Saturday, December 7, 2013

PATRICK ANDERSON: My Mandela Pilgrimage

(NOTE: The author, Patrick Anderson, is editor of Christian Ethics Today journal. He also recently served as executive coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the interim between Daniel Vestal and Suzii Paynter.)

Several years ago, I traveled to South Africa. In preparation for my trip, I picked up a few books to read, including Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which I read on the long plane ride from Atlanta to Johannesburg. Of course, Mandela was not a total stranger to my brain, but while reading that remarkable book I became a Mandela disciple and, during that trip and since, I have read much of his writings and a great deal about the man himself.

Since I had a couple of days layover on my Africa trip and I was alone, I spent a night near the Soweto Township in Johannesburg and hired a driver to take me on a tour. I visited Mandela’s home. I stood in the front doorway and looked into the tiny living room where a wall had been built the length of the house just inside to block the snipers’ bullets which sometimes were fired into the front window. I walked through the small house and got a sense of how he and Winnie lived there. I saw mementoes given to him through the years, including the World Championship Boxing Belt from Sugar Ray Leonard and letters from school children and dignitaries from around the world. He was loved by many in his life, and inspired some remarkable people.

I walked down the street and around the corner to where his friend, Desmond Tutu, lived, surprised by the close proximity. I tried to imagine life in that small tight-knit community, and remembered the stormy, violent history of that place during Apartheid. My driver-guide tolerated my mulling and questioning. I did not want to leave the place.

Later, I took a plane to Cape Town, and then rode the ferry across to Robben Island, where Mandela spent 27 long years in prison under a life sentence. I stood outside the cell he lived in and tried to put myself into that stark setting, sleeping on the thin mat, feeling the cold air, imagining the sounds of that despairing place. I sat on the ground in the courtyard where he and the other prisoners spent many hours each day in silent, tedious work, where they somehow managed to smuggle messages to each other and to people on the outside from that place. I walked in the lime quarry where he and the other prisoners toiled in the hot sun, in a pit so blindingly bright that some were actually blinded.

I thought of how, during all the years he spent in that terrible place, I had lived in comfort and oblivious peace in America, enjoying the benefits of freedom, food, education, good health. Somehow, I felt ashamed of myself, wishing that somehow my life had been more focused and meaningful while Mandela had exhibited such strength and fortitude in his discomforts.

On the ferry back to the mainland, I thought about how Mandela, just like Paul and Silas long before, refused a secret, private release from prison, demanding instead to be released as publicly as he had been incarcerated. His election as President of South Africa, his appointment of his jailer to his cabinet, and his insistence for a full disclosure kind of reconciliation . . . all of those actions he took without any rancor, with no hatred or retaliatory impulse . . . humbled me, and made me both melancholy and thrilled at the display of the human spirit at its best.

Since that pilgrimage, I have thought much about Nelson Mandela, finding in him an inspiration and role model for my own life. Now that he “belongs to the ages,” as President Obama stated, take some time to stop and reflect on Mandela’s life, seeing it as a Christ-like example to us all, far from perfect, very human and full of struggle and hardship. His spirit lives on, and in my own heart I make a new commitment to justice, compassion, and strong living.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Breakfast at the Elite Café—November, 1963 . . . by Joe E. Trull

(NOTE: The author is Joe E. Trull, member of the T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees and former editor of Christian Ethics Today journal. Dr. Trull was recently honored with the 2013 T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award, and his brother, Don, will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on December 10, 2013.)

The year was 1963. The 175th year of our nation’s life. President John F. Kennedy was completing his first term in office.

Abroad our country was engaged in a “cold war” with the communist-bloc countries, including Cuba just ninety miles away. Thousands of American soldiers were massed along the 39th parallel that divided North and South Korea, guarding an uneasy truce. The United States was escalating its involvement in the war in Vietnam with 25,000 advisors.

At home, other battles were waging, many focusing upon basic civil rights for African-Americans. Racial segregation in the public schools was still common, as well as other forms of separation in public places—especially hotels and motels, restaurants, transportation, bathrooms, and even water fountains! Black Americans found voting very difficult in many parts of the country. In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in that segregated city. Tensions between the races were escalating.

