Robert Parham: An Ethicist with a Worldwide View


From left, Robert Parham, Cynthia Tucker, Emmanuel McCall and John Wyatt at a 1993 Baptist Center for Ethics conference on race.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted the "Statement on the Crisis in the Nation" in June 1968.

This action was championed by state and national denominational SBC leaders. It called on the churches and people of the SBC to repent of past racism and pledge to go forward in improving race relations.

Five SBC auxiliaries were charged with giving leadership to these efforts: the Woman's Missionary Union, Home Mission Board (HMB), Christian Life Commission (CLC), Brotherhood and the Sunday School Board.

While these organizations worked cooperatively and within their program assignments, the CLC and the Black Church Relations (BCR) department of the HMB forged a special relationship.

The BCR had a staff of 260 persons relating to state Baptist conventions and associations. The CLC had no field staff but specialized in producing program materials, conducting special seminars, forums and conferences designed to promote racial reconciliation.

I had come to the HMB in July 1968 to assist in the ministry of reconciliation. The CLC assigned Robert Parham to work with the HMB in this effort.

Robert and I became "soul partners" in these endeavors. With the help of our missionary personnel, we crisscrossed this nation for several years in numerous racial reconciliation projects and conferences.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, it was not popular or accepted that blacks and whites would travel together, eat together in restaurants or share rooms in hotels. Robert and I were often the recipients of "hate stares," snide remarks and outright verbal abuse.

We were not deterred. We knew who we were and what God had called us to be and to do.

When "hate stares" were directed at Robert, he never flinched or looked down. Instead he looked the person directly in the eye and gradually let a smile break through. That smile won him many victories.

In the 1980s, the political tides in the SBC had already begun to change. Both Parham and I became uncertain about the denominational futures of our ministries.

In March 1991, the Lord altered my directions. I left the HMB to guide a new congregation, the Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, College Park, Georgia. Robert had also left the CLC. His commitment to biblical, Christian ethics was underappreciated.

In 1990, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed to provide a sense of "family" for disaffected Baptists. Many in the CBF desired to see ethical impetus that biblically and theologically inspired. Robert Parham became the symbol of that desire.

In 1991, the Baptist Center for Ethics was organized with Robert Parham as the founding director. Interestingly, one of the first national conferences the BCE sponsored was held in the Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in 1993.

I later became involved in the internal leadership of both the CBF and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). Both organizations became conduits for ethical initiatives.

CBF churches received benefits from the resources, communications and conferences the BCE provided. The conventions of the world were blessed by resources, new services and analyses that Robert provided.

These partnerships allowed Bob and me to have continued opportunities to work together for Kingdom causes.

I am sure that the Baptist Center for Ethics will continue to bless the world as it has been doing.

Bob did a wonderful job of surrounding himself with an extremely competent and creative staff. He instilled in them those qualities that make for Christian greatness. His influence will live on.

We thank God for raising him up to serve this present age.

Emmanuel L. McCall is pastor of the First Baptist Church in East Point, Georgia. He is a former BCE board member and was an interviewee in "Beneath the Skin," EthicsDaily.com's documentary on Baptists and racism.

Editor's note: A press release about Parham's life, work and legacy is available here. A reflection by EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn is available here, and a reflection by managing editor Zach Dawes is available here. Parham's funeral service will be held at noon Monday, March 13, at First Baptist Church, Nashville. A visitation will be held beforehand from 10 a.m. to noon.

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Tags: Baptists, Beneath the Skin, Emmanuel McCall, Racism, Robert Parham


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