Friday, June 23, 2017

Memories of Daddy, part 5: To Hug or Not to Hug; Late-Night Talks; 'the Night of the Three Jasons'; and a Devoted Marriage
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

So let's back up for a moment. I remember an incident in the winter of 1962, I believe, so I would have been 11, where I decided I was too old to hug my Daddy anymore. So I started shaking hands with him instead of hugging him.

Once you start something like that, it's hard to stop it. The longer you go, the harder it becomes.

Read part 1: A Loving Mother and Daddy, and a Treasured Note

Read part 2: Daddy, Baseball, and Me

Read part 3: Hearing Daddy Preach and Goodnight, Johnny

Read part 4: OBU, My Faith Crisis, and a Loving Dad

So back to the 1970s. Joanna and I married at University Baptist Church in Shawnee, across the street from the campus where we had met, dated, and gotten to know each other, in September 1976. Daddy performed the ceremony. Jerry Barnes, University's pastor at that time, who was the second greatest influence - behind only Daddy - in helping me find my way back to Christ, also stood on the chancel and read scripture during the wedding.

Almost 14 years after that 1962 incident, I was still in my no-hugging-Daddy phase. One of our wedding photos shows Daddy and me, before the wedding, shaking hands as if he's giving me some last-minute advice. Shaking hands. That's what we did.

Somewhere in the next year or two, I remember telling Joanna that it saddened me that Daddy and I didn't hug - but that we had shaken hands for so long, it was an almost impossible bridge to cross. She encouraged me, of course, to give it a try. But it still took awhile. It was somewhere along those late 1970s, as I recall, that I finally gave Daddy a hug. That's not an easy thing for men - at least in those days. I don't even recall his reaction at the time; I just know that eventually it became easier, and it meant a lot to be able to hug my Daddy. I have a feeling he felt the same.

It was also around that time, as Joanna and I settled into married life, hundreds of miles from my parents, that I began developing a greater appreciation for Daddy and wanting to cultivate a deeper relationship with him. So, over the next 30 years or so until he died, whenever we would be visiting them or they would be visiting us, I made it a point - at least once during the visit - to start a conversation with Daddy over some issue of theology, ethics, or even politics. We had great conversations, loved to hash these things out with each other. I learned so much from him. I'm not so great on the details - don't really recall a lot of detailed conversations, or the issues, etc, that we discussed - but I know that I learned a lot from him, and our relationship grew deeper through those conversations. They were usually late at night when we'd be watching TV together.

I do remember one question I asked him one time, however. I remember when I was growing up in Kansas City, that the Kansas City Baptist Association had an African-American minister on its staff, Charles Briscoe, who was the liaison between the KCBA and the National Baptist Convention. The Briscoes were guests for dinner in our home at least a couple of times that I remember. Growing up, I was always taught by my parents that racial prejudice was wrong, that segregation was wrong, and so forth.

During one of those many late-night discussions  in the '70s, '80,s, & '90s, I asked Daddy, "Growing up in Texas when you did, being around the attitudes that were prevalent in those days, how did you come to the racial attitudes that you have?" His answer was very simple and to the point: "T. B. Maston!" I have a feeling there are a lot of Dr. Maston's students who would give the same answer to that question.

We never get too old, I guess, to be embarrassed by our parents. In 1981, Mountain Bell's Accounting Department promoted me to management as supervisor of the billing adjustments unit. The next time Mother and Daddy visited us in Denver, of course Daddy had to follow me to work, go in with me, and take pictures of me at my desk - as my ten employees looked on, amused I'm sure.

In 1987, Joanna's Mobil Oil office in downtown Denver was transferred to Dallas. At the same time, Mountain Bell - downsizing following its 1984 divestiture from AT&T - offered what was called the "Baby Boomer Buyout," in which they offered incentives (including a full year's salary) for managers about my age with about my experience to leave the payroll by April 1. Great timing! So that summer we picked up and moved - with Alison, 5-1/2, and Travis, 1-1/2 - to Plano, a suburb north of Dallas.

As much as we loved Denver and hated to leave it (30 years later, I'm still a Broncos fan), the Dallas area had one huge advantage - it had major league baseball! (The Colorado Rockies were not born for another 6 years.) So I soon became a Texas Rangers fan and began indoctrinating Travis in love of the National Pastime. Now we were in Texas, and Mother and Daddy were only 3-1/2 hours away, in Austin. So we inaugurated something we called "the night of the three Jasons."

Daddy was Atwood Jason Jones, Jr. So I was the third generation of Jones boys to have the middle name Jason. When Travis was born, we made him the fourth generation, giving him the middle name Jason in honor of his granddaddy.

Though Mother and Daddy had left Kansas City in 1974 to return "home" to Texas, Daddy had remained a Kansas City Royals fan, through and through. So after Joanna, the kids, and I moved to Plano, I began inviting Daddy up every year whenever the Rangers played the Royals; "the three Jasons" would go to see the Rangers and Royals play. It became a great tradition that lasted about 5 years, until Mother's health started going downhill in the fall of 1992, and they stopped traveling for the remaining years of her life.

My parents' devotion to each other was something to behold, and that devotion was never more evident than when Mother's health was declining. In late August 1992, Daddy went to California to spend a year teaching Christian ethics as an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I drove Daddy out there (he was just a few days short of 79, after all), then flew home. Mother was to fly out to join him a few weeks later. However, a bursitis attack prevented her from making the trip. Daddy would be coming home for Thanksgiving, and they would then fly back to California together. However, just before Thanksgiving, as Mother was recovering from her bursitis, she suffered a minor stroke. Daddy finished out the semester but asked to be relieved of his responsibility at Golden Gate for the spring so that he could be home with Mother.

A bacterial infection just before Christmas 1993 left Mother bedridden for the remaining 3+ years of her life. Daddy would not hear of letting Mother go to a facility of any kind; he knew that nobody could give her the loving, devoted care that he could. And he was right.

For the remainder of her life, he took care of her. Patsy and I arranged for one of us to be there at least every other weekend - and, eventually, every weekend. Our families sacrificed, lovingly encouraging us to go to give Mother and Daddy the encouragement they needed, and to give Daddy some help, some relief, make it possible for him to go to church Sunday morning, etc.

Both Patsy and I found this time to be very special, as we spent time with Mother and Daddy that we probably wouldn't have had otherwise. And I know it meant an awful lot to Mother and Daddy for us to do that. But it wasn't a hard decision for Patsy and me - our parents had given so very much to us, there was no way that we could ever repay them; just as they had given to us simply because they loved us so much, so, too, did we want to give to them simply because we loved them so much.

During those 3 years, I sometimes took my camcorder to Austin with me. Daddy and I would occasionally sit down in the living room with the camcorder running, and I interviewed him about family events and stories, his career, their marriage, etc. I have about 10 hours on video of these interviews with Daddy. Priceless!

