Robert Parham, a staff member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) former Christian Life Commission who began an ethics organization for Baptist moderates, died March 5 in Nashville. He was 63.
Parham was described as “a critic of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention” in a Religion News Service (RNS) obituary March 6. RNS reported that Parham had been diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease that affects the body’s organs. But he had remained active as executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, which he founded in 1991 in Nashville, RNS noted.
Parham was one of five children born to a missionary couple in Nigeria, Bob and Jo Ann Parham, who served with the then-Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board).
According to EthicsDaily.com, a news and opinion website operated by the Baptist Center for Ethics, Parham authored several books; was interviewed by such media as ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and NPR; wrote columns that appeared in daily newspapers; and was co-producer/director of several documentaries on such topics as race relations, immigration, poverty and Baptist-Muslim relations. The Baptist Center for Ethics also has produced various online Bible study curricula.
Parham held a Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Baylor University, also serving as a pastor in Cego, Texas, in 1983-84; an M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and an undergraduate degree in international relations from Georgetown University.
Upon finishing his Ph.D., Parham joined the staff of the Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) in 1985 as director of hunger concerns, later serving as associate director from June 1988 until his 1991 resignation to lead the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Parham served under three CLC leaders, Foy Valentine, who led the entity from 1960 until his retirement in May 1986; Larry Baker, who served just over a year after his election in January 1987; and Richard Land, who moved the CLC to conservative stances when he became president in October 1988. Land led the ERLC for 25 years until his retirement from the SBC entity in 2012.
Parham often made headlines when he criticized the Southern Baptist Convention, typically stirring rest-of-the-story responses from various Baptist leaders.
Parham lamented, for example, that Land did not hire staff members with Ph.D. degrees in ethics, in a chapter he wrote for the 1993 book “The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC” compiled by Walter B. Shurden.
Land, however, “hired men with Ph.D.’s in Bible,” according to the 2000 book “The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention” by Jerry Sutton, along with “attorneys with law degrees and others who were in the process of acquiring Ph.D.’s, yes, in ethics.”
Parham is survived by his wife Betsy and their two children, Elisa and Chris. His funeral service is scheduled for noon Monday, March 13, at First Baptist Church in Nashville.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)