Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Dad (Thanks!)

            This is my first Father’s Day without my father.  For 55 years I was able to tell him “Happy Father’s Day,” either in person or on the phone.  I can’t do that today.  So, instead, I have written my thoughts.  If I could have one more hour with him, these are some of the things I would tell my father. 
            Back in 1988 Mike and the Mechanics recorded a song called “The Living Years.”  It is written from the perspective of a son expressing grief over unresolved issues in his relationship with his deceased father.  I was living in Texas at the time that the song came out.  I remember a line in the song that was particularly striking: “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away.  I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say.”  I remember resolving to myself that I was not going to allow that to happen in my relationship with my father.  I determined that for as long as he lived, from that point on, I would tell him my love for him and how much I appreciated what he did for me as he molded me into the man I am today.  The night that he died I recall thinking that I was so thankful that I made that decision all those years ago.  I am confident that my father died knowing that my sister and I loved him deeply and that we will always be grateful for the wonderful lessons he taught us and the wonderful legacy as a father that he left me.
            Dad, I think about you every day in some way.  Sometimes it is when I’m mowing the grass and I get an image of you on the lawn mower when I was a child.  It could be in something one of my daughters might say to me that sounds so much like something I once said to you.  Other times, it is while I’m at work and I think of a lesson you taught me about human nature or some tidbit of wisdom you imparted to me.  In subtle ways, you are still with me. 
            So, Dad, “Happy Father’s Day!”  You were the best father that anyone could possibly have asked for.  In the mysterious fortunes of the universe, I’m not sure how we were so lucky to have been given you as a father.  But, I sure am grateful.  Here are some of the reasons why I am so grateful to you and love you so much.  I will spend the rest of my days as a father trying to to be like you.  You were the master.  I’m still working on perfecting these, but I’m trying.
(1) You taught me about sacrifice.  You taught me that there are times when what I want is not the most important thing.  You taught me that the good fathers sacrifice for their children.  Good fathers sacrifice financially.  Good fathers sacrifice time that they would perhaps rather spend doing something for themselves, but instead devote that time to developing their children.  Good fathers are even willing to be embarrassed for the well-being of their children.  Let me share a quick memory of you here.  When I was a Cub Scout, we went to the local Boy Scout Camp on a Father/Son day.  One of the things they allowed us to do was to go to the skeet-shooting range.  I don’t recall shooting a shotgun that day, so it may have just been a demonstration.  But as we left, the scoutmaster gave each one of us one of the small clay pigeons that are shot on a skeet range.  I went back and showed it to you.  You took it in your hand but accidently dropped it and it broke on the ground.  I was upset but ran on ahead with my friends.  A minute or so later, I looked back and you weren’t behind us.  I asked the other fathers where you went and they said, “he walked back up the trail for a minute.”  I ran back to the skeet range and I will never forget seeing you there.  You had the next demonstration stopped and you were trying to explain to the scoutmaster why you needed another one of the clay pigeons.  You wanted to replace the one you had broken.  I will always treasure that story and your willingness to be embarrassed for me!
(2) You taught me that when you work for someone who is paying you that you need to do your very best job for that person.  It’s about “integrity” and “dependability.”  When I was a young teen I had a lawn mowing business in town.  I mowed several lawns to make my spending money.  One of the jobs I had was the yard at the bank that you managed.  Despite the fact that there was a very small amount of grass, the parking lot required a lot of trimming.  This was before gas-powered string trimmers and I would have to get down on my knees with hand clippers and clip the grass all the way around the parking lot curbing.  It was tough work, especially in the hot summer.  I recall one night you and I had a terrible argument about the fact that I had not done a good job trimming around the parking lot.  You told me, “Glenn, the bank is paying you to do a job and to do it well.  I’m responsible for the money we pay you and the job needs to be done right.”  I remember riding by the bank later that evening on my bicycle and seeing you there in the parking lot, on your hands and knees clipping the grass.  You were doing the job I was supposed to do right the first time.  The guilt from that experience made a tremendous impression on me.  I never forgot it.  I still work as hard as I can for people who employ me, a lesson that you taught.