As I said earlier, after Mother passed away, Daddy never got over it. They had loved each other so much, that he couldn't conceive of life without her. So he kept her pictures around him and talked about his memories of her - all good, of course. And we listened gladly, because we knew that talking about his beloved Vivian made him feel good - he was sad, but remembering her brought happy thoughts.

There are plenty of other memories, I'm sure, but these have been a few of the highlights. Though I miss them terribly, remembering Mother and Daddy brings me happy thoughts.

There was never any "put-on," as we used to say, about either Mother and Daddy. They were authentic, honest, faithful, loving, generous. Their faith in Christ was authentic and informed, and they passed that on to Patsy and me - and to others too many to count - through the way they lived, the way they loved, the way they treated people. We saw Jesus in them.

Memories of Daddy, part 4: OBU, My Faith Crisis, and a Loving Dad
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

In September 1969, I entered Oklahoma Baptist University. Mother and Daddy drove me to Shawnee, helped me register, and moved me into Brotherhood Dorm. Then they said goodbye and left. It wasn't 10 minutes before Daddy was back in my room, telling me he had forgotten to leave me some spending money. I later learned that this was just an excuse - he just had to see me one more time, was already beginning to worry about me and miss me. (More tears!)

Read part 1: A Loving Mother and Daddy, and a Treasured Note

Read part 2: Daddy, Baseball, and Me

Read part 3: Hearing Daddy Preach and Goodnight, Johnny

Read part 5: To Hug or Not to Hug; Late-Night Talks; 'the Night of the Three Jasons'; and a Devoted Marriage

In November 1970, I lost my faith. I had professed Christ publicly at First Baptist Church, Richardson, Texas, in April 1961 and been baptized. In my teenage years at Bethany Baptist in KC, MO, my world had revolved around Youth Choir and the youth group there. I had even become somewhat of a leader, at one point being elected Youth Pastor during our annual Youth Week. 

Somewhere around the age of 15 or 16, I became convicted that God was calling me to the music ministry; I went to OBU mainly because of the influence of our music minister - and my dear friend - Joe Dell Rust, who had graduated from OBU, which had a Fine Arts College, led by Dean Warren M. Angell, with a reputation to match or exceed that of at least any Baptist school. I entered OBU on a Church Music degree program.

But my "faith" was built on a house of cards; I had never really understood the nature of faith. To me it was more the acceptance of a set of facts; yes, there was personal commitment involved, too, but the question of faith vs. facts was my problem. On that day in my sophomore year at OBU, when a professor's statement caused me to realize that I couldn't prove any of the stuff I believed, the house of cards collapsed, and I walked out of that class no longer believing in God, much less Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

I had friends at OBU, preacher's kids like me, who went through a similar crisis; when they shared their newfound struggle, their fathers argued with them and yelled at them.

When I told my dad what had happened (and it took a year or so before I got up the courage to tell my parents), he told me he understood; he shared that he had gone through something similar when he was young, and that he understood that this was something I would need to work out on my own, but that he would be there whenever I needed, to talk with, to respond to any questions I might have.

I don't recall any specific discussions with him beyond that, but I do know that I consider Daddy the greatest influence in helping me find my way back to Christ.

Of course, having lost my faith, I had to get out of the Church Music program, so I switched to a Music Education degree. No, I really didn't want to teach all that much, but I didn't have any passion, any great love, outside of music. So I completed the Music Education degree and was then pretty lost, still struggling and searching for truth on which to stake my life, and also struggling to figure out what to do with my life.

One thing I tried was Law School; I scored in the 96th percentile of the Law School Admission Test and was admitted to the University of Oklahoma Law School, which I entered in August 1975. I spent three semesters there before withdrawing after recognizing that I simply wasn't cut out to be a lawyer.

It was during my time in Law School, however, that Daddy and other members of his Home Mission Board Interfaith Witness Department came to speak to the Baptist Student Union at OU. I went to hear them - the only times I ever darkened the doors of the BSU at OU. One evening before one of the sessions, Daddy and I went to dinner together, and I shared with him that, after over 5 years of searching and struggling, I found myself able to once again accept that the Bible is true, that God is real, and that Jesus is God's son. Well, at least I was able to accept it intellectually, although a real faith commitment, a real personal commitment of love and trust would take longer. But now I understood what faith was about. I was trying to build my house on a foundation of faith this time, not a house of cards.

I would never have gotten to that point without the patience and understanding that Daddy showed me from the beginning.

Memories of Daddy, part 3: Hearing Daddy preach and Goodnight, Johnny
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

Daddy was often away from our church on Sunday, "supplying" in another pulpit. I occasionally went with him, especially when I was very young and we were in Dallas. My cousin, Devin Dodson, also went with us sometimes. Devin loved hearing Daddy preach. We usually sat on the front pew. My only specific memory of one of Daddy's sermons is one he preached on Jesus' teaching that He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep, and the sheep know His voice and follow Him.

I also often went with Daddy when he spoke to church groups about witnessing to their Jewish friends. Much of this involved educating Baptists on the Jewish people, their faith and culture, and knocking down any stereotypes about them. I guess I was a weird kid, but I loved going with Daddy when he did this and listening to him speak. Sometimes, if he was using slides to illustrate his presentation, I would work the slide projector for him.

Read part 4: OBU, My Faith Crisis, and a Loving Dad

Read part 5: To Hug or Not to Hug; Late-Night Talks; 'the Night of the Three Jasons'; and a Devoted Marriage

Daddy once gave me a project to catalogue his books. There were, of course, no word processors back in that day, no electronic databases, etc. I used the Remington typewriter - which he gave me, by the way, at my request, several years before he died - that was on his desk in his study. I typed the information - title, author, copyright date, publisher, etc. - on index cards. Then I placed a little piece of paper sticking out at the top of the book, to indicate that the book had been catalogued.

That experience came in handy 15 or 20 years later, when my own library grew into the several hundreds (over 1,000 today) and required cataloguing. (Of course, today, that catalogue resides in an Excel file.)

One special memory of my growing-up years that I must insert here - whenever it wasn't a school night, such as summer, etc., I stayed up and watched Johnny Carson's Tonight Show with Daddy. I would usually be sitting on the couch or in a chair, but Daddy's favorite place to watch Johnny was the living room floor, where he usually drifted off to sleep about halfway through. I can't begin to count the number of times Johnny went off at midnight, and I got up & walked over, jostled Daddy, and said, "Daddy, Johnny's over. Time to go to bed." Little things like that are special memories.

Memories of Daddy, part 2: Daddy, Baseball, and Me
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

Just a week after we moved from Dallas to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1962, Daddy took me to my first major league baseball game, the Kansas City A's hosting the New York Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, et al., with Whitey Ford on the mound that day. That was the day I fell in love with baseball, its personalities, its ever-growing statistics, and especially its history. Growing up in KC, I spent many days and/or nights with Daddy at old Kansas City Municipal Stadium (which was, sadly, demolished following the 1972 season). We loved talking sports - especially the A's and their opponents, and the Chiefs, who came to KC in 1963.

