A Progressive Theo-Political Blog Bringing You The Best and Worst of Baptist Life.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Baptist Heroes

Unfortunately, the word "Baptist" has been polluted by "neo-pharassical fundamentalists" over the past 20 years. For this reason alone, young Moderates such as myself need Baptist heroes to remind us of our true Heritage.

Many Moderates revere great Baptists such as Ralph Elliot, Will Campbell, Cecil Sherman, E.Y. Mullins, Clarence Jordan, J.M. Dawson, and Walter Rauschenbusch (to name a few). William H. Whitsitt is a favorite of my father. Many of my friends claim Tony Campolo, Molly Marshall, and Walter Shurden as heroes.

But let me introduce ya to MY Baptist Hero....Dr. James M. Dunn

James Dunn has been described by his friend, Grady Cothen, as a "church going, Christ honoring, evil bashing, separation of church and state enthusiast." Texas Congressman Chet Edwards has referred to Dunn as the "Rosa Parks of the Religious Liberty issue."

After earning degrees at Texas Wesleyan University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the London School of Economics, Dunn was tapped to replace Jimmy Allen as the Executive Director of the Christian Life Commission of Texas Baptists in 1968. As Executive Director, Dunn gave focus to issues such as race relations, drug and alcohol abuse, the threat of liberalized gambling laws, juvenile justice, prison reform, workers' compensation for farm workers and world hunger relief.

In 1981, James Dunn left Texas to become the Executive-Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. During the 80's, Dunn aggressively stood up to Ronald Reagan's attempt to rewrite the Constitution (i.e. Constitutional Prayer Amendment of 1982). In typical James Dunn fashion, he responded to Reagan's "grave and serious sin"...

“You hear it called ‘putting God in schools.’ It is as if the Divine could be dumped into a wheelbarrow and carted out. The charge that everything went wrong because they threw prayer out of schools is patent poppycock.” He further argued that “to make public prayer a political football is to deny the meaning of prayer...The God whom I worship and serve has a perfect attendance record, never absent or even tardy."
While James Dunn was kicking butt and taking names on Capitol Hill, Southern Baptist Fundamentalists had begun to wage a war against Dunn's Baptist Joint Committee. Dunn's focus on soul freedom was incompatible with these fundamentalist's focus on government favored religion and theological control expressed through creedalism. Dunn's firm affirmation of uncoerced faith is evidence that soul freedom was a threat to men such as Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.

James Dunn fought the fundamentalists for nearly a decade. Finally, in 1991 the Southern Baptist Convention officially dissolved all financial ties with the Baptist Joint Committee and effectively ended a fifty-five year relationship. However, the SBC was unable to bring the religious liberty watchdog to her knees. In subsequent years, Dunn successfully found funding sources for the BJC. As we all know, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty continues its ministry today with the support of fourteen different Baptist groups.

James Dunn is one of the most colorful figures in recent Baptist history. He spoke (and still speaks) about important theological issues with down-home language in a way that any person could understand "in their innards." James Dunn refused to remain silent or capitulate when conscience was at stake. In 2000, upon receiving an award for his contributions to Baptist life, Dunn was still firing away...

I’ll be jiggered if a batch of neo-pharisaical, power-mad politicians, frazzling fundamentalists, trapped in a truncated theology were going to redefine religious liberty. Those limited lights were not about to destroy the witness of J. M. Dawson, take over the Baptist Joint Committee, and water down what it means to be a Baptist.

Without a doubt, James Dunn is a true Baptist Hero - MY Hero.

For a copy of my seminar paper on Dr. Dunn - please follow this LINK.

Note: This post was cross-posted at the new Mainstream Baptists Group Blog. Please check it out. I will highlight this new group blog and its contributors in a future post!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cannot list James Dunn or Jimmy Allen without first claiming T.B. Maston as one of the truly great Baptists of the 20th century. Your hero is definately an admirable one and one that has done more for Baptists and America than anyone including myself to ensure the freedom of religion

7:23 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Indeed Maston was a great Baptist. Dunn will tell you that the two men who influenced him the most were T.B. Maston and J.M. Dawson.

