Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Six (Continued)

   Cooperation will continue on some level. The work of the convention/circle of cooperation will change, must change, is changing.

   Incredible linguistic gymnastics are required to prop up the monolithic structure now in place. The TEC of 2008 was "well attended" if we do not too closely define "well attended." Budget giving was "consistent" in 2007, so 31 people were let go. The center in San Antonio, on which more than $100,000 was spent in 2007 for redecoration, was closed. In 2007.

   Announcement: Winter is coming in January. Dress warmly.

   I thought we needed one unambiguous statement.

   I guess President Clinton was right. "It" does really depend on what you mean by "it."

   Frankly, after the TEC of 2002, I thought major changes had to be made and began to make them. I have not yet been proven wrong.

   With the approval of the HBC council, I was able to bring in Dr. Augustin Reyes (Gus) to be Ethnic Consultant for the CSE. The first thing I told Gus was simply, "You will enjoy conducting the Hispanic Evangelism Conference as a separate event from the Texas Evangelism Conference."

   Understand, for some time the two events were held at the same time and place. The Hispanic group got translation, a speaker from time to time and the shank portion generally. From the platform of the 2002 TEC, one could plainly see many expectant Hispanic faces. What would the future hold for them?

   In fact, if not for Hispanics, the crowd at the 2002 TEC in the renovated Municipal Auditorium would have been marginal in attendance. There just are not enough Anglos who want an old style evangelism conference to justify great expense any more.

   Hispanics, however, can still congregate in reasonably justifiable numbers. In fact, the Baptist Standard headline for the first stand alone 2003 Hispanic Evangelism Conference read, "Huge Crowds Fill Church for Hispanic Evangelism Conference."

   It is not necessary to rehearse the statistical change in Texas population over the last three decades. The future is multiracial, multilingual and, if we are not wise, lacking in the religious simplicity that may serve as the only major binding force in our social order. If immigrants will not assimilate socially or politically, what is left?

   Religion is left. The Free Church needs to be in the vanguard of assimilation.

   So, I did the horribly contradictory thing. I pressured assimilation on us by division. I put the Hispanic Evangelism Conference out on its own.

   The phones began to ring almost immediately. Let me be kind to those who called and say I did not know if it would work either. I took a chance based on extreme thinking.

   The first year, 2001, leading to the 2002 TEC event in San Antonio, was a year of extreme thinking. No money, no promotion, no speakers or singers, a thoroughly split convention and very little prestige (okay, absolutely no prestige) in my name did not make for great days at work.

   When I get into a seeminly insoluble mess, I try to break it down into component parts for management. I tend to turn to people I trust.

   I called Daniel Vestal, head of CBF, and asked him to come preach for us. He immediately assented.

   The phones began to ring again.

   "You should be fired today," one fellow said.

   "You are an imbecile," a vocational evangelist told me. At least he had empirical evidence. I would provide him with much more.

   "You can just go to Hell," a caller said. I demurred, citing the sufficiency of the Christ, but understood his sentiment.

   Denominational service is no place for sissies.

   I go back a little way with Daniel. He preached for me at FBC, Midlothian, when we were in three services. He preached three different messages, while I sat with my mouth agape. He is just one of the best pure preachers I have ever heard. He is completely without pretension.

   Daniel was in town to preach to our Men’s Conference. Some of our local laymen had started a Men’s Gathering each year. We annually saw 300 to 400 men from our little town. It was some of the most soul-stirring stuff I ever saw.

  Daniel agreed to come. He did not ask about expenses or honoraria. He took the check I offered him without looking at it. He stood in the back of the Men’s Gathering with tears in his eyes, watching our guys worship.

   The only time he got excited about getting anything that weekend was when I gave him a T-shirt commemorating the event. He said, "I really wanted one of those."

   I had noticed him looking at the T-shirts on the table. Noticing things often gets me in trouble but not this time.

   I trust Daniel Vestal.

   I also trust Freddie Gage.

   A brief pause while you reboot your brain.

   Freddie told me, "I will call James Merritt and get him to come if you let me."

   Dr. Merritt was outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was standing with oil in one hand. Now I was to add water.

   Tired of the adversarial politics? Want to cooperate with anyone who will cooperate with you? Weary of high sounding phrases devoid of conviction and so lacking in practice?

   Come to the 2002 Texas Evangelism Conference.