On Father's Day 1963, Mother and I visited Daddy at Fort Leavenworth, where he was doing his annual two weeks of active duty in the Army Reserves. He was serving as the chaplain in the disciplinary barracks there. We went to the PX (Post Exchange) to buy Daddy a Father's Day gift, and bought him a transistor radio; unknown to me, he and Mother had worked it out where Mother & I would buy him a transistor radio, and they would buy me one. Matching GE transistor radios, except his cover case was black, and mine was cream-colored. I still have mine today. One of my favorite gifts of all time! I can't begin to count the number of batteries I wore out by going to sleep with that radio under my pillow, as I listened to one of those late games on the West Coast.

When I discovered I could pull in the St. Louis Cardinals' games on that radio - and the Cardinals won 19 of 20 in late 1963 to almost (but not quite) overtake the Dodgers for the National League pennant - I became a Cardinals fan. Still an A's fan, but they were pitiful, so the Cards became my first loyalty.

In time, each of us had his favorite player. In June 1964, the Cardinals traded for a speedster named Lou Brock from the Cubs and turned him loose on the bases. Within a week, I picked him as my favorite player (today he's in the Hall of Fame). Just a few weeks later, the A's called up a shortstop from the minor leagues, named Dagoberto Campaneris, nicknamed "Campy." On my transistor radio, I listened to Campy hit a home run on the first pitch he was thrown in the major leagues and add a second one later in the game. But power wasn't Campy's forte; as with Lou, Campy's calling card was speed. It wasn't long before Campy was Daddy's favorite ballplayer.

So through the years, as our two favorite players annually led their respective leagues in stolen bases, Daddy and I would say things like "Did you see what 'my guy' did today?" or "How did 'your guy' do today?" It was a fun rivalry, comparing Lou and Campy. (Sorry, Daddy, my guy's in the Hall of Fame, yours isn't!) 

For a few years in the mid-1960s, the Kansas City Baptist Association - where Daddy worked - had its offices in the Berkshire Towers, an old hotel that had been converted to space for offices and apartments. Several of the Kansas City A's lived there. One Saturday morning, after arriving home from an out-of-town commitment, Daddy went to the office to check his mail and took me with him. As we were getting out of the car, we saw Campy Campaneris drive into the parking lot. So Daddy and I went over as he was getting out of his car, and Daddy introduced me to Campy. We chit-chatted with him (Campy didn't know much English, so this was interesting), mainly about his having been out of the lineup the night before with a stomach problem. Anyway, pretty exciting to meet one of the A's in person, away from the field.

Memories of Daddy, part 1: A Loving Mother and Daddy, and a Treasured Note
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

Daddy passed away 10 years ago today.

Ten years!

In 2011, on the 4th anniversary of his death, I wrote a three-part tribute to him, trying to summarize his life as fully and succinctly as I could.

But there were few personal memories in there, so now - 10 years after I learned that I would no longer see him in this life - it's time for me to recall a few more personal memories.

Daddy and I had a great relationship, one that grew closer over the last 30 years or so of his life.

Read part 2: Daddy, Baseball, and Me

Read part 3: Hearing Daddy preach; and Goodnight, Johnny

Read part 4: OBU; My Faith Crisis; and a Loving Dad

Read part 5: To Hug or Not to Hug; Late-Night Talks; 'the Night of the Three Jasons'; and a Devoted Marriage

I wrote about Mother this past March, in Remembering Mother, 20 years after God called her home. But there's one memory that I didn't share in that post; it's one that demonstrates the unbounded grace of her big and loving heart but is a little painful for me, because it's a reminder of just how ungracious I could be toward her. It was after I had broken up with Joanna Wong - after dating her for only a couple of months. (Don't worry - Joanna and I soon got back together for good and celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last September.)

All of the Chinese students from Hong Kong and other points east were, of course, staying on campus during Spring Break, so I decided I would stay, too, to spend time with Joanna. Then came the break-up. So I got a flight home to Kansas City. Mother picked me up at the airport.

On the way home, Mother remarked that she was sorry that things didn't work out for Joanna and me. In my most smart-alecky tone, I replied, "Really? I figured you'd be happy, since Joanna isn't a Christian." My dear sweet Mother (and this always brings tears to my eyes) said, "Honey, I just want you to be happy." I don't think I've ever felt so small in my life. She had a grace and a love that I still can't comprehend, to which I can only wistfully aspire.

I should add that, when Mother and Daddy met Joanna the following year, they immediately fell in love with her. Mother wasn't just a wonderful mother; she was a doting and loving mother-in-law as well. It was the love my parents showed to her that was instrumental in Joanna's decision, a few years later, to give her life to Christ.

This morning, my sister Patsy texted me, "They were good parents, and they were well-suited for each other, weren't they?" Yes, 59 years of marriage, and Daddy always felt that was way too little. He never got over losing Mother, and they're together in eternity now, as we shall be with them one day.

One of my favorite possessions is a note Daddy wrote to me - on behalf of both of them - at Christmas 1960, when I was 9. When I opened the box that supposedly contained my Christmas present, all I found inside was a smaller box; and when I opened that one, I found another box, even smaller. I had to open several boxes until I finally found the present - my first wristwatch. Attached to it was a note, which I keep on my desk today, almost 60 years later: "Merry Christmas and lots of love. You had to remove several wrappings to get to this gift, but you see, life is like that. You often have to work long and hard to reach the best things in life. Your mother and daddy want you to keep on searching until you reach God's purpose for your life. You will find it in the center of God's will." (Uh-oh, more tears!)

What a great lesson to learn - it's taken years of experience for me to learn the truth and value of that lesson.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Robert Parham's legacy, as reflected in his own writings
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

Robert Parham, founder and executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics, passed away Sunday, March 5, following a long illness.

Robert was a Baptist prophet who leaves behind a body of work remarkable for its breadth, its depth, and its impact on not only Baptist life but the lives of the marginalized worldwide. It can truly be said of Robert Parham that he followed the Jesus model and "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38)

I had the privilege of counting Robert as both a friend and colleague in Baptist work, and I'll miss him, as will countless others. Christian ethics has lost one of its most courageous, eloquent, tireless, and effective advocates and voices.

The best tribute I can pay to Robert is to share with you a few of Robert's own words, as published on over recent years, with links to the articles in which those words appeared. Quotes from 25 articles follow.

May Robert Parham's legacy live on in the work, attitudes, and lives of those of us he touched.