(3) You taught me the importance of encouraging my children.  Mom was the card and letter writer in the family.  You can imagine how surprised I was to receive a letter from you one day.  I was having a very difficult time just after I moved to Texas to go to school.  The letter I received from you was written on a plain piece of typing paper in your handwriting.  It was just a few simple lines.  It said, “Glenn, just remember that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Love, Dad.”  I know that phrase wasn’t original with you.  I do remember that you used it frequently.  I don’t know if you got it from the Navy or from reading something somewhere.  But, it meant the world to me.  It was a very difficult time and you took a few minutes out of your day to write a note to me which let me know that even 1200 miles away you were thinking of me.  Thanks Dad!
(4) You taught me the joy of the Christian faith.  There was no doubt about your commitment to Christianity.  You didn’t wear your faith on your sleeve though.  It permeated all that you did.  It revealed itself in the way you dealt with people, the way you sang hymns, your service and commitment to the church where I grew up.  And, unlike so many church members today, you didn’t insist on your own way.  You were the solution to problems in the church, not the cause of problems.  I suppose that most of your pastors throughout your adult life would “rise up and call you blessed” because you were so faithful and always willing to help them.  And, on a personal note, I will forever remember your hymn-singing over the hum of the lawn mower.  I will also forever think of you when I hear the solo “Fill My Cup Lord,” because I can still see you singing it church.  Thanks Dad, for teaching me the joy of the Christian faith.
(5) You prepared me to be on my own.  What I mean by this is that you had just the right mix of doing things for me that I couldn’t do for myself, while challenging me to struggle and do the things that I could do.  This has served me so well in my adult years.  It may have been something as simple as slipping a $20 bill into my hand as I got into the car to return to school (with the comment, “You don’t have to spend this.  It is just in case you need it”).  Or, sometimes these lessons came through your interaction with me as I faced a project or task.  Remember the Pinewood Derby cars we whittled when I was in Cub Scouts?  You could have made the car for me.  I know there were other fathers who did.  But, you made me do it myself with your guidance.  You made me do the whittling, sanding, and painting.  In the end, although my cars never won, I always felt great pride that I made the car myself.  You gave just the right guidance to me.  I find that this is one of the hardest things to do as a father.  When do I step in and do it for my children?  When should I let them struggle on their own and even fail?  I am so quick to step in and rescue them when sometimes they need to learn lessons by failing.  You were a master at this balance and I am so grateful.
            And so, Dad, on this first Father’s Day without you, these are the things I’d tell you if I could have just one more hour with you.  Thanks for loving me.  Thanks for encouraging me.  Thanks for teaching me to throw and hit a baseball.  Thanks for coming to all my ball games and practices.  Thanks for the laughter and all the hours we sat together eating apples and laughing at Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show.  Thanks for teaching me the importance of loving my country and patriotism.  Thanks for instilling in me love of God and the importance of living my life as Christ would want me to live.  Thanks for teaching me honesty, integrity, and the importance of hard work.  Thanks for teaching me to think for myself.  But most of all, thanks for being the best Father in the world.
            I began this essay by referencing a song.  Let me end by referencing another.  In 1981 Dan Fogelberg wrote a song called “The Leader of the Band.”  This verse says it all.  Thanks Dad!  I love you and miss you.
I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think
I said, "I love you" near enough.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Big Baptist World