I was living on the field of my student pastorate in southwestern Oklahoma. The year was a unique one for our family, as my brother Don was setting records as an All-American quarterback for the Baylor Bears. He led the nation in passing and total yardage, and was runner-up behind Roger Staubach for the Heisman Trophy.

I listened to every game with pride. One Saturday in November was designated R.A. day, a special afternoon at Baylor stadium when all the young boys in Baptist churches, along with their sponsors, could attend the game at discount prices and root for the Bears.

At FBC, Roosevelt (a farming community), we had about ten young boys in our R.A. group. Our basketball and baseball team won almost every game, mainly due to two of our group who happened to be black (not a problem in our small rural community).

On Friday afternoon we left for Waco, riding in a “wheat-harvest” bus one of the men used for his work crews. Inside were enough bunk beds for us all, and the seats were OK.

When we stopped for gas in Jacksboro, we heard the first report: “The President has been shot in Dallas.” When his death was announced over the networks, I called Don. He was uncertain if the game Saturday would be cancelled but, since we were not too far away, he urged us to come ahead with our ten R.A. boys.

That evening, as we prepared to bed-down in our harvest bus, Don came by to tell us the game was cancelled. “Tomorrow, after we meet for breakfast at the Elite Café, I will take all of you for a tour of the campus, including visiting the bear pits where our mascots live.” The trip would not be a total loss, and the boys were enjoying the adventure.

Don called the manager of the café, whom he knew well, and told him of his brother’s visit and the group of R.A. boys and sponsors who were coming to eat. “Sure, Don,” he said, “Bring them by and we will be sure they get a real Texas breakfast they won’t forget.” I knew we would be treated royally, for in the fall of 1963 my brother was the town hero, leading the Baylor football team (along with several other star players) to nationwide prominence.

As our group walked in the door, we were greeted and led to tables prepared for us. I noticed the waitress seemed startled—a bit nervous about our group. She disappeared, and soon the manager came out. As Don introduced us and the host welcomed us, I noticed his eyes kept moving across our group. He then walked back toward the waitress and mumbled, “Let’s serve Don’s group.” I began to sense something was wrong.

As we departed after the breakfast, the manager came up to me and said, “Your boys were the best-behaved group of young people we have ever had. But preacher, I need to tell you something else. All these years we have had a policy of not serving colored people. Your colored boys are the first ones we have ever served in this café.”

He continued, “Don is not only our hero, but a good friend. I promised to serve his brother’s group, and we did. And yesterday our President was assassinated.” The manager paused, then looked me in the eye and said, “I guess it’s time we changed that policy.”

As I walked toward the bus, I thanked God for several things—that the boys had followed our instructions to be at their best in the café, that we had decided to come on to Waco even knowing the game might be cancelled, and the sequence of events that led us to eat breakfast that somber November day in the Elite Café.

The café is still there, near old 35 on the Circle that winds to I.H. 35 today. It has been refurbished, updated, and the menu is more in keeping with its name. I recently had dinner there with my grandson (a Baylor student now). I never pass the place without thinking of that day.

The events of 1963 and the following years led to civil rights legislation and many social changes—the American dream of “justice and equality for all” was renewed. History books record seminal events in those years—Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of the bus; a civil-rights march across a bridge in Selma; the rally in Washington, D.C., highlighted by Martin Luther King’s sermon, “I Have A Dream,” and many more.

But for me it began at breakfast in the Elite Café.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A. JASE JONES, part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

(NOTE FROM BILL JONES, CHAIR OF THE T. B. MASTON FOUNDATION: Daddy was born 100 years ago today, September 2, 1913, in Corrigan, Texas. In commemoration of his centennial, I'm republishing the three-part tribute I wrote for this blog in June 2011. Daddy, who passed away in 2007, chaired the T. B. Maston Foundation in its formative years, throughout the 1980s and into the early '90s. It's my privilege to sit where he once sat and to work with my fellow trustees - among them several of Dr. Maston's students - in continuing the legacy of T. B. Maston, who was Daddy's teacher, friend, and guiding influence throughout the years.)

