“Baptists have always struggled with the dualism of the social gospel and the good news of salvation,” says Baptist pastor Randy Hyde. “But I think our history proves that we practice the gospel best when we do it on both fronts.”
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They contributed money, in honor of their secret pal, to Heifer Project International, a <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Little Rock, Ark.-based organization whose goal is to end world hunger by giving livestock to poor families around the world.
Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, said that gift has now become their “secret pal” tradition.
The idea has caught on among many Heifer supporters, including singer Kate Campbell.
“The last couple of Christmases, for my family, I like to donate animals in their name,” Campbell told EthicsDaily.com. “It’s more tangible. It’s a type of project I’m interested in.”
Heifer also sells “Easter baskets” containing geese, ducks, chickens and, of course, rabbits. These gifts of livestock are distributed to impoverished families. Heifer has directly helped more than 4 million families since its founding in 1944.
Hyde said Heifer isn’t in his Baptist church’s budget, but he hopes it will be in the future.
“The more things go the way they are in our denomination, the more we branch out in terms of missions,” he said.
Hyde said Heifer might be called an “auxiliary” mission, though “it comes closer to being missions because of the way they approach helping people.” He contrasted this sort of mission activity with what some denominations call missions.
“It isn’t missions. It’s denominational support,” he said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
Furthermore, Hyde said Heifer offers an attractive “missions” alternative because the Baptist community is being hindered by its own rhetoric.
Hyde said that Heifer can do good work in the Muslim world partially because it doesn’t carry the sectarian baggage that Baptists do. He referred to comments by Southern Baptist personalities Jerry Vines and Jerry Falwell that enraged Muslims.
Vines referred to Muhammad as a “demon-possessed pedophile,” while Falwell referred to the founder of Islam as a “terrorist.”
Such rhetoric “almost eliminates the Baptist voice,” Hyde said, because most people don’t recognize a difference among Baptists.
“At least Heifer International doesn’t carry that association,” he said.
“They provide opportunities for people in poor parts of the world to have resources they otherwise might not have,” he said. “They do it in a way that’s ongoing. They don’t drop a few bucks on them and head.”
“By giving them animals, they provide them with means to support themselves in the future. It’s a unique way of doing this kind of thing,” Hyde said.
“I like it because it’s more hands-on, helping people—to use the old phrase, ‘helping people help themselves.’ It’s more than writing a check,” she said.
Campbell said she first heard about Heifer roughly three years ago.
“There’s a place I play in Little Rock—it’s a coffee house in a church—and I had some fans, and they worked for Heifer Project. They first told me about it.”
She learned more about the organization and became hooked.
“Last year, I went to their farm outside Little Rock and saw their animals,” she said. And inside the cover of her latest album, Monuments, one finds mention of just one Web site: heifer.org.
“The reason I put their Web site on my album and Web site is, it’s an alternative and people can at least think about it. They can go to their Web site and make their own decision,” she said. “It’s helpful that people know about things like Heifer Project.”
“They’re continuing the whole notion of sustaining the economy and environment that we all live in,” Campbell said. “Personally, I feel that we’re all responsible for taking care of God’s creation and everything around us. For me, that’s important. And there is a spiritual dimension to it.”
It’s a spiritual dimension that Hyde sees as well.
“Baptists have always struggled with the dualism of the social gospel and the good news of salvation,” he said. “But I think our history proves that we practice the gospel best when we do it on both fronts.”
“Heifer gives us an opportunity to do it from a social perspective. A partnership with Heifer is a partnership with the gospel,” he continued. “Even if they don’t come at it from that perspective, we can do so.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.