The website of the Baptist World Alliance reports that there are 42 million Baptists around the world in 177,000 churches.  There are 228 various Baptist conventions and unions in 120 countries.  The Baptist "tent" is indeed big!

The International Baptist Convention is one such group that contributes its part to the world-wide Baptist family.  According to their informational brochure, the IBC is "a fellowship of international English-language churches and missions currently in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas."  The IBC has approximately 75 cooperating churches located in 27 countries.  It boasts 7,200 members from 140 different nationalities.  To say that this is a small, diverse group of Baptists is an understatement!

I had the wonderful opportunity this summer to attend the "IBC Interlaken Summer Experience," held annually in Interlaken, Switzerland and sponsored by the International Baptist Convention.  One of my former students, Dr. Mason Smith, is pastor of Immanuel Baptist church in Wiesbaden, Germany which is affiliated with the IBC.  He extended a gracious invitation for me to come and participate in this wonderful experience.

For the last 15 years the IBC has hosted this event in which missionaries, pastors and laity bring their families to beautiful Interlaken for spiritual nurture, fellowship, ministry, and training.  I taught two seminars during the week; one titled "How We Got Our Bible," and the second on the book of Jeremiah.  Each morning during the week I had a diverse group of participants literally from around the world.  Some were United States military personnel assigned to various bases around the world who had found a local IBC church near their base.  Others were missionary clergy who serve as pastors in some of the churches.  There were also participants for whom English was perhaps their second or third language.  It was an amazingly diverse group of people.

While the adults were in the seminars taught by me and other faculty members and clergy from around the world, a Vacation Bible School was conducted by a group of people representing the Alabama Baptist Convention with a few folks from Virginia and even North Carolina thrown in for good measure!  Away from Interlaken the teenagers participated in a youth camp.  There was something for everyone that week!

I came away from this experience with a wonderful feeling about Baptists.  This was the most diverse group of Baptist people I had ever been around.  Different languages, nationalities and cultures made this groups of Baptists more like a quilt than a blanket.  And yet, through the entire week, there was no fighting, arguing, or disagreeing about anything.  In fact, a concerted effort was made to focus only on the things that bind us together, not the things that divide.  And, with a group as small as the IBC, they can't afford to argue and divide like many Baptists in America have done over the last couple of centuries.

So, when I get depressed thinking  about Baptists in the southern part of the United States and how much we have quarreled over the last half century, I find myself feeling much brighter about the worldwide Baptist movement because of groups like the International Baptist Convention.  Dr. Jimmy Martin, the group's General Secretary, is to be commended for his splendid leadership of this wonderful group.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jesus and Religious Freedom

Every July 4th we celebrate the birth of our nation.  The United States is a nation that stands for freedom.  One of our most basic freedoms that we cherish is the freedom of religion.  Within the first sentence of the first amendment to the Constitution, we find the words that spell out the doctrine of the separation of church and state.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  For more than two centuries Americans have enjoyed the fact that they can exercise their faith any way they please, or have no at all, and not have to worry about religious coercion from the government.  That, in my opinion, is one of our most basic of freedoms and it has served us well.  It certainly explains why religion thrives so well in America.

The 4th of July also marks a special day in the history of Baptists, particularly Virginia Baptist history.  On that day in 1802, "Swearing" Jack Waller died after preaching himself to exhaustion.  If you are a Baptist and don't know "Swearing Jack," you should.  His name was actually John Waller but he had the nickname "Swearing Jack" before his conversion to Christ.  By happenstance he was on the grand jury that indicted a Virginia Baptist preacher named Lewis Craig, the first Baptist preacher brought before the court in Virginia for preaching without a state license.  This occurred in the 1760s.  Because of the powerful testimony of Craig in the hearing before the grand jury, Swearing Jack confessed Christ as his Savior and became a Baptist preacher himself.  He experienced persecution because of it, serving time in prison with some other Virginia Baptist preachers in 1766 for preaching without a state license.  Of course, the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, changed things a little more than two decades later.

Did Jesus talk about separation of church and state or religious freedom for all?  Well, the way that Christians behaved for much of Christian history and the way that many Christians today treat those of different faiths makes one wonder.  However, I believe there are some places in the teachings of Jesus from which we can build a case for religious freedom.  For example, in Mark 12, when the Pharisees asked Jesus if they had to pay their taxes, Jesus in turn asked to see a coin.  He asked them a question: "Whose head is this and whose title?"  Their answer: "The emperor's."  Jesus then said, "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."  From this I believe we can draw a conclusion that Jesus saw two realms, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world.

