Faithful, Humble, Courageous, Brilliant
This morning I awakened lonely. General T.C. Pinckney had given a final salute to all of us and answered the roll call of the Savior in Heaven yesterday. No sorrows convulsed my heart for General Pinckney. In fact, I envied his stepping into the greatest adventure of his life. I sorrowed for Shady, his wonderful companion of many years, and his children and grandchildren; but I have to tell you that I regret not having been in heaven to witness his first moments in glory. And all Southern Baptist, hundreds of other evangelicals, and every free American join me in missing a great man from our ranks this day!
General Pinckney was an Air Force Jet Fighter Pilot who flew so many sorties during the Vietnam War that his resilience in the face of enemy fire was legendary. Once I asked him to describe his moments during the descent in his aircraft. Smiling wryly as he pictured a fresh dive, he said, “Watching the flashes from enemy anti-aircraft emplacements and viewing the tracers as they flew by under and over your wings, I had no trouble at all recalling the brevity of life or the nearness of eternity.” From his youth, T.C. Pinckney was a courageous adventurer for excellence. He put everything on the line because of his love for the United States of America.
The General was faithful to his country but more important, faithful to his fabulous wife Shady and faithful to his Lord. Shady stood by her husband, gave birth to his children, superintended the grandchildren and backed him every step of the way. T.C. often conscripted a coterie of grandchildren to hike the wilderness all over America. He taught courage in this domed classroom of nature in the way it should be learned.
And his faithfulness to Christ exceeded even his deeds of valor on the battlefield. In 1999, Pinckney offered the motion at the Southern Baptist Convention that the newly elected President appoint a committee to study and propose revisions for the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith that guides every entity in the Southern Baptist Convention. Adrian Rogers of Memphis chaired the committee of theologians, pastors, lay women and lay men of all ethnic backgrounds; and Pinckney himself was asked to serve on that committee overwhelmingly supported by the convention. Asked to serve as a lay member of that committee, Pinckney represented the state of Virginia and served with distinction. Staying abreast of developments, Pinckney edited The Baptist Banner for Virginia for years giving Virginia Baptists the information they needed to make a strong turn back to the Bible.
And did I mention that Pinckney was courageous and brilliant? Long before most Americans made the discovery, Pinckney had already grasped the great need of America’s kids for home school education and had the God-given temerity to speak for homeschool education to an audience that was frequently hostile to the idea.
Amid all the accolades as a war hero and the thanksgiving of parishioners everywhere for General Pinckney’s contributions to the Conservative Renaissance among Southern Baptists, he remained one of the gentlest and sweetest saints of God. Humility could be defined by the name, Thomas C. Pinckney. Although he was the recipient of the Legion of Merit Award, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with eleven leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with gold star award, he remained indistinguishable from your best old friend on the street. Promoted to Brigadier General July 1, 1975, this South Carolinian native remained courteous, thoughtful, helpful, and determined all his life.
Southern Baptists and America have lost one of their greatest soldiers. I have lost one of my most precious friends. The Pinckney family has forfeited as fine a husband, father, and grandfather as ever walked these hallowed shores. Heaven is welcoming a humble soldier whose greatest award ever received will be when his Savior says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” T.C. Pinckney will bow, wryly smile a little, and humbly take his place among God’s elect. Thank you, Thomas C. Pinckney, a million times over for a life lived for others.