Friday, October 2, 2015

Remembering two Baptist saints:
Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop
by David R. Currie

(EDITOR'S NOTE: David R. Currie served as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed from 1987-2009.)

Heaven is welcoming too many great Baptist leaders who inspired me thoughout my ministry.  I guess it comes with getting older. To be honest, I do not care for it.

We lost James Dunn, who I met before I met Phil Strickland, Foy Valentine, or Jimmy Allen, all great mentors to me. I met James when I was a freshman at Howard Payne; he became my friend for life.

Recently, we lost Diana Garland, a precious gift to all Baptists. Diana and her husband David may be the most influential married couple in Baptist history, as they accomplished so many tremendous things, especially at Baylor University.

I could write much of my appreciation and love for these two saints, but many others have already done so, and they have spoken well on behalf of all who loved James and Diana.

However, I do want to say a word about two other great, beautiful, tremendous Baptists we lost within the past month – Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop. If Baptists had saints, they would be so honored.

Both served on the TBC Board for many years. I know of no one who did not love them, admire them, and treasure their counsel and guidance. Both of them gave me their unconditional love. They believed in me, supported me, loved me like a son, and I was honored they felt that way about me.

Every experience of seeing them brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. They were that special.

Rudy was a prince of a man. He was kind, caring, yet unwavering in his commitment to historical Baptist principles. He was very influential in the close relationship between the BGCT and Convención, the Hispanic Baptist Convention. No other state has anything like the relationship between Hispanic Baptists and our state convention, and I’m sorry that Rudy won’t be here to see another wonderful Hispanic leader, René Maciel, elected president of the BGCT this fall.

As Rudy was a prince, so was Millie a princess, yet strong in her convictions. My mother, Mary Jim, loved Millie and her work with the WMU. WMU leaders such as Millie, Joy Fenner, Ophelia Humphrey, and Mauriece Johnston were vital to the success of TBC. I loved working with all of them. They traveled and spoke with me all across Texas, and I treasure those memories.

I’m the type of person who moves on from things pretty well. I love the life I lead now – ranching, building houses, and developing land, as well as church and nonprofit activities; but when these saints pass away, I am reminded of what a blessed life I have had to know and work with people like Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop. They were true Texas Baptist giants.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Celebrating our religious freedom
by David R. Currie

(EDITOR'S NOTE: David R. Currie served as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed from 1987-2009.)

The wisdom of our Founding Fathers
The U.S. Constitution mentions religion only once, in Article VI, paragraph 3:
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
That is a pretty straightforward statement by our Founding Fathers. They clearly did not intend for religious faith, in any form or fashion, to be required for serving in elected office. They did not form America as a Christian nation. Were they influenced by Christian values? I’m sure they were, but they clearly did not want to establish an official state-sponsored religion in America.

To further clarify this, they included, in the 1st Amendment, two religious liberty clauses – known as the establishment clause and the free exercise clause – consisting of sixteen words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In my opinion, these are the most important words ever written and adopted by a government in the history of the world. For me, these words are what make America – America.

If every government would adopt these words and faithfully practice them, wars would virtually cease, as most wars result from the attempt by one religious group to impose its faith on others.

Our Founding Fathers knew this and founded America as a secular nation, something for which all Christians should thank God. As Thomas Jefferson said, ”History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

Being a secular nation gives Christians the freedom to exercise our faith without government support or interference, as long as we do not seek to impose our faith on others. This freedom resulted in a country in which the Christian faith was robust and growing until some religious leaders in the second half of the 20th century banded together in an attempt to gain government support for the practice of their brand of Christianity. Many Christians swallowed whole the myth that Christian values could be legislated into people’s lives without the power of the Holy Spirit. This was and is foolish thinking.

Current events & the 1st Amendment
So let’s examine two current news items in light of the words of the 1st Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling on Ten Commandments monument at State Capitol
Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a monument promoting the Ten Commandments must be removed from the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol building. This was great news to me as a Christian. Why? Because religious symbols and words on public property violate the spirit of the 1st Amendment prohibition against the state establishment of religion. Thankfully, the Oklahoma Constitution has a similar prohibition on which the state Supreme Court relied for its ruling, denying the use of public money or property – either directly or indirectly – for the “benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

Public buildings are paid for by taxpayers of all faiths and no faiths. To promote any religious teaching on public property is to violate the U.S. Constitution.

If you walk into my office today, you will be greeted by a plaque with The Lord’s Prayer on it. I am free to display that plaque on my private property; to deny me that right would violate my freedom to exercise my religion. I am a private citizen. I can put whatever I want on my private property, as can any person of any faith. That is freedom. If I want to display a Ten Commandments monument in front of my building, I can do so. It’s my private property.

But government property is a different matter. People of all faiths – and people of no faith – must be treated equally, according to the Constitution. I wish every government followed our great American example.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage
Now how does religious freedom figure in the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Constitution requires that persons of the same sex be given the same right to marry as persons of opposite sex?

