At 50 years, Texas CLC eyes role for future
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___DALLAS--Memory and hope were the twin themes woven throughout the 50th anniversary celebration of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
___Meeting Feb. 28-29 at Park Cities Baptist Church of Dallas for the annual statewide conference, three of the commission's past directors and the current director recalled five
decades of speaking to Texas Baptists on moral concerns. And they looked at ways the commission can address emerging ethical issues of the 21st century.
|LEADERS of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission over the last 50 years have included Foy Valentine, Jimmy Allen, James Dunn and Phil Strickland. Valentine later became director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Christian Life Commission; Allen later became director of the Radio & Television Commission; and Dunn became director of the Baptist Joint Committee.
___"Remembrance is a special gift from God, and remembrance is a discipline to which we submit with profit," said Foy Valentine, who served as commission director from 1953 to 1960.
___When he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Gonzales, Valentine served on the commission's board with its first director, A.C. Miller. Valentine described Miller as a man of character and integrity who had "an incurable case of authentic religion."
___Valentine related anecdotes from his years directing the commission, including facing opposition when the CLC included the subject of race relations in a series of pamphlets, "What It Means to be a Christian."
___One opponent argued that "what he thought and said and did about race relations had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. His name was Legion. Still is," Valentine quipped.
___But he also recalled those who stood in support of the commission and its prophetic calling, including Forrest Feezor, executive secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and E.S. James, editor of the Baptist Standard, whom Valentine described as "a tower of strength" and "the soul of integrity."
___In the future, Valentine said, he hopes the CLC will not only speak prophetically but also help all Christians recognize their prophetic calling.
___"We need now to recover the prophethood of all believers, matching our zeal for the priesthood of all believers," he said.
___Jimmy Allen, who served as CLC director from 1960 to 1967, described taking a prayer retreat at Mount Lebanon Baptist Encampment after search committee Chairman T.B. Maston, renowned professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked him to consider directing the Texas Baptist social justice agency. It was a struggle, Allen recalled, because he had become "infested with the virus of careerism."
___"After spending three days out there, I died to the idea of a career and arose to the idea of a cause," he said.
___Allen remembered how the commission spoke to the issues of its day, sponsoring a meeting on race at Southwestern Seminary in the early 1960s. He also noted the CLC sometimes was ahead of its time, offering a conference on biomedical ethics in 1965.
___Looking to the future, Allen called on the CLC to take advantage of the "spirituality surge" in society to awaken an ethical understanding and to "move into the vacuum" of social justice leadership among Baptists.
___James Dunn, who was director of the commission from 1967 to 1980, praised the CLC for remaining committed to historic Baptist principles of soul freedom and religious liberty and for being at the forefront of applied Christianity.
___The commission understood the importance of an incarnational gospel and experiential religion, he said.
___The CLC's mission has been personal, not propositional, Dunn declared.
___"Theology is merely an attempt to understand religious experience. Theology grows out of religious experience, not the other way around. It's a fleshed-out faith that comes first," he said.
___The commission recognized the "evil" of "putting propositions before people" and "ideas ahead of human beings," Dunn said. "Anytime--whether left or right--you start putting ideology over human beings and service and the experience of God in ordinary, everyday lives, then you are on the front porch of evil."
___Phil Strickland, who joined the commission staff in 1967 and became its director in 1980, recalled "moments of great meanness, moments of great courage and moments of great integrity" that he witnessed in the Texas Legislature.
___He also called to mind "with gratitude" a visit to a drought-plagued area in Africa, to Mother Teresa's Home for the Destitute Dying and to a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border.
___"Why gratitude? Because those places and experiences did radical surgery on my materialistic morals and cautious compassion," he said. "I'm not cured, but I am changed."
___Looking to the future, Strickland said he expects the commission to wrestle with emerging issues:
___ Genetic engineering. "With the ability to remove and insert genes, we will face enormous ethical decisions related to the gift and, perhaps, the curse of genetic power."
___ Family life. Only 51 percent of children live in a household with two parents, and average parents spend just 40 minutes a week playing with their children. "Parents are increasingly choosing work and consumption over their children."
___ Technology. "We will be tempted to equate technical, mechanical progress with human fulfillment."
___ Environment. Pollution, the difficulties presented for sustainable agriculture and overpopulation all pose a threat. "We will increasingly discover that our call to care for creation is urgent, indeed."
___Strickland said he hopes the commission will retain its educational and prophetic roles, particularly in speaking to issues of economic justice.
___"While we give our dollars for world hunger--which we should do--we endure policies and politics that continue to focus greater wealth into the hands of those who need nothing and away from the hands of those who need everything. And perhaps only the church has the moral power to bring about change," he said.
___"We have a great challenge to speak truth from the biblical call for justice, not from the claustrophobic posture of Baptist political correctness, be it the correctness of the left or the right."
___He also stressed the importance of the commission standing fast in support of religious liberty and separation of church and state.
___"I hope we are good protectors of religious liberty, for without that we will find it difficult to introduce people to the One who is still able to draw out the unclean spirits of our day. And to be protectors, we will have to resist the temptation of being seduced by government suitors who offer us riches."
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