Our mission is "challenging people of faith to advance the common good." We think the best way for us to do this is through resourcing and speaking to congregational leaders and congregations.
- Remember what's mission is, how we pursue it, 2/21/2017

We, the founders of the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE), saw a door with the collapse of the moderate control of the Southern Baptist Convention and the radical right turn of its moral concerns agency. We went through the door without the faintest sense of what was on the other side.
- Behold an open door to readers, 11/22/2016

Wouldn't it be refreshing and rewarding to focus on collaboration for the common good?
- Join in 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation in 2017, 11/4/2016

One would hope that the Pentagon video is wrong, that religious conflict will not be part of a "defining element in the social landscape." Christianity and other religions have an alternative narrative to conflict. It's advancing the common good through collaboration.
- Security issues may increase on Church's agenda if Pentagon is right, 10/25/2016

We hope that our new documentary, "The Disturbances," will increase the awareness in churches about genocide and encourage churches to be 'watchmen on the gate.'
- Preventing genocide will benefit from Christian, Jewish teamwork, 9/23/2016

Christians and Muslims have different sacred books, different religious holidays, different faith practices. But we do share in common the faith commandment to seek the welfare of others. We need not agree doctrinally to do the right thing.
- As 9/11 nears, Christians can build bridges with Muslims, 9/2/2016

This is an incredible story about ruin and redemption, blood and boldness, denial and dedication, guilt and goodness. "The Disturbances" is both horrifying and inspiring.
- Telling for the first time horrifying and inspiring stories of Christian engagement, 8/11/2016

At its best, protest is a form of moral critique. It has long been part of the American tradition, especially the Baptist heritage. Not all protests or protesters are righteous, however.
- How the Church can speak up for the Thin Blue Line, 7/12/2016

The mother of the moderate movement is unmistakably Babs Baugh. She showed tenacity and courage.
- Observations on CBF's 25th anniversary, 6/30/2016

We're going to have to break the chains of political ideology and loyalty, the prejudice of cultural heritage, the inherited list of church priorities. We're going to need to recover a much more robust commitment to the biblical message that teaches us that we - and those we dislike - are created in the image of God.
- Mass shooting calls Christians to prioritize the fingerprints of God, 6/14/2016

She said they wanted me to heal them. Parham as faith healer! Now that made me uncomfortable. After all, I don't believe in faith healing. I felt ashamed later on. I should have had the faith to pray boldly for their healing, knowing that healing comes from the hand of God, not my words. Lord, forgive my ignorance and arrogance.
- Fragments that have shaped my world view over 25 years, 4/26/2016

When we got back to the hotel, my daughter asked me: Why did that woman in the hat keep writing down everything you said? Yes, Dorothy Patterson was there, spec hunting, taking notes. Hoping I would say something that she and her SBC colleagues could use against me and the BWA. That experience is a lot more humorous today than then!
- Recalling light-hearted moments over 25 years, 3/29/2016

Lebanon has an estimated 1.2 million Syrian refugees. The United States might permit 12,000 by the end of 2016. Big difference: 1.2 million vs. 12,000.
- The tale of two Baptist responses on Syrian refugees, 12/1/2015

As a deepwater Baptist, I know no Baptist speaks for other Baptists. I certainly don't speak for the readers of I have always spoken to Baptists and our readers. I have always clarified and emphasized when speaking to the press this treasured tradition among goodwill Baptists.
- 4 reasons to support Iran nuclear agreement, 8/28/2015

Trump's statements are unkind, untruthful and unbiblical. Trump's immigration plan is also unworkable. . . . We don't need political fantasy, political rhetoric. We need workable solutions. We need bipartisan collaboration to reform American immigration policy.
- Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric runs counter to biblical witness, 8/19/2015

While Baptists claim to be people of the book, we have glossed over the book's message about the environment. Yes, even moderate Baptists, my own village, skirt the issue.
- Praise be for Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, 6/10/2015

Anti-religious cartoons and spiteful bus ads may legally qualify as expressions of free speech. That doesn't mean they qualify as morally responsible speech. Morally responsible speech is truthful, civil, respectful.
- Let's not confuse freedom of speech with moral rightness, 5/11/2015

Advancing equal pay for women, paying a living wage and sharing the tax burden are morally reasonable commitments, worthy of church advocacy.
- Economic inequality is pressing challenge for the Church, 2/3/2015

Ending modern slavery is an issue around which many rank-and-file churches could collaborate. Given the ideological polarization within many U.S. churches, finding common ground issues is critical, especially where tangible common good can be achieved.
- Global religious leaders pledge to eradicate modern slavery, 12/9/2014

Let's reclaim our heritage as human rights advocates. Let's help congregants know that history by observing Human Rights Day in December and know how human rights is Jesus' agenda.
- Observe Human Rights Day in December; "It is our baby", 11/18/2014

Focus on how Robertson uses the Bible. Clearly, he cherry-picks selected passages. He ignores the Sermon on the Mount with no citation of Jesus' teachings related to making peace.
- "Duck Dynasty" patriarch's Phil Robertson plan for ISIS sounds like holy war, 9/9/2014

It was a gift some years ago from the staff. They titled it "Robertisms (Or: How to Speak BCE)."
  • Example One: "If the horse is dead, dismount."
  • Example Two: "That dog don't hunt."
  • Example Three: "What's the next wrinkle?"
  • Example Four: "Let's apply some stress to the situation."
  • Example Five: "We need to leaven that lump."
. . . They certainly highlight my own redundancy, shorthand, wacky framing when it comes to organizational planning and strategizing about social change.
- Learn to speak BCE, 8/8/2014

With so many pressing issues--the Middle East, Ukraine, the flood of undocumented children into the U.S.--American Christians might be tempted to turn away from Africa. Let's hope, instead, we find a way to cross the road to help our neighbors in urgent need.
- Prayer, action needed in response to Ebola virus outbreak, 7/31/2014

When I started out, the challenge was how to get more churches engaged in social change through Christian citizenship—political engagement. Now the challenge is how to keep politics from invading and crippling congregations.
- Keeping secular politics out of the sanctuary, 6/19/2014

McGee and Stassen spent years toiling in the Southern Baptist vineyard when fundamentalists were breathing fire and brimstone about liberalism in seminaries and universities. Fundamentalists falsely accused them of not believing the Bible, a nasty canard given the fact that both men were so thoroughly Christ-centered in their moral agenda, unlike the fundamentalists who favored Leviticus over the Sermon on the Mount.
- A tribute to two ethics professors: Hearing vanished voices, thinking about tomorrow, 4/30/2014

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Remembering Mother, 20 years after God called her home
by Bill Jones
Trustee, T. B. Maston Foundation

Twenty years ago this afternoon, around 1:30, Daddy called and said simply, "Bill, she's gone."

My dear mother had passed away. We had been expecting it for a long time, but you're never ready for the finality of it all.

Vivian Louise Otting Jones was born on March 16, 1906, in Miami (pronounced Mi-am-uh), Indian Territory, a year before it became part of the new state of Oklahoma. She was just two days short of her 45th birthday when I was born, and just 12 days short of her 91st birthday when she went home to be with her Lord.

In a sense, it seems hard to believe it's been 20 years. Yet in another sense, it seems forever (and for her, of course, it's been an eternity - literally).

Mother was the second oldest of 12 children – eight girls and four boys. Each of the four oldest daughters was assigned one of the younger girls and given the responsibility to watch over her. Mother's 'child' was her sister Betsy, and they remained exceptionally close until Mother's death. In fact, in the last weeks of Mother's life, as she shut down . . . quit eating . . . . quit responding, obviously just waiting for God to call her home, Aunt Betsy came and stayed, helping Daddy to take care of her; she was there with them when Mother took her last breath.

