Friday, December 21, 2012

It's a Small Word, After All . . . by George Gagliardi

A baby was born, long ago on a Christmas morn in a manger, etc. And the aching soul, having borne one too many burdens, may well be tempted to say, “That’s nice” or perhaps even more harshly, “So what?” 

What indeed? What does a birth of a Jewish kid some 2000 or more years ago have to say to me now?

It’s a good question and it deserves a good answer. However, I don’t have one – at least not exactly. I don’t have one custom made for you as you try and make sense of that which makes no sense. I don’t have one that makes the pain go away or fills the empty heart. But what I do have is this … hope.

It’s a small word, easily lost among the clichés of the world and not hard to submerge beneath a sea of cynicism and anger. But let’s think about this word for a moment.

What if hope were not just a word but a person? A person who knew firsthand about  heartache and loneliness and  being abandoned. A person whose birth was cause for violence and greed and hatred for some and, at the same time, an occasion to bring out the whole angelic choir  trumpets included, I’ll betcha – for others.

It was the kind of birth that was so remarkably unremarkable in its locale as to be ludicrous. If this is God’s idea of how to introduce eternal hope to the world, well… man, what could you have been thinking! This baby boy is it? This is the hope we’ve been waiting for? And I suspect He was smiling as He was saying, “Yes, just wait and see.”

I guess that’s the hardest part of hope sometime, the waiting. But turns out God was right. Jesus did more than “make good”; he “made good” by making miracles and making the lives of  people better, people who most folk had given up on. Well, I’d say when hope looks like that, then it’s worth putting your faith in or at least investigating.

Well, that’s what people of faith, me included, believe about Jesus. He was/is the embodiment of hope, that God is not “asleep at the switch,” even when it seems He is.

I wish, for all of you who find sadness an unwelcome companion this Christmas, the hope that He brings, that He ushered into this crazy, mixed-up, unfair, unjust world that first Christmas years ago when he was born. It’s a hope as vital and alive as the heart that receives the gift of love and gives the gift of love. And with all my heart, I wish that kind of hope for you this Christmas and the whole year through.

Merry Christmas (Anyway),
George Gagliardi, December, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Seeing People in a New Light: The Ethics of Being All About the Numbers

I seem never to get enough of reading up on church growth strategies. Such is probably due to the fact that many of the churches I know are growing older or declining. We need people to fill some big shoes! Perhaps growing a church can serve as a great ego boost to a pastor, as well. So, my interest was sparked the other day when I came across an entry on the “Vision Room” website called “We’re All About the Numbers” by Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

When it comes to numerical church growth, Furtick asks, “What else matters? What else should we be about?” To add biblical and theological credence to his thesis, Furtick adds that Luke, in writing the book of Acts, showed an intense interest in emphasizing and quantifying church growth. Indeed, “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Furtick also points out that John’s vision in Revelation included “a great multitude that no one could count (Revelation 7:9).” Furtick consequently writes, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait until I die to see this.”

Furtick’s points interest me from a pastoral standpoint, as I am impressed with his presentation of the gospel and his expectation that “thousands of people” would make a profession of faith in Christ during each week’s worship service. Considering that such astounding numerical growth may not be literally possible in some rural church across my state, perhaps Furtick’s analysis and vision is shared by many pastors and lay leaders today no matter the location. I do admire evangelicals who fervently respond to the Great Commission and note that, as Jesus offered, the fields are white unto harvest. May I, however, add a few words of caution concerning the uptick in numbers-driven evangelism in our day and time?

First, churches are in danger when they measure success in what Dr. T.B. Maston called “worldly terms.”[1] In fact, Furtick’s article may be indicative of something that can easily lead a church and her leaders down a broad path rather than a narrow way: the tendency to quantify ministry by the numbers. For instance, I would like to ask Furtick if he and his ministry staff feel like failures when a certain amount of people do not make professions of faith in a week. Should not our greatness in God’s kingdom be measured not by numbers of followers or church members but by walking as Jesus walked?

Second, we ought to consider some other biblical examples of so-called “church growth” in the Bible. Saul slew his thousands, and David slew his ten-thousands, but David’s kingdom collapsed. Daniel remained faithful but was thrown to lions and into a fire pit. Jeremiah never had a positive response to his sermons. In fact, he was derided by his hearers, who nicknamed him “Old Death and Destruction.” Jonah helped an entire city to repent of sin but he then sat dejected and depressed, angry at a merciful God.

Jesus, through whom we interpret the whole of the Bible, began his ministry with great crowds. Yet, only a handful remained when he hung on a cross, notably two of the most unlikely candidates for church growth: a Roman soldier and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. In fact, the crowds seemed genuinely unimpressed and even a bit nauseated with his talk of death. His message of repentance and justice almost got him killed during his first sermon! Consider, too, that Jesus ministered to crowds but invested more time in a small group of disciples. Also, it is important to note that even some of Jesus’ closest friends needed some intensive one-on-one help by the risen Lord himself in order to believe and to be put in right relationship.

The astounding growth in the early church was not due to either Peter’s mystifying preaching or the entertaining ministry of the Apostles. The Apostles clearly did not press for numerical growth. They pressed for the gospel, and with that they endured prison time, martyrdom, racism, and a host of other problems that most of our churches do not want to deal with these days in order to be truly successful in the ways of the Kingdom.

Paul’s list of challenges remains astounding (2 Corinthians 11). It seems to me that God did not necessarily call Paul to “grow churches.” In fact, in one of Paul’s most intense visions, the Spirit motivated the great missionary and his team to go to Macedonia and “help” people. Note that Paul usually began a church with meager success in worldly or business terms. Oftentimes, Paul’s church starts involved painful trials and rioting.

Isn’t it interesting that John’s revelatory vision came when he and his fellow church members felt most alone and in decline?

For the record, then, let’s answer Furtick’s question regarding numbers of church members: “What else should we be about?” Maston would likely say, “Jesus’ disciples, and we claim to be in that company, were and are to make other disciples of Him and then teach them what it means to be a real disciple of Him. Here is evangelism and ethics tied together in one bundle.”[2] It seems, therefore, that church growth ought to be less about the numbers of church members and more about us walking as Jesus walked and teaching others to do the same.

[1] T. B. Maston, “Trends to Watch—Success Orientation,” Baptist Standard, April 23, 1975, 13.
[2] T.B. Maston, “Both/And”—Evangelism and Ethics,” Baptist Standard, February 18, 1981, 11.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hal Haralson, a man after God's own heart

Hal Haralson knew God intimately, loved Him deeply, and served Him faithfully. Earlier this week, God welcomed Hal into Heaven.

Why did I title this post, "Hal Haralson, a man after God's own heart"? I read somewhere an explanation of that phrase as applied to David in Scripture. It went like this: David was called a man after God's own heart because "David recognized that the only good in him was the God in him."

I think that's an apt explanation, and an attitude that all of us should share, but few do. However, that attitude - that the only good he had resulted from God's presence in him and with him - simply oozed from every pore of Hal Haralson.