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED June 21, 2011) I've been thinking a lot about my Daddy the past few days. He passed away 4 years ago this week at the age of 93. Father's Day brought to mind our family's last visit with him. We celebrated Father's Day with him a day early that year, on Saturday. He died exactly a week later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. JASE JONES, part 2: Seminary Student; Pastor; Home Missionary; and Chaplain

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

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED June 21, 2011) Daddy began study at Southwestern Seminary, but his study was interrupted when, in early 1943, he enlisted in the U. S. Army as a chaplain. For the next 2 years, he served under General George S. Patton's command in the European Theatre of Operations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

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

A. JASE JONES, part 3: Maston Foundation; and At Home with His Family

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

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

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

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED June 21, 2011) Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Maston and Tom Mc, their elder son, were visitors in our home on several occasions. Daddy always considered Dr. Maston his primary mentor and influence in his own ministry, but they were also close friends and stayed in touch regularly by mail and by phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read part 1: Surrendered to God's Call

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MICHAEL BELL: Reflecting on 50 Years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The author of this post is Michael Bell, senior pastor, Greater Saint Stephen First Church, Fort Worth, Texas, and a member of the T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees, who has written on this subject for the Foundation's Weighty Matters blog, at my request. In 2005, Michael Bell became the first African-American elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.)

On August 28, 1963, tens of thousands of marchers assembled on the Washington Mall. Police estimated the crowd to be around 250,000, but others argued that the crowd numbered as many as half a million. The occasion was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was organized by a coalition of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations; though coalition members differed on the purpose of the march, when all was said and done, they agreed on a set of objectives, which included, among other things, advocating the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation and the elimination of racial segregation in public schools.

For better or for worse, the March is best known as the venue where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. And I lament, along with Gary Younge, that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington have been “neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology.”

Also, Dr. King’s speech has been packaged in a way that excludes his legacy beyond that distant day when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In his book Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, Dr. Vincent Harding – Dr. King’s friend, colleague, and former speechwriter – asserts that the post-March-on-Washington phase of King’s life has been conveniently overlooked. Gary Younge agrees: “To judge a life as full and complex as his by one sixteen-minute address, some of which was delivered extemporaneously, is neither respectful nor serious.”

So, from where I sit, to talk about how race relations have fared since King’s August 28, 1963, speech, given the misinformation inherent in the reshaping of King’s image, is not an honest discussion. A more constructive and helpful conversation may be how race relations have fared since the August 28, 1963, March on Washington. And I’m going to fight the feeling to offer the obvious answers, because studies, reports, and findings by – among others – the Economic Policy Institute, Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for American Progress have already provided irrefutable evidence that the fight for racial justice and equality has stalled out.

And I wish I could say that I’m surprised that a half-century after the March, we’re still what David Shipler calls “a country of strangers.” But I’m not. Andrew Hacker’s conclusion, published just over twenty years ago, that we are “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal” is still on point.

Over the past forty years, I’ve been on the frontlines of countless marches, pickets, demonstrations, and rallies for racial justice; I’ve organized, led, and participated in boycotts and protests across Texas and in other states. As recently as last week, I sat down with the elected and appointed leadership of a large Texas city and advocated on behalf of Black police officers who are being bullied, passed over, harassed, and intimidated by their own police chief and the predominantly White police officers' association to which they pay dues. Frankly, the angst and frustration that racism generated in the past still exists, despite some notable advances toward equality. And there has not been enough significant progress toward Black freedom and liberation to overcome the lingering systemic racial separateness that permeates every aspect of both public and private life in America.

Younge notes, in his article Obama and Black Americans: the Paradox of Hope, that today “racial advancement is increasingly understood not as a process of social change but of individual promotion – the elevation of African American faces to high places.” And I don’t see evidence of any meaningful, sustainable effort to move this country away from its racialistic moorings. I’m convinced that White denial and Black dualism will continue to hold sway and inhibit any real national dialogue or community conversation on race. The subtle, stealth-like racism that is both vehemently denied and incessantly practiced in 21st-century America has become normative.

But none of this means that those of us who refuse to buckle under the unrelenting constraint of the system of race will stop fighting. So, five decades later, the struggle continues!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

CHAD CHADDICK: A Moral Argument for Strict Regulation of the Payday and Auto Title Lending Industries

(EDITOR'S NOTE: On Monday, Chad Chaddick, pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, San Antonio, testified before a Texas Senate committee on the payday and auto title lending bill that is being considered by the Texas legislature. We publish his prepared testimony here with his permission.)