I am a Baptist minister, not an official of the government; therefore, I can decide whose marriages I will perform, and the Constitution protects my right to make that decision.

In my opinion, the Supreme Court decision, with which I disagree theologically, was the right decision constitutionally. People have the right to live differently than I do, with values different than mine, as long as they do not hurt others. That is what freedom means.

Thus, government officials should be required to follow the Constitution and perform these marriages if asked. County clerks should be required to issue a marriage license to any couple – same sex or opposite sex – of legal age. It is the law. If you cannot – in good conscience – follow the law, then resign; your personal religious freedom does not give you the right to discriminate as a public official.

The same thing applies to me as a businessperson. I cannot refuse to sell someone a house on the basis of his or her sexual orientation any more than I can refuse to sell someone a house on the basis of the color of his or her skin. If I owned a bakery, for example, I should not be allowed to hide behind the 1st Amendment for the purpose of discriminating, no matter how deeply I believe something is right or wrong.

Sin in our country is nothing new
Finally, I just have to get off my chest how offended I am as a Christian at ministers today who are shouting at the top of their lungs that “America is turning its back on God and we are going to be punished.” This is nonsense, because we have always struggled to live up to our faith and had “our backs turned on God.” For over 80 years, we as a country allowed persons to own other persons and treat them like property. My ancestors, three of whom fought for the Confederacy, probably held these convictions as “good” Baptist laymen. I do not know whether they owned slaves, but I do know that many did and picked who of their “property” to breed in the same way that I pick which bull to mate with which cows on my ranch. We and all nations have always been made up of sinful people, and still are.

God has never been pleased with all of the actions of any country and never will be. We are all sinners and incapable of pleasing God perfectly, despite our best efforts, but we must strive to overcome our natures and treat all persons with love and grace, for that is the heart of the Gospel.

Freedom worth celebrating
What we truly can celebrate every July 4 is the religious freedom we have as Americans that has kept us from killing each other over religion for nearly 250 years. That is a truly remarkable thing in the world today.

What we can celebrate is the freedom to proclaim our faith and be protected in so doing as long as we do not try to enforce our beliefs on others by power of government.

What we can celebrate is that this freedom has led to many individuals truly having a personal relationship with a living God, people who are striving to make our world and country a truly more loving and caring community.

What we can celebrate is the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in separating government from religion so that we might all be free to believe as we so choose.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We've lost a Baptist giant - James Dunn

Tonight, just as I was getting ready to do my final proofreading of this week's issue of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, I received an email telling me that James Dunn had passed away.

James was my friend, and I had the privilege in recent years of serving alongside him on the T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees. Long before we got to knowing each other, James had been a longtime friend of my dad, Jase Jones. They had both received their doctorates in Christian ethics under Dr. Maston and had worked together, along with other students of Dr. Maston, to form the T. B. Maston Foundation in the late 1970s. James and my dad also formed a great mutual admiration for each other. I can't count the number of times that James said to me, jabbing that bony index finger for emphasis, "There would be no Maston Foundation without Jase Jones!" Daddy felt the same way about James.
Aaron Weaver, Bill Jones, and James Dunn at 2012
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Fort Worth

Long before James was my friend, he was one of those Maston "giants" I had so deeply admired when attending those early Maston Foundation dinners in the late 1980s & early 1990s, when my dad was chairing the Foundation. James Dunn, Foy Valentine, Jimmy Allen, Bill Pinson (and, of course, Jase Jones) and others . . . I would hear them speak at those dinners about Dr. Maston's influence on their lives and ministries, and I would marvel at their courage in standing firm in the face of the slanderous attacks being leveled at them at that time by those who had taken control of the Southern Baptist Convention and would soon exercise that control by slashing the ethics departments at the six SBC seminaries, including Dr. Maston's beloved Southwestern.

James Dunn, as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (now the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) was as much the object of those slurs, slander, and outright hatred as anyone, because he stood against the tide of those new SBC leaders who had surrendered to the political right-wing agenda designed to make this a Christian nation by force. James wouldn't stand for anyone forcing their beliefs on others. He often said, "Ain't nobody but Jesus gonna tell me what to believe," and he took that stand not just for himself but on behalf of ALL people.

James is one person who is truly impossible to replace. Even in the face of the health problems he encountered in recent years, every time I saw him, he exerted more energy than anyone in the room. He was a force, always a force. His first love was Jesus, and his love for Jesus shone through everything he did, especially in his love for people. He was a people person, and yes, he loved his enemies as he loved his friends.

I'm grateful that I got to visit with him one last time. Just over three weeks ago, I called him to talk about the upcoming T. B. Maston Foundation Award Dinner this fall, at which we'll honor Bill Pinson with the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award, an award that James received at our 1995 dinner. We had a great visit over the phone that day.