If you didn't know Hal, you missed out. Although, I have to add, you can still read his books and feel like you knew him, because Hal wrote from his heart, and he wrote about his most personal struggles, experiences, and even triumphs. There was a common thread running through Hal's accounting of all of them - God's faithfulness, God's grace and mercy, God's constant presence throughout.

Hal studied under T. B. Maston and was instrumental as a member of the Maston Foundation Board and Executive Committee in those founding years of the 1980s. As an attorney, he worked on the official papers that established the Foundation as a not-for-profit corporation with the State of Texas.

Personally, he was a good friend to me and to my parents, and even served as my parents' attorney for a number of years, including the drawing up and filing of their wills.

But it was in his writing that I got to know Hal even better. From the early days of the journal Christian Ethics Today, founder and editor Foy Valentine (and later, editor Joe Trull) regularly published a column written by Hal, in which he wrote - simply but most eloquently - about real life, almost always drawn from his real life.

And you could count on Hal drawing lessons from those real-life experiences, lessons of God's grace and care for our lives, lessons of life's journey, lessons of not giving up no matter what. From some people, such lessons might have seemed trite. But from Hal, they were authentic and reached the depths of one's soul, because you knew that Hal wasn't writing abstractly - if he was writing about it, he had lived it . . . experienced it.

I never missed an opportunity, whenever I saw Hal in those years, to tell him that his column was the first thing I read as soon as Christian Ethics Today hit my mailbox, because I knew that, in reading his story, I would wind up reading my own story as well. You couldn't read Hal Haralson without circling back to - and reflecting on - something in your own life. That was Hal's gift to us all.

Hal published collections of his stories in two books, Gentle Mercies: Stories of faith in faded blue jeans and The Lost Saddle. An autographed copy of Gentle Mercies is one of the most treasured volumes I own, but I just learned about The Lost Saddle from Hal's obituary. Now I'm going to have to find a copy.

This morning, I took Gentle Mercies down from my bookshelves and read back through a few of his stories. Here are a just a few selections. For those of us who knew Hal, they serve as reminders of the friend who just left us. For those who read his stories over the years, they prod us to go back and re-read them, letting God continue to minister to us through His servant Hal Haralson. For those who haven't known or read Hal, they'll give you just a smidgen of insight into a man who truly was a man after God's own heart, and perhaps whet your appetite to buy his books and read more.

Not giving up no matter what? Hal learned that lesson the hard way . . . by first giving up. In "The View from a Padded Cell," he tells of attempting to commit suicide in 1963, setting fire to his house in the process, and ultimately being committed to the San Antonio State Hospital for 3 months. But why suicide? Because the young pastor had, for two years, "wrestled with questions about my 'calling' as a pastor without telling anyone of my dilemma." This had led to feelings of guilt, of failing his wife and congregation, and of wasting his many years of education and other preparation. In the hospital, he was "diagnosed as manic-depressive (later as bipolar)" and advised by a psychiatrist to "find another line of work."

Then a friend, an Episcopal priest, said, "Hal, . . . be of good cheer . . . everything is going to be all right." Hal recognized that he would have to deal with his illness the rest of his days but wrote, "It was as if God said to me through Ed, 'I have been here all along. I will never leave you or forsake you.'"

In "Starting Over," Hal writes about looking for work after leaving the ministry. He listed his abilities and experience, including "good public speaker"; "experience advising students regarding college and job placement . . . [in] my job in public relations at Hardin-Simmons University"; and "good counselor . . many hours [as pastor] helping people with their problems." In all of his job interviews, he was honest about his suicide attempt & mental illness - "I felt then, and still do, that honesty is the only way to go when dealing with mental illness. It takes the pressure off and reduces the stigma that is so often a problem." What a lesson for us in dealing with all of our struggles!

Hal writes, however, that his honesty wasn't very helpful in finding a job. Until, that is, he interviewed with Lloyd Flood at Montgomery Ward. Two days after receiving what he thought was just the "standard brush off" . . . "'We will get in touch with you,'"  he was called back for a second interview with Mr. Flood and offered the position of director of personnel and public relations . . . "speak at civic clubs and schools . . . listen to [employees'] problems in their marriages and with their children . . . employees get into conflict with each other, and someone needs to hear them out and settle disputes . . . interview applicants and place them where they can benefit themselves and Montgomery Ward the most."

Hal goes on to write, "Mr. Flood had just described a job that allowed me to use every experience I had had up to that point in my life. He had just confirmed my belief that, if I had read God right in leaving the ministry, there was a place waiting that would allow me to use my gifts and experience."

In "Perfect Timing," Hal tells of being admitted to the University of Texas Law School in 1968, after making a last-minute plea to the dean of the Law School, despite not having taken the Law School Admission Test (normally a prerequisite) or even having submitted an application. Later, during his third year in Law School, he learned that "between 1960 and 1970, there were three times as many applicants as there were openings at U.T. Law School . . . except for the fall of 1968. The Vietnam War had taken so many undergraduates that there were still openings when school began."

The lesson? "There are times when the presence of God is felt in events in a way that cannot be explained as coincidence."

In "Hiring Cornelia," Hal tells about putting up his shingle and starting his own law practice after graduating from Law School, then hiring his first secretary. She was instrumental in the ultimate success of his practice and worked for Hal for seven years. "Then and now," Hal writes, "I find myself in awe. The people on the journey are all placed there. There are no accidents."

Just permit me two more. I'll leave it to you to read the stories, but it's sufficient here just to repeat the lessons, the "morals" of the stories: "Don't give up if you catch the wrong bus!" ("Mom Goes Back to School") and "Celebrate your differences!" ("Vive la différence").

Hal Haralson celebrated life - the good and the bad - because he had discovered that God is with us in all of it. Hal never stopped learning, because he had discovered that God always has new things to teach us that we can carry with us on the next steps of the journey. Finally, Hal loved people, appreciated their differences, and saw God's being and God's presence in all he met. What a gift!

Thanks be to God for placing Hal Haralson along my own journey.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

T. B. Maston (1897-1988): "One-Issue Christians"

(from pp. 201-202 of Both-And: A Maston Reader; Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston, published by the T. B. Maston Foundation in 2011, edited by William M. Tillman, Jr., Rodney S. Taylor, and Lauren C. Brewer; this passage of Dr. Maston's originally appeared in the Baptist Standard, May 28, 1969)

One-Issue Christians

There are one-issue voters. There are also one-issue Christians. The former is unfortunate. The latter is more unfortunate.

The one-issue Christian may judge his own life on the basis of one particular issue. From his perspective, he is right on that issue; and, hence, he considers himself to be a good Christian.

More frequently, the one-issue Christian judges other Christians on the basis of one issue. This is usually a pet subject of his and one on which he considers himself to be right.

For some, the one issue will be in the area of personal morality. For others, it will be some phase of social morality. For all others, the one issue will be a particular theological doctrine or perspective. Regardless of other things, one is considered a good Christian if he is "right" on that doctrine or regarding the perspective.

Those who select an issue in the area of personal morality may be negative or positive in their approach but more frequently the former than the latter. If negative, the issue may be swearing, smoking, drinking, or some other comparable issue.