There is one other place in Jesus' teaching that I believe is the foundation for an ethic of religious freedom.  I believe it can be found in the so-called "Golden Rule."  In Matthew 7:12 Jesus said, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."  Can you imagine how just following this simple teaching of Jesus (the thought of which is found in all the world's major religions) would revolutionize our world, our nation, our state, our communities?  This simple teaching is the key to how we should respond to those whose faith may be different than ours.  How would we want them to treat us?  That is how we should treat them.  Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Liberal Christian, Fundamentalist Christian . . .  

And so at the heart of one of the most common sayings of Jesus is I believe the key to living and celebrating our religious freedom as Americans.  This coming Thursday, before you fire up the barbecue, before you go to the parade, before you watch the fireworks, think about your Muslim neighbor down the street.  Or think about your Buddhist co-worker.  Or think about the Christian who believes differently than you do on a certain point of doctrine.  And, remember the Golden Rule!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The North Carolina General Assembly, Rowan County Commissioners and Religious Freedom

I had a very good church history professor in seminary named Dr. William R. Estep.  Dr. Estep taught me a lot about Christian history and especially Baptist history.  He inspired me so much that I chose to pursue a PhD in Church History.  Most of my research and publication has concentrated in the area of Baptist History.

One of the defining characteristics of Baptists in the 17th century (when the movement began) was their intense devotion to religious freedom.  Unlike other dissenting groups in the 17th century, the Baptists believed and agitated for religious freedom for all people (Christian, non-Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, etc.).  This devotion to religious freedom for all comprises a unique contribution of the early Baptists to the world.  They wanted no part of establishment for religion.

The early Baptists knew their history well.  They understood, and had experienced for themselves, the dangers of establishment.  They knew that when the state had an established religion, other religions suffered.  And they also knew that what might be established today could easily be disestablished tomorrow.  So, one group might have the power right now but with a change in the government, a new group might have the power.  Simply put, the early Baptists knew the value of the "Golden Rule" when it came to advocating for religious freedom.  "I will grant you the freedom to practice your faith as you choose because I would want the same from you if you were in power."

Dr. Estep inspired me because in him I saw a modern Baptist who remained loyal to the 17th century Baptist notion about religious freedom.  He understood, like our Baptist forebears, that although Baptists are no longer dissenters and in the minority on the American religious landscape, nevertheless, we need to remain consistent to the principles of religious liberty for all.  If I heard him say it once, I heard him say it a dozen times: "freedom of religion has always got to guarantee freedom from religion."  He understood that establishing one religion, or showing favoritism to one religion, can have the opposite of the intended effect.  State support of one religion actually serves to weaken all religion.  Just look at the history of established churches throughout Christian history!  Establishment tends to weaken rather than strengthen.

So, that brings me to Rowan County (my home county) and the North Carolina General Assembly.  The Rowan County Commissioners are engaged in a dispute right now with the ACLU over the issue of Christian prayers to open its meetings.  They are contemplating a lawsuit over the issue.  The Forsyth County Commissioners have already litigated this same issue all the way to the SCOTUS, which refused to hear their case.

http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/article_c28b7206-1556-5f76-b66e-0d9263a14741.html

This means that the lower court rulings, that such sectarian prayers are unconstitutional, must stand.  It is the law of the land.  The Rowan County Commissioners will waste thousands of taxpayer dollars if they choose to litigate an issue that is legally a dead end.

That reality is probably what prompted two Rowan County representatives (NC Reps. Henry Warren and Carl Ford) to the NC General Assembly to propose a bill a couple of weeks ago which made national headlines.  It was supported by 14 other Republican legislators as well.  Essentially, their proposed bill would nullify SCOTUS rulings for the state of North Carolina.  If the state didn't like the rulings, the state could nullify them.  The same argument has been tried unsuccessfully since the end of the Civil War.  In the matter of religion, it would allow the state of North Carolina to choose an established religion.

