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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Both/And: Religion and Spirituality

Jeff Bethke recently posted a popular video to YouTube. The video, entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” has garnered more than 19 million views. Bethke works for a non-profit called Jubilee Ranch in Tacoma, Washington, and he promotes himself as a Christian speaker (see Bethke’s video created a stir among many of my colleagues and friends. A long line of Facebook friends posted the video, with comments such as: “This is great,” and “He speaks the truth!” I’ve also been asked for my opinion regarding Bethke’s video on numerous occasions, because I have expressed some skepticism.

The video is quite interesting, especially since Bethke raps through a catchy poem. Yet, there seem to be some holes in his argument, namely, that one ought to hate religion in favor of loving Jesus. Bethke even puts forward that Jesus hated religion. Some points of biblical evidence, however, point out ways in which Jesus and his followers embraced religion. For instance, Jesus was reared by his parents in the Jewish religion, and it is quite clear that both Mary and Joseph faithfully followed the Law. Jesus even argued the tenets of religion from a young age, and seemed excited to be “doing his Father’s work” in the Temple. Later in his life, Jesus taught in synagogues, frequented the Temple, and called the Temple a “house of prayer for the nations.” This evidence hardly suggests that Jesus disdained religion. Perhaps it is more biblically accurate to say that Jesus disdained corrupted religion.

Disdain for corrupt religious practices pervades the entire Bible. For example, the prophets (especially Isaiah and Amos) call out religiously pious people for bringing the right sacrifices and bringing in enough tithes to fill up the treasury. Yet, these same folks who were full of theological and religious knowledge were also spiritually and morally bankrupt. Bethke seems to trend toward a similar idea, but he cannot put it accurately into words. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the church reflects corrupt religion when all of the orders and rules are followed to the letter, but the spirit of that religious expression goes missing. The apostle James said: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Further, when the early church fleshed out the religious expression of Christianity, it is quite clear that they struggled from the get-go. For example, they struggled with food distribution practices (Acts 6), tithing for the right reasons (Acts 5), racial equality (Acts 15), and missional practices (Acts 15:36-40). Also, it was Paul’s practice to frequent synagogues first on his missionary journeys. This seems to suggest that Paul brought the gospel first to the established religious order of the day. One also needs to remember that Paul’s writings were aimed at religious expressions in churches. If Paul had discounted or disdained religion, we probably would not have the majority of the New Testament as we know it today. 

Perhaps, then, it is easier for one (like Bethke) to say that he/she loves Jesus, likes the idea of the church, yet hates religion than it is for one to say, “I love Jesus and I am going to stick it out in organized religion in order to help our community live in the way of Jesus.”  Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, you have folks who say, “I see nothing wrong with religion at all. I get my fix, and I’m good.”

Being religious today is very hard work, and it is increasingly hard for ministers to work in this kind of polarized environment. We must realize, however, that corrupted religion is that way since people are corrupted and fallen. Religion, then, needs people who love Christ and care enough to live according to the law of love. Tinkering with religious machinery or leaving religion altogether cannot cure basic spiritual problems. Further, in my experience, some people use the argument, “I love Jesus and hate religion,” in order to get out of the hard work of spiritual discipline or practicing elementary spiritual formation in favor of a more emotional spiritual experience. Many Christians must admit, too, that they came to salvation partly because of organized religion, for it was a conduit which was used by God's Spirit to introduce us to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Rev. James Hassell
Agape Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Achieving racial reconciliation requires intentionality and persistence

One key element of the first New Baptist Covenant celebration in Atlanta, in January 2008, was racial unity. The four leading African-American Baptist conventions scheduled their annual meeting in Atlanta earlier the same week, and many of their members also attended the New Baptist Covenant celebration.

As former President Jimmy Carter noted, it was a landmark event in the history of Baptists in North America, with over 15,000 in attendance, split so closely between black and white. African-American preachers and musicians/worship leaders graced the podium.

Yet, as I looked around the room during the meetings that week, I couldn't help but be struck by competing images. One was the inspiring image of such a large number of people of different colors, races, and cultures worshipping in the same room. The other was the discomforting image of a room divided. You see - though, if you looked closely enough, there were surely exceptions to be found - for the most part, people were sitting with their own "kind." There wasn't a lot of personal fellowshipping between races.

This isn't an indictment; after all, if we're assessing guilt, then I was as guilty as anyone. But we were all likely sitting with friends - and, let's admit it, most of us still tend to have more friends that are similar to us than are different than us.

Since that time, I've made it a point to discuss occasionally with friends - including African-American friends - the question of what we can do to encourage worship across colors, across races, across cultures.

My desire for us to worship together is not simply for the sake of worship. My concern runs deeper than that. There are perspectives and concerns experienced by people of different colors, different races, and different cultures that are largely unique to their own community. I have a friend who pastors an African-American church in a low-income community. He often shares with me concerning the problems faced by people in his church and community. But I can't possibly understand those concerns, those problems, because I live in a community whose makeup and circumstances are overwhelmingly different.

