Cowardice and courage

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In the late Spring of 1999, the First Baptist Church of Dallas was preparing to welcome a new pastor. Dr. O.S. Hawkins had resigned less than two years earlier to become president of the Annuity Board, now Guidestone Financial Resources. The church had been led in the interim by the late Roy Fish, a longtime professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Criswell remained Senior Pastor Emeritus, but had long since relinquished both day-to-day administration of the church and his historic pulpit ministry.

The search for a new pastor was far and wide.  Having seen two successive pastors leave the church after only a few years each — an ecclesial whiplash of sorts for a congregation accustomed to decades-long continuity — the search committee, led by Ken Stoner, was determined to find a pastor who could help the church heal and thrive again in its downtown location.

Their search took them to High Point, NC, where a 41 year-old man named Donald McCall Brunson was leading the Green Street Baptist Church. Then in his second term as president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Brunson had been an increasingly sought-after preacher across the convention though a dark-horse candidate for the prestigious Dallas church.

On the second Sunday in May, Mac was unanimously elected senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, which gave him a two-minute standing ovation following the morning service. With a blend of tears and truth-telling, Brunson courageously told the church in no uncertain terms his expectations:

“If you call me to come to this church, and God brings us together, I am telling you now: We are going to get along. No back-room politicking. No jockeying for position. We’re going to stand together.”

The Baptist Blogger was there that Sunday. There was an unmistakable sense that the great First Baptist Church in Dallas was getting a new start in the right direction. Brunson promised humility: “I’ll come to you contrite. I’ll come to you trembling at the Word of God.”

Less than a week later, Paige Patterson received an email from a longtime member of First Baptist Dallas and the former chairman of the city’s motion picture classification board.

“I have heard that you are not overly excited about Mac Brunson. You intimated a little of that in your last communication with me. I am not is (sic) a position to know, and again, I wasn’t consulted…so I have to rely on the committee and the moving of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Dr. Brunson . . . Mac said all the right things, at least on Sunday night…I was out of town for the a.m. services. We just have to believe that it is God’s church and He is in control.”

On June 4, 1999, Patterson responded:

“I suppose the grapevine is unerringly accurate in some things. It is not that Mac Brunson is the person I am less than excited about. I think he is a dear saint of God . . . My reticence about Mac has always been at the point of his courage. He claims that he is a man [of] courage, but, of course, if he is a man of courage  then I have a question about the precision with which he evaluates certain situations.  Mac, it seems to me, is always willing to compromise if he can avoid a fight. I guess it is good to have people like that in the world since if everybody were like me we would be in a serious situation. I just hated to see the church call a person who did not have all of it worked out clearly in his own mind and heart, including the hills on which he would choose to die.”

One month later, Brunson officially assumed the pastorate in Dallas. Before he was installed, Mac Brunson received his own letter (dated June 25, 1999) from Patterson.

“My dear Brother Mac, you bring to the pulpit the solid, clear exposition of the Word of God, which you deliver without compromise or diminution. And the remarkable thing to those of us who have heard it is that you do it all with such grace and clarity that no one will ever leave wondering what God has said through his preacher on this day.”

There you have it, folks. To one man, Patterson nurtures suspicion about Mac Brunson’s “willingness to compromise” and in another letter to Brunson himself Patterson lauds the new Dallas pastor for not “compromising.”

No doubt is left about who acted courageously, and who acted cowardly. Writing a letter to a member of man’s new congregation and planting seeds of doubt about his ministry is about the nastiest thing a denominational leader can do.

It makes us think of a spin on the old song written by radio’s legendary singing cowboy, Stuart Hamblen:

“It is no secret what Paige can do. What he’s done to others, he’ll do to you.”

And that, pilgrim, is where we leave it.

Proverbs 16:28.


(Copies of both letters are in the Paige Patterson Papers (1998-2000) held at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN; Call Number AR554.)

9 thoughts on “Cowardice and courage

  1. Wade: I love you in the Lord, but PP being regulated to the sidelines is not necessarily going to make the SBC great again. IMO there are thousands of PP’s in the SBC and they will carry on his DNA with or without him.

    1. Agreed. Anybody anywhere in the SBC right now especially Mohler and Moore were once joined with him at the hip of denominational enterprise.

      1. This is the video in question, where is Brunson? What about Harris, Brunson, Hawkins, and Gregory? I know none of them were there for long. The omissions are quite interesting.

      2. Scott:

        Not talking about you-Wade or Ben. Anyone who now “bravely” opposes PP after forty years is certainly not courageous IMO. Many in the SBC will never speak the truth about him.

      3. This is nothing but an ego stroke for Robert Jeffress. All of his Fox News commentaries, $130 million buildings, and lies about currently having their largest ever attendance really shows his insecurity living in the shadow of Truett and Criswell. “Look at me, I’m great too!”

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