News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Auburn University’s chaplain weathers complaint from FFRF; Tenn. Partnership Evangelism/missions news.

FFRF attacks Auburn’s
FCA director, team chaplain

By Neisha Roberts/The Alabama Baptist

AUBURN, Ala. (BP) — Bearing the weight and responsibilities of three positions — Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) director, team chaplain and state director for Urban Ministries for FCA — Chette Williams has spent the past 16 years caring for Auburn University athletes as a father-figure, confidant and friend, being a former Auburn football player himself.

But according to a letter sent Aug. 18 to Auburn President Jay Gogue, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) says having a team chaplain leads to failure to “properly protect … student athletes’ rights of conscience and poses a high degree of risk of discrimination” for those who don’t want to participate or hear what Williams has to say.

FFRF, based in Madison, Wisconsin, claims it operates to “promote the constitutional separation between state and church” and accuses Auburn of giving Williams “special privileges and unrestricted access because he is a Christian clergyman.”

Not just privileges

It is true, Williams is a Christian. And it is true, he does go to practices, travels with the football team, holds weekly FCA meetings on Monday nights, teaches devotions and meets individually with players. But those are things he wants to do; they aren’t just “special privileges.”

“My hope and dream is that every one of these kids, coaches and all who are involved in athletics will come to Christ,” Williams told The Alabama Baptist in 1999 when he came on staff at Auburn.

He earned his master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained to preach in 1988. He later served as co-pastor of New Song Baptist Church, Mobile, and pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church, New Orleans.

Office questioned

Besides being football team chaplain, Williams serves as FCA director, a position he’s held since 1999 when then-Coach Tommy Tuberville helped initiate Williams’ position with FCA.

Williams is paid by FCA and works in an office within the athletic department’s student development center. The FFRF letter accused the university of giving Williams an office inside the university’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“It makes no difference if the chaplain is unofficial, not school-sponsored or a volunteer,” the letter stated. “Chaplains are given access to the team as a means for coaches to impose religion, usually Christianity, on their players.”

But according to Auburn players, Williams is a welcomed addition to the team and campus.

Former defensive back Rodney Crayton told The Alabama Baptist in a previous interview, “(Williams) can relate to what we’re going through. Even the really bad guys respect Chette. They act differently around him.”

At press time, no other letters were filed against Auburn.


Partnership blessed Tennessee

By Lonnie Wilkey/Baptist and Reflector editor

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) — While Montana Baptists maintain they have been blessed by the partnership between the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, it has not been a one-way street.

Tennessee Baptists agree that they, too, have been blessed by the relationships they have made in Montana since the partnership began in 2006. It will officially end Dec. 31, but many churches plan to continue the relationships they have built.

Terry Kirby, senior pastor of Alpha Baptist Church, Morristown, observed that “partnerships are not about projects, but about relationships with people serving Jesus Christ.”

Alpha has worked with two churches in Montana during the past 10 years. Alpha helped Rangeland Ministries with evangelism and construction. The church is located in Alzada, “a wide spot in the road with a population of approximately 300 people in the extreme southeast corner of Montana,” Kirby said.

The Morristown congregation also partnered with Valley Community Church in Miles City.

Kirby noted that a team from Alpha developed an outreach plan along with Valley Community pastor Jeff Cahill called “Fence Menders.”

Ministry teams from Alpha traveled to Montana to help repair fences for ranchers in the community. This provided Cahill an opportunity to build relationships, Kirby said.

He noted Cahill has told him that each of the ranches helped by the fence menders are now involved in Valley Community Church or attend a home Bible study group.

“The partnership with the TBC and Montana Baptists has been wonderful,” Kirby said.

He said Alpha is planning a trip to Miles City in 2016, so “the work continues.”

Wayne Phillips, pastor of Main Street Baptist Church, Rocky Top, has ministered in Montana for several years, primarily with Crossroads Church in Bozeman. “We were really excited to be a part of Crossroads Church. We saw them go from a new church plant with no members to 150 in four years,” he said.

Phillips said Crossroads is now “impacting the Bozeman area for the kingdom of God even though it is a young church.

“There are good people there. We made relationships that will last a lifetime,” Phillips said.

The partnership was definitely not a one-way street. Montana Baptists brought a team to Tennessee four years ago to work with Main Street Baptist and other churches in Clinton Baptist Association.

“It was a blessing on both ends that we got to go there and minister and they were able to come here and minister,” he said.

William Johnson, church planting missionary in Montana, was pastor of Gallatin Valley Baptist Fellowship in 2011 and traveled to Tennessee.

He noted then that because Montana Baptists had been on the “receiving” end of the partnership that it was “so good to give.”

First Baptist Church, Andersonville, also is in Clinton Association and has worked in Montana and also with a Montana missions team who came to minister with them two years ago.

Robin Strickland, a ministry assistant at First Baptist noted that a trip to Montana was their first out of state missions trip under pastor Steve Lakin.

“It blessed us very much,” she noted.

First Baptist worked with First Baptist Church in Boulder in 2012 and 2013. “They were so moved that they became a missions-minded church who continues to go on mission today,” Strickland said.

She noted that members from First Baptist Church, Boulder, came to Tennessee to work with the Friendship Center in Briceville. “They were a blessing indeed,” she said.

Lakin noted that they did not return to Montana last year or this year, opting instead to go to Dayton, Ohio.

“We still pray for and communicate with the churches (in Montana) that we helped,” he said.

Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville took student teams to Montana for five straight summers, said Sandy Bolton, director of missions ministries for Wallace Memorial.

Students “were able to experience what church partnership looks like,” Bolton said. Coming from a larger Southern Baptist church where all plans are made for the students, the missions trips provided Wallace Memorial students leadership training, she added.

“Doing hands on tasks helped our students come home more committed to reaching out in our own city and to know how to pray for the ministries of the growing church in Montana,” Bolton said.

Jeff Vanlandingham, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lawrenceburg, observed that the Montana partnership enabled his church to see how they could make a difference in the life of another church.

First Baptist members traveled to Montana several times to assist two different churches in Bozeman.

For our members, the trips “allowed them to see how they could be part of something in a week’s time that could make a difference for another church for a number of years,” Vanlandingham said.

“We were indirectly fulfilling the Great Commission by enabling them to fulfill the Great Commission in their community,” he said.

Ridgeway Baptist Church in Memphis took its first trip to Montana this summer, working with Lakeside Baptist Church, Lakeside.

“It was a great missions trip that helped us solidify that missions is who we are and not what we do,” observed Kyle Rosas, minister of missions and children.

Though the official partnership between the conventions is ending, it may not be Ridgeway’s last trip.

“I don’t know if we will work with the same church, but we are praying about returning to Montana,” Rosas said.

The work continues.


EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups

    About the Author

  • Staff