Aunt Betsy passed away last fall; it was an honor to be at her memorial service and share with her children and grandchildren in celebrating the life of someone who had meant so much to our family, especially to Mother.

Mother and Daddy were married for over 59 years; yet Daddy, who lived for another 10 years after her passing, always said that those 59 years just weren't enough. Theirs was a special marriage, and Patsy and I were blessed to be part of such a loving home.

Mother was a strong woman. In an age when women typically were known as "housewives" or "homemakers," Mother worked full-time well into her 60s. In 1943, she found herself left at home to take care of their 1-1/2-year-old daughter as Daddy served over 2 years as an Army chaplain in the European Theatre under General Patton's command.

When Daddy returned home after the war ended, he pastored small churches while attending Southwestern Seminary, majoring in Christian Ethics under T. B. Maston; although Mother worked full-time, and Daddy sometimes worked part-time jobs that supplemented his pastor's salary, there was not exactly a surplus of food in the pantry.

Patsy recalls how Mother "always supported Daddy in his ministry - all those every-Sunday lunches that she hosted for his preacher boys when we lived in Montague" (where Daddy pastored First Baptist Church).

Patsy continues, "She worked full-time, of course, took care of us children, sewed many of my clothes, did more than her share of church work, and must have longed for a weekend where she could let down some. We had so little money, but she could feed those hungry guys (and a couple of wives) without too much expense by cooking a small roast and, then, adding lots of mayonnaise, boiled eggs, and pickle relish to make roast salad. And it was delicious to boot!!! She was a great cook. She told wonderful family stories and was so much fun! Stephanie always said that Mother was her party Grandma because she loved to plan tea parties and wienie roasts for us."

I remember when I called Mother and Daddy, my senior year at OBU in the spring of 1973, to tell them I was dating a Chinese girl from Hong Kong. But I need to back up a little; when we moved to Kansas City, MO, in 1962, Mother took a job at Bethany Baptist Church. She was church clerk and also was secretary to our music minister, Richard Lin, who was on a leave of absence from OBU while studying for his doctorate at the conservatory at University of Missouri-Kansas City. During the next year, until the Lins returned to Oklahoma, our families became close friends; their three sons and I would trade off almost every Sunday, with me spending the afternoon at their house or them at mine. Where did I learn to love Chinese cooking? At Julia Lin's dining table on Sunday afternoons.

Their little daughter, Anita, was still little, several years younger than her brothers. With Richard Lin leading the music and Julia singing in the choir, Mother volunteered to sit with Anita in the Sunday morning service every week. It had been a long time since Mother had a little daughter, as Patsy was already out of college and married by this time. So Mother simply doted on little Anita and really loved the time she got to spend with her.

So back to my story. I called Mother and Daddy to tell them about this girl, Joanna Wong, I was dating at OBU. Mother was on the bedroom phone, and Daddy on the kitchen phone, or vice-versa. As they told me the story in later years, as soon as they hung up the phone, they ran to meet each other in the hallway, and Mother blurted out, "We're going to have Chinese grandbabies!"

Well, they were putting the cart a little ahead of the horse, but they turned out to be right. Joanna and I celebrated 40 years of marriage this past September, and those "Chinese grandbabies" are now 35 and 31!

Mother & Daddy with their 'Chinese grandbabies,' Alison & Travis (1991)

Most of all, I remember a gentle, loving Mother who was always ready to sacrifice for her family. She wanted nothing more than for her family to be happy. She was a committed Christian, always serving in the church, teaching Sunday School, GAs, YWAs, and so forth. I remember when I was maybe 9 or 10, asking her why we were Baptist. Mother had grown up in a Presbyterian home but had eventually become a Baptist after meeting and marrying Daddy.

Anyway, when I asked her why we were Baptist, she had a very simple, yet profound, answer: "Because Baptists believe the Bible." And Mother believed the Bible, and she was a devoted follower of Jesus.

Twenty years today! In June, it will be 10 years since Daddy passed away. Patsy and I, and our families, have been blessed. They made a loving home for all of us, and their influence, their legacy, lives on, and will for generations to come.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Jesus - Peacemaker or "loser"? Ask Pentaquod.

From the 1st chapter - "Voyage One: 1583" - of James Michener's 1978 novel, Chesapeake:
Reluctantly, he was coming to the conclusion that he must leave this tribe which had done everything but outlaw him publicly. As a child he had watched what happened to men declared outcasts, and he had no desire to experience what they had suffered: the isolation, the scorn, the bitter loneliness. . . . The trouble had started that day when he voiced his apprehension over a raid proposed by the high chief. . . . the Susquehannocks of the middle section had never in Pentaquod's life been easy in times of peace; they felt intuitively that they should be on the warpath, proving their manhood.
To me, this seems to aptly describe Americans today. And we Christians seem to be leading the way. Instead of seeking peace, we beat the drums for war and the bushes for enemies. We seek conflict to prove our "greatness." We make war to stake our claim to the political power that is our obsession. We hurl epithets - such as "weak" and "losers" - at those who seek first to negotiate and to compromise. We make outcasts of those who Jesus called the least of these, those who he told us to serve in order to serve him.
Who gets lost in all of this? The one whose death and resurrection we acclaim this week. He lived, died, and rose to give us victory, but we still act as those whose hope is in ourselves rather than in Him. We act as those who are defeated rather than victors.
Jesus' teachings and commandments still make us uncomfortable, so we find a way to explain them away and wriggle out of doing them. But these words were not simply a hollow sound bite or applause line; they ring throughout Jesus' life, every action, every teaching:
"Blessed are the peacemakers."
- Jesus the Christ in his sermon on the mount

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Appeal for UNITY amidst the Christian and gay divide
by Brenda McWilliams

Long before the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, the debate regarding the religious or moral “rightness” of same-sex intimacy was at fever pitch. The Court ruling, far from settling the issue and “putting it to bed” (pardon the pun) has, in many ways, added fuel to the fire, and the temperature continues to rise.

First, let me be straight regarding who I am. I am an out, gay, Christian woman in a fourteen-year covenant relationship with another Christian woman. We worshiped together for many years at the First Baptist Church of Tyler, TX. I believe First Baptist would be considered a fairly conservative Baptist church affiliated with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I will not go into the details of my years of struggle coming to accept my sexual orientation and the journey, with God’s grace, toward reconciliation of who I am and my Baptist faith and beliefs. When asked how I reconcile being Christian and gay, the short answer is that I am a child of God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and a woman who happens to have a same-sex orientation. However, my story and struggle is not the point of my writing today.

I write today because I am saddened and heartbroken, and to pose a question: What are we doing? What are we doing to our Christian brothers and sisters, to our churches, and, perhaps most importantly, to our witness to the world of the all-inclusive love and grace of Jesus Christ? Perhaps that is a question we should ask ourselves daily and not just in regard to current issues of sexual orientation and our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks.