If one is free of that habit or "vice," he is good; if not, he is bad.

For others, the one issue may be in the area of positive personal morality. For example, if one is "honest in his business," a "man of integrity," "a good neighbor," "generous," "kind and considerate," he is judged to be a good man.

Whatever the virtue, it is a pet idea of the one-issue Christian. For him, if one is "right" regarding that issue or virtue, he is considered a good Christian. In the contemporary period, the one-issue Christian will frequently concentrate on some particular social issue. The goodness or badness of a Christian will be judged upon the basis of his attitude regarding this one issue.

The issue may be capital punishment, divorce, communism, foreign aid, poverty, race, Red China, unemployment, United Nations, or war.

The one-issue Christian judges other Christians on the basis of their position regarding a particular one of these issues. If they are wrong from his perspective on the issue, then they are wrong. If they agree with his position, then they are right and, hence, are good Christians.

It needs to be emphasized over and over again that there is no single issue that is an adequate test of the genuineness and vitality of one's Christian faith. The ultimate test is how much we are like the living Christ. This means, among other things, that a Christian's life should be judged by the totality of its impact. One may be right, at least from our perspective, on one issue and yet be entirely wrong on equally important issues. We need to remember that the same thing may be true of us. We all have our blind spots.

Let us in this area, as elsewhere, do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us also remember that one may differ with us on what we consider to be the supreme issue or test of the Christian life, and yet over all he may be a better Christian than we are.

- T. B. Maston

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Finding God where we least expect Him

Why don’t we listen to each other?

Why don’t we engage in real conversation and dialogue?

Why don’t we consider the other person’s viewpoint?

Why don’t we try to learn from each other?

Earlier this week, I read a thoughtful, well-spoken op-ed article on a Baptist Web site. The writer expressed a strong position on one particular facet of a “hot-button” issue, using well-reasoned arguments to support his position. As readers, we should have been able to give the same serious thought and consideration to the issue – and to the writer’s arguments – as did the writer.

Then I scrolled down to the “Comments” section and saw nothing but attack-mode comments. “Comments” sections on Web sites, blogs, and Facebook pages would be a blessing if they resulted in serious, meaningful dialogue. But they are more often a curse, as commenters react emotionally and blow off steam at the writer. As in this case, they refuse to listen to any argument that causes them to question their own position – which, more often than not, is (as becomes apparent as the commenter rambles) motivated by self-interest rather than reason.

Such commenters call names and accuse the writer of saying things he/she never uttered. I know, because it’s happened to me – more than once!

I’m not certain just how we reached this low point in our public discussion, but I can identify a few "suspects":
  • Listening to agenda-driven TV and radio programs that masquerade as “news” but are, in reality, totally devoted to presentation of only one side of political issues
The solution? Be discerning in our viewing and listening habits. Don’t make a habit of listening to programs that consistently give only one side.
Remember: the truth usually lies somewhere in the middlenot at the extreme, either right or left.
  • Limiting our reading to material that reinforces our already-held beliefs . . . reading only for the sake of reinforcing our own arguments
The solution? Read books and articles that force you out of your comfort zone. Read for the sake of learning something new, learning about experiences and perspectives that are different from your own. Read for the sake of stretching yourself, not squeezing yourself into the same old box.
  • Talking at each other instead of with each other, using conversation as a tool for persuading instead of learning
The solution? Find a few friends who have different perspectives and backgrounds than you, and take the time to sit down regularly with them. Listen to each other; resist the temptation to argue your own point, instead taking the time to understand the other person’s perspective.
I have several such friends. Take three as examples:
  • An 80-something retired attorney and ex-Marine who is Jewish by heritage and deist by belief
We meet once every few months at Jason’s Deli to eat and talk politics and world events for a couple of hours. Faith occasionally comes up, and we talk about faith as it relates to civic issues. 
From him, I’ve learned a deeper appreciation for the U. S. Constitution, which is one of his great passions. But, as a Baptist who grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO, I’ve also learned from him about the very different outlook on life that comes from growing up as a Jew in the Bronx.
  • A 40-something Baptist, who grew up Lutheran and has a radically different perspective than I have about matters concerning what he calls “sacraments” and I call “ordinances,” as well as political convictions that are on the opposite side of the fence from mine
As with my first friend, we meet once every few months, have coffee or a meal together, and spend a couple of hours talking faith and politics.
From him, I have learned to be more open to other faith traditions, that Lutherans (and others) have much to teach us about experiencing and practicing our faith in Christ. I've also learned that truth and integrity in political convictions aren't limited to one side of the aisle.
  • A 60-something African-American Baptist pastor
We meet several times a year for coffee at Starbucks and spend a couple of hours talking about matters of faith and Baptist life. 
From him, I’ve learned of the difficulties faced by African-American churches located in low-income areas, and the innumerable challenges taken on by their pastors. They are pastors not simply to their church but to their community, and they are never “off the clock.”
In describing these encounters, I’ve shared about what I’ve learned from these friends. But learning should never be in the past tense. It should be ongoing, and so it is with me. I’m still learning from these friends and others.
In a Texas Baptists Committed blog post in May, I wrote a few reflections on the trip to Israel taken together by Temple Emanu-El and Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas. As I related in that post, I spent time one-on-one with several members of the Temple, as we shared our faith journeys with each other – not arguing, not trying to persuade, not pointing out each other’s errors. Rather, we simply listened and shared – and, I believe, learned from each other.

All of this requires intentionality; it doesn’t happen by accident or serendipity. And it takes discipline, too . . . to read or hear something with which you disagree, even strongly disagree, and then resist the temptation to react angrily, the temptation to argue as if you have a monopoly on the truth . . . which you don’t.

My daddy often said to me, “we should never presume to know the mind of God.” A little humility, an understanding that the other person might have something valuable to say – it would go a long way in improving our dialogue, strengthening our relationships. If we stay still and listen to the other person for a change, we might even hear the voice of God speaking to us through others.

That, it seems to me, is worth the effort.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

T. B. Maston: Separation of church and state at the heart of the Gospel

(Adapted from the TBC Baptist Briefs video, Religious Liberty, Baptists, and . . . Jesus)

In recent years, some Baptists have turned their backs on the principles of religious liberty for all people and its corollary, the separation of church and state. For the public schools, they’ve supported compulsory prayer, the teaching of creationism as science, and public school textbooks based on religious belief rather than observable and objective science and history.

And why not? Why shouldn’t Christians promote our faith through public, taxpayer-supported channels?

Well, one answer is provided in an article entitled “Faith Freely Exercised,” by T. B. Maston, found in the book, The Trophy of Baptists: Words to Celebrate Religious Liberty, edited by Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Dr. Maston focuses on a quote from Roger Williams’ The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution:
“An enforced uniformity of Religion throughout a Nation or civil state . . . denies . . . that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
“Jesus’ coming in the flesh,” Maston writes, “freed men and women to make their own decisions and then to accept responsibility for those decisions.”

Baptists who support compulsory school prayer and taxpayer support of private schools “do not give much attention to the human nature of Jesus and the life he lived, which provides the basis of humanity’s freedom of choice. . . . Any coercion toward uniformity violates the basic nature of a person. . . . Christ did not coerce; he only invited. Therefore, the proclamation of the gospel is predicated upon an uncoerced response.”