Two years ago, I testified before the Senate Committee on Business and Finance regarding what I had witnessed first hand involving the devastation visited upon a family by a payday loan. It was a story that involved a $700 loan rolled over 9 times at $200 a roll-over with interest and fees amounting to a 740% APR. Ultimately, the loan was paid off by a church. I told the story because I found those numbers to be shockingly unjust, and I hoped that others would as well.

Since I told that story, I have heard many stories with similar numbers, and some stories with even worse numbers. I have witnessed and heard about extended families that have been drawn into cycles of debt from which they could not escape. I have seen my church and others forced to give charitable gifts to those who have been trapped by such loans or watch these families slide into homelessness, or lose their children to protective services because they could not afford to keep their utilities connected. I have considered that the taxpayers of this state are forced to fund the payday industry as those who get trapped in cycles of debt become ever more dependent on state and government services. In the process of hearing these stories and witnessing these scenarios, I must admit that I am no longer shocked by the numbers. Interest rates of 500%, 700%, 900% are so common that they cease to move any real emotion in me. I suspect that the shock value of these numbers is ultimately lost on all of us who look often enough at the situation.

So today I want to take another approach - an approach that does not appeal to the shock value of these brutal interest rates and fees. Instead, I want to make a moral argument. I do so, not only because I see that our natural moral inclinations are becoming desensitized by the sheer volume of stories about “700% interest loans,” but also because I hear a decided shift in this discussion away from thoughts about moral responsibility and towards a supposedly amoral standard for our decision-making. More and more I hear appeals to “The Market.” I have lost count of how many times recently I have heard the phrase “The Market will bear” in discussions about these kinds of loan products. I would like to point out that The Market is a poor standard for helping us measure what is good for ourselves, for our fellow citizens, or for our state. The Market has and will continue to bear a great many things that are not good. The Market bears all manner of human rights abuses around the world. Not to distract us from the issue at hand, but to emphasize this point, The Market will bear the sale and transport of underage girls for sexual slavery. One could well use the argument that if there were not a desire for these products, the sex-trade industry would not exist. But it does, and the desires that drive it do not justify its existence. Likewise, The Market will not only bear but will encourage illegal immigration in our state. Clearly, there is a demand for cheap labor - so much so that despite the regulations we have in place, men and women are seeking to illegally cross our borders and our citizens are hiring them. The fact that there is a demand for these products does not justify deregulation.

We could spend a long time elucidating the number of things that The Market will bear Some of those things we have called good, and we have encouraged these good things through a lack of regulation and through positive incentives. But some of those things that The Market will bear we have said it should not bear. These things we either sought to eliminate completely or we have sought to regulate. Either way, we have acted out of moral impulses for the good of our citizens and for our own protection. In every case, we have looked at the amoral Market and sought to influence it with our moral judgments. The Market is wholly without moral sensibility and it is up to us - and more directly, it is up to you - to invest The Market with moral guidance.

Clearly, The Market will bear 700% short-term loans. Clearly, The Market will bear the entrapment of families into cycles of debt from which they cannot escape. Clearly, The Market will bear the repossession of 35,000 vehicles through auto-title loans. The Market will bear it but should it? And should it bear it without regulations?

Consider the scenario we are all familiar with in which The Market bore a very specific type of predatory lending. I am speaking of the sub-prime housing loans and the mess they have made of our wider economy. A lot of money was made from these lending practices. A lot of people took advantage of those with poor credit even though they knew the borrowers could not afford the loans they were taking. Lenders, realtors, and peer pressure within The Market itself encouraged people to avail themselves of these overly available lines of credit. The Market bore these excesses - for a time. And now we are looking for protective regulations to insure that the issuing of credit does not unsustainably prop up individuals, families, or industries.