9:22 AM

Blogger Jeff said...

Dunn refused to oppose abortion on demand but regularly opposed positions the SBC championed. He said about the pro-life position, “One specific brand of theology would be written into the Constitution if the Human Life Amendment people had their way. It is a church/state issue when the sex ethic of one theology is pushed as the law of the land” (Preceedings of the March 23-25, 1981 CLC Seminar). By 1991 the SBC had had enough, and it defunded Dunn's agency. But the following year, Dunn was thrilled when Clinton and Gore, "a couple of buddies," were elected. During the 1998 impeachment crisis, he defended Clinton; according to one report, “Dunn said Americans ‘need to learn that morality is not simply sexuality. The Clinton presidency has been exceedingly moral..." he said. (Associated Baptist Press, September 14, 1998).

11:58 AM

Blogger roy said...

Jim Dunn is one of my heroes too

12:53 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


If you will read my paper - you will see that the BJC Board made the decision to narrow the focus of the BJC to strictly Church-State issues (abortion did not fall into that category according to the Board). This decision was made prior to Dunn's arrival as Executive Director.

When Dunn was hired, he agreed not to discuss abortion and leave that to the folks at the CLC.

If you have not noticed, the BJC is now the Baptist Joint Commitee for Religious Liberty not BJC on Public Affairs.

Dunn's refusal to discuss abortion angered the Fundamentalists. His positions on Church-State issues were consistent, though. The BJC did not change. The SBC leaders changed their views on the separation of church and state. Accommodation is not Separation.

Is it a big deal that Dunn was friends with Clinton and Gore? Dunn was also great friends with Republican Senator Mark Hatfield.

The Clinton administration actually believed in Separation - Mr. Reagan did not...

2:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that any way you want to slice it, James Dunn was one contributing factor to the success of the conservative resurgence. His strident language might have been profitable in one arena but in the context of the SBC of the 1980s virtually every syllable that came from his mouth caused hundreds of votes to go to the SBC conservatives - water under the bridge at this late stage.

Although I haven't agreed with all of his stuff, I like Dunn and have no doubt he is an outstanding Christian. He was, however, not helpful in those many narrow SBC elections.

BTW, while I don't agree with many of John Lewis' political positions, I admire him. He is an authentic civil rights hero with stature few others command.

William Thornton, UGA '72

9:58 AM

Blogger foxofbama said...

Big Daddy: I want you to search around Baylor for a woman from my town in Alabama, Becky Kennedy. She was associated with Baptist Hour Choir and I think she is a member at Calvary.
I read at Bl.com your travail in Soperton and disappointment with Big Oaks Church.
I am having similar problems with the church where my Mother was baptized, Collinsville Alabama Babdiss; the church that shaped Kennedy, a friend of Molly Marshall, who in my opinion leaves her Babdiss ID at the city limits sign when she comes home.
Dunn is a great one, irascible for sure; but he would be the first to say, in his comology are Stewart Newman, Truett and Marney.
Glorify those as well.
Check on my blog.
Stay in Touch.
Take of on Randall Balmer's Where Have All teh Baptists Gone chapter in his Thy Kingdom Come.
Duren has blacklisted me on his blog. Be careful when you sing his praises.
Take Care.
Fox in Bama

12:56 PM

Blogger foxofbama said...

BigyD: From now on less call our possible mutual acquaintances at Calvary The People in Question or TPIQ. I blog as much in an updated catchall post where I just put you in the title.
My history here in Collinsville Alabama I think has striking similarities to your experience in Soperton, though I am old enough to be Yo Daddy.
My Dad was a preacher, friend of Lolley and bill Self. I have read Baylor's Hankins and encourage you to read STricklin's Geneaology of Dissent. I am fairly good friends with two former Baylor Alum Presidents, Randy Fields and Bob Morrison.
So let's cross blog and see where it goes.
For the Ride.....sfox
I know Dunn, he knows me
So guess we're gettin ready
To Have a Babdiss Parteeeee

5:12 PM


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