I'll miss his energy, I'll miss his encouragement (he was a relentless encourager), I'll miss his courageous and prophetic voice. But I'll be forever grateful for having known him and for the legacy he has left to Baptists and Christians everywhere, as well as to others for whose religious liberty he fought relentlessly. It seems somehow appropriate that this stalwart advocate for religious liberty died on July 4. So, after all, did Thomas Jefferson (in 1826), who penned the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" in his letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association.

He is with the Lord now, but his voice is still with us - and will remain so - through the many who have felt his influence and passion. Thanks be to God!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Remembering Phil Lineberger
by David R. Currie

(EDITOR'S NOTE: David R. Currie served as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed from 1987-2009.)

My friend Phil Lineberger is now with the Lord. I miss him as I miss my other friends I talked to so much while serving as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed: John Baugh, Herb Reynolds, John Petty, and of course, my mentor Phil Strickland. I wish I could seek their counsel on many occasions. A part of me feels lost without them.

I am so grateful I still can call Ron Cook, Bob Stephenson, David Sapp, Charles Wade, Bill Jones, and Bill Bruster from my TBC days. I have been blessed to have friends believe in me through the years (and I could name so many more).

Phil Lineberger’s death is especially sad, not only for how it occurred, but because he is not replaceable (just like the others mentioned above). He was truly a unique gift from God to all who knew him.

When I think of Phil, I think of LEADERSHIP. He was a gifted leader but showed it in unique ways, peculiar to his gifts. Phil led with laughter. His memorial celebration was tremendous . . . we laughed half the service, just as we laughed half the time we were around Phil. But Phil used laughter to bring us together, to lead us forward, and to unite us around our purpose and our goals.

He had a magnetic personality but, unlike some who I feel use their tremendous personal gifts to build their own kingdoms, Phil used his gifts to build God’s kingdom. It was never about Phil, it was about the Kingdom of God. In many ways he was permanent co-chair of TBC for the 22 years I served there, even if he didn’t always have that title. He was engaged; he cared; he gave of himself and his gifts to our common cause.

And Phil was the same person in private. One of my favorite memories is when Phil needed a ride to DFW airport after a Baptist meeting. Loretta and Mother (Mary Jim) were with me. Mary Jim said fine, “but we have to stop at Cavender’s in Arlington and get David some clothes. He needs a new sport coat and boots.” The trip suddenly became something special, as Phil took over the task – as he put it to me – of “cleaning you up—making you presentable.” Phil was in charge – new shirts, sports coat, boots; in typical Phil Lineberger fashion, a shopping trip became an adventure to be experienced and treasured, when we could stop laughing enough to shop.

Phil also led through his courage. I am sure he never asked the question so many did during the battle to save the BGCT, which was “what might this cost me?” He opposed the evil of fundamentalism from the very beginning, simply because he knew it was a perversion of the Gospel of Christ. Not taking a stand was never an option for Phil. The fundamentalist agenda was clear to any who had eyes to see, and it destroyed the Southern Baptist Convention as we knew it. He would not straddle the fence, either, when it came to saving the BGCT and our institutions and ministries. He never considered shrinking from that fight. He was a courageous leader.

Finally, Phil was a true leader because he empowered others to serve and lead. True leaders bring out the best in those around them.

When I spoke at Phil Strickland’s funeral, I talked about the gift Strick gave so many of us when “he believed in us when we couldn’t even believe in ourselves.” Phil Lineberger was the same way. He was my friend. He believed in me, supported me, encouraged me, and made me want to do my best because of his faith in me. When folks lied about me, I never had to worry that I would need to call Phil and say, “This isn’t true, you know.” Rather, he would be the first to call and say, “hang in there, I know this isn’t true.” True friends believe in each other. They empower each other. They encourage each other. Phil was a leader who made all those around him better.

I will always miss Phil. But when I think of him, each time ends with a smile and a laugh just like he would want it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Remembering a Good Friend and Bright Leader - John Petty, by Phil Lineberger

(reprinted from the May 4, 2011, issue of
TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup)

Remembering a Good Friend and Bright Leader - John Petty

Phil Lineberger 

by Phil Lineberger

Pastor, Sugar Land Baptist Church;
and Vice-Chair, TBC Board of Directors


The mantle of leadership fell comfortably around the shoulders of John Petty. He was well-educated, with a bright and inquisitive mind. He was a caring and engaged minister to his church members and to the wider Baptist audience. He had a strength of will and an ability to make wise and informed decisions. John's sense of humor put people at ease in his presence. He studied and applied himself to the practice of preaching.

John Petty
John Petty


Because of his God-given abilities and his concern for Baptist principles, John was selected for leadership at a young age. In every leadership capacity, John served well. We saw and admired the gifts and commitment of John Petty.