The Payday and Auto-Loan industry is not so different from sub-prime lending. The product they offer often unsustainably props up individuals and families. In fact, the products are more profitable the more unsustainable they are. It is better for the industry if the product is rolled over multiple times rather than being repaid in full. The result of this lending is increased debt and increased hardship on families. People lose houses when their finances are unsustainably propped up by quick loans they cannot afford. People lose cars, and then they lose their jobs when they can’t get to those jobs without their cars. And who pays for these failed loans? Who pays for the cycle of debt that is created through this easy, unregulated, artificial cash-flow? My church does, and other benevolent agencies do. The taxpayer does as the government assistance programs are burdened. Every day, we are bailing out those families that have become trapped by these unregulated predatory lending practices. The great irony, of course, is that these lenders exist as Credit Service Organizations - organizations that were intended to be a help to citizens in rebuilding their credit and rebuilding their lives.

That The Market will bear these excesses and predatory practices is a poor justification for crushing the citizens of Texas with debt. Other states have recognized the moral component in this, and they have passed regulations to protect their citizens. The payday industry in their states continues to do business showing that The Market will bear these regulations. Let me say that again: The Market will bear these regulations. As a citizen, as a taxpayer, and as a moral human being, I urge you to not simply consider what The Market will bear, for The Market knows nothing of right and wrong. I urge you to do what is right for the citizens of Texas and to guide an amoral Market away from abuse and toward the greater financial health of our citizens. In this case, siding with what the amoral Market will bear will place you squarely on the side of immoral financial oppression. Texans deserve better.

Respectfully submitted,
Chad R. Chaddick, D.Min
Northeast Baptist Church
San Antonio, Texas

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christians and Race, part 2: Christians Must Challenge Racist Attitudes

Christians should be Christ-followers.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? No earth-shaking sentiment there.

In theory, it's simple. In practice, it's the hardest thing you'll ever do - follow Christ, live according to His teachings, live in accordance with His example.

Or, as T. B. Maston liked to say, "walk as Jesus walked." (Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did, 1 John 2:6)

I was recently at lunch with a few friends, all Christians, all white males. At one point, the conversation turned to President Obama's recent State of the Union message to Congress and, in turn, to the state of our nation as those in the group perceived it.

You know, we white Christians in this country like to think that racism is ancient history. We believe we live in a more enlightened age than our parents and grandparents, and that we, in turn, have racial attitudes that are enlightened. Some even go so far as to say that everyone is playing on a level field these days, that laws are no longer needed to enforce equal opportunity. When our African-American and Hispanic friends, among others, assert that they are still discriminated against by our society and our legal system, and that racism is alive and well in America, their concerns are met with denial and even derision by some white Christians.

I'm not used to this stuff, friends. I don't normally hear such attitudes expressed by people I hang out with, and I like to tell myself that such attitudes are ancient history. But they're not. I have to admit I was stunned by his frank reply, "the blacks." And I didn't try to hide my astonishment or my disgust. I practically shouted at him, "where in the world are you getting this stuff?"

His answer? "Why, TV," he replied. He didn't even attempt to cloak his ignorance; he admitted it upfront. "Why, TV," as if he couldn't imagine getting his information anywhere else.

But our friend was just getting started. He later talked about "wetbacks" and the problems, he asserted, that they've caused in our state for decades; as with "the blacks" mentioned earlier, he said that the "wetbacks" were lazy parasites. When a couple of members of our group began talking about the reality that white people are becoming the minority in both Texas and America, our friend said, "yeah, it's frightening."

It's good to have friendly discussions among friends. But this man's statements were not, to my mind, a "friendly discussion." They were racism and bigotry; they were stereotyping, fear, condescension, and even hatred toward others for no other reason than that they are of a different skin color or from another culture.

One or two others in our group also challenged this man's attitudes, though they probably did so in a manner that reflected T. B. Maston better than I did. In part 1 of this post, T. B. Maston and Race Relations, taken from material written by my father, Jase Jones, we find that Maston's responses to expressions of racism and bigotry were "kind and noncondemnatory" toward the person expressing those attitudes and that "he refused to let anyone make him angry."  I wasn't quite so controlled in my response; I replied not just in disagreement but in attack mode. I simply couldn't help myself and probably sounded pretty strident as I responded to this man's comments.

On my way home, I momentarily felt a little guilty, simply because I don't like to hurt people's feelings, I don't like to attack others. But my guilt was only momentary, because I then began to think of my very dear African-American and Hispanic friends, and the aspersions this man had casually - and hatefully - cast onto them. I realized that I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I had let his assertions pass without attacking them with every ounce of my being in the most vigorous way possible.

