his courageous and prophetic stands on issues of race, poverty, and justice. Then I discovered that he and my dad were close friends. Both of them had received their doctorates in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston at Southwestern Seminary.

In the fall of 1987, the TBMaston Foundation, which my dad had chaired from its inception in 1979, prepared to present Foy Valentine with its inaugural T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award. Weeks before the Award Banquet, I made a point of reminding my dad to be sure to introduce me to Foy. Well, by the time my wife and I arrived at the hotel, people were already filing into the banquet hall. With my suit slung over my shoulder, surely looking thoroughly disheveled and confused, I walked around outside the banquet hall, hoping to find my folks so I could get the key to their hotel room for us to change clothes.

Just when I was about to panic, a man walked over to me. Seeing my distress, he said, “Can I help you?”

I told him of my predicament and that I was trying to find my dad, Jase Jones. “Oh,” he said, “so you’re Bill?”


He stuck out his hand to me and said, “I’m Foy Valentine.”

At Dr. Maston’s memorial service the following year, Jimmy Allen said that Dr. Maston had once asked him, “If you knew Jesus was coming to Fort Worth this weekend, where do you think you would find him?” When Jimmy admitted he didn’t know the answer, Dr. Maston replied, “You’d find him with someone who needed him, someone who nobody else had noticed.”

So here was Foy Valentine, the guest of honor that evening, being the presence of Christ to someone who obviously needed help, who nobody else had noticed. But that was typical of Foy.

That evening, Foy accepted the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award by delivering a message that I have made a point of re-reading from time to time, just to remind me what being a disciple of Christ is really all about. It was titled Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers.

In this powerful message, Foy writes, “The prophetic dimension of revealed religion has everlastingly fallen onto hard times. It has never been the most coveted of callings. There are some obvious reasons for this. Even the Lord’s anointed are subject to temptations related to ‘soft clothing,’ pleasure, materialism, economic determinism, and love of comfort. When the winnowing and harrowing of Fundamentalism started among Southern Baptists, Baptists were not lean and mean, ready for the war, but soft and satisfied, flabby and floppy.”

Foy called us to live out the hard parts of the gospel, just as he himself lived them daily, and just as his mentor, T. B. Maston, had lived them. For many, T. B. Maston had been the ethical conscience of Baptists back in those days when most churches in the South still preached segregation.

Following the example of his mentor, Foy demonstrated uncommon courage and uncommon vision. Jimmy Allen told the story, at Foy’s memorial service, of sitting next to Foy at the 1963 SBC meeting in Kansas City. Foy stood alone in opposing adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message at that convention. As Marv Knox relates in his article, Jimmy quoted Foy as telling him, “It’s a step toward creedalism, and you’re going to regret it.”

As usual, Foy was right.

It's up to Moderate/Mainstream Baptists (or a new label that's beginning to gain traction, Cooperative Baptists) to restore Biblical Christian Ethics to its rightful place in the seminary and college curriculum.

In an April 2010 letter addressed to "Friends of Foy Valentine," David Garland - dean of Truett Seminary - wrote, "Whether large or small, your contribution is an investment in the future of the church. Truett Seminary remains committed to our historic Baptist principles and we believe such principles will serve the church well in the days ahead."

A professorship is the short-term goal. But Jean Valentine, one of Foy's daughters, told me last week that Foy's original dream was of a chair in Christian Ethics that would give the subject the fuller attention that it requires, and that she is still hopeful that this goal will be achieved.

So I'm reaching out to you who want to have a part in passing along, to succeeding generations of Baptist ministers, Foy Valentine's legacy of commitment to biblical Christian ethics.

To contribute, make your check out to either "Baylor University" or "Baylor Alumni Association." But be sure to write, on the Memo line, "For the Foy Valentine Chair in Christian Ethics (at Truett Seminary)."

Then mail your check to:
(if made out to Baylor University)
Gift Processing Office
University Development
One Bear Place 97050
Waco, TX 76798-7050

(if made out to Baylor Alumni Association)
Baylor Alumni Association
1212 S. University Parks Dr.
Waco, TX 76706

Donations are tax-deductible, as Baylor and the Alumni Association are both 501(c)(3) organizations.

If you would like to have additional information before contributing, please contact David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary.