Editor's note: This article updates and corrects the one issued Sat., Jan. 7.
DALLAS (ABP) — Pioneer Baptist ethicist Foy Valentine died suddenly Jan. 7 of an apparent heart attack, family members said. He was 82.
A native Texan and Dallas resident, Valentine was executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention's former Christian Life Commission in Nashville from 1960 to 1987.
Valentine, who has had heart problems for many years, awoke with chest pains Jan. 7 and asked his wife, Mary Louise, to drive him to the hospital. He fell unconscious five minutes away from the hospital, a family member said. Doctors tried unsuccessfully for 40 minutes to reestablish a heartbeat before pronouncing him dead.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 11, at 2 p.m., at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas after a private burial in his hometown of Edgewood, in Van Zandt County.
Valentine is survived by his wife of 58 years, three daughters — Jean, Carol and Susan — and five grandchildren.
“He was legitimately a 20th century prophet,” said Jimmy Allen, a lifelong friend and colleague. “He was a pioneer in Christian ethics, civil rights and religious liberty. He dealt with the hardest kind of issues in a prophetic fashion.”
Before going to the Christian Life Commission, Valentine was director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission from 1953 to 1960.
A key figure in the emergence of progressive ethical thinking among Southern Baptists, Valentine's most notable influence was as a champion of civil rights — long before Southern Baptists openly embraced the concept, colleagues said.
W.C. Fields, longtime director of Baptist Press and a friend of Valentine's for decades, described Valentine as the most significant civil-rights leader among Southern Baptists during the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
The source of Valentine's convictions regarding racial equality “without a doubt … came from his grounding in his faith, his love and understanding of the Scriptures and the fact that from his earliest days, his parents and peers helped him to become a deeply devoted Christian,” Fields noted.
“During those dark days, when civil rights was such an explosive issue, Foy always was well-informed, sure of the Christian approach, and he had the courage to follow through on his convictions,” Fields said. “His courage was amazing.
“There were people all across the country who disagreed with him in a very strong manner. And yet he was able to maintain his position with evenness and with good response to those who disagreed with him.”
Late in his career, Valentine became a favorite target of SBC conservatives because of his progressive stance on abortion and other volatile issues. In 1971, he was instrumental in the SBC's adoption of a resolution affirming a right to abortion in some cases.
Allen said Valentine's critics “overstated” his affirmation of abortion. “His position was that abortion was an evil but allowable for the health of the mother,” said Allen, who succeeded Valentine at the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and later directed the SBC Radio and Television Commission.
While Valentine's critics used the abortion issue to rally conservative support in the SBC, their opposition went much deeper, Allen said. “The major antagonism with conservatives was they had been opposed to every progressive stance, particularly in the area of civil rights.”
After retiring from the CLC, which later was renamed the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Valentine founded the Center for Christian Ethics, now attached to Baylor University. He was the founding editor of the journal, Christian Ethics Today, in 1995 and a trustee of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, among other national groups.
Valentine and Fields talked from time to time about the pressures of providing civil rights leadership to a convention founded, at least in part, because its leaders owned slaves. Valentine's courage, conviction and even his sense of humor served him well on the front lines of the civil-rights movement, Fields said.
“He was a natural leader,” Fields said. “He was willing to stand out there alone, to fall, to get back up and to fall again if necessary.”
Although Valentine was raised in deep East Texas, a region not known for its progressive posture regarding race in the first half of the 20th century, he defied stereotypes. On many issues, Valentine followed the lead of his mentor, ethics pioneer T. B. Maston. Valentine was Maston's first doctoral student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which awarded him a PhD in Christian ethics. Valentine also was a graduate of Baylor University.
“Humor might have been his saving grace. His ability to ride easy in the saddle was his great gift. He was a true Texan, and he could ride alone if necessary.”