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‘We own the night,’ Kelley tells graduates

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Even in the gathering darkness of economic and ethical decline in America, Christians “own the night” because of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley told graduates during commencement exercises Dec. 13.

Charlie Ray III, one of 166 graduates at the seminary’s 91st graduation, became the third generation of his family to receive a doctoral degree from the seminary. His grandfather, Charles Ray Sr., received a doctor of theology in 1950, and Charles Ray Jr., a member of the seminary faculty, received a doctor of theology in 1983.

Ray Sr. joined his son in placing the doctoral hood on Ray III, marking the first time in the 90-year history of the seminary that three generations of the same family have earned doctorates.

In his address to graduates, Kelley said “our team,” the church, is losing ground in terms of influence in the culture and in the world.

“You are coming into the game, not with a big lead to protect. You are coming in with ground to reclaim,” Kelley said.

Moral decay — from violence and profanity in movies, books and television to abortion, euthanasia and even declining values in the church — is becoming dominant. Along with this ethical avalanche has come a crumbling American economy that in the last month of the academic year has lost $8 trillion, Kelley said.

But even in the face this cultural and spiritual despair, Kelley urged graduates not to lose heart.

“As we are seeing all these reasons for despair and discouragement and all this sense of panic and fear that is sobering men at every level of our society, there is one thing we know as believers: That as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we own the night.”

“Owning the night” is part of American military parlance. One of the major reasons, Kelley said, that the American forces are among the most effective in the history of the world is night-vision capability, the ability to fight and win in the midst of darkness.

“They have done this not by eliminating night, but by subduing it, by discovering that even in the night, there is a light that allows you to see,” Kelley said. “What is true on the battlefields of the world is of far greater significance in our lives and for your purpose.”

Kelley challenged future ministers of the Gospel to remember what happens when cultural darkness descends as it has throughout history and as it has into every human heart. Humanity longs for hope, the kind of hope found in Christ alone.

“People discover what they need is not money. What they need is not a sense of total security, what they need is some kind of hope to which they can cling. What they need in the midst of the night is light,” Kelley said. “That’s exactly what we have to bring into this world.

“We own the night. We are able to function in the night. We are able to live and find joy and confidence and peace within the night, not because we banish the darkness, but because we are able to subdue it with the light of the world,” he added. “The light of the world is Jesus Christ. We have this light to bear at this time that we are losing.”

Today is not the first time the church has been losing. Kelley cited the corruption of the church leading to the light of the Reformation, the 18th century corruption of the church in England that led to John Wesley, George Whitefield and revival.

“It’s been dark before, but we own the night. And when the darkness came the light came in all its power,” he said. “That’s the one thing about darkness. Whenever it falls, it always provides the perfect setting for you to see the power of light. And we own the night, because we have the power of light.”

Kelley eschewed traditional graduation regalia to dress in black trousers and a white shirt, the customary attire of some NOBTS students — those who are preparing for ministry inside Louisiana’s state penitentiary at Angola. Once America’s most violent prison, Angola’s 5,000 inmates make up the largest collection of violent criminals in America. Each inmate is serving a sentence of 20 years or more. Most will die and be buried at Angola. It is a place, Kelley said, “where the night has settled in.”

But the bloody reputation of Angola is changing because of the seminary’s Angola extension. Similar programs are now in place at Mississippi’s Parchman Prison and at Phillips State Correctional Institute in Georgia. There inmates whose lives have been transformed by Christ minister to their fellow inmates, the world’s first seminary program in prison.

Since its beginning, 150 men have graduated from the NOBTS prison program. Each has been assigned to different cell blocks to minister. Violence within Angola’s walls has declined drastically, drawing national attention. The reason is powerful, yet simple, Kelley said.

“A light came into the darkness. We own the night. And that palace of the night is now the throne of the light. This is who you are,” Kelley told the graduates.

As a final illustration, Kelley lit and held up a glowing red candle.
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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