Tom Hatley: RESIGN!!!

All I’m going to say is this:

Tom Hatley’s latest comments about Wade Burleson are so totally beyond the margins of trustee propriety and Christian courtesy as to warrant his immediate censure and reprimand by the board. Is this helpful? Is this reconciliation? Is this man serious when he thinks he still has the ability to represent Southern Baptists on our mission board?

Tom Hatley, I beg of you, resign your final year on the board and allow Southern Baptists to move on.

You can’t spell Cooperative Program without a C and a P.

And you can’t spell Tom Hatley without H-A-T-E.

He’s got to go.

I’m so very sad for him, his church, and our missionaries who have to pierce the darkness with men like Tom Hatley holding the line back at home.

Dockery on Page

In a recent op-ed by Margaret Carlson, David Dockery had some insightful things to say about the new face of evangelicals in the U.S., and the role that the election of Frank Page could play in reshaping the agenda and tone of Christian political activism.

The link is here. The text follows:

Reed’s Defeat Shows Evangelicals Getting Wise: Margaret Carlson

July 27 (Bloomberg) — I first met Ralph Reed in the early 1990s, when he was a political kingmaker as head of the Christian Coalition. By age 33, he was heralded on the cover of Time Magazine as “the Right Hand of God,” helping elect members of Congress and anointing presidential candidates.

We’ve been on panels since — he the picture of smooth affability taking credit for morality, motherhood and apple pie, and me getting blamed for vulgar TV, scantily clad teenagers and flag burning.

But I saw Reed’s veneer crack at an event in Hartford, Connecticut, last year. His rosy cheeks went ashen when he was asked about his fees (now totaling $5.3 million) from clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Back then, Reed could still galvanize millions of Christian soldiers even though he’d morphed into a wealthy Washington dealmaker. Yet multiple investigations were threatening to pull back the curtain on Abramoff. Would they also reveal the dark side of Reed’s dealings, and would his soldiers start to decamp? They would and they did. Reed, 45, earlier this month lost his first election for political office.

Like labor bosses in stretch limos ignoring the rank and file, e-mail messages between him and Abramoff revealed that Reed forgot who brought him to the party. E-mails setting up a ruse to hide who was paying Reed revealed a guilty heart. One seeking business — “I need to start humping in corporate accounts!” he wrote to Abramoff in 1998 — revealed a lost soul.

Feeding the Tumor

Hearings held by Senator John McCain’s Indian Affairs Committee nailed the fact that Reed, who once called gambling a “cancer” on the body politic, was feeding the tumor. Instead of being paid by God-fearing anti-gambling forces to mobilize his grass-roots followers against casinos, Reed was paid by established casinos trying to kill the competition.

Reed suffered a 12-percentage-point defeat on July 18 by an obscure state senator in his race for lieutenant governor of Georgia. The interesting question about his loss is whether it’s primarily attributable to his association with Abramoff, as opposed to what the investigation revealed about his hypocrisy. Or was the vote a sign that evangelicals have caught on to the hustle by latter-day Elmer Gantrys who’ve taken their money and votes and only occasionally their beliefs to Washington.

Vulnerable Republicans

It’s hard to say which is worse. If it’s Abramoff, expect a slew of Republicans to lose elections. He’s already claimed David Safavian, a former White House official and Abramoff ally who was found guilty of lying and obstruction of justice, and prompted a wave of lawmakers to return contributions from the lobbyist. And there are lawmakers such as Senator Conrad Burns of Montana and Representative Bob Ney of Ohio who’d rather talk about death and destruction in Iraq than their ties to Abramoff.

On whether Reed’s loss has meaning for the evangelical base, I turned to Dr. David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and chairman of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. I find Dockery a quiet voice of reason among religious leaders, and not just because when I came to speak at the university, he didn’t blame me for vulgar teenagers or the swill on cable.

`Beltway Fever’

Dockery said “some of the leaders in the evangelical world have been infected with Beltway fever” and chased the “Kingdom of Man rather than the Kingdom of God” without a lot to show for it.