When a group of white Christian men discuss those who are different - of another race, another culture, or even the opposite gender - we should speak and act as we would if we were joined by those about whom we are speaking, in a way that we would not be ashamed of our words and actions if we were joined by those who are different than us. But, truth be told, all of us Christians could stand some self-examination every so often; we all likely harbor one attitude or another for which we should ask forgiveness.

My only regret is that I wasn't better prepared to ask our friend some key questions that might have helped him to recognize the emptiness of his thinking and the unChristlikeness of his attitudes. That's the way Jesus did it - asked probing questions that caused painful but needed self-examination. I still have a ways to go in learning to be like Jesus.

Ninety years ago, T. B. Maston was speaking out, teaching, and writing to oppose unChristlike racial attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, as he himself asserted in the last sentence quoted in my previous post, that work isn't finished. People Jesus loves - the "least of these" - are still oppressed, derided, and marginalized by those who call themselves Christian. If we say we belong to Christ, then we must confront and challenge these oppressive, superior, hateful attitudes wherever we find them, even - or perhaps especially - when we find them in our Christian friends. It's a matter of walking as Jesus walked.

Christians and Race, part 1: T. B. Maston and Race Relations

(This post consists entirely of excerpts from the chapter, "Maston's Contributions to Race Relations," by Jase Jones, in An Approach to Christian Ethics: The Life, Contribution, and Thought of T. B. Maston, William M. Pinson, Jr., Compiler/Contributor, copyright 1979, Broadman Press.)

In 1938 . . . Maston offered a new course, Social Problems of the South, half of which dealt with the race problem. A full course on race, The Church and the Race Problem, began in 1944. In this course, distinguished black leaders addressed the class. The students were taken on a field trip through the Fort Worth black community. . . .

His first published writing on race (pamphlet) bore the title Racial Relations, and was published by Woman's Missionary Union in 1927. Integration, a pamphlet published by the Christian Life Commission (SBC), was first prepared in 1956 at the request of the Advisory Council of Southern Baptists for Work with Negroes to be read at its annual meeting. Another booklet, Interracial Marriage, was published by the Christian Life Commission in 1963. The Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention published The Christian and Race Relations (pamphlet) in the same year.

In 1932, Maston wrote a Training Union monthly program series on the social teachings of the Bible. Race and class was the subject of one month's program. Another Training Union program on race appeared in November, 1941. Maston wrote the Graded Lessons Sunday School for Sixteen Year Pupils in the thirties, with one quarter's lessons on social problems. Another Sunday School lesson in 1943 was entitled "Christianity Crosses Racial Lines." . . .

Of Maston's many books, the following dealt solely with the subject of race: Of One (1946), The Bible and Race (1959), and Segregation and Desegregation (1959). Race was dealt with in parts of six other Maston books. Maston considers Segregation and Desegregation to be his major scholarly work on race. He thinks that The Bible and Race has been his most influential book on race. Woman's Missionary Union chose it as a study book in 1962, and Broadman Press published over 50,000 copies.

The speech which Maston made before the Southern Baptist Convention in Kansas City in 1956 drew more reaction and was probably more influential than any other that he made on the race issue. Carried by the Associated Press, it was widely reported in secular and religious publications. Coming as it did not long after the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is of historical significance. . . .

When Dallas, Texas, was ordered to desegregate its school system, the Baptist pastors of Dallas asked Maston to speak to them on the subject, "A Pastor in a Community Facing Desegregation." His speech was reported in word and picture by the secular press, and it caused a reaction next in size to the Kansas City speech.

Maston spoke quite often before interracial meetings of pastors and laymen in a number of states. . . . Frank Leavell, Southern Baptist student work leader, called upon him to speak many times, usually on the race issue. Carson-Newman College in Tennessee invited him to speak on race at its faculty conference. Maston spoke several times at conferences of Southern Baptist workers with Negroes. After he had spoken about love at one of these, a young black worker asked a question that Maston says he has never been able to get away from. "Isn't there a real danger that one may make love a substitute for justice, a mere sentimentality?" Maston answered, "Not genuine Christian love. It is inclusive of justice." . . .

