March 25, 2010 by Bruce Gourley
Cecil Sherman, respected pastor and denominational statesman in Baptist life, passed away April 17. Yet Sherman, to Baptists, was much more than pastor and denominational leader. Sam Hodges, Dallas Morning News religion reporter, hints at the place Sherman held in Baptist life in referring to him as the “Mount Rushmore” of moderate Baptists. At a time when the carefully-laid foundations of institutional Southern Baptist life buckled and ultimately collapsed under the weight of newly empowered legalistic, fundamentalist religion channeled into the “takeover” of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Sherman stood tall, offering a prophetic voice that many on both the right and left did not want to hear, and blazing a trail for traditional Baptists seeking to escape the Southern Baptist wreckage.
Memorial services, including webcasts, are scheduled for today and Thursday for the man who served as the first leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The emergence of the CBF in 1990/1991, led by Sherman, signaled that for white Baptists in the South, the larger Baptist identity, distinctives, heritage and missionary impulse would remain intact at a time when a new breed of fundamentalist Baptists were trying their best to demolish centuries-old Baptist foundations of freedom of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, biblical faithfulness, religious liberty and separation of church and state.
In 2008 Cecil Sherman published his autobiography, entitled By My Own Reckoning. The volume tells the story of how a Southern Baptist pastor who in his early ministry courageously confronted the racial prejudices of white Baptists in the South, was later pushed and propelled to the forefront of national Baptist life and consciousness for the sake of Baptists everywhere. For new generations of moderate Baptists who reject legalistic religion but did not personally witness the wilderness journey that paved the way for their own spiritual birthing, By My Own Reckoning provides an invaluable account of the recent history that underlies their own faith story.
Cecil Sherman, 82 at the time of his passing, was preceded in death by his wife, Dorothy “Dot” Hair. He is survived by his daughter, Eugenia Sherman Brown, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin; his brother, Bill Sherman, of Nashville, Tennessee; his sister, Ruth, who lives in Oklahoma City, and a grandson, Nathaniel.
While Cecil Sherman will be missed by traditional Baptists everywhere, his presence in Baptist life remains, forever woven into the narrative of a freedom-loving people of faith.