He pointed to another recent race as more important than Reed’s loss. It was the election of Dr. Frank Page, an apolitical pastor, to head the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant group in the U.S. with more than 16 million members. Dockery says Page puts “a kinder, gentler face” on evangelicals.

Page is the opposite of the fiery political preacher, calling himself a “normal” pastor in search of “sweet spirits” and dedicated to missionary work and help for struggling churches. Not a word about impeaching judges or boycotting Disney for offering benefits to partners of gay employees. “I believe in the word of God,” Page said, “I’m just not mad about it.”

No Gale Force

Of course, he didn’t say he wouldn’t get involved in social issues, but those who lost surely would have. Page beat Ronnie Floyd, a megachurch pastor from Arkansas, and Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Two Rivers is one of the most politically active congregations in the country, having hosted Justice Sunday II last August, where then- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist railed against activist judges.

The Christian right will remain a force in Republican politics, just not a gale-force wind. Rich Galen, the former director of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee, says, “There are lots of evangelicals and lots of Republicans, but the religious-political connection is not nearly so cohesive now as it once was.”

Says University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabato: “The heyday of the Christian right is over. Even if there were another Reed, the era coming after Bush won’t be hospitable to him.”

If the Christian right becomes less vocal about its disgust with Senator Edward Kennedy, gay lifestyles and the “war on Christmas,” there’s a chance the public will hear their voices on urgent issues such as poverty in Africa, genocide in Darfur and world health. Who knows, they may even save a few souls.

In remarks after winning the first contested election of the convention in several decades, Page said everyone has known for a long time what conservative Christians are against. “It’s time to say, ‘Please let us tell you what we’re for.”’ Even Reed, as he licks his wounds, might say Amen to that.

(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column:
Margaret Carlson in Washington at

Timothy George on the Southern Baptist Revolution

This article, entitled “Southern Baptists After the Revolution,” can be found in the August/September 2006 edition of First Things.

All ecclesial revolutions eventually run out of steam. New concerns emerge, and different leaders come to the fore. It is to early to tell whether the election of Frank Page as president of the Southern Baptist Convention signals such a change, but there are signs that a historic shift may be underway within America’s largest Protestant denomination.

The pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, Page won a first-ballot victory this summer against two prominent candidates with close ties to what is sometimes called the college a cardinals — a close knit circle of Southern Baptist Convention leaders who have handpicked the denomination’s recent presidents. Even Page was surprised by his election. Since the conservative resurgence began in 1979, only once, in 1994, has a candidate not supported by those leaders been elected to head the Southern Baptist Convention.

Ever since the Southern Baptists were organized in 1845, there has been a machine with powerful personalities struggling to control it. In the 1950s, J.D. Grey, a New Orleans pastor, said of Louie Newton, an older leader from Georgia, “Louie and his buddies have run this convention for too long, and I’m going to take it away from them” — which J.D. and his buddies did.

When the recent Southern Baptist upheaval — called simply the Controversy — began in the 1970s, many saw it as just another preachers’ fight, a spectacle with all the charms of a late-night row among alley cats. But two factors distinguished this commotion from earlier power struggles: This was not a palace coup, but a grassroots revolution fueled by a strong sense of denominational alienation by many ordinary Baptists who resented the elitist rule of the Baptist bureaucrats who ran the machine at the time.

There was also a major theological concern, which gave the masses a cause for which to fight: the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible. For centuries the Bible had been the central icon in Baptist life, and it seemed to be under attack by some Baptist scholars who questioned the historical and miraculous elements in Scripture. After struggling for more than a decade, conservatives seized control of the denominational machinery and began to implement changes in the boards and agencies of the convention.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing anxiety within the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists support thousands of missionaries through a national giving plan called the Cooperative Program. But prolonged conflict within the denomination’s two large mission boards has left many Baptists unhappy. And, as the Internet chatter on Baptist websites before Page’s election showed, many feel the circle of fellowship has been drawn too tightly in recent years. They resent the angry spirit and bitter tone that have marked Baptist discourse. Some feel excluded and believe the Southern Baptist Convention is being distracted from its primary purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. The commitment to an evangelical view of Scripture seems secure, but some of the other concerns that fueled the Controversy in the first place have surfaced again — and this time, with a vengeance.

