Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

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

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Of Slippery Crowns and Wobbly Thrones

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

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

On the other hand, before you take me to task, please consider carefully the basis of my concerns with these pronouncements.
  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
The speaker allows no room for disagreement. If we disagree with his brand of "social conservatism," then we simply don't believe the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    OPINION: Growing up Baptist in a pluralistic world

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

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

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

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

    Today, fundamentalist viewpoints have conflated Israeli identity with Zionist belief. As the record will show, Israel does not demonstrate the most tolerant attitude when it comes to other religions. And, yet, it was Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission this past week that advocated for America to “bless the Jews” so that God will “bless America.”

    Land’s words are neither constructive for the Middle East peace process, nor do they reflect the highly held value of religious liberty. Land’s thought conflates theology with public policy in a disastrous manner. Indeed, his words stir the boiling pot of militant activity. His theological belief creates political action that demeans the religious identity of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

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

    Click here to read the entire article.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Climate Change: How Evangelical and Catholic Leaders Differ

    (originally published on EthicsDaily.com, May 17, 2011)

    by Robert Parham
    Executive Editor, EthicsDaily.com; and Executive Director, Baptist Center for Ethics

    Texas has been burning. Memphis has flooded. Tuscaloosa has been cleaning up after a tornado with 190-mile-per-hour winds smashed through Alabama. Kentucky has been drying out from almost one foot more rain in April than normal. And evangelical preachers are in denial.

    Well, at least one out of the five things listed above is normal: evangelical preachers being in denial. The other matters are outside what we encounter on a regular basis.

    What is beyond denial is that the nation is experiencing extreme weather events.

    Just a year ago, Nashville had 19 inches of rain in two days in what the Army Corps of Engineers called a 1,000-year flood. The next month Oklahoma City had "record-busting rainfall." Arkansas experienced an 8-inch downpour that killed 20 campers.

    In 2011, an estimated 95 percent of Texas faces a drought that Associated Press categorized as "severe or worse," with one of the state's driest Aprils on record.

    During the same month, the nation had 305 tornadoes in a four-day period that killed more than 300 people. For the entire month, 875 tornadoes whipped across the land.

    The Mississippi River crested in Memphis less than a foot below the record mark set in 1937. The Mississippi River has now had its second 500-year flood in less than 20 years  1993 and 2011.View the NASA maps to see the extent of the flooding.

    "April was a month of historic climate extremes across much of the United States, including: record-breaking precipitation that resulted in historic flooding; recurrent violent weather systems that broke records for tornado and severe weather outbreaks; and wildfire activity that scorched more than twice the area of any April this century," reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    What explains these extreme weather events? . . .

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Violence for violence plunges us in the dark

    (originally published on the Web site of the Whittier Daily News, May 5, 2011)

    by Becky Memmelaar
    Pastor, First Friends Church, Whittier, California

    "When the planes began to fall from the sky on Sept. 11, 2001, time stood still. My husband (a captain at Midway Airlines) and I (an international flight attendant) were enjoying our second cup of coffee.

    "We were getting ready to go buy cupcakes to take to school for our son's birthday when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. We knew instantly that our lives would never again be the same.

    "My husband's company folded the next day on Sept. 12, and the company that I worked for ended up filing for bankruptcy, cutting my pay and benefits.

    "More important than money to us (and make no mistake, with four children, two in college and two still at home, money was important), was the radical change to our lifestyle.

    "Prior to 9/11, walking into an airport, and onto an airplane had been no more nerve-wracking than walking into an office; I loved flying, loved traveling. Yet the day I returned to work, the day international travel resumed, my workplace was fraught with fear.

    "Soldiers patrolled the airport with machine guns. It was months before I left home without fearing that I would never return. Please understand I had no respect, no admiration for Osama bin Laden.

    "His plans to attack the U.S. directly and negatively impacted my life. It cost my family our livelihood, and it cost me my sense of security.

    "It temporarily caused me to live a life based on fear. My faith in God kept me going; it kept all of us going.