What we didn't see was the darkness of depression that was gradually overcoming this young leader's mental and emotional capacities. Slowly but surely, this disease of depression - along with the long-term chronic stress of ministry - overcame John's will to live. He was being changed in ways that he alone sensed. It was as Paul stated in his first letter to the Corinthians: "a glass that one sees through darkly or a mirror with a poor reflection." John came to a point where his mental, emotional, and spiritual comprehension was distorted beyond human understanding. He no longer knew how much he was loved and needed by his family, his friends, and God. He could no longer feel the warmth and affection of others. He could no longer respond in a healthy, natural way to those who loved him most. He knew only that the painful struggle he was enduring had to end.


The last time John and I were together was at the BGCT meeting in McAllen, Texas, in November 2010. I encouraged John to go with me so that we could spend some time together and be encouraged. He had shared his struggle with me several months earlier. As we sat and talked, I realized that the John Petty I had known for many years was no longer there. John looked through me and past me as we conversed. It was as if his mind was traveling beyond our time to some distant place and some other destination. What I didn't comprehend was the depth of depression guiding John's thoughts and emotions.


John Petty is gone from this earth but very present in the minds and thoughts of so many. The distance between this world and the next is not as far as we might think. The wall between the two is not as thick as we might imagine. John Petty still has a relationship and influence in the lives of those he loved and served.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Phil Lineberger's wonderful life

It has been less than a week since we lost Phil Lineberger, but it already seems an eternity.

Much has been said and written about Phil this week. Some have spoken of the depression that took his life, some have shared personal reflections of Phil. I expressed my own high regard for my friend Phil in remarks published by Ken Camp in his Baptist Standard article, Former BGCT President Lineberger dead at 69. There were others who were much closer to Phil than I was who will be sharing their own reflections in coming days.

So here I want to offer just one thing I've observed as I've witnessed the outpouring of love and affection for Phil this week.

Every Christmas season, I find myself compelled to pull out my DVD of the 1946 Frank Capra movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Most of you are probably well familiar with the story. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, finds himself in trouble and wrongly accused of embezzlement; when the miserly Mr. Potter threatens to turn him in to the authorities and says that George's "miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy" means that George is "worth more dead than alive," George agrees with him and tries to kill himself but is saved when a bumbling angel named Clarence shows him the remarkable impact George had made on so many lives, as he takes him to see how different - and emptier - their lives would have been if George had never been born. Then Clarence says, "see, George, you really had a wonderful life."

Well, of course, that's fiction. No Hollywood guardian angel was going to save Phil Lineberger from the depression that robbed him of any joy in life and made it impossible for him to think rationally any longer, the insidious illness that kills so many people every year.

But those of us who loved Phil Lineberger can learn something from the gathering that we have done this week - whether at the memorial service yesterday or over Facebook or over the phone, etc. Phil Lineberger lived a wonderful life. Phil Lineberger touched more lives than we will ever know. I have been amazed to hear from people I hadn't seen in years, who either sent "comments" to me on Facebook or approached me at the reception following Phil's service to tell me where they knew Phil and how Phil had touched their lives (one said Phil had performed his wedding ceremony; another told me that he and Phil knew each other as kids in Texarkana). I had had no idea that these friends of mine also knew Phil.

There's a powerful reminder in this outpouring of gratitude by folks who speak of Phil's lasting influence on their lives - that our investment in people is NEVER a bad investment, never turns up a "dry hole," as the oil people say. Giving ourselves to others is the key to a "wonderful life." There are some "returns" on those investments that we will never see, but they will pay dividends over and over as those people invest in others, and so on. What a wonderful testimony to the life that Phil lived, to hear from so many people whose lives he touched.

May we all go forth to live such a "wonderful life."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

You CAN go home again: 50 years later,
evidence of rich returns on a church's
investment in its youth

Last week, I went home. Or at least it sure felt like home. And, with apologies to Thomas Wolfe, I found you CAN go home again. No, things aren't quite the same, but there were times it almost felt like I had been transported back to the 1960s, when I was growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. As I drove through my old neighborhood, I half-expected my parents - who have been with the Lord for many years now - to come walking out of the house we called home back then.

Kansas City was a wonderful place to grow up, and - though it's been over 40 years since I last lived there - I still consider it my hometown.

The occasion that brought me "home" last weekend was the reunion of the youth group that grew up together at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City. The church isn't the same these days. As those 1960s youth grew up and moved either out of town or to the suburbs, the neighborhood grew older and the church's membership decreased dramatically. I drove over to the church last Friday and was greeted by the two pastors (the church now has two congregations, one Spanish-speaking and one English-speaking); they were astounded when I told them that when I was growing up there, Bethany ran around 700 weekly in Sunday School. I'm told that the two current congregations can barely fill a Sunday School classroom. The youth and education building, which in those days was bustling with activity - Sunday School & Training Union classes, youth fellowships in the basement, as well as the church offices - was sold many years ago.