“Religious freedom to me,” he continues, “is not a luxury we can afford only when the times are good, but it is implicit in the nature of the gospel itself.”

Dr. Maston concludes with a challenge: “Let Baptists beware of pressure to control and particularly of using or supporting coercion for uniformity by political power.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wayne Allen, part 2: Calling Southwestern trustees to apologize for seven ethical lapses

Last week, I wrote a Texas Baptists Committed blog post about the death of Wayne Allen, the retired senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Carrollton, and his lonely stand as the only Texan on the Southwestern Seminary Board of Trustees to vote against the firing of Russell Dilday in 1994.

Last night, I made a serendipitous discovery, and I'm convinced more than ever that God is quite frequently - not always, but frequently - the author of serendipity.

A little hungry just before bedtime, I decided to fix myself a piece of toast to quiet my hunger pangs and help me sleep (any excuse I can find for a late-night snack). But I wanted something to read as I ate, so I pulled something randomly from my bookshelves. Two shelves are taken up with old issues of magazines and journals. The issue I pulled down - entirely at random - happened to be the May 12, 1994, issue of Baptists Today, back when it was weekly rather than monthly and was printed in a newspaper format. (To my family and friends who needle me about keeping "everything under the sun," I say, "See? You never know when one of those 'everythings' might come in handy!")

On the front page was a provocative article by Cecil Sherman, then coordinator of the fledgling Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, in which he refuted First Baptist Dallas pastor O.S. Hawkins' false claim that Sherman did not accept the virgin birth of Christ. So I began reading, got to the bottom of the page, and found that the article was continued on page 4. But when I turned to page 4, my attention was diverted to an article on page 5 across the way: "Trustee says Southwestern board should apologize for 'wrongs.'"

Yes, there was much more to the story of Wayne Allen and the Southwestern trustees than his vote. He didn't stop there.

Yesterday, I was speaking to a friend who told me that he remembered Wayne Allen as being very conservative and didn't know he had taken this stand in the Dilday matter until reading my TBC blog post last week.

The article I found last night reminds us that the dispute between Fundamentalists and Moderates was not about theological differences. After all, Baptists have always had theological differences but have been able to cooperate in sharing the Gospel, because what unites us had been too important to let our differences divide us. No, the dispute arose because one faction wanted power and control. Unfortunately, when power and control become our desired destination, Christian ethics are thrown to the side as impediments to the journey.

But the story of Wayne Allen reminds us that not all who were sympathetic to the Fundamentalist cause were willing to surrender their commitment to following Christ's ethical example and teachings.

The article in Baptists Today, written by Associated Baptist Press, says that Wayne Allen challenged Southwestern Seminary trustees to "apologize to Southern Baptists for seven 'wrongs' committed in the firing of seminary president Russell Dilday. . . . 'Failure to do so is to refuse to be accountable,' the Dallas-area pastor said." It went on to say that Allen and a group of trustees had "fallen two votes short of the required 20 votes needed to call . . . an emergency trustee meeting" to discuss the drafting of such an apology.

Then the ABP/Baptists Today article listed seven wrongs, cited by Allen, "for which trustees need to answer and make amends. 'These are facts - not assumptions - because I was there,' he said." Following are these seven wrongs cited by Allen, copied verbatim from the May 12, 1994, article:
  • The 'plot' to fire Dilday was 'carefully orchestrated and planned' by a group of trustees, without the knowledge of the rest of the board.
  • There was a 'deliberate plan,' Allen said, to keep him and other trustees from knowing about the effort to fire Dilday.
  • Dilday, students, faculty, and some trustees were led to believe no attack on Dilday was imminent, Allen said. 'This was deceit.'
  • Each day of the three-day March board meeting, trustee leaders denied that a move against Dilday was afoot, Allen said.
  • Chair Ralph Pulley and other trustee officers, Allen said, were out of line when, 30 minutes prior to their last session, they told Dilday he could accept a 'buyout' or be fired. The leaders 'did not have the authority to make such an offer,' Allen said.
  • Neither were Pulley and the others empowered to hire former seminary vice president John Earl Seelig to handle public relations for the seminary, Allen said.
  • Changing the locks on Dilday's office and his computer-access code created the public perception that Dilday was guilty of some criminal or immoral act, Allen said. 'This was wrong!'
Again, I never met Wayne Allen. We probably would have had differences over some theological issues and scriptural interpretations. Good grief, the Epiphany Sunday School class at Wilshire, of which my wife and I have been members for almost 8 years, thrive on such differences every week, but all of us leave there with mutual love and respect.

So, I imagine, it would have been if I had known Wayne Allen. His devotion to Jesus and his determination to follow Christ's example of ethical living, even though it meant calling to account his friends and colleagues, leave me with admiration and a wish that I had known him.

There are still those among us, calling themselves Baptist Christians, who lust for power and control, and who feel no compunction about lying, deceiving, and even slandering their brothers and sisters to achieve it. May we all follow the example of Wayne Allen and stand up for Christ, living in the way Christ taught us.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Go and tell," but how?

A few days ago, Jeff Brumley of Associated Baptist Press wrote an article entitled, "The new face of interfaith dialogue."

Brumley writes that such dialogue is now being carried out "not just in formal conversations . . . but in local communities where friendships forge as ministers of various faiths work together for common goals amid increasing religious diversity in the Bible belt."

This subject carries special meaning for me, because my dad, A. Jase Jones, helped to lead many interfaith dialogue efforts, especially Jewish-Baptist dialogues, in the 1960s & 1970s through his work with the SBC Home Mission Board's Interfaith Witness Department.

Last month, I wrote a Texas Baptists Committed blog post about the trip to Israel that a group of us from Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas took with a Jewish group from Temple Emanu-El. I titled it, "Traveling through Israel for 10 unforgettable days," and explained that what was especially memorable was the dialogue that went on between Jews and Baptists during that trip. There was a lot of conversation, some public, but also quite a few private one-on-one conversations. All of the conversations, at least those that I experienced, were constructive. We found common ground, but we also frankly discussed our differences. As in the cases that Brumley references, what started out as dialogue ultimately evolved into friendships forged during the trip. 

For those of us from Wilshire, there was an obvious, though tacit, understanding that our purpose in going with the group from Temple Emanu-El was not evangelism. It was to share the experience with, and learn from, each other. It was about mutual respect and sharing, not persuasion or argument. Yet for Christians, our lives are to be a witness, and Jesus told us to "go . . . and tell" (Matthew 28:19-20). So the impulse to witness to our Christian faith is never far from the surface. But what form should our witness take?

As I wrote in my blog post, I had one-on-one conversations with several members of Temple Emanu-El in which we shared our faith journeys with each other. For my part, there was no "this is what Christ has done for me, etc.," but rather "this is the route (including the missteps, stumbles, and falls) I've taken in my walk with God . . . this is how I've wound up where I am today in my Christian journey."