    "Sunday night, when the announcement was made that Osama bin Laden had been killed, it dredged up all of these feelings, all of these memories. Yet when I saw dancing in the streets of Washington, I also remembered dancing in the streets of other countries when our Twin Towers fell, and I was sickened.

    "I realized that both were equally wrong. As a follower of Christ, I cannot celebrate retributive justice because it is an 'eye for an eye,' and Jesus called us to be more than that, to do more than that.

    "As a former flight attendant, and wife of a pilot, I understand that life is not always black and white. I understand that feelings of distrust and hurt . . ."

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Christians Must Call for This War to End

    (originally published on the God's Politics blog, May 6, 2011)

    by Jim Wallis
    Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners

    "There is no more room or time for excuses. The war in Afghanistan — now the longest war in American history — no longer has any justification, and I am calling upon Christians, along with other people of good, moral sense, to lead the effort to finally end this war and bring our troops home. On moral, financial, and strategic grounds, the continuation of the war in Afghanistan cannot be justified. The completion of the largest and most expensive manhunt in history for Osama bin Laden must be a turning point to completely rethink our response to terrorism. The threats of terrorists are still real, but it is now clear that full-scale military action is not the most effective response.

    "It was the campaign against bin Laden and al Qaeda that was always used to justify the war in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus has said there are about 100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. We have more than 100,000 American troops and another 40,000 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. That means 1,400 soldiers for each al Qaeda fighter. It costs about $1 million a year to deploy and support each American soldier — or more than $100 billion a year total. That breaks down to our country spending $1 billion per year, per al Qaeda fighter. Every deficit hawk in America should now oppose this war. The cost is simply too high, especially when compared with . . ."

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Baptist Leaders Reflect Morally on Killing of Osama bin Laden

    (from the Web site of Ethics Daily, May 2, 2011)

    by EthicsDaily.com Staff

    Before President Obama announced late Sunday evening that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden, a crowd gathered outside the White House chanting "USA! USA!" and singing "God Bless America."

    As patriotic triumphalism swept the country, ordinary Americans shot off fireworks, political leaders issued victory statements and newspaper headlines announced pride in national success.

    Bin Laden's death came eight years to the day that President George W. Bush declared the conclusion of major combat operations in Iraq. Bush made his announcement on a U.S. aircraft carrier under a banner that said, "Mission Accomplished."

    The Iraq War then worsened, costing the lives of thousands of American and allied forces and injuring tens of thousands of combatants. The Iraqi civilian death toll exceeded 100,000, according to one source.

    In a nine-minute statement from the East Room of the White House, Obama gave limited details about the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan.

    The president said the nation must "reaffirm that the United States is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims."

    Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, gave a statement to EthicsDaily.com about bin Laden's death.

    "I too am tempted toward the triumphalism and patriotism," said Wright-Riggins. "I have to remind myself that payback, retribution and vengeance are not the same thing as biblical justice. Killing Osama bin Laden does not and will not break the inexorable cycle of violence in which the world is so enraged. Praying that God would deliver us from our enemies requires that we engage the enemy within ourselves as well – enemies like nationalism, narcissism, self righteousness and the like."

    The American Baptist Churches-USA leader said: "Our eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth methodology will leave the whole world blind and toothless. God knows we must find a better way. If we must wave the flag . . ."

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Editor calls for resolution targeting Westboro Baptist Church

    NOTE: This article was originally published on April 20, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site (www.abpnews.com/).

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) – A Baptist newspaper editor says it is time for the state’s Southern Baptists to take a public stand against a tiny Kansas congregation known for pickets across the country with signs reading “God Hates Fags.”

    Writing in The Pathway, Editor Don Hinkle called on the Missouri Baptist Convention to pass a resolution at its upcoming annual meeting repudiating the behavior and views of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.

    The church, which is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination, routinely makes headlines with protests near the funerals of fallen soldiers proclaiming that military casualties are the result of God’s judgment on America for accepting homosexuality.

    A number of states have responded with laws limiting protests near funerals. The U.S. Supreme Court recently sided . . .

    Click here to read the entire article.