But there was a thriving church in the 1960s that is now scattered - in the lives of the youth who grew up there - throughout churches in the Kansas City area and well beyond. We had a vibrant youth group. Our Chapel Choir - under the direction of Joe Dell Rust - went on choir tours almost every year and required two buses to make the trip. In 1965, we were the featured choir one evening at Glorieta Baptist Assembly in New Mexico; on the way there and on the way back, we sang at churches in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. There was a fellowship among those youth that continues today.

At the reunion last Saturday - held in a park in nearby Leawood, Kansas - I saw some old friends I hadn't seen for almost 50 years, and we reconnected as if 1965 were yesterday. After being led in prayer prior to digging into our pot luck lunch, we sang "Blest Be the Tie That Binds (Our Hearts in Christian Love)," and we meant it. The folks in that group have been through a lot the past 50 years - the usual life experiences, such as divorces, deaths of spouses and other loved ones, health challenges, faith journeys that have run into some bumps and detours along the way, and so forth - but they've made it well into the 21st century with a spirit, a winsome, Christ-like spirit, that can't be quenched.

By the magic of Skype, I used my cell phone to bring Joe and Martha Rust - who have lived in North Carolina since leaving Bethany in 1969 and were not able to make the trip to KC - to the reunion, live and on a video screen. For about a half-hour, my phone was passed from one person to the next, as these "youth" - mostly now in our 60s - talked to Joe Rust and helped him to "catch up" on their lives the past 50 years. I eavesdropped on an occasional conversation and was moved to hear one after the other thank Joe, usually with a catch in their throats, for investing in their lives during their most formative years.

I was also moved by one of those former youth who shared with me that his parents were not Christian, that he had no Christian influence in his life until he visited Bethany and got involved in our youth activities, including the choir. He accepted Christ and was baptized at Bethany, and says that Bethany Baptist Church changed his life forever.

Joe Rust, of course, didn't do it alone. There were numerous Sunday School & Training Union teachers, GA & YWA leaders, RA leaders - in fact, one of our RA leaders, Rex Weese, showed up at the reunion. Then there were our pastors during those years, first Luther Dyer and then Richard Wallis. Well, the list is endless . . . so many people, including of course our parents, helped us to grow up, invested themselves in our lives, and the payoff is evident 50 years later.

What a blessing to visit with old friends and find that there is still a "tie" that binds us together. I found myself rushing to hug some of those folks I hadn't seen in so many years. We even had a reunion of the "three beats" - Mike Eaton, Robert Ingold, & yours truly - of the Three Beats and a Half-Note boys' quartet that frequently sang in church and even sang at the state RA convention one year. (Only the "half-note" - Jerry Eaton - was unable to make it to the reunion.) Then there are also a few with whom I've stayed in contact over the years, like Dave Eikenbary, Donnie & Gary Willey, and Bill Woolsey, my longtime buddies whose friendship means so much to me.

In the 21st century, youth leadership is faced with even greater challenges than when we were growing up. Church has a lot of competition from other activities. Just instilling a desire for a life of faith, a life of sacrifice, and a love for Christ is more challenging than ever before.

But if my experience in Kansas City last week tells me anything, it is that investment in our youth - and today that goes right up through college age and beyond - is worth any sacrifice we can make. We must see these youth not where they are today but where they can be in the years to come . . . even 50 years down the road. No matter how hopeless the task may seem at times, God continues to work in the lives of young people. But we must be His voice, His hands, His feet, His heart, investing ourselves in their lives.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Baptist News Global/Associated Baptist Press: from painful birth to faithful service

Congratulations to David Wilkinson and Baptist News Global 's staff and Board of Directors as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press in Nashville on Monday.

We Baptists must always be cognizant of the critical importance of a free and independent Baptist press. To be free and faithful Baptists, we must be informed Baptists.

It's important to remember the circumstances leading to the forming of Associated Baptist Press. The June 1990 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans was the culmination of a long battle, lasting for over a decade, for control of the Convention. The irony was that only one side wanted control.

One side wanted control, and the other side sought to cooperate. It takes two to cooperate but only one to control, so the inevitable happened . . . control won out.

Once they were firmly in control of the Convention's machinery, the next act of the Fundamentalists was almost just as inevitable. They took control of the press room. Baptist Press had long been the respected journalistic arm of the SBC . . . the arm but never the footman. Throughout the battle between Fundamentalists and Moderates, the top editors of Baptist Press - Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, and Wilmer C. Fields before them - had carried out their mission as journalists with integrity and courage, telling Baptists the truth , , , the facts . . . and letting the reader be the judge of just what all of it meant.

Unfortunately for the Fundamentalists, despite their 'victory,' the truth was too often uncomfortable for them, shining light on actions that were less than honest and less than Christian.

So, barely a month after solidifying their control, they fired Shackleford and Martin. The 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press is a proud one, one that we celebrate. But it follows, in short order, the 25th anniversary of the sad day that the SBC's Baptist Press became nothing more than a submissive (a word that has become even more dear to the SBC than 'inerrancy') house organ, repeating the party line fed to it by the SBC leadership.