During one evening's group discussion, there seemed a consensus that Christian "missionaryism" is seen as a threat to the Jewish community and their identity, and I understand that - or at least I think I understand it, as well as I can from the perspective of one who is not Jewish. After all, these are a people who have been wanderers (as the title of Chaim Potok's enlightening book puts it) throughout their history. They have been rendered homeless repeatedly, and the perpetrators of the Holocaust sought to exterminate them. Who among us wouldn't forever feel threatened if our people had such a history?

We didn't ask our Jewish friends when or how it would be appropriate for us to share our faith with them, though I'm hopeful that we'll have the opportunity to ask them at a future get-together. But here are a few of my own thoughts (nothing set in stone, just some thoughts) about sharing our Christian faith in general:
  • It should be done within the context of relationship. "Cold-calling" may work in sales, but our faith is not a product to be "sold." It is a relationship (with Christ) to be shared in relationship.
  • It should be done with the permission, either explicit or implicit, of the other person. In other words, there should first be some understanding that the other person is open to hearing what we have to say.
  • It should be mutual. If we are going to share our faith with others, we should be open to listening to their faith journey as well. There should be a mutual respect, with ears and minds open on both sides of the conversation.
  • It should be done in an attitude of sharing, not one of persuasion or coercion.
These thoughts are not new ones for me. Through many conversations over the years with my dad, who passed away 5 years ago, I learned these attitudes, and I saw him demonstrate them throughout his life and ministry.

In his book, Neighbors Yet Strangers: The Jews and Christian Witness (Broadman Press, 1968), Daddy put it this way:
Love should be nonutilitarian. That is, it is not a love assumed for its usefulness in reaching Jewish people. If it is, it is not love at all. To be genuine, it must be a love of people because of their value as persons made in the likeness of God. If it is love assumed for its usefulness in reaching Jews, it is not the kind of love which Jesus has for [people]. His love is not conditioned on man's acceptance of him, for he keeps on loving forever even the ones who forever spurn him. Therefore, although the Christian always hopes for the salvation of his Jewish friend, he loves him whether or not there is any expectation that he will become a Christian. . . .

Possibly one reason that Christians have had so little success in reaching Jewish people for Christ is that they have shared with them so little of their lives. They have been content to let Jews and Christians travel through life on parallel but rarely-touching roads. On occasion, they have called across the 'median strip' an invitation to their Jewish friends to leave their road and travel the Christian's. Is it surprising that such an invitation has a hollow sound to Jewish ears? Harry Golden asks, 'If they don't want me for one hour at the Luncheon Club, why should they seek my companionship in heaven through all eternity?' . . .

Some Christians fear that they will offend by mentioning the name of Christ. If the Christian shares his life with his Jewish friend, the mention of Jesus' name is not likely to offend. Eugene A. Nida, veteran missionary, said, 'I have never found a man I could not speak to about Jesus Christ, if only we were walking down the same road together.'
In other words, be friends first, and you will probably wind up sharing your journeys with each other.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Richard Land and the importance of ethics

This Friday, June 1, a committee of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will issue a report on its investigation into remarks by President Richard Land regarding the Trayvon Martin shooting, as well as allegations that Land has carried on a pattern of plagiarism.

In an article that appeared in the Nashville Tenneseean a few days ago, Fred Luter - who is expected to be elected president of the SBC next month - is quoted as saying of the possibility that Land will be fired, "I don’t think you should throw out a lifetime of doing good because of one mistake."

I agree.

I agree, that is, with the principle as stated. But I disagree with the premise that what is being investigated was merely a "mistake." I also disagree with the premise that this was Land's only "mistake."

Ever since Land took over as head of the Commission 24 years ago, this body has continually trampled Baptist principles underfoot. What had previously been called the Christian Life Commission was renamed - in what proved to be a tragic irony - the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

Yet SBC leadership disposed of the Christian ethics departments in their seminaries and made the ERLC a handmaiden of a political wing espousing a narrow and twisted view of religious liberty that promoted use of the public coffers to support a few favored faiths while denying the religious freedom of others.

Now Richard Land stands accused of personal ethical lapses.

That's what happens when Christian leaders seek power for power's sake while denigrating the importance of ethics.

After gaining power in the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980s, leaders began dismantling the ethics departments in their seminaries. The names of T. B. Maston and Henlee Barnette, and those of their disciples, were spat upon and derided.

Why? Because Christian ethics stand in the way of power. Maston and Barnette followed the Christ who challenged the religious and political leaders of his day, the Christ who stood with the weak and powerless against their oppressors.

For those who sought and gained power in the SBC, Christian ethics were a threat, just as they were to the power-hungry in Jesus' day.

So this is where we wind up - with an Orwellian-named "Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission" that works relentlessly to undermine both ethics AND religious liberty. And with an ERLC leader whose many lapses are finally becoming inconvenient themselves even for the SBC. Seems to me, though, that the commissioners' concerns are too little, too late.

But it is not too late for future generations. With that in mind, it is essential that Baptists ramp-up our emphasis on Christian ethics in our seminaries and colleges. That should include strong support for the proposed Foy Valentine Chair of Christian Ethics at Truett Seminary on the Baylor campus, in memory of the man who for many years led the former Christian Life Commission to focus on the real ethical mandates of Christ. When we go back to graduating pastors and other leaders who are grounded in Christian ethics, our churches and institutions will reflect it, and so will our attitudes and actions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Heresy" along the journey to truth and faith

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of having lunch with four students from four different Texas Baptist universities. I asked them about their courses of study and their plans for using their degrees after college. To a person, their long-range plans involved ministry to those in need.

Then I shared with them my concern about the number of young people today who are leaving the church, and asked them what they think church leaders need to do to show young people that the church is relevant to their lives.

The dominant answer seemed to be that young people want to be given the opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives. But they also want us to listen to them and acknowledge that they might have some fresh ideas and thoughts that could make a positive difference in the ministries of the church.

And it's not only that. They also want the freedom to search the scriptures and wrestle with their meaning. One young man in particular said something that intrigued me:
"We want to be able to say things that might sound like heresy."
Okay, that in itself sounded pretty heretical, didn't it? But let's not overreact. Let's listen to what he was really saying. He wants the freedom to make his faith his own rather than his parents' or his preacher's.

Over 40 years ago, I entered college with a lot of dogma in my head. It wasn't until that dogma was knocked loose that I was free to find my way to a faith that was my own. Yet, when I declared my independence of that dogma, a "friend" (or so I had thought, before then) in the dorm replied, "well, the devil sure got hold of you," and turned around and walked away. To the best of my memory, we never spoke to each other again.

What I did next was very Baptist - I went searching, for several years, for truth; truth, that is, that I could confidently accept as such. I finally wound up with a faith that was stronger than dogma, because it was a living faith and a real relationship with the living Christ. But I got there only because there were people in my life who - rather than shame me, as my onetime "friend" tried to do - gave me the freedom to find my own way. They encouraged me and they listened to me. So the journey continues today and, for those 40+ years since, there have continued to be such people in my life. It's the only way I've been able to learn and to grow and to serve.