So, here's what Warren and Ford are up against.  They are carrying water for the Rowan County Commissioners who are fighting their own losing cause that has already met a dead end in Forsyth County.  They are also using a legal argument (nullification) which has been tried since the Civil War, particularly in civil rights issues.  They are showing a complete ignorance of the dangers of establishing religion.  And, perhaps most importantly, establishing one religion over all others would be a direct contradiction of the Golden Rule.

Bill Leonard (James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies at the Wake Forest Divinity School), wrote a column today that discusses this issue much better than I.  It is located here:

http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/columns/item/8395-at-home-in-the-17th-century#.UWhLyDe67To

The best line in the whole column is this: "The issue is not the loss of religious liberty, but loss of religious privilege."  I suspect he's right.  A couple of generations ago religious pluralism meant Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, non-denominational, Catholic, all Christian groups living together in community.  Today, all over America, religious pluralism is being redefined.  Have you seen a mosque in your hometown yet?  It will be coming soon.  Have you noticed the new Buddhist temple going up in the county seat town?  It will be soon.  The American religious landscape is changing at light speed.  One day in the not too distant future, Christians may realize that we no longer corner the religious market.  Hopefully, then Baptists will once again become the agitators for religious freedom for all.  And, when that day comes, it will be much easier for Baptist Christians to make that argument if we abide by the Golden Rule now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Baptist Historians

Back in the early spring of 2002, I received an email from Buddy Shurden asking if I'd like to participate in a seminar with approximately 15-20 other "younger" Baptist historians. If I said "yes," I committed myself to read several hundred pages of primary source documents from the Baptist tradition in preparation for the seminar which would convene at Mercer University in September of that year.

Although I was busy with many things at the time, I agreed to participate. We just completed our 9th seminar last weekend in Atlanta. Buddy is now retired and no longer meets with us. Our group still meets though. We have added a few other names as some of the original members have had to drop out. But, in all honesty, this has been and continues to be one of the most helpful continuing education experiences of my professional life. We have read and discussed literally thousands of pages of primary source materials from 400 years of the Baptist tradition from both England and America.

We just completed our 9th seminar last weekend in Atlanta. This year we decided as a group to release a document which we hope will inform the public about some of the things we have learned through our reading of these primary sources. Here is the link to the document:

http://www.baptisthistory.org/bhhs/affirmationbaptisttheme.html

I am so proud to be associated with these historians. They are professional colleagues and I value their individual as well as collective expertise as historians. But the best thing that has happened through these 8 years of working together in this seminar is that we have all become close friends. A sense of community has developed between us. That has made this experience even more beneficial.

Friday, September 10, 2010

CBFNC and Priesthood of the Believer

I have been away from blogging for a while due to being consumed with a long-term writing project. However, I want to return to blogging momentarily to comment on the proposed efforts of CBFNC to revise its foundational statement. In 2007, CBFNC appointed a committee to start the process of revision. The current statement is included here:

http://www.cbfnc.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=1sFC6ojb-Ss%3d&tabid=254

The committee has been at work for a several years now and has produced this revision:

http://www.cbfnc.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=8yecCUNauRk%3d&tabid=254

Two other Baptist bloggers, Aaron Weaver and Tony Cartledge have each written blogs about this effort and their posts are very insightful and detailed as to the differences, etc. Those blogs can be found here:

http://www.thebigdaddyweave.com/

http://www.tonycartledge.com/

I share two concerns about this proposed document. First, I have some questions about including the Apostles Creed (although, curiously, it is not named). While I don't have any difficulty with the Apostles Creed personally, I find it interesting that a group of Baptists who consider themselves to be non-creedal would include a creed in their foundational document. I wonder if the text could be referenced, as the document does with the Baptist confessions that it mentions. But, I question whether the text of the Creed ought to be included and it is unusual for a Baptist confession to include the text of an ancient creed (The Orthodox Creed of 1678 notwithstanding).