Stan Hastey, in The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Mercer University Press, 1993), edited by Walter B. Shurden, tells the story of the founding of Associated Baptist Press. Hastey recounts the years of harrassment endured by Shackleford and Martin, as well as W. C. Fields, previous director of Baptist Press, at the hands of Fundamentalists.

Hastey writes that the SBC Executive Committee demanded, on the Tuesday following the June annual meeting in New Orleans, that Shackleford and Martin resign, but they refused. The firing that followed a few weeks later had become a mere formality. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on July 7, a group of Baptist editors met and "conceived Associated Baptist Press. This group, Hastey writes, consisted of "Bob S. Terry (editor of Missouri's Word and Way), Don McGregor (editor of Mississippi's Baptist Record), Julian Pentecost (editor of Virginia's Religious Herald), R. G. Puckett (editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder), Robert Allen (editor of Maryland/Delaware's Baptist True Union), E. Marvin Knox (editor of Kentucky's Western Recorder), and Jack Brymer (editor of the Florida Baptist Witness)."

That was where it began . . . faithful Baptist journalists who recognized that the old Baptist Press was gone and that a new, free and independent, Baptist news service was needed.

Thanks be to God, happy anniversary, and blessings on Baptist News Global - and your journalistic partners - as you continue to keep free and faithful Baptists informed.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup . . . 200 weeks and counting

Today I'll send the 200th edition of TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, the Texas Baptists Committed e-newsletter.

My initial purpose in creating the Roundup was to keep TBC's name at the front of people's minds. But TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup has become so much more. It has given me the opportunity to, among other things:
  • Highlight upcoming Baptist events and provide links for readers to learn more about the event, register, etc.
  • Shine a spotlight on the many good things going on in Baptist life, such as the work of Texas Baptists' Disaster Response team, CBF field personnel, etc.
  • Give special focus to coverage of events such as Texas Baptists' Annual Meetings; meetings of the BGCT Executive Board; CBF General Assemblies; and SBC Annual Meetings
  • Highlight the activities of Baptist students and schools, in Texas and elsewhere
Two hundred weeks - not quite 4 years - may not seem like a lot for a publication. For me, however, it's a milestone, because when I began the Roundup, I really had no idea whether it would be accepted and, therefore, whether it would last past a few months. So it's been a nice surprise in those 4 years to be told continually by so many persons - including church staff, denominational leaders, and laypersons - that they appreciate receiving it and read it regularly. Keeping that commitment for 200 consecutive weeks has meant publishing the Roundup from Hong Kong (September 2011), Israel (April 2012), and several different hospitals (while my son was recovering from his stroke in 2013). It takes considerable time each week, but I've found it's well worth the time and effort. (Truth be told, it was good therapy for me while spending 15-hour days in those hospitals.)

The Roundup's main value is serving as a "one-stop shop" for articles from a wide variety of sources. But it's those sources that do the main work, and I'm indebted to them for providing such outstanding material, week after week.

So thank you to:
  • Marv Knox, Ken Camp, George Henson, and their staff at the Baptist Standard, as well as their fine collection of op-ed writers
  • David Wilkinson, Bob Allen, Jeff Brumley, Robert Dilday, and their staff at Baptist News Global, and their fine collection of columnists as well
  • Rand Jenkins and the Texas Baptists Communications staff
  • Bill Webb and his staff at Word&Way
  • Staff and columnists for The Baptist Times
  • The news & PR staffs of various Baptist colleges and universities
  • The CBF staff & contributors to the CBF blog
  • Numerous fine bloggers and op-ed writers
(And I apologize to anyone I've inadvertently omitted - the sources are many!)

I'm so thankful for what these journalists and writers do every week to keep Baptists informed and give them different perspectives to ponder and discuss. They are truly the ones who make the Roundup what it is.

Finally, thank you - TBC friends and supporters - who read the Roundup regularly. You are my commitment, because I know you expect the Roundup to keep you informed. Last week's issue set a new all-time high; more people than ever before opened last week's Roundup. Thank you so much for coming back every week.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

SEEKING TO KNOW JESUS BETTER, pt. 3: Through the life - and sacrifice - of Kayla Mueller

Seeking to know Jesus better . . . Sometimes the best way to get to know Jesus better is to know - or at least know the story of - someone whose life reflects her/his own nearness to Jesus.

And so it was with the story of Kayla Mueller, as related in a recent article by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. As I read Kayla's story, much of it quoted directly from letters written to her family, I felt that I had come to know Jesus a little better.

Kayla is the young woman who was taken captive by, as Milbank says, "Islamic State savages," and held for 18 months until her death, almost certainly at the hands of those same savages. Yet I have a strong feeling that Kayla never saw them as savages, for she truly seemed to see people through the eyes of Jesus.

