Babs Baugh is EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2010.
No other Baptist does more to sustain and grow the best of the Baptist tradition than Babs Baugh, president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation, a foundation named after her parents. Simply put, through her generosity and that of the Baugh Foundation, she makes things happen. Good things.
Take the 2008 Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant (NBC), the most important and transformative Baptist event in memory. Everyone remembers that former president Jimmy Carter was the visionary and catalyst for the event. Bill Clinton added his personal charisma and energy. Al Gore gave the most important speech to a Baptist audience in a generation.
But who made it happen? Babs Baugh. She underwrote a significant portion of the event costs through a foundation gift and personal contribution. Without her philanthropic spirit, organizers might still have bills to pay.
Not only was she generous, she did it without needing the spotlight. While key organizers and denominational leaders occupied the platform, Baugh sat with rank-and-file Baptists.
Her funding did not begin and end with the event itself. She funded “The Nazareth Manifesto,” a 13-minute DVD produced by EthicsDaily.com. It was used across the Baptist landscape to promote the NBC, reinforcing the message that the biblical basis for the meeting was Luke 4:18-19.
Then, she helped to underwrite the award-winning documentary “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism,” which sprang from the NBC event and networking.
Later, she supported another documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” which also benefited from relationships formed at the NBC meeting.
All told, the San Antonio resident and Baptist Center for Ethics board member played a major role in helping pull goodwill Baptists together and keep them connected around cutting-edge issues.
In addition to backing a centrist and constructive Baptist moral witness, Baugh has generously supported Baptist theological education. Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the Baptist University of the Americas are beneficiary recipients of the Baugh Foundation, for example.
Make no mistake: Philanthropists equip and empower social justice advocacy, theological education, religious liberty promotion and other worthy efforts.
As the Apostle Paul needed Phoebe, goodwill Baptist organizations need Babs Baugh and the Baugh Foundation.
Baugh, however, is more than a philanthropist who heads up a “moderate Baptist” foundation. She acutely senses where goodwill Baptists are and recognizes the need for us to get our act together.
Recognizing the need for reforming the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, she sponsored a three-day retreat earlier this year. It involved partner organizations in a candid, public conversation about what wasn’t working and how to make things work better. That meeting broke from the pattern of denial and diversion too characteristic of moderate Baptist decision-making. People heard hard truths rather than falsehoods wrapped in southern piety and pleasantry.
Baugh made things happen. She got people talking to one another. In their talking, some superficial connections switched to substantive collaborations.
Her hope of more synergistic cooperation has already found expression in the work of EthicsDaily.com, including new engagement with several other partner organizations.
For a half-dozen years, we have made a surprise announcement at the end of the year about our Baptist of the Year. We have usually focused on individuals with a specific moral concern or those who addressed in the fullness of time a contemporary pressing issue.
We named Emmanuel McCall in 2009 for his leadership on race relations. It was a recognition of his lifetime of commitment to redressing America’s “original sin.”
David Coffey was selected in 2008 for his leadership on interfaith dialogue between Baptists and Muslims. At great risk, he stepped out quickly when it mattered. His initiatives opened doors for advancing the common good.
Al Gore was named in 2007 for his leadership on the environment. Of course, he had already won a Noble Peace Prize and an Oscar. But he had not been recognized by goodwill Baptists for being a prophet without acceptance in his own country.
Lebanese Baptists were recognized in 2006 for their physical courage and spiritual grace witnessed in a withering war that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians when Israel attacked southern Lebanon.
Paul Montacute was named in 2005 for being a global Good Samaritan who worked tirelessly and effectively through indigenous Baptist bodies to help those hammered by horrific natural disasters – tsunami, earthquake, hurricanes.
Our choice of Babs Baugh breaks the pattern.
She becomes the first woman on the list, a long overdue omission.
She becomes the first individual not associated as an expert on a particular moral issue.
And she becomes the first representative of an eternal truth: Moral reformation, social justice and advancing the common good happen because somewhere, often offstage, an individual with moral grit and generous spirit writes checks to make things happen.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.