By Randy C. Davis
TBMB Executive Director

bridge-wooden-dangerousYou’ve probably never heard of Thomas Hart Benton.

Benton was a U.S. senator from Missouri who served with distinction for 30 years, but whose political career crashed to an inglorious end in 1851 because of his opposition to the westward expansion of slavery. Benton, a Democrat and representative of a slave state, stood in staunch opposition to his party, the majority of the constituents in his state, and the powerful John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina senator whose influence and political views eventually led to South Carolina’s secession from the Union. 

Benton’s refusal to compromise his conscience and yield to pressure once nearly got him shot on the senate floor by Mississippi Sen. Henry Foote who charged Benton with a pistol! Benton continued unfazed by the mounting adversity. It took courage to take such a stand, knowing the consequences. Former President John F. Kennedy once wrote, “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.”

Randy C. Davis

Randy C. Davis

Christian history is replete with heroes of the faith as well, stories of one man or woman making a stand and making a difference. Their courageous acts go unnoticed and unknown, like Thomas Hart Benton’s, but they decide that they will be uncompromising in their decisions regardless of the consequences.

I believe my friend, Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown, is one of those courageous people who led his church to take a stand and in the end made a difference.

Last year, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission and the International Mission Board signed an amicus (friend of the court) legal brief in support of the building of a New Jersey mosque. Dean was serving as an IMB trustee at the time and was not supportive of that decision and expressed that position. His opposition was rooted in personal and biblical conviction. Fundamentally, he didn’t agree that it was the IMB’s place to be involved in such a political issue, believing the action to be contrary to the organization’s mission and purpose statements.

However, Dean’s primary concern was rooted in what he saw as an ungodly Scriptural alliance forbidden by II Corinthians 6:14-15. “By all means,” he stated, “Let’s stand for religious liberty in America. But first and foremost let us stand on our firm convictions that our alliance with God is paramount, that He will accomplish His ends without the necessity of evil alliances.”

Dean originally sought resolution within the context of his trustee assignment and didn’t believe the resolution was something he could in good conscience support. After agonizing and praying over what to do, he chose to resign. Dean received a significant amount of support for his convictional stand, but he has also taken a significant amount of criticism as well. Interestingly, in the past few weeks, IMB President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the actions taken by the IMB and committed to changing the process by which the IMB considers and supports future amicus briefs.

The bold actions and gracious courage of one pastor and a supportive church initiated change that will help the world’s largest evangelical missionary sending agency remain focused on job one: the advance of the gospel into all the world. By risking his reputation, Dean raised an issue to which Dr. Platt positively responded. As a result of the actions of both men, I believe a path was cleared for greater unity and cooperation in our denominational pursuit of the Great Commission.

It may not always turn out positively in the end, but we live in a day when there is a great need for men and women of faith to rise to the challenges before them and when necessary, embrace the hard road. President Kennedy offers another quote that counts the cost and considers the consequences.

“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.”

Paul puts it another way in Ephesians 4:1, calling us “to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” I believe he knew it would take intentional acts of courage to do so. 

It’s a joy to be on this journey with you.