Charles Fuller, a Virginia pastor who chaired the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Peace Committee, died July 28 in Roanoke, Va. He was 86.
Chairman Charles Fuller delivered the SBC Peace Committee’s 1987 report alongside his boyhood friend, SBC President Adrian Rogers.
Formed in 1985 in response to a motion at the SBC annual meeting, the Peace Committee was charged to “seek to determine the sources” of controversy amid the convention’s Conservative Resurgence and “make findings and recommendations.” Fuller was thought a natural fit to chair the 22-member group – which comprised conservatives, moderates and centrists – because he was theologically conservative and committed to the SBC but not part of the Conservative Resurgence’s “machinery,” as Fuller put it.
When asked to consider chairing the committee, Fuller told his wife Pat, “There is no way that I can come away from this a winner personally,” he recounted in a 1994 interview with the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives (SBHLA), presumably because moderates and conservatives alike were likely to criticize him.
“I remember she said to me, ‘Well maybe this is the contribution you are to make to Southern Baptists,’” Fuller said. “So I agreed to do it.”
SBHLA correspondence files contain numerous letters of concern Fuller received from individuals on both sides of the controversy.
Among the Peace Committee’s members were six men who served as SBC president at some point, including Fuller’s boyhood friend Adrian Rogers. Three other Peace Committee members were nominated for SBC president.
After 14 meetings over two years, the committee reported at the 1987 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis that “the primary source of the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention is the Bible; more specifically, the ways in which the Bible is viewed.” “Political activities,” the Peace Committee stated, were a secondary factor in the conflict.
Peace Committee recommendations adopted by messengers included affirmation of a “high view of Scripture” as one of the “parameters for cooperation” within the convention and a request that “all organized political factions … discontinue the organized political activity.”
The committee voted to disband in 1988 following a final report to the convention that year.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., who has listened to the complete audio recordings of the Peace Committee’s meetings, said the tapes “reveal that Fuller served effectively as chairman, but was not a major participant in debates of highest controversy.”
“His leadership of the committee explains to a large degree the fact that it was able to produce a report at all,” Mohler said. “His concern was that the opposing sides in the controversy might release separate reports or that the Peace Committee would eventually be unable to produce any report at all.”
When Fuller presented the committee’s 1987 report, he told SBC messengers “the high moment” of two years’ work for him was when the report was complete and two committee members “miles apart” ideologically “fell into each other’s arms and embraced.”
“They still did not agree,” he said. “Their convictions remained as they had been. But in their hearts, they had found the place, in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, of peace.”
Among Fuller’s other denominational service, he preached the convention sermon in 1985 to the largest SBC annual meeting in history and served on multiple SBC boards and committees, including stints as chairman of the Radio and Television Commission and the Committee on Order of Business.
During Fuller’s 38-year pastorate at First Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va., he saw membership grow from 2,000 to 6,000 and became somewhat of a local celebrity in southwest and central Virginia for his radio and television broadcasts. Most famously, he delivered a daily 60-second radio devotional called “God’s Minute,” beginning in 1972.
Just 30 years old when called to First Baptist in 1961, Fuller revamped the congregation’s downtown ministry, according to a 1999 article in The Roanoke Times. He drew some criticism in 1968 when, days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he and the chairman of deacons approved use of the church’s sanctuary for a community memorial service.
Fuller’s pastoral legacy was tarnished when he confessed to First Baptist in 2004 via video that he had an adulterous affair during his pastorate. Then-chairman of deacons Gene Cress was quoted by local media as saying, “We at First Baptist grieve the confession of Dr. Charles Fuller … You reap what you sow.”
A native of Andalusia, Ala., Fuller earned a bachelor of arts from the University of Richmond and a bachelor of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was awarded three honorary doctorates.
Fuller was preceded in death by his first wife of 44 years, Pat, and his second wife of four years, Margaret. He is survived by his third wife Carol, three sons, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
A service of worship and celebration will be held Aug. 3 at First Baptist.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)