The only way I - and others like me - can begin to understand other people's concerns and problems, and thus better minister to them, is to spend time with them. Quality time! Worship should be only a beginning, a doorway into a deeper experience, into partnership for ministry. It should be the beginning of learning and understanding . . . of feeling and caring about the needs of those whose lives and experiences are wholly different than our own.

I'm encouraged to see that some are giving serious thought and effort to bridging the gaps between colors, races, cultures, and circumstances. A few months ago, I attended the first of Texas Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's regional assemblies. One element of the assembly was a multicultural worship service, led by a young man who has been leading such services for 10 years. In some instances, elements and languages from different cultures were combined in the same song.

This week, I've been further encouraged to read two articles about initiatives undertaken to bridge these gaps. In the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald, Matt Walters of Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC, writes, "An interracial group of dozens of Gardner-Webb Divinity students and professors recently took up that challenge [racial tension] by sharing in a conversation titled 'The Future of the Church: A Listening Session on Racial Reconciliation.' The event was sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina's racial reconciliation ministry team and the GWU School of Divinity Student Association."

In his article, Walters quotes Gyasi Patterson, vice-chair of the CBF North Carolina racial reconciliation minsitry team, as stating, "The goal for the CBF's reconciliation team, and I hope the goal for the global church, is not just diversity, or the presence of difference. We want community, real relationships with one another, and conversation is where community begins."

In an Associated Baptist Press op-ed column, David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics, Mercer University, writes that last week "Mercer University held two events related to an issue that has dropped off the radar: racial reconciliation."

Gushee makes a particularly intriguing observation that "I was struck by how racial reconciliation circa 2012 is made more complex because each generation has its own distinctive experiences, memories, and challenges. My 25-year-old students can hardly imagine a church culture in which a college kid would be refused entrance to a sanctuary because of his skin color. It is astonishing that it ever was that way among us."

He goes on to write that Mercer's McAfee School of Theology is "now 48 percent black, 47 percent white, and 5 percent 'other' in our student population. I have asked around, and no one I have met has ever encountered this exact racial makeup anywhere. We are participating in what I believe is a providential experiment in biracial engagement."

Something is happening, and it is encouraging. Most of us in the church have been complacent about this issue of racial reconciliation. It has been, as Gushee observes, "off the radar" for far too long. But some among us are beginning to be very intentional about getting to know each other better . . . better yet, getting to understand where each other "comes from."

It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. But some are taking the first steps. May more of us find ways to become engaged in such multiracial "providential experiments." The result will likely be increased understanding and enhanced ministry that touches people where they are . . . in other words, the presence of Christ.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Christian Life Conference in Dallas on March 8-9 focuses on the new Maston Reader

"Life is lived in the space between both law and grace, both freedom and responsibility, both individual and social ethics, both perfect and permissive will, both the ideal and the real. The both/and of Maston's thought characterizes his response to a variety of issues - and is consequently a fitting title for a book that is focused on his work."
The foregoing is taken from the Introduction, written by Charles McCullough, to Both/And: A Maston Reader, Selected Readings from the Writings of T. B. Maston, which was published last year by the TBMaston Foundation for Christian Ethics.

On March 8-9, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission's annual conference will focus on this book and its subject, the writings of Dr. T. B. Maston. Co-sponsored this year by the CLC, the Texas Baptist Office of Theological Education, and the TBMaston Foundation, the conference's theme is Christian Ethics: A Both/And Approach in an Either/Or World. Reflections on the Maston Reader will take center stage.

Featured speakers are:

  • Allen Verhey, Professor of Christian Ethics, Duke Divinity School
    "Remembering Jesus: The Bible, the Community, and the Moral Life"
    "Remembering Jesus in a World of Sickness and Suffering"
  • Bill Tillman, Director, Texas Baptist Office of Theological Education
    "Evangelism and Ethics"
  • Michael Evans, Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Mansfield, Texas
    "Servants Mustering Courage to Commit"
Other speakers include:
  • Kyle Childress, Pastor, Austin Heights Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, Texas
  • Coleman Fannin, Lecturer, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University
  • Ken Hugghins, Pastor, Elkins Lake Baptist Church, Huntsville, Texas
  • Jeanie Miley, Author, Speaker, and Retreat Leader, Houston, Texas
  • Gus Reyes, Director, Texas Baptist Hispanic Education Initiative/Affinity Ministries
The conference, at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, will begin at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 8, and continue with sessions Thursday evening and Friday morning.

Registration is $50 per person. To register online, go to, and click the "Registration" link on the left sidebar. You can also register by emailing or, or calling the Christian Life Commission at 214-828-5192.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Steve Jobs and the Agony of God's Children

It's playing right now at The Public Theater in New York City. I'm hoping it eventually makes its way to the D-FW Metroplex. In the meantime, we have Doc Severinsen next month and Carol Burnett in April. Great entertainers both, but neither challenging our sensibilities.

