When learning of the death of Baptist statesman Jimmy R. Allen so many thoughts swirled through my mind that I decided to reflect for awhile before attempting to put them into words.
A Texan who landed well in Georgia, Jimmy died on Jan. 8 at his home on St. Simons Island at age 91. Earlier he was the influential minister at the interdenominational chapel in the mountain village of Big Canoe, Ga.
While intentionally ecumenical, by every definition he was a Baptist statesman. While serving as pastor of First Baptist Church of San Antonio, he was elected as the last president of the Southern Baptist Convention (serving 1978-1979) before the strategic fundamentalist takeover, and then was a key founder of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
He was a superb preacher and compassionate pastor; an author and ethicist; and a pioneer in effective use of technology for ministry. A visionary leader, his handprints can be found on all kinds of ministry initiatives including this one (Nurturing Faith).
Jimmy had a special love for media having served as president of the SBC Radio and Television Commission and founder of the ACTS television network. In 1988 he received an EMMY for producing the special, “China: Walls and Bridges,” for ABC-TV.
He served on the Board of Advisors for the nonpartisan Freedom Forum whose most visible work is the interactive Newseum — dedicated to advancing a free press — located on the Washington Mall between the Capitol and the White House.
Jimmy also served on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Baptists Today, Inc., that hired me as executive editor in 2000. He later served consecutive terms as the board chair and was a trusted source of guidance and support for many years.
Jimmy helped me in creating the Judson-Rice Award to be presented annually by Baptists Today (now branded as Nurturing Faith). The person we had in mind for the first award presentation was unavailable due to declining health.
By my conspiring with other directors — and without Jimmy’s knowledge — the inaugural Judson-Rice Award for leadership with integrity was rightly presented to Jimmy R. Allen on Sept. 17, 2001, at the Atlanta home of then Board Chair Jim McAfee and his wife, Carolyn.
At the time, I said that Jimmy Allen “understands church life better than most, and his wise counsel is among the first I seek.”
The following year, at a well-attended banquet in downtown Atlanta, the second annual Judson-Rice Award was presented to Tony Campolo with subsequent award dinners held each year since.
‘STURDY AND TRUE’
Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, the retired executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, who also served on the Baptists Today board at the time, presented that first award to her longtime friend Jimmy in the McAfees’ home.
Like the historic Baptists for whom the award is named (Adoniram Judson, Ann Hasseltine Judson and Luther Rice), she said, “Jimmy Allen has remained sturdy and true through difficulties … and thereby encourages others facing similar tragedies.”
When many church leaders were either ignoring the disease or shaming those suffering from it, Jimmy called the church to repentance and greater compassion.
In the book Jimmy unfolded the painful story of HIV/AIDS devastating his own family — and the ways churches responded with fear and exclusion at their times of greatest need.
Jimmy not only stood up for his own family but others who suffered. Having studied under the legendary Christian ethicist T.B. Maston, Jimmy pushed Baptists — through leadership of the Christian Life Commission in Texas and in other venues — to face up to their racist history and build relationships of forgiveness, cooperation and hope.
He guided the formation of the interracial gathering and continuing collaboration known as the New Baptist Covenant — formed at the urging and active participation of his longtime friend, President Jimmy Carter. Tens of thousands of Baptists across racial and convention lines gathered in Atlanta in January 2008 for the first “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.”
This year, and in good timing, the Board of Directors of Baptists Today/Nurturing Faith will present its 19th annual Judson-Rice Award for leadership with integrity on April 25 in Knoxville, Tenn., to Wayne Smith — founder and director of Samaritan Ministry which ministers to persons suffering from HIV/AIDS and provides resources to churches and others.
It will be an appropriate time as well to remember the impactful and graceful life of Jimmy R. Allen. Rest in peace, friend.
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Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.