If I were to choose one word to describe Robert Parham, it would be unique.
He was a unique combination of determined and compassionate, prophetic and pastoral.
He spoke his mind about issues of great importance – immigration, creation care, human trafficking, criminal justice, interfaith engagement, taxation and many other pressing matters – and was always drawing on and basing his stance and perspective on the Bible.
Robert didn’t mind “ruffling a few feathers,” even of his friends and colleagues, when he felt it was needed and the cause was just.
Yet, his prophetic witness sought positive transformation and the advancement of the common good, not simply critique for the sake of critique.
He was careful to address issues and not engage in “ad hominem” attacks that are too prevalent today, and he truly cared about people – even those with whom he had differences of opinion.
He was also a tireless worker.
I believe the entire EthicsDaily.com staff is dedicated and diligent in carrying out their roles, and I consider myself a hard worker.
But I’ve yet to encounter someone who was as entrepreneurial, innovative, energetic and determined as Robert.
He was always thinking about ways to improve, refine and build on the various Baptist Center for Ethics / EthicsDaily.com initiatives.
While much of my day-to-day conversation with Robert focused on work, he often took time to ask about my family and was genuinely interested in what I shared with him – something for which I’ll always be grateful.
I first became aware of the Baptist Center for Ethics and EthicsDaily.com in late 2008, soon after graduating from seminary.
I submitted a column for consideration in April 2009, which was graciously accepted. That began a fruitful, cherished relationship with Robert and the rest of the BCE / EthicsDaily.com staff that continues today.
Little did I know then that I would have the opportunity and privilege to join the BCE staff roughly four years later in January 2013.
A brief, but difficult time serving as a local church pastor had left me uncertain about my future career. I wasn’t a so-called “done,” but the experience left me frustrated, cynical and jaded about the local church.
I’ll always remember, with gratitude, Robert calling to check on me in early fall of 2012. He offered an empathetic ear and a word of encouragement while I was between jobs and wondering if a role in “church work” of any kind was something I even wanted to do anymore.
He would call back a few months later inquiring about my interest in a role at EthicsDaily.com as managing editor.
This began a several-months-long conversation and interview process that led me to have the privilege to work with, and learn from, Robert for the next four years.
Robert guided me to improve my ability to write clearly, succinctly and constructively. He assisted me in acquiring a more informed and balanced perspective on a variety of issues, which helped me to become less judgmental toward those who thought differently.
Looking back, when I started at EthicsDaily.com, I had passion and idealism that could have easily shifted into unhealthy self-righteousness.
Robert helped me to find balance and humility through a more realistic view of people and the world and a more constructive way of engaging both.
Perhaps most important, working with him helped me overcome the frustration and cynicism I had following my short-lived pastorate and to find a restored faith in the local church.
During the interview process, Robert sent me a job description that listed six “key characteristics” that he was looking for in the next EthicsDaily.com managing editor.
These were “(1) an entrepreneurial attitude, (2) a self-starting disposition, (3) a resilient outlook taking advantage of opportunities for organizational impact, (4) a zeal for networking, (5) a deep-seated fervor for advancing the common good and (6) a realistic sense of the gap between moral values and practices.”
I’m not sure that I checked all of these “boxes” when Robert offered me the job, or that I fully do even after more than four years on the job.
What I do know is that they are an excellent description of Robert.
These are qualities that enabled him to build, literally from the ground up, an ethics organization that has promoted the best of the Baptist tradition and maintained a consistent, centrist and constructive moral witness.
Robert was not simply a boss and colleague; he was a friend.
My life is significantly better as a result of my time working for and with him, and I’m forever grateful for the privilege and opportunity to have done so.
Editor’s note: A press release about Parham’s life, work and legacy is available here. A reflection by EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn is available here. Parham’s funeral service will be held at noon Monday, March 13, at First Baptist Church, Nashville. A visitation will be held beforehand from 10 a.m. to noon.