We need our sensibilities challenged . . . our sense of right and wrong . . . our sense of ethics . . . our sense of those who provide our comfort through their own discomfort.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is a one-man show, a monologue written and performed by Mike Daisey. I listened to an excerpt, lasting about 40 minutes, on a podcast from the This American Life show on Public Radio International. You can listen to this at

In it, he tells that almost all of the electronics to which we in America have become addicted are manufactured - by hand - in Foxconn Corporation's factory in Shenzhen, China. By some estimates, the factory houses as many as 430,000 workers. Foxconn makes, Daisey says, "electronics for Apple, Dell, Nokia, Panasonic, HP, Samsung, Sony, a third of the electronics products you use every day."

Daisey tells of his trip to the main gate of the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, where he planned to stand and talk "to anyone who will talk to me." He says that guards at the gate carry guns, and "along the edges of each enormous building are the nets, because - right at the time that I am making this visit - there has been an epidemic of suicides at the Foxconn plant. Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off, killing themselves in a brutal and public manner. . . . Foxconn's response . . . is to put up these nets."

Daisey goes on to tell of talking to the workers, through an interpreter he brought with him, as they come through the gate at shift change.

"Everyone wants to talk. . . . We can't keep up with them." In his first 2 hours, he says, "I know I met workers who were 14 years old, 13 years old, 12. . . . Do you really think it's credible that Apple doesn't know, or are they just doing what we're all doing? Do they just see what they want to see?"

Their hours, he says, are 60-minute hours, meaning that they don't get to take a minute here and there to go to the restroom or chat at the water cooler or go outside to smoke. They stand in an assembly line that shows no mercy. Everything is manufactured by hand, "and the lines only move as slow as its slowest members, and each person learns how to move perfectly as quickly as possible. If they can't do it, there are people behind them, watching them, and there are cameras watching both sets of people, and people watching the cameras."

"The official workday in China is 8 hours long," Daisey says, "and that's a joke. I never met anyone who had even heard of an 8-hour shift. Everyone I talked to worked 12-hour shifts, standard, and often much longer than that. . . . Sometimes, when there's a hot new gadget coming out, . . . it just pegs at 16 hours a day, and it just sits there for weeks and months at a time. . . . While I'm in the country, a worker at Foxconn dies after working a 34-hour shift. I wish I could say that's exceptional, but it's happened before."

There's more to Daisey's report . . . his monologue . . . his show. But that's enough.

I'm concerned about the treatment of these people by their employer and a Chinese government that looks the other way, possibly even encourages it. I'm also concerned about the culpability of corporations from America and elsewhere in this exploitation and abuse of human beings, children and otherwise. But what disturbs me even more is that they have pulled the rest of us - we American consumers - into this. We're responsible, too, because they're giving us what we demand at a price that's halfway acceptable to us . . . by exploiting God's children - of whatever age - on the other side of the world.

And Cain's question comes to me: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9b, NIV)

And Jesus' question: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" And, after receiving the answer, "The one who had mercy on him," the challenge posed by Jesus: "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10: 36-37, NIV)

And Jesus' indictment of us all: "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." (Matthew 25:45, NIV)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Inaugural Ethics Lecture at Truett Seminary

On Tuesday, Dr. Jonathan Tran delivered the inaugural Ethics Lecture, sponsored by the TBMaston Foundation, at Truett Seminary on the Baylor campus in Waco.

Dr. Tran's subject was ambitious: The Audacity of Hope and the Violence of Peace: Obama, War, and Christianity. Though he discussed the war policies of both Barack Obama and George W. Bush, neither president was his intended target. Bush, he said, gave us the "reasons for war," whereas Obama gave us the "theology of war." But he went on to say that neither Bush nor Obama had much choice in the matter. They were merely playing out the script that the American people have written for them. We love peace, he said, but we have decided the only way we can have peace is to wage war. Thus, we confuse our love for war with our love for peace.

We will publish Dr. Tran's lecture in the next edition of the Foundation's e-Newsletter in a few weeks and then on There will be plenty of Christians who disagree with him, but that's okay. The purpose of the lecturer . . . the prophet, if you will . . . is to challenge his listeners to look within, reexamine their closely-held beliefs and principles, and seek God's discernment. Dr. Tran did that.

My dad often told the story of sitting, as a doctoral student one day in the early 1950s, in T. B. Maston's office.

At that time, churches in the South by-and-large were segregated. Jim Crow laws still held sway. KKK rallies, cross-burnings, and lynchings were common. And most white Christians either took part in the hateful treatment of African-Americans or stood by passively, either accepting it or at least letting it happen without objection. But T. B. Maston was regularly challenging them to love and respect African-Americans as equals.

Dr. Maston pointed to the bulging bottom drawer of a nearby file cabinet. "See that bottom drawer?" Dr. Maston asked Daddy. "It's filled with hate mail."

Prophets aren't perfect, and they aren't always right. But their purpose is to point people to God and to Christ, and that will always make us uncomfortable, because the closer we get to Christ, the more we see how inadequate we are. But it's the first step in becoming faithful.