My father was a major influence in my life. A simple man, born and raised in West Virginia, he and his older brother were the first members of their family to attend college. He went to WVU to major in chemistry and mechanical engineering, and finished three years of school before he enlisted in the Navy in WWII. Upon returning, he met and married my Mom, and as a result of her asthma, they settled in Arizona. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that’s where they encountered, and adopted, me. That’s one good reason why I believe in miracles. Before I knew who God was, he was already blessing me, and that was an example of his best work.
My Dad was never imposing in his parenting. He chose to lead by example and used so many ordinary, everyday examples to teach me things that I hardly had the chance to tell that I was being taught, and learning something. We shared some passions, like motorcycles, college football, doing things for people. I never caught his passion for hunting, and whatever inclination I might have had I lost for good when I was 12, on a hillside in Wyoming in November, in the ice and snow and -20 degree temperature. Why even look for deer in that? I also never caught his ability for fixing things with moving parts. If it was a machine, he could make it work. He supported his family by fixing air conditioning and heating units in the headquarters building at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona. In retirement, he worked part time at the local hospital, on their mechanical equipment, and he had a growing list of widow ladies he helped keep their air conditioning and heating in order.
He cared about people. He was friends with virtually everyone in the town where we lived, enemies of no one. He stopped drinking coffee so as not to weaken his Christian testimony to his Mormon friend with whom he rode to work for years. I can still hear his voice in my ears, telling me to always take the high road, to treat people with respect, kindness and genuine concern. “One day,” he said, “You may need someone to help you and if you’ve been a friend, you will have friends.” Oh, he was so right. The church where he served as a deacon for many years was packed to the rafters at his funeral. In that room were Catholics, Mormons, Baptists and Pentecostals, and people who never darkened the doorway of a church. He didn’t agree with all of them, and I am sure they had heard from him at one point or another regarding the gospel. But his disagreement with them never affected his love for them, or his care, and he treated them all the same.
The BGCT has been a safe place for a lot of Baptists during this quarter century of conflict. And frankly, regardless of which side you are on, there’s been enough character assasination, inuendo, accusation and mean spiritedness to have made us all weary many times over. A lot of people have taken refuge in the BGCT, because a level of trust and security has existed here that did not exist in other places. For moderates in particular, the BGCT was a refuge, and as a result of the work of David Currie and Texas Baptists Committed, it remained so.
I experienced that when I came back to Texas from Kentucky in 1994. I more or less got thrown under the bus by people I thought I could trust, and paid for it dearly. It took 13 years to recover from the bitterness. I hid out in a moderate Baptist church that God used to bring me back to his call for my life. And as a result of that, I came to see moderate Baptists as those who were the core and foundation of cooperative missions, the people who saw that missions and evangelism were priorities over everything, including doctrinal purity, and the people who emphasized Christ’s gospel of grace and peace over the rigid legalistic conformity of “getting it all right.”
In 1993, while still serving the church in Kentucky, I took my youth group to a World Changers project in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the time, World Changers was operated by the now-defunct Brotherhood Commission. Not only did it light a fire in that group that I had never seen before, it lit one in me, too. It was one of the most personally satisfying things I had ever done in my life, and one of the most spiritually rewarding. I was so caught up in the experience, that I took the group the next year to Savannah, where we endured record temperatures over 100 degrees, but had that same sense of being filled by the Spirit to overflowing. When I came to Texas, I thought I would lose that experience, but in my job as Bible teacher in a Christian school, an opportunity came up. Our school required the high school students to complete 25 hours of community service before graduation. World Changers turned out to be the perfect fit for that, and so, off we went, myself, our principal, two other teachers and 14 students, again to the heat and humidity of Savannah, which is no worse than our own in Houston. Over the next five years, the group grew in size, from 14, to 32, to 50, as the students whose lives were impacted shared with their friends. The last two trips I made, I had 12-15 adults and over 70 students go to Oklahoma and Michigan respectively.
On my second trip to Savannah, I realized that the World Changers organization had moved from the Brotherhood Commission to the North American Mission Board. I was in the “enemy camp,” among the “evil fundamentalists” who were out to rule the world. Now let me tell you, when it is 100 degrees in the shade, in Savannah, or Pikeville, KY, or Stilwell, OK, and you are on the roof up to your ears in tar paper, shingles, roofing nails, sweat, and the neighbors are watching you, thinking that you either really love Jesus or you are just plain insane, theology sort of takes a back seat. At any rate, the people I met at World Changers, including the leaders from the SBC, were nice people who love Jesus as much as I do, have a desire to share him with others as much as I do, and the mutual love and respect we have for each other at those projects. I could hear my Dad’s voice. Respect them, love them, treat them as you want to be treated. He was just preaching scripture to me. And some of the bitterness melted away. And I realized, I was one of them, too.
In 2000, I was invited to serve as a project coordinator for World Changers. That’s the biggest honor that has ever been given to me. As a result, I encountered all kinds of people from the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. People who signed the BFM 2000. People who were part of the conservative resurgence. Now, not only was I in the enemy camp, but I was sitting at the fire. Dad’s voice again. And what I discovered, apart from doing work that was the most fulfilling I’d ever done, and that matched my spiritual gifts perfectly, was that I was working with other Christians who were brothers and sisters in Christ, who loved Jesus as much as I did, and who were committed to serving his Kingdom as the Spirit called, led and gifted them to do. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them. I would do anything for them. And I realized, I wasn’t in an “enemy” camp at all, but I was home.
As a result, I am now grieving because I see people in the BGCT who are being treated the same way that the moderates were treated in the SBC, and that they have the same feelings of disenfranchisement. They don’t want to leave, they want to be included. I realized that, even though moderates talked a lot about accepting diversity and working together in unity, they are human, and they make human mistakes. And once secure in power, in terms of BGCT leadership, their inclusive spirit tends to be accepting toward the left, and exclusionary toward the right. And God help me, I don’t want to be a part of that.
And the bitterness melted away, and I fell on my face, and I cried out to God to ask him for forgiveness, and mercy, and grace, and to keep me from ever again thinking about my Christian family as an enemy.
But, how to live in both “camps”?
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought…You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” I Corinthians 1:10 and 3:3.
May it be so.