Doubtless, any voted for Page because of his strong support for the Cooperative Program, an important issue for a denomination that has to raise an annual budget of $200 million from voluntary giving. Still, his election was unexpected and can best be explained by an odd coalition of diverse subgroups within the Southern Baptist Convention that came together in Greensboro, North Carolina, to register their concerns. At least five such groups can be identified.

(1) Charismatics. Very few Southern Baptists engage in speaking in tongues or other Pentecostal practices. But the charismatic movement has influenced Baptist life in music, worship, and spirituality, including distinctive forms of prayer. Occasionally, congregations have been ousted from Baptist associations over charismatic issues. But recent efforts to exclude from missionary appointment all who have a “private prayer language” seemed to many ordinary Baptists both intrusive and unnecessary. As one person said to me, “If we are serious about sharing the gospel around the world, shouldn’t we be glad that we still have missionaries who pray rather than setting up a bureau of prayer inspectors!”

(2) Neo-Calvinists. Early Baptists, both in England and America, were strongly influenced by Reformed theology, and there has been a growing interest in reclaiming this tradition within the Southern Baptist Convention. The “Calvinism boys,” as one of their detractors dubbed them, have made some folks nervous for fear that too much emphasis on God’s initiative in salvation might discourage human efforts in witness and evangelism. The issue was tackled head-on by Paige Patterson and Al Mohler, two Southern Baptist educators, in a public debate at this year’s convention. While clearly holding to different views, they have agreed that both parties should have a place at the Baptist table. And Page, not a Calvinist himself, said the same thing. If this spirit prevails, there will not be a divisive fight over Calvinism, as some have predicted. No doubt, both hyper-Calvinism and five-point Arminianism are still out of bounds among Southern Baptists, but between those two extremes there is room for a healthy debate on the precise balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

(3) Women’s Missionary Union. Another surprise event at this year’s convention was the decision to reject the effort to change the auxiliary status of the Women’s Missionary Union, a mission-support group, and bring it under the direct control of the convention. The decision should not be interpreted as an incipient feminism in Southern Baptist life (out of more than forty thousand churches, only a few dozen have female pastors), but rather as an affirmation of a pattern of cooperation that has served Baptist mission causes well for more than a century. As someone said, “Instead of telling women again what they cannot do, for once let’s thank them for what they have done!”

(4) Baptist bloggers. These are younger, Internet-savvy pastors who represent diverse views across the spectrum of Southern Baptist Convention life. But they all have one thing in common: They aren’t veterans of the Baptist wars over the past few decades. Some of them have been influenced by the Willow Creek and Saddleback mega-church models of church life. They are mostly conservative and committed to sharing the gospel in today’s culture, which, they are quick to remind you, is not the culture of the 1950s. The bloggers are not a well-defined group, but they are adept at agitation and networking, key elements in any emerging revolution. These Baptist Bolsheviks are intelligent, articulate, and a force to be reckoned with.

(5) Younger Moderates. Most of the older moderate groups defeated in the long Baptist wars gave up on the Southern Baptist Convention years and established their own groups outside — or, at best, on the margins of — the denomination. Some still grieve the loss of the denominational empire that once was theirs. It seems unlikely, however, that such groups can capture the hearts of even the moderates among the rising Baptist generation. One thing is sure: The more such groups embrace the Kulturprotestantismus of the liberal mainline churches, the less likely this is it to happen. Yet some of the most substantive theology being written by Baptist scholars today comes from a little-known circle of mostly younger moderates who have shown a surprising interest in quite traditional themes such as the deeper meaning of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the covenantal disciplines of congregational life, and the positive role of creeds and confessions in the life of the church. Steven Harmon’s recent book, Towards a Baptist Catholicity, is an example — and it stands in marked contrast to the older libertarian, Emersonian version of Baptist identity. These younger scholars are not so much a part of the coalition that elected Page as they are potential allies for conservatives within a reconciled Baptist future.

