2012 Baptist-Jewish Dialogue

About Gary Simson

Gary J. Simson joined the faculty of the Mercer University School of Law in July 2010 as Dean and Macon Chair in Law. Simson received a B.A. summa cum laude in 1971 from Yale College, where he majored in Spanish Literature, and a J.D. in 1974 from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of The Yale Law Journal. After one year clerking for Judge J. Joseph Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Simson began his teaching career at the University of Texas School of Law in 1975 and was promoted to full professor in 1977.

Simson joined the Cornell Law School faculty as professor of law in 1980 and remained at Cornell until 2006. In addition to teaching and scholarship, he spent substantial time on law school administration, including serving as Associate Dean for Faculty Development from 1997-2000 and as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 2000-2004. In 2006 he became Dean and Joseph C. Hostetler-Baker & Hostetler Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He returned to full-time teaching in 2009 and left Case for the Mercer deanship in 2010.

Over the years, Simson has frequently taught first-year Constitutional Law, Conflict of Laws, and a Religion Clauses of the First Amendment seminar. His constitutional law scholarship in recent years has addressed such issues as school vouchers, Supreme Court appointments, the death penalty and religion, and single-sex schools. He is also the author of a leading conflict of laws casebook now in its fourth edition and various articles in the field.

About Walter Shurden

Walter B. Shurden, the founding executive director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer, retired from Mercer University on 31 December 2007. Since his retirement he carries the title of “Minister at Large, Mercer University.” A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Dr. Shurden served at Mercer for almost twenty-five years as Callaway Professor of Christianity in the Roberts Department of Christianity in the College of Liberal Arts. During eighteen of those years, he served as Chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity and for almost seven years as Executive Director of The Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

Before coming to Mercer University in August, 1983, he taught at McMaster Divinity College (1965-66) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; served as pastor of the First Baptist Church (1966-69) in Ruston, Louisiana; was Professor of Religion at Carson-Newman College (1969-1976), Jefferson City, Tennessee; was Professor of Church History (1976-1983) and Dean of the School of Theology (1980-1983) at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Shurden has pursued post-doctoral studies at the University of Tennessee and Princeton Theological Seminary.

He has written or edited fifteen books and published numerous articles. Among his books are: Not A Silent People: Controversies That Have Shaped Southern Baptists (1972) (rev., 1995 Smyth & Helwys); Associationalism Among Baptists in America, 1707-1814 (1980, Arno); The Sunday School Board: 90 Years of Service (1981, Broadman); The Life of Baptists in the Life of The World (1985, Broadman); The Doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers (1987, Broadman); Perspectives in Theological Education (1989); Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: The Priesthood of All Believers (1993, Smyth & Helwys); The Struggle For the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to Fundamentalism (1993, Mercer Press); The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms (1993, Smyth & Helwys); Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: The Bible (1994, Smyth &Helwys); Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: The Church (1996, Smyth & Helwys); Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War (1996, Mercer Press); Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Religious Freedom (1998, Smyth & Helwys), Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper (1999, Smyth & Helwys), Not an Easy Journey: Some Transitions in Baptist Life (Mercer University Press, 2005), and Turning Points in Baptist History (Mercer University Press, 2008).

Distinctively Baptist: Essays in Baptist History edited by Marc A. Jolley and John D. Pierce is a book of essays written in honor of Dr. Shurden. A professor since 1969, Dr. Shurden has received the Distinguished Faculty Award from both Carson-Newman College and the College of Liberal Arts of Mercer University. The Board of Baptists Today presented him in 2005 the annual Judson-Rice Award in honor of his denominational leadership among Baptists.  The Baptist Joint Committee awarded him with the J. M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award in June 2006. The Baptist Joint Committee awarded him the J. M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award in June 2006, and the board of directors of the Associated Baptist Press gave him their Religious Liberty Award in October, 2008.

Dr. Shurden has served as President of the Southern Baptist Historical Society and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion and as Chair of the Historical Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the founders of the Southern Baptist Alliance, he led in founding the William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society. He also was a member of the first steering committee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He has spoken widely at denominational gatherings and college campuses, and he has served as Interim Preaching Minister of many Baptist churches.

His wife, Dr. Kay Wilson Shurden, also a native of Greenville, MS, is a marriage and family therapist, educator, author and speaker. She retired in 2000 as Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Mercer Medical School in Macon, Georgia. The Shurdens have three grown children and six growing grandchildren.


About Josh Levs

Josh Levs reports across all platforms for CNN from its world headquarters in Atlanta. He is part of CNN's coverage of virtually all the top stories. Levs also specializes in "Reality Checking" politicians' claims, explaining complex international and economic issues, and discovering fun, entertaining stories.

An expert with CNN's "Magic Wall" and other new technologies, Levs harnesses all the interactive tools at CNN's disposal to provide facts, context, and perspectives on major breaking news stories, while keeping viewers involved in the experience.

His “Levs on the Lookout” segments are a staple of CNN Newsroom weekend morning programming, highlighting everything from flying cars to newly discovered species. His “Viral Video Rewind” segments are known for highlighting the greatest new videos online.

Levs also reports on the new era of fatherhood and issues surrounding it, bringing together dads for some of the most frank discussions ever seen on television.

Between his work at CNN and 10 years of reporting for National Public Radio, Levs has won many of the top honors in broadcasting, including two Edward R. Murrow awards for his own NPR series on Hurricane Katrina; certificates from Peabody and duPont-Columbia for his contributions to CNN's coverage; and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Associated Press, and the Society of Professional Journalists. The Atlanta Press Club named him a Journalist of the Year, and a scholarship was awarded in his name at his alma mater, Yale University.

His unique role at CNN has made him a key player in covering virtually all major events in recent years. Levs reported around the clock on news breaking through social media during the 2009 Iranian election protests and was first at CNN to report on Neda, a young woman killed during the protests. He was the central on-air reporter for the Haiti Missing Desk, working to help desperate viewers track down loved ones. Levs described the various efforts to stop the flow of oil during the BP Oil Disaster. Throughout the 2008 presidential election, and again throughout the debate over health care reform in 2009, Levs was the central on-air reporter for the CNN Truth Squad, sifting fact from fiction. A comedy show starring D.L. Hughley invited him to skewer his Truth Squad role, to hilarious results. For both the 2008 and 2010 elections, Levs was the central on-air reporter for the CNN Voting Irregularities desk, investigating reports of possible irregularities at precincts nationwide. In 2010, he spent months as the central anchor of the CNN Stimulus Desk, showing viewers what had happened to billions of Recovery Act dollars.

Levs graduated from Yale University with honors earning a Bachelor of Arts degree.