By Patrick R. Anderson Editor, Christian Ethics Today
Eight years ago January 7, one of our great Baptist leaders, Foy Valentine, passed on. We remember him fondly, and miss him a great deal. The first time I met Foy Valentine was on the telephone. I was in my faculty office at Louisiana State University late one afternoon when the call came. He identified himself, and I recognized the name, remembering his valiant leadership of the Southern Baptist’s Christian Life Commission during the turbulent Civil Rights Movement era. I could not imagine why he had called me, and I could not imagine how he got my name and number. I was not at all involved in Baptist life at that time, but I was honored and intrigued to receive a call from someone so important.
He told me that my pastor, Doug Cheatham, had spoken to him about me as a member of his church and a professor of Criminology at LSU. He made a suggestion that if the CLC ever needed a criminologist to give me a call. So the call came, and after some pleasantries I asked, “What do you need a criminologist for?” He replied, “Do you know anything about gambling?” I said, “Well, I know the difference between a full house and a flush. What do you want to know?” We both enjoyed the moment, and I believe from that first conversation we became friends.
He asked me to study the impact of legalized gambling on crime and other social problems. I used the scientific data and a surprising body of literature to make the case against the expansion of legalized gambling in America and became a strong opponent of the gambling industry. I testified in several state legislative hearings against legalized gambling, and Foy Valentine’s Christian Life Commission led the fight against the gambling industry’s intrusion in our society, a hard-fought fight largely lost. He used to laugh and say, “Doc, you never lost a debate but you never won an election!”
Foy was ahead of the curve, ahead of his time. He saw years before the first legalized lottery in America the terrible potential for harm legalized gambling posed. I caught up with his intuitive antipathy for gambling after my study, and agreed with his prescient knowledge that gambling, especially state-sponsored gambling, was bad, it was wrong, it was the antithesis of moral behavior, the opposite of what the government should encourage.
Our friendship lived beyond the gambling fights and his retirement from Southern Baptist life, a retirement that marked a terrible transition in Southern Baptist life. He had led the Christian Life Commission to assist Southern Baptists espouse the very best in moral and ethical behavior. His leadership was marked by addressing the pressing issues of birth control, abortion rights, sex education, racial justice, equal rights for women, strict environmental regulations, poverty, war, gambling. He understood Baptist principles, especially the separation of Church and State.
When he retired, or more accurately when he was pushed out of the way, Southern Baptist’s new leaders changed the CLC into a partisan, political member of the Religious Rightwing Movement, an apologist for war after September 11, 2001, and blatant public support of Republican politics and politicians. An early casualty of the changes in the CLC was aggressive opposition to gambling, and since Foy’s departure we have seen state lotteries, televised poker, casinos, and sports betting spread like wildfire.
The change was tragic for Foy, and for his friends. We talked about it often at various board meetings or CBF gatherings, and on the telephone. I loved to talk with him on the phone. His soft East Texas twang and rich humor made every conversation a pure delight. He often spoke of his wife, Mary Louise, and his three grown daughters, Jean, Carol and Susan with great pride and affection. He loved his mountain get-away and vintage jeep.
Many of us enjoyed his essays in the journal he founded during his retirement, Christian Ethics Today. When he collected those essays in a published book, Whatsoever Things Are Lovely, he was as pleased as punch. If you do not have a copy of that book, ask for one through www.ChristianEthicsToday.com. I’ll be happy to send a copy.
I really miss Foy Valentine, his infectious laughter, solid Biblical good sense, and candor. If you knew him, I am sure you share that sentiment. Many were blessed to have known him much better and for a longer time than I.
I wish I had called him more often, talked longer, laughed with him more. He was one great man, one great Baptist, a friend for the ages.