She wrote her family, "I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how You are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you." I think Kayla looked into the eyes of her captors and saw suffering rather than savagery . . . she saw the One who said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me." (Matthew 25:40, NIV)

Listen to her words, written while held captive in the most brutal of circumstances: "I have been shown in darkness light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it."

Sound familiar? Listen to the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from his prison cell in Rome: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Milbank tells us that Kayla wrote, in 2010, "This really is my life's work, to go where there is suffering"; then, in 2011, ". . . if we can't handle learning about the darkest places of our world, they will turn into the darkest places in us. . . . I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

So, after joining the campus Christian ministry at Northern Arizona University, she:
  • Volunteered nights at a women's shelter
  • Protested genocide in Darfur
  • Started a chapter of Amnesty International
  • Volunteered at a summer camp for young African refugees in Israel
  • Traveled to Israel's occupied territories to show support for Palestinians
  • Protested torture in Guantanamo Bay
  • Took part in a humanitarian mission to Guatemala
  • Went to India to teach English to Tibetan refugees and to women and children living in poverty
Then came the fateful decision to go to Turkey and help Syrian refugees. But as we've seen from the list above, taking on risky, even dangerous, missions had become a way of life for Kayla, because that is part and parcel of going where suffering people are . . . going where God is.

Last week, a group at my church, Wilshire Baptist in Dallas, presented three scenes from Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons. The central figure in the play is a businessman - a wartime contractor - who had "cut corners" by knowingly providing defective airplane parts to the government, ultimately resulting in the deaths of pilots and failure of their missions. After denying his guilt for years, he finally confesses to his family yet continues to defend his actions, resulting in a shouting match between him and his youngest son. Stripped bare of his defenses, he desperately shouts, "A man can't be Jesus!"

Yes, Jesus' life is a hard one to live up to. Even Jesus struggled to do it. ("My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Matthew 26:39)

But it's not impossible, or Jesus wouldn't have asked us to "take up your cross daily, and follow me." What it takes, though, is truly knowing Jesus and truly letting Him live from within us . . . every day, day after day, no matter the circumstances.

Kayla Mueller knew Jesus. And she's helped me get to know Him a little better than I did before.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Legacy of Welton Gaddy at The Interfaith Alliance
by David R. Currie

(NOTE: David R. Currie is retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, having served in that role from 1988-2009.)

I was honored to serve on the board of The Interfaith Alliance for many years. In fact, Foy Valentine and I were on the search committee that called Welton Gaddy to be our president 17 years ago.

The Interfaith Alliance was formed by Foy and other religious leaders as a counter voice to the Religious Right. Welton was the perfect person to lead this effort, because he combined great intellect with a unique ability to communicate the truth in a way that common people could understand. He was comfortable in the halls of Congress, as well as speaking in a local church or synagogue or on national television, as he often did.

I often stated that The Interfaith Alliance was not about encouraging people to pretend there were not differences in our faith, but rather to encourage people to respect the faith of others and work together to protect religious freedom. Welton would often be a calming voice in the midst of religious extremism, encouraging persons to remember the highest teachings of religious faith, and calling others to live out the best of their faith.

As Welton retires after 17 years, he leaves a legacy of intellectual honesty and courageous leadership. I was proud to serve with him and support him as he was often (along with Brent Walker) the sanest voice in Washington!!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

SEEKING TO KNOW JESUS BETTER, pt. 2: The four Gospel accounts - how they came to be

I've pulled down a book from my shelves, one that I've had for a long time. In fact, it was recommended to me by Jerry Barnes, the pastor who was so influential in my search for truth during my college years. During that time, Jerry recommended a book entitled The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, by James S. Stewart, a Scottish minister. I read it back then, and I remember getting a great deal out of it, but it's been probably 40 years since I last read it.

This week, I've re-read the first chapter, and I think this book is going to be helpful to me as I read the Gospels, because it provides some valuable context for them.

In this chapter, Stewart begins by making some general observations about the Gospel accounts:
  • They are not biographies, but instead are "a set of 'memoirs,' selected historical reminiscences."
  • These "historical reminiscences" were selected with one purpose in mind: "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:31)
  • Each "evangelist" writes from his own perspective, giving us, in essence, "four distinct portraits of Jesus."
  • The earliest of them appeared some 30 to 40 years after the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Why the delay?
    • The early Church was busy evangelizing the world.
    • Most early Christians were expecting a speedy end of the world as we know it (Jesus himself had said "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled."), so who would be around to read what they had written?
    • Christ's presence was so real to many of his followers that, early on, they may not have felt it necessary to keep going over what he had said and done in his ministry.
  • As the years went by, and many who had known Jesus and were eyewitnesses to his life, death, and resurrection themselves died, "it became obvious that to continue to rely on oral tradition and on fragmentary documents would be extremely precarious." They were concerned about:
    • Providing the story for those yet unborn
    • Educating new Christians who would need to be given historical context for such practices as the Lord's Supper
    • Combating heresy, giving a basis for settling debates within the Church
  • The authors drew upon a variety of sources.
    • In his opening passages, Luke tells us that he had a large quantity of miscellaneous materials from which to choose in constructing his narrative. As Stewart writes, "Here a parable would have been preserved in writing, there the story of a miracle, there a group of sayings, there a body of teaching on some special subject . . ."
    • In 1:1-4, Luke gives us an idea of the extent of the task he undertook. Stewart explains, "the inspired writers were not miraculously freed from the necessity of hard historical research which other writers have to face. Inspiration was not God magically transcending human minds and faculties; it was God expressing his will through the dedication of human minds and faculties. It does not supersede the sacred writer's own personality and make him God's machine; it reinforces his personality and makes him God's living witness."
Stewart then goes on to detail characteristics of each Gospel account and major differences between them. I'll deal with these matters in a later post.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another step in my journey with God