Second, and more troubling, I have big problems with leaving out all references to priesthood of the believer, liberty of conscience, etc. This concept is at the very center of the Baptist tradition from my understanding of the primary sources which I have read. It is not some invented concept that Enlightenment-era American Baptists developed. It is the very heart of the tradition from John Smyth to the present. It is clear. Sometimes it is stated more blatantly than at other times. But, it is a thread that runs through all types of Baptists for 4 centuries of our history. It is seen in confessions of faith, writings of Baptist theologians and preachers, documents produced by local churches, and most importantly, the actions of Baptists as they have sought to live and give expression to their faith. How can you talk about salvation in the Baptist experience without starting with a sinner standing alone in fear and trembling before a holy God? What use is it to discuss religious liberty without first starting with an individual conscience opposed to the majority? How can you think of a democratically-run congregation without first starting with an individual conscience? And why encourage discussion in a Sunday School class unless we trust every individual to read the Bible privately and to interpret it as they see fit under the leadership of the Holy Spirit? These are not trivial matters. This is the very core of our tradition as Baptists.

The proposed CBFNC foundational statement needs a robust statement of this concept included. At the very least, they should bring the statement on priesthood of the believer which is in the current foundational statement into the revised version. Perhaps a good compromise would be to bring from the former document the entire section titled, “Our Principles,” which contains statements on the “Centrality and Authority of Scripture,” “Priesthood of All Believers,” “Autonomy of the Local Church,” and “Freedom of Religion.” The document is terribly lacking if something resembling this is not included somewhere. Without it, CBFNC will be saying to the world that we are something very different than what we have been.

The first Southern Baptist Convention meeting I attended as a pastor was in 1988 in San Antonio. I was also a Ph.D student at Baylor and had an interest in Baptist history. I recall the feeling of shock that I and thousands of other Moderates felt as we heard read and then saw passed the infamous resolution on the priesthood of the believer. I remember Randall Lolley’s protest as he led several others to the Alamo where they ceremonially burned their voting ballots in response to this egregiously terrible resolution. The ironic thing now 22 years later is that CBFNC is in danger of doing the same thing that the Fundamentalists did in 1988 to this cherished doctrine. The only difference is that at least the Fundamentalists left the terminology. The committee which has produced this revised document has not even done that!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"This is What a Preacher Looks Like"

Baptist Women in Ministry, an organization for which I have a tremendous amount of respect, sells a T-Shirt with the phrase, "This is What a Preacher Looks Like." I love that slogan. And, it has been promoted by BWIM very well via Facebook.
I teach Religion majors at Campbell University. Many of the students that I teach are female and most of them have a sense that God has called them to ministry. As 18 year olds, they do not know exactly what direction in ministry their calling will take. But, they have a deep sense that God has done something in their lives and following the call to ministry is their way of responding. I am supportive of women who have been called to ministry, whether it be to serve as a parish pastor, a chaplain, youth minister, missionary, or whatever form that call may take.
For the last two years almost, I have been engaged in a project to write the bi-centennial history of First Baptist Church in Raleigh. I am currently working through the period from 1911-1938. Today, I was reading old WMU minutes and came across an amazing entry from October 2nd, 1916. During the meeting on that day, Sallie Bailie Jones, one of the most important WMU leaders in the South in the early 20th century, spoke on the subject of "Women in Christianity." Listen to these words:
“Woman was created man’s equal and a high standard for womanhood was given in the Old Testament. Miriam, the sister of Moses, who led her people was as divinely appointed as Moses, and Deborah, the prophetess was the first woman to rule a nation by divine appointment. With the coming of Christ there came a higher life for women and the gospel of a risen Christ was first heard by the disciples from Mary Magdalene."
Now, this is not from the mouth of some wild-eyed radical feminist. This is from the Woman's Missionary Union that was part of one of the most prominent churches in the Southern Baptist Convention at the time. So, when some conservatives today say that it is God's intention that the woman should be "submissive" to the man, I think they would have a hard time convincing Sallie Bailie Jones of that!
"This is What a Preacher looks like!!"