Glen Stassen is EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2012.
Stassen and Baptist peacemaking are synonymous. He has maintained a remarkable concentration on peacemaking for more than 35 years. His focus has been on the “thick” ethic of Jesus and lived out among Baptists.
Dr. Stassen is as focused on peacemaking today as he was when I took my first ethics class from him in 1977 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In my second Stassen course, the next semester, we drafted a resolution supporting multilateral nuclear arms control that the 1978 Southern Baptist Convention adopted.
At that time, the United States and Soviet Union were negotiating the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II.
“[W]e support the continued efforts of our national leaders to achieve strategic arms limitations,” read the resolution. “[W]e urge our representatives in Washington to move in imaginative and reconciling ways to seek mutual agreements with other nations to slow the nuclear arms race; and that we individually seek to communicate our commitment on this issue to our representatives.”
With Carman Sharp, pastor of Louisville’s Deer Park Baptist Church, we co-convened in February 1979 the first Southern Baptist Convocation on Peacemaking and the Nuclear Arms Race, an event that drew widespread student and faculty involvement.
Notable members of the steering committee were Dan Aleshire, Larry Chesser, Alan Culpepper, Glenn Hinson, Bill Leonard, Larry McSwain, Walter Shurden and Paul Simmons.
W.A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, endorsed the conference. Billy Graham and Carolyn Weatherford added their support.
President Jimmy Carter sent Stassen a telegram, expressing his wish that he could be at the Deer Park meeting and acknowledging the SBC resolution.
Out of that conference and with Stassen’s continued leadership came The Baptist Peacemaker, a quarterly tabloid that was later absorbed by the Baptist Peace Fellowship.
One of Stassen’s first books – “The Journey into Peacemaking” – was published in 1983 by an SBC agency – Brotherhood Commission. “Just Peacemaking: Transformative Initiatives for Justice and Peace” appeared in 1992.
Other books on the transformative nature of Jesus’ ethic followed: “Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture” (1996), “Justice Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War” (1998), “Kingdom Ethics” (2003) and “Living the Sermon on the Mount” (2006).
Since 1997, Stassen has been the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Seminary, where he continued his groundbreaking work on the Sermon on the Mount.
Stassen is an academician of the first order. But he is also an advocate, an activist, one who walks his writings.
Last June, Stassen was a keynote speaker in Beirut at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary’s Institute of Middle East Studies annual conference, where his book “Kingdom Ethics” was released in Arabic.
“[T]he prophetic realism that Jesus proclaimed says God takes action. God enters into our history and makes changes. Jesus was not a Greek. Jesus was a Galilean, almost a Lebanese, and he came to Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon. Jesus proclaimed that God acts with compassion and with judgment within our changing history,” said Stassen.
“What kind of actions will move the relations between Palestine and Israel into some kind of justice and peace rather than ever more hardening antagonism? All our actions have multiple motives. We need justice if we are to get peace,” he said.
The next month, he was in Santiago, Chile. He presented a paper at the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance on what Baptists need to know about their heritage on the human rights front (see here and here). He also did an iPhone video interview on human rights.
Stassen deserves credit for having created a resilient practice within the Baptist tradition for peacemaking.
For a half-dozen years, we have made a surprise announcement at the end of the year about our Baptist of the Year.
Wayne Flynt was EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2011. Known as the “conscience of Alabama,” Flynt spoke without flinching when Alabama adopted the nation’s meanest anti-immigration law and many Alabama Baptists applauded mistreatment of the undocumented.
Babs Baugh was named Baptist of the Year for 2010. She was recognized for her philanthropic leadership. Social justice, moral reformation and advancing the common good happen because moral individuals with generous means make them happen.
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 Nobel 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 2012 choice of Glen Stassen is a reminder that the best of the Baptist ethics tradition is rooted in the teachings of Jesus and expressed through the practice of faith.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.