Here’s the source of my heartache and sorrow. More and more regarding the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, I see battle lines being drawn, troops being mustered, and “war” strategies taking shape. I see the flourishing of a “them vs. us” mentality and thinking. I recall reading the call to arms by Matthew Vines, founder of the Reformation Project, to “eradicate homophobia through the preaching and teaching of the Bible.” (ABPNews, 9/13/2013) That was almost two years ago! Now, eradication of homophobia would be a good thing, a very good thing; however, I don’t know that it will happen through the preaching and teaching of the Bible. After all, did decades, perhaps centuries, of Bible teaching and preaching eradicate homosexuality? Go figure on that one!

Then there is the NALT – Not All Like That – Christians Project, launched in 2013 “to give LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world—and especially to young gay people—their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender” ( I am in agreement that it would be a good thing for LGBT-affirming Christians to be more vocal, to speak up and share their convictions in their congregations, Bible study groups, at work, at school, wherever they might be, in any circumstance and, particularly, in response to something hurtful or derogatory that has been said or done. Both The Reformation Project and the NALT Project are great, and they have done and continue to do good work. Yet, the fire still rages and the temperature still rises.

If we want to truly talk about and strive toward “reformation,” let’s talk about relationships. Let’s sit with one another and share our stories, our faith journeys, our soul yearnings, and see and come to know the Christ within – within ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how true soul formation and reformation occurs.

What hinders us from sharing our stories? Could it be the “other?” How do we perceive, approach, behave toward, and relate to people whom we believe to be different from who we perceive ourselves to be? How do we get to know the "other?" Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different? If we answer "Yes" to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that we start sharing our stories, our heartfelt convictions, and listening to one another as opposed to entering battle heralding our proclamations and unfurling our regimental flags.

I sometimes wonder in this gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, if both “armies” are more focused on attempting to change, convert, and convince the “other” side than on loving one another and fostering unity in the body. Again, I would ask a question: With regard to this issue, what is our desire? Is our desire to be “right,” or is our desire to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness to the abounding love of God through Christ?

I am reminded here of Paul’s urgings to the Ephesians “. . . to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6; emphasis is mine)

I see the division among Christians on the gay issue, and I am saddened. I see and hear the “gay-bashing” from many Christian groups, and I am saddened. I am equally saddened by the “church and/or Christian-bashing” coming from various factions of the LGBT community, even at times from the Christian LGBT community. Where is the humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? This breaks my heart.

As Christians, regardless of our beliefs on the gay/same-sex marriage issue or any other aspect of our present-day culture, we are bound together in Christ. I want for us, the church, the body of Christ, to be inclusive and affirming of one another, bound by Christ’s love for us, our love of Christ, and our desire to share His love with others. I want for us, the church, through and because of our bond in Christ, to be able to sit with one another in covenant community and engage in civil and respectful dialogue about all sorts of issues and questions – even, especially, the hard ones.

Yes, we may disagree on some things, and – since Christ binds us – we can agree to disagree, be respectful of one another’s “soul competency,” and carry on with the mission to share the love of God through Christ. As Christian brothers and sisters, gay and straight, I want for us, the church, to live in unity and the peace of Christ, knowing that unity does not require uniformity in thought or action, nor does the peace of Christ mean there is no disagreement. I want for us, the church, to be the Presence of Christ in and to the world. Somehow, I don’t think we are being that, the Presence of Christ, in our responses to the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm. I am saddened and heartbroken. Again, I pose the question: What are we doing?

More and more, I am being called back to Matthew 10:27, a verse I claimed many years ago: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear proclaim from the roofs. (NIV) I also like The Message translation: Don’t hesitate to go public now. Well, I have gone public!

Friday, July 10, 2015

James Dunn's greatest legacy
by Dick Maples

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Dick Maples is a former chair of the T. B. Maston Foundation.)

When the news came last Sunday of James Dunn’s passing, I spent an hour or so lying in the hammock on the back porch, reminiscing and thanking God for a friendship that began sixty years ago when we served as youth directors of neighboring churches in Weatherford, Texas. Many will write about his accomplishments as director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission and later as director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, but there may be little mention of the powerful impact that he had upon the lives of students and young adults.

My son, Drake, is one of the many who have been positively influenced by the life and ministry of James Dunn. Upon learning of James’s death this past week, he wrote his young adult children the following email, which I quote by permission:
“James Dunn was a friend of mine as a child and as a young adult. He was, and has been, a strong and solid friend of our family for sixty years. He is one of the truly great men whom I have known in my life, and one who has truly influenced American policy and lawmakers for the past 30 years. Strangely, I think you will find that he is not one of those typical ‘churchy’ people that you might expect in Baptist life. In fact, James blustered in the face of the traditional Baptist church . . . and chose to represent individual freedom of religious thinking over any and all church doctrines and church dogmas. He was in fact a true maverick. . . . And one whom I loved and respected very much. 
“HE . . . is one of the reasons that I have never fully tolerated or accepted the traditional trappings of the ordinary church. And I am hopeful that he would be proud of that. He always challenged me to think as well as act. He always demanded that people think and ask questions rather than simply accept the answers of a preacher or a church. He believed that every man has a ‘right’ to speak to his God as he sees and relates to him . . . And that no Government or individual had the right to dictate or interfere in this right. 
“Regrettably, I think that there are very few James Dunns left in the world today . . . And I don’t know if any of you will be as fortunate as I have been to know this one.”
I believe there are legions of people like Drake who would express similar words of appreciation for their friendship with James Dunn and for the rich contribution he made to their lives. How fitting that, upon his retirement from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, he returned to the role in which he began his ministry, that of teaching students. Wherever he has served, from Weatherford to West Texas A&M, from the Christian Life Commission in Dallas to the BJCPA in Washington, and most recently at the Divinity School at Wake Forest, James Dunn has positively impacted the lives of students and young adults and motivated them to become more devoted followers of Christ, and this may be his greatest legacy.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

From Fear to Joy - to Love - and to Covenant

(Originally posted by Judge Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church, Little Rock, AR, to his Facebook timeline on May 14, 2014; published here with his permission. The T. B. Maston Foundation encourages candid and thoughtful dialogue on ethical issues.)

I want to express special appreciation to Jack P. Rogers for his fine book, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality. I am indebted to Jack P. Rogers, who did the research on the eight passages addressed in my post. - WENDELL GRIFFEN 

Thanks to family, friends, and everyone else who has posted concerning Judge Chris Piazza's historic decision last Friday which declared Arkansas laws unconstitutional that prohibit marriage licenses from being issued to same sex couples. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane and the dedicated public servants who work to receive and process applications for marriage licenses also deserve tremendous praise for their professionalism, hard work, and friendliness to the many people who've sought and received marriage licenses since Monday morning. And anyone who has observed the courteous way the security personnel have treated people has to be very impressed. As someone who works in the Pulaski County Courthouse every day, I can affirm that this is the way all these people approach their work each day.