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    Conviction and Freedom, by David Gushee

    (from the Web site of Associated Baptist Press, March 28, 2011)

    by David Gushee
    Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University

    What is the proper relationship between conviction and freedom? By "conviction," I simply mean clear theological and ethical beliefs and the willingness to communicate such beliefs just as clearly, one goal of such communication being to persuade others to share those beliefs. By "freedom," I mean a commitment to valuing and respecting personal liberty, especially liberty of religious conscience.

    My experience of conservative Baptists in the South has been that conviction is very highly valued. Those considered leaders are often elevated to their status because of their perceived clarity of conviction and their willingness to communicate such convictions resolutely and passionately. To be called "convictional" in that sector of the Baptist world is a high compliment.

    The potential downside of being "convictional" is obvious, of course. Clarity of conviction can easily shade over into intolerance of other convictions, loss of nuance, and an apparent unwillingness to ever consider modifying one's convictions on the basis of new evidence. Often, though not always, such "convictional" leaders tend to focus little on the freedom of other Christians to believe differently and, at least on debatable matters, still be found pleasing in the sight of God.

    My experience of the moderate Baptist world has, in general, been that the freedom/conviction polarity is reversed. Freedom is highly valued. Everyone bends over backward to respect personal liberty and freedom of conscience. This is elevated as among the highest of Christian values.

    It is harder to find resolute and passionate expression of clear convictions on this side of the Baptist fence, other than perhaps the expression of a commitment to individual liberty of conscience.

    Example 1: Talking with a member of a moderate Baptist church struggling to meet its budget, I asked what the pastor taught about the responsibilities of members . . .

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Separate and Unequal, by Bob Herbert

    Separate and Unequal
    by Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist

    (from the New York Times online, March 21, 2011)

    One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.

    Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

    Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.

    More than a half-century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, we are still trying as a country to validate and justify the discredited concept of separate but equal schools — the very idea supposedly overturned by Brown v. Board when it declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

    (To read the entire article, click here.)

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Three Reasons Why One Pastor Advocates for the Poor

    (from the Web site of Ethics Daily; written by Jim Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alabama)

    I have been an advocate for the poor, both the relatively poor of our nation and the desperately poor in the rest of the world, for my entire ministry. There are several reasons why this is so.

    First of all, I grew up near poverty. My immediate family was not poor primarily because my dad was in the military. The Navy always provided us with housing, free health care, affordable food and access to decent public schools.

    But there were members of my extended family that lived in dire circumstances. I was able to see firsthand the effects of poverty on the human spirit. It does something to a person to have to ask for help from other family members.

    It became even worse when government assistance programs put the poor through all kind of humiliating bureaucratic hoops – not to mention the community stigma that attaches itself to public assistance.

    But it wasn't just personal experience that delivered me to this position. My theological training convinced me that God has a bias toward the poor. It's as if God knows that the cards of social resources are stacked against the weak and the vulnerable.

    So God tries to balance the scales by being on the side of the most vulnerable – the biblical widow and orphan. God takes their side. That is one reason Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor," because he knew God had a special place for them.

    I remember reading about a skilled carpenter in the New York area who lost his job during a massive downturn in construction. He lived as long as he could on savings; then he sold his tools in order to live.

    Eventually he lost his house and everything else he owned and was forced to live on the streets with his family.

    This was a skilled carpenter who wanted to work. But when he would apply for a job, he would often be turned away because he didn't have an address – and he didn't have any tools.

    To read the entire article, click here.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Testimony by Suzii Paynter on Payday Lending - February 22, 2011

    (On February 22, Suzii Paynter - Director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission; and a member of the TBMaston Foundation Board of Trustees - testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce in support of Senate Bill 253, which would close the payday lending loophole.)

    Testimony by Chad Chaddick on Payday Lending - February 22, 2011

    (On February 22, Chad Chaddick - pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, San Antonio - testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce in support of Senate Bill 253, which would close the payday lending loophole.)

    Questions Posed to the Senate Committee Considering SB 253 on Payday Lending

    (On February 22, Chad Chaddick - pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, San Antonio - testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business & Commerce in support of Senate Bill 253, which would close the payday lending loophole. The following is excerpted from a letter he sent to the committee the following day.)

