Monday, January 09, 2006
Foy Valentine Has Died
The saddest news I received when I returned from my trip to Turkey was hearing that Foy Valentine had died. Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily have posted stories about his sudden demise.
Foy was a friend to every Baptist that had a social conscience. His efforts to educate and involve Southern Baptistgs in the struggle for civil rights during the 1960's are his most enduring legacy. Few people have had such a profoundly good influence on Southern Baptists.
DR. BRUCE PRESCOTT NORMAN, OKLAHOMA, UNITED STATES
Foy Valentine prodded Baptists to apply faith to life
By Marv Knox
Editor Baptist Standard
DALLAS–Friends and family celebrated Foy Valentine's love for God, which stimulated his love for people, his courage and even his "quirkiness" during a memorial service at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.
Valentine, a Baptist leader who spent a lifetime prodding Christians to apply their faith to daily life, died of an apparent heart attack Jan. 7 in Dallas. He was 82.
Valentine's family buried him in Van Zandt County, near his hometown of Edgewood, Jan. 11. Then they joined a crowd that spanned generations and geography to recall the life and legacy of the leader who presided over the Southern Baptist Convention's Christian Life Commission from 1960 to 1987.
"You can't talk about Foy Valentine without talking about courage," said David Sapp, pastor of Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, who worked for Valentine on the staff of the Christian Life Commission 30 years ago.
Valentine courageously led Southern Baptists through the civil rights movement, prompting them to embrace equality and justice in the face of withering criticism, Sapp said.
"While some stood in schoolhouse doors and shouted, 'Closed!' Foy stood in the churchouse door and shouted, 'Open!'" he recalled.
In addition to "courageous," many words described Valentine, he added, citing "color," "character," "judgment," "faith," "intelligence" and "love."
"Foy was not your basic sentimentalist, … but he did deeds of love," Sapp reported.
"Foy Valentine loved the Lord Jesus Christ," which produced his loving deeds for others, he added. "But mostly, God loved Foy Valentine."
Valentine was a "modern prophet," insisted Jimmy Allen, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who worked for Valentine when he was director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and succeeded Valentine in that post when Valentine accepted the SBC position.
"I discovered a rare man," Allen said of meeting Valentine about 50 years ago. "In days of confused identities, this man knew who he was. Nothing could deter or confuse him. … This man lived his whole life fighting for freedom."
Valentine championed freedom and religious liberty so much that he even opposed the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message, the SBC's doctrinal statement, Allen remembered, noting he sat next to Valentine when the document came up for a vote almost 43 years ago.
"It's a step toward creedalism, and you're going to regret it," Valentine told Allen. Sure enough, when fundamentalists gained control of the SBC, they revised the Baptist Faith & Message, producing in 2000 a new, much more restrictive, document that Baptists who tended to agree with Valentine labeled a creed.
Valentine gathered his courage through his sense of calling from God, Allen told the memorial service crowd, insisting the courage that enabled Valentine to champion biblical positions in the face of bitter opposition derived from his understanding that God had given him his assignment.
"Here was a rare man, who lived a rare life and showed us the way to live life at its fullest," Allen said.
Valentine's ability to champion racial reconciliation and to lead Baptists toward biblical positions even when they were unpopular transcended animosity and bitterness, noted Darold Morgan, former president of the SBC Annuity Board and a Valentine friend for six decades.
"Most of his years of active ministry came through tumultuous times," Morgan said, adding that Valentine remained "confident and serene" even in the midst of turbulence.
Morgan described leafing through the Bible Valentine carried with him throughout his adult life. Near the back, Valentine wrote the words of Martin Luther: "My soul is too big to harbor hatred against any man."
All three speakers brought the memorial crowd to laughter, recalling some of Valentine's habits and proclivities–such as his colorful expressions, "unwavering certainty," love for the color turquoise and penchant for playing Scrabble.
"We're not going to put a halo on Foy," Morgan said of his friend. "In the final analysis, he was a delightfully quirky character. Quirky, yes, but lovable moreso."