We need to listen better and to encourage better. We need to give each other the freedom to "say things that might sound like heresy." When that young student said that to me a few weeks ago, my first thought was, "that's very Baptist!"

After all, Baptist pioneer Thomas Helwys died in prison because King James considered him a heretic. Colonial Baptist preacher John Leland spent time in jail because the authorities accused him of preaching heresy. Southern Baptist pastors in the 1940s and 1950s branded T. B. Maston a heretic for teaching that segregation was neither biblical nor Christian.

Whether young or old, we need to listen to each other. We might learn a few things. By listening to others with an open mind, we might discover that God is trying to teach us something, open our minds up to a new truth . . . or, at least, a truth that is new to us. By listening to each other, we help each other think through the meanings and implications of scripture. By listening and encouraging, we help each other to learn, to grow, and to serve more effectively. By sharing our own perspectives with humility rather than certitude and arrogance, we affirm that we all stand before God as flawed priests, helpless without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So maybe we need to quit throwing labels like "heresy" around so loosely, "for now we see through a glass, darkly." (1 Cor. 13:12a, KJV)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From the T. B. Maston Lectures at H-SU's Logsdon Seminary

I'm writing this from Abilene, where I've spent the past 2 days attending the 12th Annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary.

This year's lecturer has been Dr. Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. Dr. Callam, a native of Jamaica, lectured Monday evening on Ethnicity: Establishing Borders of Exclusion. He spoke prophetically about how people use the language pertaining to ethnicity to categorize, stereotype, and exclude others.

Dr. Callam's theme this (Tuesday) morning was Communion: Celebrating Inclusive Community. We cannot honestly call the ordinance of communion "the supper of the Lord," he said, unless our practice of it is characterized by "fellowship in spirit and action, and loving concern for each other." He encouraged our sensitivity to"the capacity of the Lord's Supper to help us overcome rampant divisiveness."

Videos of these lectures will soon be available on the Logsdon Seminary Web site, and I will link to them through both the Maston Foundation ( and Texas Baptists Committed ( Web sites, as well as both the TBC Midweek Baptist Roundup e-newsletter and the T. B. Maston Foundation E-News.

In addition to Dr. Callam's challenging and thought-provoking lectures, a highlight for me has been meeting the Young Maston Scholars, students selected from Baptist universities across Texas, as well as other students attending the Lectures. I am consistently encouraged by meeting Texas Baptist students. Without exception, those I have met display a hunger to make a difference in the lives of those in need. They want to be given opportunities to serve in meaningful ways, and they want to be heard.

Please pray for our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries, and the outstanding people who lead and teach at those houses of learning. Give as you can, and start listening to these young people. If they are given a "place at the table," the future of Baptists is a bright one.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Death at Easter?

Whoa, what’s wrong with this picture?
Death at Easter, indeed.
Aren’t you forgetting something, pal.
Easter is when He arose, not when He died.
Besides who wants to think about something so gloomy.
It’s Spring and, depending on how the weather cooperates,
You’ve got sunshine, beautiful blossoms, birds singing
And heck, you’ve even got the Easter bunny
What’s this nonsense about death at Easter, anyway
Death is so final, so morbid, so … well, real.
You see it occurred to me that you can’t really have a resurrection
Without someone or something dying first
Now those of us who profess to have faith
Or those wish that they did
Or even those who’d like to be able to believe in something or someone
Will buy in on some level that something happened that first Easter
People of faith, such as myself, believe that God simply raised Jesus from the dead
(Simple for God but far from simple for us)
Death is enemy numero uno and, as has been quoted endlessly --
“Nobody gets out of here alive”
But Jesus did – at least that’s how the story goes
And that’s also my story and I’m sticking to it
My story?
Well, yes, in a way.
You see, getting back to this death at Easter thing,
Dreams can die, hopes can die, faith can die
And like all things dead, they get buried
But they don’t have to stay dead
They can be brought back to life
Not by wishful thinking or sheer willpower or clever maneuvering
They can be made alive again by … (are you ready for this?)
The grace of God
The unfailing, unearned, totally free grace of God
The kind of grace that can restore that which is broken
Or heal wounds too deep too imagine
Or shine the light of forgiveness on a dark and troubled soul
Or raise a man from the dead
That’s right.
God’s been in business of resurrection for a long time
And He’s still at it.
Death at Easter – Merely a Prelude
But one we’d do well not too ignore
Because as Abbie Huff, minister and wise woman, declares
“Look to the Broken Places. If it’s resurrection and new life
you’re looking for, the broken places are where we start”
Amen and amen.
Happy Easter
George Gagliardi

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trusting God to do His work through us

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-47, NIV)
We have a hard time letting go of control over our spirit. It's not so much a trust in ourselves as it is a hesitancy to trust God. Jesus was divine, but he was also human . . . very human. In the garden, he gave voice to his humanity, asking the Father, "if you are willing, take this cup from me."

Remember, this isn't yet the resurrected Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father. This is the very human Jesus who wants to obey his Father but must summon every ounce of faith to do so. Yes, I believe that's what it took at that moment on the cross for Jesus to let go of his life and trust his spirit to the Father . . . faith. But not blind faith. Rather, a faith born of a relationship bathed in constant communion - and communication - with his Father.

I don't believe Jesus had any guarantees. There are no guarantees when you're human, because you don't yet know the outcome. No, what Jesus had was a promise, the same as we have. A promise that the Father would, in the end, raise him up.

When Jesus realized that his mission to humankind was completed ("it is finished"), he willingly committed his spirit to the Father, trusting his Father - whom he knew intimately - to keep His promise.

But it wasn't the first time he had "committed" his spirit to the Father. Far from it. He committed his spirit to the Father in the desert when he was tempted . . . and whenever broken bodies or broken spirits were brought to him for healing . . . and when the people turned to him for a word from God . . . and when he was unjustly accused by religious leaders and government authorities . . . and I could go on, but you get the idea. Committing his spirit to the Father wasn't simply a final act for Jesus . . . it was a way of life.

Last year, I produced a series of Baptist Briefs videos on the Youth Revival Movement for the Texas Baptists Committed Web site. No book has ever moved me as much as the late Bruce McIver's Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement. What moved me most was the faith of a group of Baylor students, among them Bruce McIver, who started that movement in the mid-1940s. They almost immediately realized that the vision that God had given them was too big for them to accomplish, so they spent hours . . . and hours . . . and more hours . . . in prayer. They were often up 'til 2 or 3 in the morning, praying together in their dorm rooms.

In Chapter Six, Bruce McIver tells about Hudson Taylor, a missionary to China in the mid-1800s. He quotes Taylor as listing "three echelons, or levels, of praying" that he had discovered in his missionary experience:
First: "O, God, let me do your work."
Second: "O God, let me help you do your work."
Third: "O, God, do your work through me."
"A century later," McIver goes on to write, "hundreds of students at Baylor moved through these same echelons. . . . In a deep sense that can only come through prayer, there was a quiet cry, 'use me' or make us 'usable.'"