    Reflecting on the testimony and questions of yesterday, I wish to share two thoughts.

    1.      Regarding the protections extended to our military personnel, I find it interesting that not one person objected to these protections being extended to our soldiers. That the Department of Defense has found that such credit practices are “a threat to our national security” was accepted by all. Whether this acceptance was out of a sense of real patriotism or whether it was simply out of the desire to be seen as patriotic, such acceptance begs the question – if one mark of patriotism is that we protect our military from usurious practices by capping the interest and fees that can be charged them at 36%, is it not a matter of state pride that we would extend equal protections to all the citizens of our own state? To do otherwise is to establish a double standard by which we grant one class of people greater protection than another class of people.

    2.      Likewise, it is interesting to me that all present yesterday would accept the need to protect our military personnel from usurious lending, but none of us made the connection that protection is necessary only if there is a threat of real harm. If our military personnel need to be protected, it stands to reason that they need to be protected from something harmful. Yet what I heard yesterday both from industry lobbyists and from committee members was that payday lending practices are good, beneficial, and necessary. Indeed, the committee went out of its way to make the point that they wanted to ensure the continued prosperity of these businesses and their practices.

    My question is, do you really want to ensure the continued prosperity of practices that we, in our patriotic pride, have all agreed are harmful? I do not deny that there is a need for some extension of credit to the working poor, but I would suggest that there are alternative ways to do so – ways that actually help the citizens of the state rather than harm them. In a government designed to be “for” the people, I would hope you agree.

    I would urge your careful consideration of these matters as you hammer out final details of the bill.

    Reasons for Christians to Oppose Payday Lending and Support Texas SB 253

    (On February 22, Chad Chaddick - pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, San Antonio - testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business & Commerce in support of Senate Bill 253, which would close the payday lending loophole. The following was part of the prepared remarks he presented to the committee.)

    As a pastor, I've reflected on my own particular encounter with the payday loans, and with payday loans in general so that our church could understand our moral and theological motivation for opposing the continuation of these unregulated practices. There is, quite naturally I think, the sheer shock and outrage a person feels that any group could legally arrange or issue a line of credit with terms that amounted to upwards of 740% interest. My outrage only increased when I discovered that the only way someone could offer such a line of credit was to do so under the guise of a Credit Service Organization (CSO) which, by definition, exists to help people. It seems ludicrous to me that 740% interest could ever be considered “helpful.” As my own experience has proven, it is education and accountability that are truly helpful to families with damaged credit and few financial resources – NOT an available line of credit burdened with usurious interest.
    But I have discovered something else as I reflected on these types of loans. I have discovered that, the more I tell this story, the more 740% interest becomes just another number. It eventually loses all shock value and any moral connotation; to be honest, any argument that rests solely on its shock value is a very shallow argument. Several resources have helped me dig a deeper foundation for my own position on the issue. One is the Christian Scripture. Both Old Testament and New are clear that justice for the poor is an extremely meaningful issue to God. “Evil” is the name given in Scripture to “oppressing the poor” and “crushing the needy” (Amos 4:1). A line of credit carrying usurious interest targeting the financially fragile certainly qualifies as oppressing the poor and crushing the needy.
    But a second resource in understanding this position is to follow the logical outcomes of viewing such practices as helpful and good. By such reasoning, we find ourselves in a surreal world of absurd values.
    Consider this: if taking such a loan is helpful or good, then we must immediately admit that these CSOs are operating under an unfair market advantage, since our banks, credit unions, and other loan providers are unable to offer such good and helpful products. Were we to admit that such products are good for our citizens and for ourselves, then we must remove the constitutional limit of 10% interest and open the regulatory doors for our banks to offer such helpful products. After all, which of us, by this reasoning, would not want easier access to such a good thing? Just imagine the good that could be done if every bank and credit union could offer us 700% car and home loans! Indeed, the State of Texas is currently in a financially difficult situation. No doubt the state would benefit from taking loans from its citizens in the form of bonds guaranteed at 700%. As a civic duty, I would like to be the first to buy some.
    But if this seems ridiculous, and it is, and if such bonds would obviously be bad for the state of Texas, and they are, then we must be ready to admit they are bad for individual citizens, too. Our citizens should be afforded some protection from such harmful practices.
    Of course, one objection to regulating such practices is that the market within which they operate will condense and some people may lose jobs to keep the corporations profitable. Job loss is certainly not a good thing. But if the good of creating and maintaining jobs outweighs our consideration for the fairness of the practices those jobs support, then I fear that we find ourselves again in the position of the absurd. If we cannot regulate these practices because the creation and preservation of jobs is more important than protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens, then we must question some of our other existing regulations.
    Consider, for instance, our strenuous regulation against the manufacture, transport, and sale of illicit drugs. Such regulation is clearly oppressive, and, no doubt, “hurts” those involved in such activities. If our consideration for job creation and preservation is our foremost concern, then we must face the fact that we are robbing drug dealers of their fairly-earned, market-driven livelihoods. Imagine how many jobs we could create with less strenuous regulation!
    Consider also how the regulation of prostitution is hurting the bottom-lines of pimps throughout our state. The exploitation of women and the sex trade of underage girls aside, the state’s regulation of prostitution is hurting jobs. If job creation, growth, and preservation outweigh the moral nature of the practices those jobs support, then ultimately, we are robbed of any moral foothold to oppose such practices. There is no end to the types of practices we might unleash upon the citizens of our state if we followed such reasoning. It is absurd.
    But clearly we are against these and other hurtful practices, and our citizens have been afforded some protection from them. If the shock of a 740% APR loan is not enough to bring payday and auto-title loans under existing regulation, then perhaps an appeal to moral conviction, consistent reasoning, justice may help. It is for these reasons that I support SB 253 to close the loophole that allows such usurious practices to continue in Texas.