   "Freddie," I breathed, "I will call him and ask him."

   To Jim’s credit, he returned my call through his assistant, accepted my invitation, never asked about money, showed up and did a good job. He never showed me any prima donna stuff.

   I know it was hard for Jim. I know he got calls and pressures. I have a lot of regard for his courage.

   My phone rang as well. If the fellows on the right were enraged by Daniel Vestal’s presence, let me say the fellows in the center-left were not very excited about Jim Merritt. The fellows on the center-left use more urbane language but were no less adamant in consigning me to the infernal regions.

   "This is the end of you," one said.

   "Perception is everything. Remember," David Currie assurred me.

   "I will see you out of that Building," another offered, helpfully. I assured him I knew the way.

   Okay, poor, poor, pitiful me.

   Black Texans were undergoing a spike in population that would have been very noteworthy if not for the huge rise in Southern American immigration. I invited Ralph West, a giant of a black baptist pastor. He agreed to come. On Tuesday night he electrified the congregants.

   Add in a small church pastor, a hispanic and a very lowly Evangelism Director and you have the ministerial portion of the program. Frankly, I needed people who would not say "No," and who represented the cross section of Texas life.

   Singers? Well, singers are artists and artists are tempermental. After going through several phone calls during which some lamented the fact(?) that we were moderate-liberals and moderate-liberals did not use them much, I gave up on some singers for that year. I turned to my friend and former Music Minister at Midlothian, Bill Louthan and to a small church singing group to help.

   "There is not sizzle in this thing," one sympathetic pastor told me.

   I could not afford sizzle. I could barely afford snap or crackle and could not touch pop.

   Roger Hall did call me in one day for some good news. I needed some.

   "We found you $90,000 from some other funds," Roger said. "This covers the overspend from last year. You are back to even."

   Only a couple of months on the job and I was back to zero! Oh, the joy!

   "I appreciate it," I told Roger. "I cannot thank you enough for the help."

   I meant it. I was not getting much help from others.




6 thoughts on “Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Six (Continued)”

  1. I remember this conference well. Seems like you did the right thing if you were being barked at from both sides of the fence. Before the conference I was probably one barking from the right side of the road under my breath. But I did enjoy the conference that year. I enjoy it even more knowing what you went through to get it accomplished. If I remember right did we have a high profile pastor from the East Coast who was our featured speaker the previous year?

  2. Hm… What was I doing in 2002? I think I was finishing up a CPE Residency at MDACC in Houston. Therefore, I’m positive that I wouldn’t have heard a thing about the TEC at the time.

  3. The animosity that comes from both sides of the aisle in the Baptist Controversy is probably one really good reason why we seem to have so little spiritual traction. If an evangelism conference is going to be evaluated at the outset by the denominational political perspective of its participants, rather than its value in inspiring church leaders to be evangelistic, it isn’t going to be much help in accomplishing its goal.
    And I stand with the proverbial four fingers pointed back at myself. I’ve learned, the hard way, that nothing of spiritual significance will happen in your life if you aren’t focused on the Spirit, and bashing your fellow Christian brothers because they’ve identified with a side in a Baptist controversy certainly interferes with your focus.

  4. I think in all honesty that I’ve been a vocal critic of this years TEC. If someone would like to dispute that, feel free. However, I agree that the true effectiveness of this year’s TEC will only be seen in the future. I believe that is true of all conferences in general. My critique stems from personal issues, as well as previous encounters with people (in “the building”) as to the “why” the TEC is being done the way it is.
    Tim Dahl

  5. Rick, you should say why Richard Jackson pulled out of the 2002 TEC and how that added to the headaches of delivering a memorable meeting.

  6. Rick,
    Your decision to give Hispanics an opportunity to develop, plan, and implement their own Evangelism Conference was prophetic and could only be made by someone who’s focus was for the Kingdom of God.
    Your decision was courageous. I was a bit nervous at the beginning. However, you had faith that this was the right thing to do.
    Wow-we could have never anticipated the wonderful experiences and impact that God intended through the event.
    Thanks for “leading” and for your willingness to launch a new concept!
    As you know, we saw anywhere from 2500-3000 in San Antonio and Houston the following years. The best days are ahead of us. Thanks for your commitment to helping Hispanic leaders reach lost people for the cause of Christ.
    Your hermano en Cristo,
    Gus Reyes

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