"Across this last half-century of Baptist life, there has been no person of greater conviction, courage and character than Foy Valentine," said his pastor at Park Cities Baptist Church, Jim Denison.
In interviews, Valentine friends, colleagues and even one of his chief rivals paid tribute to his legacy.
W.C. Fields, longtime director of Baptist Press and a friend of Valentine's for decades, described Valentine as the most significant civil-rights leader among Southern Baptists during the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
"During those dark days, when civil rights was such an explosive issue, Foy always was well-informed, sure of the Christian approach, and he had the courage to follow through on his convictions," Fields said. "His courage was amazing."
One of Valentine's strengths was his insistence on building ethical principles upon Scripture, noted Floyd Craig, who worked with Valentine as communications director of the SBC Christian Life Commission from 1967 to 1979.
"Foy always went back to the Bible," Craig said.
"That was a key ingredient for Foy, whether it was race or any issue. He constantly reminded Baptists that, whatever ethics we might have, for a Christian, it all starts in the Bible."
Ironically, fundamentalists who gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention criticized previous SBC leaders of Valentine's generation for not believing the Bible enough, Craig said.
"It always hacked him, I think, when conservatives would use (the Bible) as a basis for what they did," he recalled. "Foy would say, 'I don't think they've read the Book.'"
Valentine made major contributions to Baptists for a variety of reasons, said Robert Parham, who worked for Valentine at the SBC Christian Life Commission in the 1980s and now is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
"Foy encouraged and aggravated a generation of Southern Baptist ministers in the 1960s and 1970s to care about applied Christianity," Parham said in a statement posted on the Baptist Center for Ethics' website, ethicsdaily.com.
"He refused to let Southern Baptists define Christian faith by pietistic individualism and other-worldly evangelism. He knew the Hebrew prophets and Jesus' teachings were at the core of Christianity and should be at the heart of Southern Baptist life. He tried his best to lead Southern Baptists to prioritize Christian ethics."
And Valentine was on the front edge of resistance to the fundamentalist movement that eventually took over the SBC, Parham recalled. "In the 1980s, he rightly saw the building danger of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC and rallied agency heads to counter that threat. Not surprisingly, the Christian Life Commission became an early takeover target and was eventually transformed into an arm of the religious right, an agenda that Foy found foreign to the gospel."
"During the last decade, Foy focused on the journal he founded, Christian Ethics Today," said Joe Trull, now editor of that magazine. "A wordsmith of the first order, his articles were unique, as was he, in content and style. He worked hours on his typewriter–he refused to the end to be computerized–to get each article just right."
Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, which emerged from the former SBC Christian Life Commission in the 1990s, noted Valentine gave 27 years of "faithful service to Southern Baptists as head of the CLC," particularly in what Land said was Valentine's "eloquent witness to the biblical truth that racism is a sinful rebellion against the biblical teaching of the equality of all men before the cross."
"While Dr. Valentine and I had significant differences of opinion on many issues, all Southern Baptists will be forever in his debt for his courageous and prophetic stance on racial reconciliation and racial equality in the turbulent middle third of the 20th century," Land said, noting it had been important for him as teenager in the 1960s to know that Valentine and the CLC were "on the right side of the race issue, when there were too many institutions and individuals in American life and Southern Baptist life who were on the wrong side."
Valentine, who had heart problems for many years, awoke with chest pains Jan. 7 and asked his wife, Mary Louise, to drive him to the hospital.
He fell unconscious five minutes away from the hospital, a family member said. Doctors tried unsuccessfully for 40 minutes to re-establish a heartbeat before pronouncing him dead.
Valentine is survived by his wife of 58 years, three daughters–Jean, Carol and Susan–and five grandchildren.
He earned an undergraduate degree from Baylor University and master's and doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After retiring from the Christian Life Commission, Valentine founded the Center for Christian Ethics, now attached to Baylor. He was the founding editor of the journal, Christian Ethics Today, in 1995 and a trustee of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, among other national groups.
Greg Warner of Associated Baptist Press contributed to this story.