Lessons from 17 Years Mining for Truth


Robert Parham, left, and Cliff Vaughn at the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, where EthicsDaily.com's documentary, "Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism," won best documentary.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Robert Parham mined Christian Scriptures for Truth. Once he believed he found it - and allowed time to reflect on that Truth - he was not afraid.

He was not afraid of being criticized for writing something unpopular. Or of talking to reporters.

He was not afraid of defending Muslims on Sept. 11, 2001. Or of exploring his own and others' memories of witnessing a genocide.

He was not afraid of traveling to South Africa despite health challenges. Or even of dancing at his daughter's wedding. And he was a Baptist ...

Robert lived into an intentional moral engagement with his culture and world. He did not succumb to crippling effects of profound challenges. Instead he got up each morning, Bible and newspaper in hand, to advance the common good.

He liked to measure twice and cut once, not the other way around. He modeled the benefits of not going off half-cocked.

When he disagreed, he didn't take cheap shots. But he was willing to disagree if he felt facts, reason and Scripture suggested another conclusion.

"I don't like conflict," he once said, "but I'm not afraid to have it."

He liked to pick up the phone and ask, "What's going on?" He meant it both out of personal interest and out of a desire to monitor the public's pulse on the day's issues.

He was always after that seam where he and the Baptist Center for Ethics could bear a Christian witness in the public square - a witness that would, among other things, bring good news to the poor.

Robert lived on that thin edge occupied by too few: taking time to think, but thinking and then speaking in real time.

He embraced new technologies because they were conduits to do so. He announced his embrace of Twitter in November 2011 with the editorial, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus ... and Tweet."

He wanted to help church folks "to better understand current events and to speak with more moral clarity," as he wrote in his last editorial Feb. 21. He engaged that mission even before founding Baptist Center for Ethics in 1991 at the age of 38.

Fear never weakened Robert Parham. He didn't peddle it, and he didn't suffer from it.

For reasons as mysterious and complex as life itself, Robert was unafraid to engage. Fear was replaced by that "spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."

Robert interviewed me for a job at the Baptist Center for Ethics in early 2000. He told me that day, "I love what I do, and I can't imagine doing anything else."

He did it faithfully and fearlessly, and he blessed me with 17 years of opportunities to do the same alongside him.

Writing. Traveling. Planning. Laughing. Interviewing. Producing.

Teaching me, reminding me in deed that "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."

Robert's very life witnesses, still, to the spirit God has given us all. I cherish this witness as I already miss my friend.

Cliff Vaughn is media producer for EthicsDaily.com.

Editor's note: A press release about Parham's life, work and legacy is available here. The funeral service will be held on Monday, March 13, at noon at First Baptist Church, Nashville. A visitation will be held beforehand from 10 am to noon.

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