I've felt something's missing. As many discussions as I enter into in Sunday School and elsewhere about Jesus . . . as faithfully as I pray to the Father throughout the day in Jesus' name . . . as much as I try to - as best I can - follow his teachings and emulate his life . . . I feel where I most fall short is in knowing Jesus.

What a concept . . . knowing Jesus. We say we're in relationship with him, yet knowing someone who lived and died 2,000 years ago . . . who lives now as spirit but not in the flesh . . . well, let's just say it's not easy. We say he lives within us, but what does that mean? If he lives within me, isn't it important that I know him as deeply as possible? In the Sunday School class of which my wife and I have been members for over 10 years, we often discuss Jesus . . . the nature of this divine/human person . . . his relationship with the Father. Yet I never get a strong sense in these discussions that any of us feels we know Jesus very well. We seem to have a lot more questions than answers, and even our answers feel pretty tentative.

Praying to the Father - as Jesus taught his disciples to do - I feel much more in relationship with the Father than the Son, yet Jesus told us that to know the Son is to know the Father.

Well, that states my dilemma, as far as I can express it.

That leads me to the purpose of this blog post - and the series of posts that will follow it.

I've decided that one key focus of 2015 for me will be seeking to know Jesus better. I started quite a journey a little over 44 years ago, in the fall of 1970, when - as a sophomore at Oklahoma Baptist University - I lost the "faith" with which I had grown up.

Thank God! And I mean that literally, because I am convinced beyond doubt that it was God who caused me to shed that shallow understanding of "faith" that I brought with me to OBU. The day I lost my "faith" (those quotes are intentional, because what I called faith wasn't really faith at all) was the day God started dealing with me, leading me on a journey that has lasted until now and will, I trust, last the rest of my life.

It has been a remarkable journey, and I can see God's hand leading me in so many ways over those 4+ decades. But, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, something's missing. I just don't feel I know Jesus as well as I should know him. Don't get me wrong - I'm not questioning my salvation, I'm not questioning the existence of my relationship with him. I'm simply recognizing that this relationship needs to go much deeper. Truth be told, we could probably all say that about a number of relationships in our lives, whether divine or human.

So this is another step - actually, more like another path or another trail - on that journey with God. My intention in writing this series is not to preach or teach or even inspire. My main purpose in writing all of this down is to discipline myself to keep moving on this journey and to ultimately know Jesus better than I do now. Inviting you to "eavesdrop" on my thoughts and discoveries along the way will help keep me on track. If you happen to find some of these things helpful in your own journey, so much the better.

I'll be focusing in, of course, on scripture, especially the Gospels; I'll also be looking at other sources - books, articles, etc. - that might help add context to my understanding. But, truth be told, this series is a work-in-progress and will probably remain so as long as it continues. In other words, I'll figure it out as I go along. It won't be a smooth, straightforward path; more likely, there will be a lot of zigs and zags along the way. (If you were to see my study, you would understand - neat and organized is not my way!) It should almost go without saying that prayer, too, will play an important part, and I'll try to share that part of the journey as best I can.

How long will this series continue? I don't know; could be a few weeks, could be a year; could be two posts, could be a hundred; it all depends on where God leads me.

Before proceeding to part 2 of this series (in the next week or so, I hope), I need to make one thing very clear. I am not a theologian or anything close to it. I am not a preacher. I am a layperson whom God has blessed with opportunities for serving him - nothing more, nothing less. I have never been to seminary, never had any formal theological training beyond basic Old and New Testament survey courses in college. My dad had a Th.D.; I'm not my dad, though I certainly aspire to the example he set, for I never knew anyone of greater faithfulness and grace than my own parents.

So why is it important that I seek to know Jesus better? Because it is my deepest conviction that it is in Jesus Christ that God fully reveals himself and that he wants us to know him - not just know about him but know him. Though the direction of my prayers may cause me to feel more in relationship with the Father than the Son, my knowledge of the Father is limited - according to Jesus - to the extent of my knowledge of the Son. God created us for relationship with him. Simply, I want to know Jesus better to draw nearer to God in all aspects of his triune personhood.