LeDayne McLeese Polaski, executive director of Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America ~ Bautistas por la Paz, was 2016 recipient of Furman University’s Richard Furman Baptist Heritage Award.
Polaski, who has worked for BPFNA in various roles since 1998 and since 2015 as executive director, is 16th recipient of the award honoring a Furman graduate who reflects Baptist ideals regarding faith and learning.
“LeDayne may be a lifelong Carolinian, but her commitment to peace and justice has motivated her to reach far and wide in pursuit of racial reconciliation and restorative justice,” Furman President Elizabeth Davis said in presenting the award. “She lives her life and dedicates her calling to the idea that peacemaking is more than speaking out against violence.”
In her acceptance speech, Polaski paid tribute to the brave peacemakers working in courageous and creative ways around the world.
“From men and women who, under threat of death, walk into villages with cameras to document human rights abuses to those who walk past men armed with AK47s to lead open air conflict transformation trainings, these peacemakers live out the biblical admonition that we be willing to lay down our lives for one another,” she said. “It is in their honor that I accept this award.”
The award inaugurated in 2000 is named after Richard Furman, one of the most influential Baptist leaders prior to the Civil War and namesake of the private liberal arts university in Greenville, S.C., founded in 1826.
Furman, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., was first president of the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions, founded in 1814 and informally known as the Triennial Convention because it met every third year. Its modern-day successor is American Baptist Churches USA.
Furman later became first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention, the oldest statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, which separated from Northern Baptists in 1845 and today comprises the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
Fuller advocated for an educated ministry, an idea not universally accepted among Baptists of his day. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the oldest of six SBC seminaries, was founded at Furman University in 1859.