A miracle is simply God doing His work through people. Miracles are not rare if you know where to look for them . . . or how to pray for them. But it takes faith born of an intimate, daily relationship with the Father. And it takes people who, with no guarantees - but with a promise of the Father's presence - will pray, "O God, do your work through me" and then "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another birthday brings reminders of God's grace

Today's my birthday, and I've received many reminders of it on Facebook.

All of them are welcome, because they remind me of what is really of value in life - family and friends who you love, and who love you back.

Yes, another birthday brings many reminders and, having been born during the Truman administration, I have a lot to remember!

There are many people who have been important in my life, and quite a few of them are gone. Most important of all, my parents, Jase and Vivian Jones, who provided me a home filled with love and examples of Christian faithfulness. They're gone, but memory is a wonderful gift that God has given us, and I have great memories of them.

Another birthday is also a reminder that time is getting short, and there is still a lot I want to get done as long as I'm drawing breath. None of us knows exactly how long we have in this life, but when you're 61 you know you're well past the halfway point.

Most of all, my birthday is a reminder of how blessed I've been - a layperson who at this point in his life has been given ministry opportunities that are beyond what he ever imagined. Most of my adult life has been spent in the corporate world. In my 30s, I was a manager for Mountain Bell telephone. In my 40s and 50s, I was a technical writer and editor for various companies.

But now here I am with the opportunity to spend my days working on the matters about which I'm most passionate. Last year, just before I turned 60, the Texas Baptists Committed Board asked me to lead TBC as associate executive director. Last week, the TBMaston Foundation for Christian Ethics elected me as chair.

I especially thank God for T. B. Maston, whose influence has been a part of my life - whether or not I was aware of it - from the time I was born. After all, my impending birth was the reason that Dr. Maston granted Daddy a month's delay for his oral exams from March 1951 to April.

Daddy said that T. B. Maston and his own Daddy (A. Jase Jones, Sr.) were the two greatest influences in his life, and he passed that Maston influence down to my sister, Patsy, and me.

But back to the opportunities that God has given me. Even before being asked to fill my current roles with Texas Baptists Committed and the TBMaston Foundation, I had already spent the past few years developing content for their Web sites and blogs. Now I've been given the opportunity to do even more. So I get to spend my days working on issues that are at the heart of who I am, and I get to work with people on these Boards - and other people in Baptist life - for whom I have a great respect and affection. Most of all, I learn so much from these wonderful Baptists with whom I work.

That's probably the best thing about the work I do - the people I get to know and work with, such gracious and gifted Baptist ministers and laypersons. As I told the Maston Board last week, I really don't feel worthy to sit at the same table with those folks, knowing the great things many of them have accomplished for the Kingdom. But that's the grace of God, something we don't understand but gratefully accept. (And my friend Weston Ware, the recipient last November of the T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award, reminded me that, if any of us who serve Christ were to wait until we're "worthy," we would never serve at all.)

So I thank God for another birthday - and all of you for how you bless my life and for how you bless the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

T. B. MASTON SAID IT: He went about doing good

(Originally published as part of T. B. Maston's "Problems of the Christian Life" series in the Baptist Standard, April 17, 1968; several articles from this series are reprinted on the TBMaston Foundation Web site)

This five-word biography of Jesus, "He went about doing good," was part of the sermon of Peter in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:38). This statement has deep meaning for followers of Christ.
Hoke Smith, an area representative of our Foreign Mission Board, recently said that the essence of missionary theory and practice could be reduced to a very concise formula: "To be like Jesus in attitudes, words, and deeds." This is not only the essence of missionary theory and practice, but it is also the essence of the Christian life.
If we are like Jesus, we will have a wayside ministry. He went about from place to place, and as He went He was helpful in His relation to suffering, sinning, seeking men and women. Jesus did not settle down in one spot and invite the people to come to Him. He went out where they were.
Our contemporary institutionalized concept of Christian work tends to localize and circumscribe our ministry for Him. We must move out of our church buildings and reach people where they are, or we will not reach the vast majority.
This does not mean that there will be no need for our buildings. We will still need them for worship and fellowship. But that worship and fellowship should be primarily preparatory. Also, we should seek to discover new approaches and techniques to transport some of that fellowship out where the people are.
Let us never forget that as Jesus went from place to place He ministered to the needs of the people.
What was the secret to the kind of life Jesus lived? Peter says that He went about doing good "for God was with him." Here was the source of His power. It was also the reason or the motive for the kind of life He lived.
At least His life was a natural expression of an inner desire. He could have used His miraculous power to perform miracles even more spectacular than most of those He performed. They would have been proof to the people that He was the Messiah, that He was the Son of God.
Why did He use His power so exclusively to relieve human needs? Approximately two-thirds of His recorded miracles were healing miracles. All others, with the possible exception of one or two, were miracles to relieve some human need. Why? He had a deep concern for people.
The more vital our relation is to Him, the deeper will be our desire to go about doing good. Also, the only source of the power that will enable us to have an effective wayside ministry is the power that comes from a vital relationship to Him.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

FROM THE MASTON READER: Neglect of the Poor

(Both-And: A Maston Reader, Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston, published by the TBMaston Foundation in 2011, will provide the focus of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Conference on March 8-9 at Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas.)
Southern Baptists are becoming increasingly a middle- and upper-class movement. The movement upward economically, educationally, and politically seems to be inevitable, but the movement away from the poor is not inevitable.
However, too many of our local churches tend to neglect "God's little ones," and for many of those churches those little ones are close by the church building. Also, we may discover that some of the neglected "little ones" are really among God's "big ones."
We should remember one proof that Jesus was the promised Messiah was that He preached the gospel to the poor (Luke 4:18; 7:22; cf Isaiah 61:1-12).
Furthermore, we should not forget that when the "Son of man" comes in judgment He will say to those on His right hand and on His left hand, "Inasmuch as ye have done it (done it not) unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it (done it not) unto me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).
He identified Himself with the little ones, even the least of them. What would be His word to us as individual Christians and churches?
(Excerpted from the article, "Materialistic Spirit Threatens Southern Baptists," written by T. B. Maston and originally published in the Baptist Standard, May 14, 1980; reprinted on p. 172 of Both-And: A Maston Reader.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

FROM THE MASTON READER: Monologue or Dialogue?

(Both-And: A Maston Reader, Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston, published by the TBMaston Foundation in 2011, will provide the focus of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Conference on March 8-9 at Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas.)

