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Baptist Center for Ethics founder Robert Parham dies at 63

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March 6, 2017

By Carrie McGuffin and Jeff Huett

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Robert Parham, founder and executive director, Baptist Center for Ethics

DECATUR, Ga. — Robert Parham, founder and executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, is being remembered as a man of courage and action after his death Sunday at the age 63 after a prolonged illness.

Parham founded BCE in 1991 after working with the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention with a focus on issues including hunger, race and the environment. He continued this work through the mission of BCE, providing positive, practical and proactive ethics resources for congregations and congregational leaders. He also furthered the work of Baptists around the world through the Baptist World Alliance.

Parham was a prolific writer and publisher, creating resources including books, conference programming, print publications, newsletters, study guides and curriculum. This work continued and grew with the implementation of EthicsDaily.com, which served as the platform for conversation around topics of creation care, immigration, missions, racial reconciliation, human trafficking and more.

CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter is remembering Parham as a man of vision and action.

“Robert served as a faithful and dedicated witness to God’s purpose and called us to action with dignity and strength,” Paynter said. “He led the Baptist Center for Ethics with clear and strategic vision. BCE is an important partner within CBF life, and Robert’s leadership and passion there will be missed.”

Daniel Vestal, former CBF executive coordinator from 1996 to 2012, spoke of Parham’s courage and passion.

“Robert Parham had a passion for applying the Gospel to life and addressing the suffering of humanity,” Vestal said. “He reminded all of us, whom he liked to call ‘good will Baptists’ that doing good was both a prophetic and pastoral task. His voice and presence will be missed, but it will not be forgotten.”

Bo Prosser, CBF’s Coordinator of Organizational Relationships, said Parham, with whom he was a classmate at Southern Seminary, was “laser focused” on justice and ethics.

“Robert was always looking for issues that others were neglecting and calling pastoral leaders to pay attention,” Prosser said. “He never wavered. He was always looking for a broader audience. He shifted to a major web presence to get his message more broadly shared. He produced video programs that were broadcast quality, some getting in the television rotation in major markets across the nation.

“Even in his illness, he would not be deterred in calling for justice and ethical behavior to emerge. His courage and his faith were evident in his life,” Prosser said.

David Sapp, former pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta and who, like Parham, once worked for the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, also grieves Robert’s passing.

“In a time when the moral voice of Christians has often been hijacked by reactionaries, Robert Parham has been a strong and consistent voice for biblical righteousness” Sapp said. “I grieve his loss.”

Pat Anderson, former interim CBF executive coordinator and editor of Christian Ethics Today, noted Parham’s “strong pen” and “tireless efforts” in the ethics field.

“Robert’s strong pen and voice will be missed,” Anderson said.  “He worked tirelessly for justice and for the causes that touched him deeply. He was thoughtful and sincere in his work and courageous in his efforts. The field of Christian Ethics has lost a valiant champion.”

Parham is survived by wife, Betsy, daughter Elisa and son-in-law Erich Wilhelm; son Chris Parham and girlfriend Sophie Solomon; mother JoAnn Parham; brother Sam Parham and wife Kathy; brother Terry Parham; brother Danny Parham and wife Elaine; along with a host of nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Baptist Center for Ethics.

The Fellowship offers prayers for Parham’s family and friends, as well as the Baptist Center for Ethics community during this time of loss and celebration of life.

A release by the Baptist Center for Ethics says that details on funeral arrangements are forthcoming.

*Editor’s Note: Edited to include quote from Pat Anderson.

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CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry eff­orts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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