    An Experience with Payday Loans at Northeast Baptist Church in San Antonio

    (On February 22, Chad Chaddick - pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, San Antonio - testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business & Commerce in support of Senate Bill 253, which would close the payday lending loophole. The experience related here was part of the prepared remarks he presented to the committee.)

    About a year ago, a couple joined our church. With six kids, a dependent mother-in-law, and one income, they were understandably financially fragile. The church gave them some financial assistance not long after they joined.

    Six months later, they requested more financial assistance from the church. At present, the policies of our church provide that we do not require much from the individual church member-with-a-need other than to answer a few questions regarding the need and how it came to exist. If requests are made a second time, however, we require that those with the need meet with another member of our church who can assist them in developing a household budget and who can provide a measure of accountability with regard to living within that budget. The needy family in question willingly met with our Vice Chairman of Deacons and his wife.

    In the course of developing the household budget, our deacon discovered that the family would be able to live within their means except for one item of debt that was dragging them down . . . . a $700 payday loan they had taken out roughly four months earlier to help with a rent payment on their home. The terms of the loan: $200 every two weeks was automatically deducted from the husband's paycheck. This $200 did not reduce the original amount of the loan. It merely allowed for the $700 principal to roll-over until the next pay-period. In the course of the four months the family had maintained this loan, they had rolled the principal over 9 times – at a cost of $1,800. (Had they continued to pay on the loan for a year, they would have paid $5,200, for an APR of over 740%!) Now, as they approached the church again for help, they needed help to pay their rent or face eviction.

    The financial assistance that the church is able to provide for any family is limited. To help this particular family meet their financial obligations for the month and get them out from under the loan that would have kept them perpetually struggling (and us or others perpetually trying to help), we needed nearly $1,500. The loan accounted for half of that amount when the principal and associated fees were factored together. This certainly exceeded the usual amount the church was prepared to pay, but through the generosity of several church members, and even one non-church member, the money was raised.

    It was then that we hit an unexpected speed bump – it took us three days to 1) determine exactly where the loan should be paid, and 2) discover a means acceptable to the company for paying off the loan (our offers of a check and an initial credit card were rejected). The system was certainly not set up to make it easy to pay off the loan. By the time we had located the company, talked with a representative who could authorize this pay-off, and agreed how the loan was to be paid, we had accrued nearly $100 worth of additional fees.

