Editor’s Note: This editorial from the December 1980 issue of Baptist Program, was the last written by Albert McClellan, a 31-year employee of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee who retired Dec. 31, 1980, as associate executive secretary and director of program planning. McClellan, 91, died Jan. 9 in Nashville, Tenn., after a long illness.
The first day I worked for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention I touched hands with the beginning. Austin Crouch came to see me to wish me success in my new work. That was early in August 31 years ago, in 1949 when the reorganized Executive Committee was only 22 years old. Dr. Crouch, whose great spiritual character and financial acumen were legendary among Baptist leaders, had been one of the designers of the reorganization in 1927. He was also its first Executive Secretary. The two of us formed a friendship that lasted until that sad day when he was struck by a car on the street in front of the church where he was a member. When he died, something great in Baptist life died, but as God wills, greatness itself did not die.
Spiritual insight did not die. Moral responsibility did not die. Financial acumen did not die. These are still alive in Baptist life and nowhere more abundantly than in the Executive Committee. I have seen them over and over again in more than a hundred meetings of this sensitive, vital group, and in at least a thousand subcommittee, workgroup and staff conferences. The enormous integrity that Austin Crouch brought to the office prevails into the day of Harold C. Bennett. The dimensions of that integrity have been—and are—boundless, reaching into every facet of Baptist life.
- The elected members of the Executive Committee have been solid, middle-road Baptists, outstanding men and women—responsible, thoughtful, restrained, balanced and fair. They have not been impulsive, overreacted to issues or ridden hobby horses.
- The quality of the executive staff has been exceptional. The names of Austin Crouch, Duke K. McCall, Porter Routh and Harold C. Bennett will always be synonyms for good judgment and transparent honesty. The names of Frank E. Burkhalter, Walter M. Gilmore, C. E. Bryant, J.E. Dillard, Merrill D. Moore, John H. Williams, W.C. Fields and Timothy A. Hedquist will always be synonyms for skill, effectiveness and dedication.
- The Executive Committee has held power judiciously. It has not abused its authority to study and recommend.
- The Executive Committee has assumed that it is not a ruler of the agencies, and has held steadfastly that the agencies themselves are the leaders in the areas the Convention has assigned to them.
- The Executive Committee has shown almost total neutrality with respect to Southern Baptist Convention agencies, not competing with them and not judging unfairly among them.
- The Executive Committee has never hesitated to take strong stands and to recommend changes when they were needed. It has not won on all of its points, but it has never faltered in its own area of leadership.
- The Executive Committee has met each critical problem with restraint, balanced judgment and appropriate leadership. One significant national problem that might have swept weaker persons off their feet was the Urban Crisis of 1968. The Executive Committee met it with courage in recommending its statement on “Crisis in the Cities” to the Convention.
- The Executive Committee has walked humbly among the brethren. Neither the Committee or its staff has required pomp and circumstance to bolster self-images or as alibis for loss of credibility. The members of the Committee have not been a council of bishops or its staff a hierarchy.
- The Executive Committee has provided good working conditions for its staff and substantial materials for the work of the staff. As conditions improved, the materials have also improved. I have seen the Executive Committee go on to higher and higher plateaus of service for three decades.
- The Executive Committee has been generous with its employees and fair to the churches and the Convention, staying abreast of the job market but not ahead of it.
- The Executive Committee and its staff have been especially fair with me from the beginning until now. I have been honored to be its employee. Once I had an opportunity to move, but how does one leave the top of the mountain or where the fire burns brightest?
- The Executive Committee has been an open meeting from its organization in 1927. In 43 years there have been fewer than six executive sessions and most of them related to sensitive personnel problems. The Executive Committee has an open ear for anyone who wants to speak to it. For almost 25 years the gallery has been two to three times bigger than the size of the Committee, and the gallery has been permitted to ask any question, to give any information, to make any point and to offer any objection. The Executive Committee has dealt quickly and honestly with all appropriate petitions.
- The hallmark emblems of the Executive Committee since 1927 to this day have been financial sagacity, fiscal responsibility and total accountability.
- There have been no closed doors and no hidden agendas.
- The people who have made the decisions have represented the churches that have paid the bills through the Cooperative Program.
This does not mean the Executive Committee is without fault. The members are human, as is the staff. They do make mistakes. Only God is above error and he has marvelous tolerance for ambiguities, else he would not be forgiving. From him I have learned also to tolerate ambiguities. My faith does not require perfection except from God in Christ. I can accept my own mistakes, knowing that ambiguities need not destroy, and knowing also that Jesus accepted “smoking flax” and “broken reeds.” With smoking flax he can make whole cloth and with broken reeds weave whole baskets. Such is the mercy of God, and such also should be recognized in the assemblies of men.
There’s wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.
Everyone knows the first verse of that old song, but do some know this other verse?
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify his strictness
With a zeal he will not own.
Sometimes I wonder.
At least Dr. Crouch knew that verse, because he always had a twinkle in his blind eyes.
Albert McClellan’s family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.