Some of my friends strongly disagree with my decision to officiate marriage ceremonies involving same sex couples. While I cannot and will not disrespect anyone for disagreeing, I hope everyone will take a few minutes to ponder comments I delivered two years ago at a Baptist Conversation on Sexuality and Covenant my wife and I attended in Decatur, Georgia that was co-sponsored by Mercer University, McAfee School of Theology, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

©Wendell Griffen, 2012
Like many other pastors I know and countless more I don't know, I've learned to be available, responsive, and alert to calls for help in unexpected times and circumstances. But nothing in my ministry formation prepared me on how to respond to the reality of human sexuality, congregational unity, pastoral care, and the various challenges and opportunities to experience and enlarge what we mean by "covenant" when it comes to human sexuality. Human sexuality is as real as anything else one encounters in pastoral ministry. But I wasn't educated about it in church, college, or as part of my seminary studies.

My parents talked with me about sex. But I don't recall any conversations with my parents or youth leaders about human sexuality during my youth. I don't recall any church conferences about human sexuality. I don't think my experience is very different from other congregational leaders.

If my experience is typical, then it's probably safe to say that many—if not a majority—of the people who lead congregations reached adulthood like I did: with a very limited understanding about human sexuality. Perhaps we had conversations with our parents or other elders about sex and sensuality. Youth leaders occasionally and delicately talked about the topic of sex and dating. But I have yet to meet any Baptist pastor who grew up in a family or congregation where human sexuality was mentioned.

It's not unfair or inaccurate to say that when it comes to the issue of human sexuality, religious people in the United States have avoided serious thinking, honest conversation, and open-minded dialogue. I trace our aversion to engage the issue of sexuality by serious thought, honest discourse, and open-minded conversation to one thing. We have a phobia about human sexuality. We're afraid to admit that we're afraid about sexuality. We're uncomfortable thinking about it. We're uneasy. As individuals, families, congregations, communities, clergypersons, and members of a society where free expression of opinions is supposedly valued, we've been afraid to think, speak, and work to lovingly understand sexuality, one of the basic aspects of our humanity.

Sexuality has historically been left off the list of subjects we recruit educators to teach in high school. Sexuality has traditionally not been included among the issues seminary faculty and students analyze. In the minority of seminaries that include courses on human sexuality in the curricula the courses aren't required.

So no one should be surprised that our congregations aren't comfortable dealing with sexuality. This Conference has been needed for a very long time. I hope it will mark the start of a new era of candor for Baptists and other faithful people.

I haven't been immune or exempt from the fearful aversion to addressing sexuality. But I'm convinced that the aversion has done great harm to individuals, families, faith communities, and our desire to be agents of God's love and truth in the world. I've seen firsthand the pain and fear of families faced with the prospect that some aspect of a loved one's sexuality will become known. I've witnessed the anxiety of parents, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives.

And I've witnessed firsthand the way fear and misunderstanding can work cruel results. I have known and hurt for people who were afraid to come to worship because they expected to be shunned or blamed on account of their sexuality. I've tried to protect and comfort family members who were afraid to ask their congregation to pray for a loved one who was diagnosed with AIDS. I've known the special anxiety young people feel when they are afraid to talk with parents, other relatives, and church leaders about sexuality. I've seen and heard pastors and other clergy demonize vulnerable children, teenagers, and adults simply because those people are different because of sexuality. And I've seen preachers and other church people mount and support political efforts that portray people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender as threats to family cohesion and societal order based on solely on their sexuality.

So when New Millennium Church was organized in 2009 I prayed that we would be different. I prayed that we would be people who are not bound by a fear of difference but who are inspired by God's love to be "inclusive, welcoming, and progressive followers of Jesus Christ." But how would we live out that challenge surrounding the issue of sexuality? I will share what we've done and how it has affected us.

We affirm oneness and welcome all persons in God's love during every Sunday worship service. Our congregation recites the following "Affirmation of Oneness and Purpose" each Sunday morning.

"We praise and worship God together. We petition God, together. We proclaim God, together. We welcome all persons in God's love together. We live for God, in every breath and heartbeat, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus Christ, together."
This affirmation is made immediately following what we call the "Greet and Fellowship Moment" following the invocation when everyone is invited to greet and be welcomed by everyone else as we "welcome all persons in God's love together."

Why is this important? Almost every person in our congregation has lived through times of legalized segregation and religiously inspired discrimination against people who are different because of race, gender, and sexuality. But we have come to know God's love as expressed and demonstrated in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have come to understand God's love for and acceptance of all persons. In Christ, we have come to realize that humanity involves a wonderful and God-ordained diversity. In Christ, we have experienced the meaning of being one with God and others by the unifying work of grace and the Holy Spirit. Somehow, our congregation was inspired to affirm our commitment to oneness and to "welcome all persons in God's love" because we sincerely trust that this is what it means to be one with God in Christ.

Pastors have a prophetic duty to proclaim God's love in ways that welcome all people. Congregational life isn't defined by the personality of a pastor, but a Baptist pastor has a profound potential on that life by the way we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm struck, however, by how often pastors seem unwilling or unable to grasp and present God's love for all persons.

I'm no model preacher by any means. But I was led to preach about the encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well for the inaugural worship service of New Millennium Church (May 31, 2009). I tried to present what that encounter meant to her and means for us in a sermon titled "Give Me This Water!" Please forgive me for quoting myself.

"By his deliberate encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus revealed to her and to us that we can never be truly refreshed and rejuvenated by a well and bucket approach to life and faith. We need 'living water' that is invigorating, soothing, and cooling as we experience the challenges, conflicts, defeats, insults, and tragedies of our journeys. We need a source of strength and vitality that is bigger and deeper than domestic status, work, culture, and religious ritual. Until we are connected with 'living water,' we will keep coming up dry and empty, no matter what is in our family, cultural, or religious water pots and buckets.

"God's love is the 'living water' that Jesus spoke about to the Samaritan woman. We are designed to be nourished, invigorated, soothed, and cooled by the constantly flowing stream of God's love. We need the push of God's unstoppable love in the face of our setbacks. We need the comfort of God's healing love for our hurts and injuries. We need the assurance of God's always flowing love as we deal with obstacles, disappointments, sorrows, and anxieties. You and I, like the Samaritan woman, need to be invigorated, soothed, and cooled by the flowing stream of God's love.

"Here is the good news. God's love comes to us! Despite whatever situations, setbacks, disappointments, insults, conflicts, or frustrations life may present, God's love comes to us! The meaning of Jesus showing up in Samaria at Jacob's Well is that God's love shows up! Her marital history could not keep God's love from showing up in Jesus. The bigotry imposed on her people could not keep God's love from showing up in Jesus. The religious turf fight between preachers in her region and other preachers elsewhere about where people should worship could not prevent God's love from showing up in Jesus. God's love flows to wherever we are to call us, claim us, soothe us, invigorate us, renew us, and redirect us. We do not need to go to Jerusalem or elsewhere to experience God's love. Jesus at Jacob's Well talking with a Samaritan woman tells us that God's love comes to us, wherever we are, however we are, to fill our dry emptiness.