    I am pleased to say that the family – being out from under the payday loan, and receiving some basic education on how to handle money and some accountability on their budget – has successfully lived within its means for the past three months.

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Francis Wayland: The First Baptist Ethicist

    Francis Wayland (1796-1865), a Baptist minister who served as President of Brown University from 1827-1855, was the first Baptist ethicist and was America’s foremost ethicist during the pre-civil war era. His popular Elements of Moral Science, first published in 1835, sold more than 100,000 copies before the end of the 19th century and yet another reprint was issued as recently as April 2010.

    D.H. Meyer in his 1972 book The Instructed Conscience suggested that Wayland offered the first serious attempt by an American intellectual to answer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for a public ethic to guide the “liberated conscience” of American society. Emerson was looking for “some kind of formal consensus on the fundamental principles of morality, agreement on the meaning of basic moral terms, and the formation of a reasonably coherent code of moral maxims.” Wayland’s book provided the basic form and common point of reference for a series of philosophically varied proposals with similar moral outcomes by American academic moralists and intellectuals. Chief among them were Mark Hopkins and Asa Mahan, both Congregationalists, Francis Bowen, a Unitarian, Archibald Alexander and James McCosh, both Presbyterians. Most of them were college Presidents like Wayland. Some of them were clergymen like Wayland. All of them were trying to provide a resource for the kind of moral leadership Americans felt the young nation needed. Most of their works were texts for senior level capstone courses that were expected to provide the highpoint and culmination of a good college education.

    Wayland’s ethics were exhortative rather than analytical. Though he was concerned with the epistemology of morals and how to recognize a moral obligation, his primary concern was to instruct the conscience rather than to stimulate the intellect. The innovation in his method was to teach moral philosophy as a “science” related to religion but distinct from theology. That is why people of varied theological positions could find it appealing.

    Modern ethicists would classify Wayland’s ethic as intuitionist and deontological, as opposed to teleological. His thinking was shaped primarily by the apologetic method of Joseph Butler, whose sermons on conscience comprise one of the highest achievements of rationalist Christian moralism, and Dugald Stewart, the most influential moralist of the Scottish “common sense” school of philosophy.

    Contemporary ethical theory faces challenges that are both deeper and broader than those that Wayland faced. In relation to ethics, science no longer enjoys the confidence it did in his day. Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche and the results of very diverse and ever expanding fields of scientific research have made any kind of “formal consensus” on the principles of morality elusive for our day. Yet, the need for some such consensus is greater today than it was then.

    The way forward does not lie in a revival of the methods of the past, but the concerns and aspirations of the past can provide an ideal and inspiration for the future. We need to renew a practical concern for the study and teaching of philosophical and theological ethics in our institutions of higher learning. While Logsdon and McAfee seminaries have been setting the pace among us in ethical instruction, some other moderate Baptist seminaries do not even require a basic course in ethics as a requirement for obtaining a degree. All of our colleges and seminaries need to resume their role as leaders in the teaching of ethics and they ought to be encouraging the brightest minds among us to take up the challenge of forming a cross-disciplinary consensus on ethics and morality. Baptists today are as capable of being trend setters in this area as were Baptists in the 19th century.

    If the labors of our scholars are to bear fruit beyond the world of academia, then we will also have to cultivate other means for promoting conscience formation in our homes and churches. That is why it is vital to provide ongoing support for agencies like the Baptist Center for Ethics and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, for foundations like the T.B. Maston Foundation, and for publications like Christian Ethics Today .

    This entry is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist weblog.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Taking Responsibility for Our Words and Attitudes

    The unspeakable tragedy in Arizona on Saturday was not just an assault on democracy. It was an assault on our humanity. Many seem to have lost the ability - if they ever had it - to discuss differences with reason rather than hostility . . . and to accept our differences by understanding rather than demanding.

    I commend to you the editorial that Robert Parham posted today on ethicsdaily.com, entitled "Turn Down the Rhetoric, Turn Off the Political Talk-Radio and Cable TV." Those who have encouraged this culture of hatred and violence must take responsibility for the deeds that result from it. Amen, Robert.