Why must we pray for Adrian Rogers?

Rogers is the recently retired pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, who was elected as the Southern Baptist Convention president in 1979, 1986 and 1987.

He represents much that is detestable about Southern Baptist fundamentalism—opposition to reading the Bible with intelligence; opposition to an authentic separation of church and state; opposition to women in ministry; opposition to soul competency; opposition to local church autonomy.

He deserves much of the blame for the retreat of the SBC into a 19th century cultural castle and the hardwiring of the SBC to the right wing of the Republican Party.

Despite my dislike for what he has done and disagreement with where he stands, Adrian and I are fellow travelers on the chemotherapy road. We both have cancer, albeit different types.

Rogers underwent colon cancer (which has spread to his liver) surgery last week at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His treatment regime requires two chemotherapy rounds each month.

His ill-health causes me moral consternation.

Upon returning home from the hospital, I began slowly reading through a wooden box stuffed full of letters, cards and e-mails that contained expressions of good will and commitments of prayer.

Buried in the box was a hand-written letter from a Missouri lawyer who shared that he was praying for me and offered encouragement based upon his own family’s experience. He did not need to write his letter of hope to one on the other side of the aisle. But he did. He gave me good energy and forced me to reflect upon whether I would have done the same thing.

Another card in the box from a Baptist state paper editor wished me well. I was surprised that someone who promotes such a different worldview had sent a card. Again, I had to think about the elusive answer to what I would do.

SBC fundamentalists ask one of my staff colleagues on a regular basis about my health, an unexpected but gracious act. Again, what would I really do if the situation were reversed?

News about Rogers drained the comfortable bay of abstract questions and left me in the muck of real life. Would I, could I, practice what I’ve written for years about the centrality of the Sermon on the Mount? Must I pray for Adrian?

Jesus expects nothing less (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:27-28), even if at first through gritted teeth. So, yes, I must pray for him and hope for his well being on the chemotherapy road.

Know that cards may be sent to him at Bellevue Baptist Church, 2000 Appling Road, Cordova, TN 38016.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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