"By the love that God has given us through Jesus, we are able to confront injustice. By that love, we draw strength to overcome adversity. By that love, we are called as instruments of peace in the face of conflict. Through that love, you and I are agents of hope to people in despair. As God has given us the living water of divine love in Jesus, God has made us part of that love with Jesus. Like a stream flows to fill dry places, God's love flows in Jesus to fill us and flows in those who are filled by that love to renew, reinvigorate, redirect, and soothe others. This is what happened to the woman of Samaria. God's love came to her. Eventually, she became part of that love to others in her community."
If pastors believe that God loves people in whatever aspect of life they present themselves, then we must proclaim that love from our pulpits. And our sermonic efforts should call and challenge people to trust God's love in their relationships with others without regard to ancestral, cultural, ritual, or other bases for treating people differently because of their sexuality.

New Millennium intentionally confronted our phobia and prejudice about sexuality by prayerful study. Rather than use Sunday School quarterly materials and lessons, New Millennium follows a book study approach. I try to prayerfully select books that will stretch us. We studied writings by Howard Thurman (Jesus and the Disinherited), Dan Southerland (Transitioning: Leading Your Church through Change), Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith), Daniel Vestal (It's Time… a Journey Toward Missional Faithfulness), and Samuel Proctor (My Moral Odyssey) between our formation in May 2009 and the fall of 2010. And during the fall of 2010 and the winter months of 2011 we studied a book that challenged us to prayerfully ponder the ethical implications of being Jesus-followers concerning the issue of human sexuality when we studied a book written by Jack P. Rogers (Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality).

Like it or not, people act out their beliefs and our fears. The phobia about human sexuality has driven how many people think and act about sexuality—both for themselves and for other persons. But the Bible declares that "God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness." One of the most frequent commands found in our Scripture is "Don't fear."

So our congregation prayerfully engaged in months of serious study and honest conversation about sexuality by following a study guide included with Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality. We watched videos that addressed how persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are perceived and treated by religious people and the efforts of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to find acceptance and affirmation as they try to live out their faith in God's grace and truth (For the Bible Tells Me So and A Fish Out of Water). Instead of adopting the usual fearful approach to human sexuality we deliberately, prayerfully, and congregationally chose to study, listen, share, and trust the Holy Spirit.

I didn't introduce the sexuality study to make a political statement for the congregation or myself. As pastor, I introduced that study for the same reasons that guided whatever we study. Human sexuality is a reality religious people, including followers of Jesus, cannot deny or avoid. Humans are sexual beings by design. But sexuality isn't a subject religious thinkers have been comfortable engaging. Augustine, considered by some to have been the father-figure of Christian theology, never seemed to be comfortable with the human body. More than a few people have expressed concern, if not regret, "that for many centuries the teaching of the Church on human sexuality has suffered from its adherence to Augustine's distorted emphasis."

I led New Millennium to intentionally study and confront the religious phobia about human sexuality knowing the study would challenge us. It did. One of our charter leaders eventually left the congregation because she didn't want to participate in it. She left with a clear conscience and remains in contact with us. Although others openly expressed anxieties, they committed themselves to the study because it marked the first time they were part of a congregation where human sexuality was being openly pondered, discussed, and embraced.

At the beginning of the New Millennium study of human sexuality, we agreed that our effort would be guided by some fundamental thoughts.

• Every person's opinion counts.
• Respect each other.
• Be open-minded and non-judgmental.
• Have compassion.
• Maintain and protect confidentiality.
• Listen to each other respectfully.
• Disagree agreeably.
• Don't be afraid to grow.

New Millennium Church is a new church start. Most of our members are middle- aged and senior citizens. Most of us have been Baptists for decades. But regardless of our ages, varying levels of education, vocational diversity, racial diversity, and other factors, none of us had ever engaged in a serious study of human sexuality and Christian theology. Our study marked the first time we were able to openly discuss sexuality and faith. The study allowed us to follow the Holy Spirit as we listened to each other, as we read and pondered the assigned reading material, and as we intentionally met a same-sex Christian couple whose relationship has endured for more than forty years. We were able to confront the truth that the Bible has often been misused to justify slavery, segregation, and subjugation of women. We studied principles of Biblical interpretation. We prayed for each other.

Our study didn't weaken us. It gave us a new courage. We came to understand the importance of testing how Scripture is read and understood according to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Thanks to prayerful study, we were able to have honest conversations about sexuality and faith. We learned to celebrate the gift of sexuality with each other. We moved from fear to joy.

Our experience also allowed us to rethink and re-envision what covenant means. Covenant involves much more than a ceremony. Covenant is about commitment and relationship. Our study showed that heterosexuals enjoy economic, social, and legal benefits that are denied other people. In our conversation with the same-sex couple who has been together for over forty years—longer than my wife and I have been married—we learned that one member of the couple was denied the opportunity to be in the other's hospital room overnight following a surgical procedure. Arkansas does not recognize their relationship, despite all its evidence of commitment, as legitimate. They cannot marry. They cannot file a joint tax return. They cannot claim each other as dependents for health care benefits. For a brief time they were legally banned from being adoptive or foster parents. No matter how committed they are to each other, their relationship is not considered legitimate. Meanwhile, people who are heterosexual are permitted to marry—and receive all the social, economic, and legal privileges associated with marital status—whether they are committed to each other or not.

As we became better informed about these and other aspects of heterosexual privilege we remembered our personal and collective experiences with injustice. We recalled that during slavery marriage ceremonies did not protect slaves from being sold away from each other and that Baptists misused the Bible to justify human trafficking, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow segregation. We recalled that black people and women were denied citizenship and social equality. We remembered the hurtful impact of those injustices.

Above all, we remembered the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In Christ, those who were once considered spiritual outsiders—and outlaws—have been brought into a covenant relationship with God and each other. The relationship and commitment associated with it creates and defines the covenant. And at the heart of what that relationship with God in Christ means are the great commandments. We are called to love God with all our being (including our sexuality) and love other persons as we hope to be loved. The essence of covenant is love and justice, not legality.

Months of prayerful study about faith and sexuality made us more aware about heterosexual privilege. We heard about and witnessed its consequences on people who have been branded moral and social misfits on account of their sexuality. We remembered Jesus, the embodiment of God's wonderful love, who embraced people who were considered moral and social misfits.

Through prayerful study, prophetic preaching, and worship that intentionally welcomes all persons in God's love, New Millennium Church no longer lives in fearful silence about sexuality. We rejoice in the diversity God has created, including the diversity of human sexuality. We rejoice that covenant is about relationship and commitment, not ceremony. And we affirm that the love of God we've come to know in Jesus calls us to be agents of love, truth, and justice. We aren't afraid of sexuality. We rejoice in it. We're inspired to be agents of God's love, truth, and justice concerning it in the true sense of covenant.

"We praise and worship God together. We petition God, together. We proclaim God, together. We welcome all persons in God's love together. We live for God, in every breath and heartbeat, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus Christ, together." Amen.