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.