Many problems arise in the area of human relations because of a failure of people to communicate with one another. A major factor contributing to this failure is the inability or the refusal of some people to enter into dialogue.
The latter is one reason for many conflicts that arise between parents and children, teachers and pupils, employers and employees, pastors and people. Also, the clashes between those of different cultures and colors stem to a considerable degree from a failure to carry on real dialogue. Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," said: "Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue."
Failure to Participate
The failure to participate in dialogue is primarily but not exclusively the responsibility of the individual or group with the advantage of age, prestige, or power. There is always the possibility of a two-way monologue. Two people or even two groups may seemingly but not really be speaking to one another.
As the younger or less powerful individual or group matures, there will be more necessity for dialogue. At least there will be insistence on an answer to the questions that are asked. Parents of teenage children become acutely aware of this insistence. But the same thing is true of other individuals and groups. For example, the Negro in recent years has insisted as never before on real dialogue.
The demand by the teenager, the college student, the employee, the Negro for dialogue may sound at times like a monologue. If it does, one possible reason is the refusal of the parent, the teacher, the administrator, the white man to enter into dialogue. The more the latter refuses to hear, the louder the former will speak.
Difficulty of Dialogue
Many people prefer monologue to dialogue because the latter is much more difficult. Dialogue means that one's position may be challenged. It is usually much easier to state a position than to defend it. Some feel threatened when they are asked to defend their position. When this happens, their reaction will be emotional rather than intelligent.
Also, to carry on effective dialogue, one must be able to listen attentively and to analyze objectively the position of the other person or group. This is hard to do. We need to know, however, that effective communication depends as much on ability to listen as on ability to speak.
Many problems in our churches and denomination stem from the fact that we tend to speak in monologue rather than dialogue. This is not only true of the preacher in the pulpit but also of the teacher in the classroom and of the denominational leader.
There is not enough opportunity for people generally to ask questions, to have a chance to talk back, or to state an opposing viewpoint. Unfortunately, too many of us in church-related vocations are not competent in the use of dialogue.
Dialogue is particularly important in a democracy. There is no real democracy without it. Also, the maturing of people in a democracy will be determined, to a considerable degree, by their participation through dialogue in the life and work of the democracy.
(Originally published in T. B. Maston's Problems of the Christian Life series in the Baptist Standard, December 10, 1969; reprinted on pp. 257-259 of Both-And: A Maston Reader.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ethical Issues Take Center Stage During March & April

The next 2 months offer numerous opportunities to delve into biblical ethics and specific ethical issues. Several conferences will focus on biblical Christian ethics and ways of applying Christ's life and teachings to the ethical issues of our day.

Two weeks ago, in this blog space, I wrote a post about the Christian Life Conference that will take place at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas on March 8-9. Co-sponsored by the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, the Texas Baptist Office of Theological Education, and the TBMaston Foundation, the 2012 Christian Life Conference will center on the theme, Both/And Ethics in an Either/Or World.

Allen Verhey, professor of Christian ethics, Duke Divinity School, will speak on "Remembering Jesus: The Bible, the Community, and the Moral Life"; and "Remember Jesus in a World of Sickness and Suffering."

Michael Evans, pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Mansfield, will speak on "Servants Mustering Courage to Commit."

Bill Tillman, director of the Texas Baptist Office of Theological Education, will speak on "Evangelism and Ethics."

Several breakout sessions will be offered as well. Click here for further information on speakers, breakout leaders, schedule, and registration.

On March 29, Howard Payne University in Brownwood will host the 5th Annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics. This year's theme is Faith and Politics: Being Prophetic Without Being Partisan.

Stephen Reeves, legislative counsel for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, will speak on "A Christian Voice in a Public Arena."

Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and director of Advocacy and Care for Texas Baptists, will speak on "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible."

C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and pastor of Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church, Monroe, LA, will speak on "Preaching in an Election Year."

In addition to the events on March 29, which are open to the public, events are scheduled on March 30 for Howard Payne students only. Registration information will soon be available on the Howard Payne Web site at

On April 16-17, Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon Seminary in Abilene will host the 12th Annual T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics. This year's theme is Community and Exclusion: The Ethics of Ethnicity and Communion.

Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, will deliver this year's lectures. On Monday evening, he will speak on "Ethnicity: Establishing Borders of Exclusion"; on Tuesday morning, he will speak on "Communion: Celebrating Inclusive Community."

Monday evening's program will also feature the recognition of the 2012 Young Maston Scholars.
Click here for additional information.

On April 19-21, First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia, will host A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant. The conference is co-sponsored by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University. The CBF Web site explains that, "Through plenary presentation, small-group interaction, and resource breakouts, the conference aims to provide Baptists and other interested Christians an opportunity for honest, compassionate, and prayerful dialogue around matters and questions of sexuality."

Session conveners will be Rick Bennett, director of missional formation for CBF; and David Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian ethics, Mercer University. Click here for further information about schedule and speakers; and click here to register.

On April 27-28, Heights Church of Christ (nondenominational) in Houston will host the Conference on Biblical Equality. Co-sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality, Baptist Women for Equality, and Fuller Theological Seminary, the conference will center on the theme, A New Creation. A New Tradition. Reclaiming the Biblical Tradition of Man and Woman, One in Christ.

Speakers will include Katie Hays, senior minister, Northwest Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Arlington, TX; J. R. Daniel Kirk, assistant professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary; Philip B. Payne, author of Man and Woman: One in Christ; and Todd D. Still, professor of Christian Scriptures, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. Click here for further information about speakers; click here for information about the schedule; and click here to register.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Children have already paid enough for one preacher's sins

For two weeks, children are being barred from a Florida Baptist church while its pulpit is taken over by a registered sex offender.

In an Associated Baptist Press article published today, Bob Allen reported that Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, "has had to make adjustments since opening its pulpit to Darrell Gilyard, who recently served three years in prison for sex crimes with two girls committed while he was senior pastor at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville. As a registered sex offender, Gilyard, 49, is not allowed to be around minors."

Allen went on to note that Gilyard had once "resigned from a church after admitting to several extramarital affairs. That was after allegations of sexual misconduct at three previous churches."

Gilyard later served 15 years as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan until 2008, when "he resigned . . . after he was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct for sending inappropriate text messages to two underage girls."

As a Christian, I deeply believe in God's power and desire to redeem. I believe in God's grace, and my conviction is that we are to share God's grace and forgiveness.

But what is redemption, in the case of one who has repeatedly used his position to prey upon others sexually? It should not mean returning to the pulpit. For the rest of his life, this man should be the preachee, not the preacher; his was not a single isolated occurrence - it has been a repeated pattern for at least two decades. His concern should be getting himself right with God, and he should not be presuming to get others right with God. He is in no position to do so.

Now this church has chosen to make young people pay the price for this man's sin; they have barred them from church for 2 weeks.

Last week, I wrote a Texas Baptists Committed blog post about the decision of LifeWay Christian Resources to let Bibles intended for sale to benefit breast cancer victims instead sit in a warehouse, gathering dust, because of differences over certain policy decisions of a partner organization. My main concern in writing that post was that God's word was being held hostage to man's (and I do mean man's) theology.

These two situations are related. In one, we keep God's word in a warehouse, away from those who need it. In the other, we keep God's children away from the preaching and teaching of His Word.

Oh, I agree that the children shouldn't be in the same room with Darrell Gilyard. But he is the one who should be forced to get his preaching in isolation, not the children. They should be in church with their parents and their friends.

He may well be a spellbinding preacher, but his "spell" has already proven costly for many. Yes, all of us are sinners, including preachers. But we should be able to trust the man or woman in the pulpit. Darrell Gilyard has broken that trust - time and time again - and forfeited the benefit of any doubt. It is irresponsible of any church to ignore the character of the person entrusted with the preaching of God's Word.

And it is just plain wrong to tell children they can't go to church because the preacher is one who can't be trusted to be in the same room with them.