Jimmy Allen, Southern Baptist Convention President Who Battled Racism & Segregation During the Jim Crow Era, Dies at 91

Former SBC President Jimmy Allen remembered as “driven” and an “energetic dreamer.”

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (BP) — Jimmy Allen, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and entity leader known for his gregarious personality and engagement with cultural issues, died Jan. 8 in Brunswick, Ga. He was 91.

The last SBC president to serve before the convention’s Conservative Resurgence, Allen also was a confidant of President Jimmy Carter and once met with Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis. Allen led the SBC’s Radio and Television Commission from 1980-90 and the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission from 1960-68.

During Allen’s 1968-80 pastorate of 9,000-member First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, the congregation was among the SBC’s baptism leaders and established a range of social ministries.

“He was the most energetic dreamer I think I’ve ever known,” said Allen biographer Larry McSwain, a former dean and provost at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “He was driven by a call from God as a young man that never left him, and he had a passion for people that shaped the kind of ministry he had throughout the many chapters of his life.”

A hallmark of Allen’s SBC presidency was Bold Mission Thrust, a convention-wide campaign adopted in 1978 “to enable every person in the world to have the opportunity to hear and to respond to the gospel of Christ by the year 2000.” Allen was among the campaign’s chief promoters.

Jimmy Draper, retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a friend of Allen’s since the 1950s, called Allen an excellent preacher and a passionate evangelist.

“The night [the SBC launched] Bold Mission Thrust, there was a huge crowd,” said Draper, SBC Executive Committee ambassador. “It was one of the most impressive evenings as [Allen] challenged us to implement Bold Mission Thrust. Even though we disagreed on a lot of things, I respected him. He was a good communicator and had a heart to see people reached for the Gospel.”

Gender diversity marked Allen’s presidential appointments and SBC program decisions. At his first annual meeting to preside in 1978, a woman, Marian Grant, chaired the Program Committee and 15 women were appointed to SBC committees, according to McSwain’s biography “Loving Beyond Your Theology.” Five additional women had program roles, including addresses by Coretta Scott King and Ruth Graham Bell.

Allen’s intense work ethic, McSwain said, led him to sleep only about four hours a night and consume “coffee by the gallon.” He “had met everybody, and he knew everybody”, often calling pastors “Doc” when he couldn’t recall their names.

His engagement with social issues included efforts to battle racism and segregation during the Jim Crow era. Allen said in a 2008 interview his concern about racism began as a teenager when a conference at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center led him to rethink prejudiced views.

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Source: Baptist Press