This is the first of a series of personal editorials to the readers of EthicsDaily.com.
As the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, I need you to know where I am and where I think BCE ought to go. I need to know if you want to go with and will support us.
Since our readership has more than doubled in the past year, some brief background information about BCE may be helpful.
In one of my office desk drawers, I keep press clippings from late July 1991 about BCE’s founding. I reread them annually, remembering what we said we would do and re-evaluating what we have done. I think we have kept our word and been faithful to the founding vision.
We have framed issues in terms of what it means to be pro-women and pro-people of color, not anti-discrimination; pro-peacemaking, not anti-war; pro-health care, not anti-alcohol; pro-family, not anti-abortion; pro-environment, not anti-business. We have sought a third way between the false choices of the far right and the far left. We have refused to be a mirror image for the far left or the far right, much to the disappointment and downright opposition of some.
We have pursued the Bible’s social witness on issues like peace and justice, as we have sought the Bible’s purity witness on issues like sexuality and character.
We have provided practical and biblically based educational resources. We have tackled thorny issues in conferences and seminars.
While holding fast to our founding vision, we have embraced and used the best of technology to inform, equip and motivate Baptists. We have spoken to Baptists, never for Baptists. We have moved toward a pan-Baptist constituency.
Contextually, we misread badly two realities. First, we did not fully anticipate how prophetic our proactive vision was. We never foresaw how intensely anti-everything the Southern Baptist Convention would become—anti-Disney, anti-women, anti-public schools and anti-BWA, as well as anti-church and state separation, anti-local church autonomy and anti-Jesus as the criterion for interpreting scripture.
Second, we did not expect moderate Baptists to react against moral reflection that challenged deep-seated secular and organizational loyalties. We did not foresee that moderate churches, state conventions and colleges would still be enabling fundamentalism 25 years after the takeover began. We certainly did not expect moderates to continue funding fundamentalists through their offerings and purchasing patterns.
In short, we never imagined how far to the extreme right fundamentalists would go in abandoning core Baptist principles and how risk adverse moderates were to creating a new future faithful to the best of the Baptist tradition.
These contextual realities are behind this series of editorials.
If being proactive means taking a new risky initiative, then being practical means gauging the depth of constituency support. If we get too far out in front of Baptists, we will be mistaken for the enemy and metaphorically shot.
As heirs of the rich Baptist tradition of Henlee Barnette, T. B. Maston, Martin King and Clarence Jordan, we are required to offer a prophetic edge in the context of a conservative community. We, too, must stay rooted where God has planted us and speak forcefully for an authentic biblical faith which desires the creation of a loving community.
These Baptist forefathers always offered a forceful social critique, articulated an alternative vision and gave a compelling invitation for membership.
Faithfulness to their legacy necessitates that we embrace their approach and emulate their prudent courage.
My personal request to readers is that you follow this series each day, forwarding these editorials to your friends and get their feedback. I ask that you spend time thinking about how we collectively hammer out a new public witness and what you can contribute to this journey.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.