Maston participated in a variety of denominational and community organizations. He was one of the principal founders, along with J. Howard Williams, A. C. Miller, and W. R. White, of the Christian Life Commission of Texas. The race issue has been a major concern of the commission since its founding. . . .

Southwestern Seminary opened its regular classes to blacks in 1951. Maston had urged it for many years. . . .

The Advisory Council of Southern Baptists for Work with Negroes was another organization in which Maston served. He was its first chairman and was reelected chairman several times. The council performed a valuable service for leaders of the Baptist boards and agencies represented on the council by keeping them abreast of the issues, concepts, and developments in the race struggle. Other groups to which Maston belonged were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the local Urban League (serving on the Executive Committee), and the Southern Regional Council.

The Mastons are members of Gambrell Street Baptist Church, Fort Worth, where Maston is a deacon. A black man once called Maston when the Gambrell Street pastor was out of town and said, "We're looking for a church home, and my pastor suggested I call you." Maston invited him to visit the church that Wednesday night. He met him on the sidewalk and escorted him into the church, where the visitor was warmly welcomed. A fellow deacon later said, "Here's the fellow (Maston) more responsible than anybody else for the church's open-door membership policy." This statement reminds one of a remark made by Theodore F. Adams after Maston's speech in Kansas City: "The progress that we have made among Southern Baptists on this matter of race is due to men like you and O. T. Binkley."

Maston developed strong personal relationships in the black community. He describes the "real kinship of spirit" which exists between himself and J. M. Ellison, longtime chancellor of Virginia Union University and editor of The Religious Herald, and tells of visiting in the Ellison home. Ellison calls Maston his "very real friend." He tells of being a guest at the Maston table, of being an overnight guest in the home, and of sharing "the full meaning of their fellowship and thinking as we had devotional moments together."

The black students of Southwestern Seminary were Maston's friends. One of these, Clarence Lucas, now pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, said, "At a time when I wasn't even allowed to live in dormitories, Maston would come and talk with me. He offered some direction, then let me as a proud human being struggle with it myself . . . I personally prefer this to any paternalism."

Maston has extensive files of correspondence which came as a result of his writing and speaking. . . . He never failed to reply when the person identified himself as a Southern Baptist. A perusal of the files reveals that his answers were polite, factual, kind, and noncondemnatory, even to the most vicious letters. To a young colleague troubled by the ugly letters, Maston said, "If we are right, the Lord and time are on our side."

To those aspiring to be active in the racial struggle, Maston said, "Don't go into this if you have to be accepted by everybody." Colleagues said that two keys to his effectiveness were that he knew when to act and when to wait and that he refused to let anyone make him angry. . . .

Maston says of the future, "Of course, I don't think the race issue is settled by any means. There are plenty of things that still need to be done."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Suzii Paynter named to lead CBF: Reflections on a friend

Yesterday it was announced that Suzii Paynter, director of Texas Baptists' Christian Life Commission (CLC) and Advocacy/Care Center, has been nominated to succeed Daniel Vestal as executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF).

Suzii is one of our own, a longtime supporter of the T. B. Maston Foundation and member of our Board of Trustees. More than that, though, Suzii and her husband, Roger - senior pastor of Austin's First Baptist Church - are Maston practitioners; they live lives that are grounded in the kind of biblical Christian ethics that Dr. Maston lived and taught, that walking as Jesus walked kind of ethics, that loving and ministering to the least of these kind of ethics, that seeing Christ in all you meet and being His presence everywhere you go kind of ethics.

I'm not writing a biography here. You can get details about Suzii's life, ministry, and qualifications from the CBF press releases. For that matter, you can see her heart, her passion for ministry, in the wonderful introductory video that CBF has produced, and I urge you to watch it. It moved me, and I guarantee it will move you.

But I just want to write a brief reflection about the Suzii and Roger Paynter who I know, and I don't know how you talk about the one without talking about the other, because - as the video so warmly shows - the two of them are truly one, a part of each other.

I first got to knowing Roger in the late 1990s, after my dad joined First Baptist. Whenever we would visit Daddy in Austin, we would go to church with him on Sunday morning. In fact, my family and I were blessed on our numerous visits to get to know several wonderful people there at First Baptist. In the CBF video, Suzii talks about the privilege of getting to hear Roger preach every Sunday morning; I understand what she's talking about, because I was always challenged by Roger's preaching and inevitably took out my pen and made a note or two during his sermon.

