The former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dr. Arthur Phillip Lineberger, lost his battle with depression and died on Sunday after taking his own life. He was 69 years old.
According to Ken Camp of Baptist News Global, the pastor had been on medical leave from the Sugar Land Baptist Church in Texas since mid-March of this year. Lineberger has been the pastor of that church since November 1995, when it used to be called Williams Trace Baptist Church.
"[Lineberger] lost a battle with depression and took his own life," son-in-law and family spokesman Brian Seay said.
Camp reported that Lineberger delivered the eulogy for his friend John Petty, a pastor who was also suffering from depression, four years ago. Petty was the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Kerrville, Texas, and a former chair of the BGCT Executive Board.
"Depression speaks a language of its own known only to those who are depressed," Lineberger said in that sermon for Petty. "Depression is both ancient and universal."
Lineberger added that 19 million Americans suffered from depression, which claimed more lives than war, cancer and AIDS combined.
"In fact, those who study it - doctors and psychiatrists - tell us that depression is the most common emotional problem in America," Lineberger said. "It has risen to immense proportions. No one is immune to it. It is not a willful fault, nor is it a sin."
According to Camp, Lineberger noted that biblical figures such as Moses and Elijah suffered from depression. Even prominent Christian ministers from Charles Haddon Spurgeon to Harry Emerson Fosdick had that emotional problem.
"The Bible says we see through a glass darkly," Lineberger said. "We don't know how dark the darkness is in someone who is depressed. Through the darkened glass, they can't see the light of life or the love of others. They can only feel the pressure of the darkness of despair in their own mind. That darkness is visible to them and often invisible to us."
Bill Jones, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, told Camp that the death of Lineberger was "a deep personal loss for me."
"Phil had become a dear and trusted friend," Jones quipped.
Jones added that Lineberger left an immeasurable legacy on BGCT.
"Phil had been my go-to person - my first phone call - whenever I needed help dealing with BGCT issues, because I trusted his experience and understanding, as well as his wisdom," Jones said. "Phil was always gracious and positive, and his sense of humor made heavy burdens much lighter. I miss him already."
According to Camp, Lineberger's pastoral career took him to churches across Texas, Arkansas and Kansas. He converted to Christianity at age 10 after evangelist Freddie Gage conducted a revival in Texarkana, Texas.
"Highland Park Baptist Church in Texarkana ordained him to the gospel ministry," Camp wrote. "He graduated from the University of Arkansas and also earned master's and doctor's degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth."
According to an obituary published by Fort Bend Star, Lineberger is survived by his wife, Brenda; three daughters, Becky Groves, Amy Seay and Kathy Lineberger; and 11 grandchildren.
The obituary stated that a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. CT today at Sugar Land Baptist Church.