But beyond his preaching, Roger has been a good friend to me. I always love talking with him, because I know I'm going to learn something but, more importantly, I'm hoping a little of his graciousness will rub off on me.

Where I really got to knowing Suzii was at the BGCT Annual Meetings back in the early 2000s. At that time, my wife and I were still attending a church that was lurching toward Fundamentalism, and I was struggling to influence people in that church to turn back to Baptist principles of grace and freedom. So at those BGCT Annual Meetings, I would stop by the CLC booth and talk to Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter, sharing my frustrations, telling them about my apparently futile attempts to change the church's direction. The most important thing that Phil and Suzii did was listen to me and let me know that they cared about what I was experiencing and that they appreciated my conviction. They were great encouragers to me at a difficult time. When Joanna and I finally decided, in 2004, that it was time to find another church, it was Phil Strickland who led us to Wilshire in Dallas.

Over the years, Suzii has continued to be a great friend and encourager to me. When I was asked to lead Texas Baptists Committed 2 years ago, it was a new world for me; I had never led an organization like this, had never done anything close to this. At times, I have turned to people like Suzii, as well as Rick McClatchy at CBF Texas, for guidance. Both of them are savvy, experienced, and always willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Last spring, I attended the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics - named for David Currie and Phil Strickland - at Howard Payne University. At the gracious invitation of Dean Donnie Auvenshine, I was privileged to attend not only the public lectures but the following day's sessions as well, in which the lecturers - Suzii Paynter and Stephen Reeves of the CLC, and Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance - met with students and answered their questions.

This morning, I looked back at the blog post I wrote concerning that day. In summarizing the session that Suzii and Stephen held with Howard Payne's Ministerial Alliance members, I wrote about Suzii's characterization of the BGCT as "a relational body, not an institutional body"; her emphasis on the diversity of those who are on the receiving end of the BGCT's ministries; and her description of the CLC as "a witness to the whole community."

In her message on the first day, "Leading Your Church to Be Politically Responsible," Suzii always brought the focus back to ministry, urging listeners, "look beyond the walls of your church"; "don't start with politics; start with ministry"; and "be unapologetic about bringing a biblical rationale and theological perspective to any issue."

That's the Suzii Paynter I'm blessed to call my friend. In the T. B. Maston tradition, Suzii is always about ministering to those who need us; advocating for justice for "the least of these"; seeking mercy and healing and redemption for those who are hurting; in short, being the presence of Christ. That's exactly what CBF should be about.

If there's one thing I've learned in leading TBC, it's that no one can carry out a weighty mission like ours on her or his own. As I wrote a few weeks ago on the Texas Baptists Committed blog, it takes cooperation and partnerships. Suzii will lead CBF in the right direction, but she can't do it alone. I pray that all of us who support the mission of CBF - and the missions focus of CBF - will partner with Suzii and each other in being Christ's presence in our own corner of the world and throughout the world.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

George Mason: Will we choose fear that destroys or Jesus' love that transforms?

(NOTE: The following is excerpted from a sermon, "East Side Story," preached by George Mason, senior pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, January 6, 2013; and published here with Dr. Mason's gracious permission.)

Let me ask you, this morning: what good decisions have you made in your life that were impulsively driven by fear?

The big lie the Devil tells us is that if we are afraid, the best way—and maybe the only way—to deal with that fear is to arm ourselves against it. If we will just get more powerful, if we will just become so protected that no one can hurt us, if we will just destroy our enemies with brute force, then we will be secure.

You think? Ever consider the spiritual and psychological consequences of that reasoning? Even if you are not attacked or harmed by your enemy, you are forced to live in fear forever. You have to keep alive the idea that you are always under threat.

And if you nurture that sense that you are always on the lookout for bad people, for people who would do you harm, how do you flip the switch to suddenly learn to love your enemies and do good to them who hurt you? How do you look for opportunities to witness to the light of Christ?

It makes you a divided self. If following Jesus does anything, it should drive away fear and fill you with love in a way that transforms your very being and makes you one kind of person, not two kinds.