But is such reconciliation possible? It will not be easy and it will not happen quickly. But this summer’s meeting in North Carolina suggests opportunities for a renewed Southern Baptist Convention that can build on the gains of the past generation without refighting all its harsh battles. The coalition that elected Page is fragile and not likely to hold together very long in the absence of a compelling vision of a believable future, one that is faithful to the verities of the Baptist heritage and also generous, winsome, and filled with grace.

Perhaps this attitude is best seen in the most influential Southern Baptists in America today: Billy Graham, a “prophet with honor” and America’s chaplain for more than fifty years; Chuck Colson, evangelist, prison reformer, and cofounder of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and Rick Warren, a pastor whose writings have touched millions of lives. In their commitment to Christ and the Bible, and their desire to share the gospel, these three represent the best of the Baptist vision today. Each in his own way has wrapped his arms around the world and drawn it closer to the Father’s heart.

Another surprise happened in Greensboro this year: Condoleeza Rice became the first secretary of state to address the Southern Baptist Convention, and she received a thunderous ovation. The media focused on her stirring patriotic speech and the political implications of her appearance. Since Southern Baptists abandoned native son Jimmy Carter and joined the Reagan revolution in 1980, they have become an increasingly important part of those values-voters who have made the Republican party in American political life. Rice was there, in part, to shore up that alliance.

But something else about her visit should not go unnoticed. Rice, who grew up in the segregated South, became the second Alabama-born African American woman (Coretta Scott King was the first) ever to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention. The symbolism was poignant: This great-granddaugher of slaves was addressing a denomination once led by slave owners. Such an event would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago — but so would the election of someone like Frank Page during the long years of Controversy that roiled the Southern Baptist Convention. Some changes are for the better.”

On buns in the oven

Tonight I stumbled across the thoughts of Dorothy Patterson on birth control, entitled “Convenient Contraception or Challenging Parenthood: Personal Agenda vs. God’s Plan.” It’s quite a lengthy read, but well worth your time, if for no other reason than to absorb the position taken by an learned woman who has thought critically and interacted substantively with the subject of evangelical gynology. Whether or not you agree with all of Patterson’s conclusions, you have to appreciate that she refuses to dictate her position as the only biblical position on birth control. You will also appreciate her personal story immensely, and share her thankfulness to God for how he protected her through difficult pregnancies and deliveries to raise her children according to biblical principles. The following excerpt is especially interesting to me:

I do not feel that it is my responsibility to convince people not to use the Pill. However, I do want to provide other women with the tools necessary to make an informed decision rather than one based on disinformation or ignorance. The moral issues surrounding use of the Pill are difficult and are noticeably more “gray” than many issues concerning the sanctity of human life. In matters of conscience, one must allow others grace to make their own decisions before God.

How does one reconcile liberty and license? Is genuine liberty merely doing what one wants to do and not doing what one doesn’t want to do? Some seem to think so. However, God has a completely different idea. His challenge is for you to do what you ought to do—what He meant for you to do. Although I am created in God’s image, I am not God! His liberty is predicated upon my obedience; my freedom in His order must be sanctified by discipline according to His boundaries.

There has never been any question that one has the power to choose–even to choose to disobey. Everyone is capable of doing many things that he is not supposed to do. Yet one is clear that the ability to do a thing is not a command nor even a permission to do it.

At the heart of the whole issue of liberty is the matter of personal choice. You always have choices, and the right choice is not always the easy choice or the painless choice, but it should be the faithful choice. To go, do, see, and have what you want and reject what you do not want; to determine the timing of God’s blessings and the kind of blessings you would accept; to demand individual rights–selfishness rather than selflessness–the price of this freedom is too great. The one who chooses faithfully believes in a God who not only controls the big things but the little things as well.”

Now aside from the content of her essay, which is not funny, I got a good laugh when I noticed that the First Lady of Southwestern has published her view on contraceptive devices under the “recipe” section of her blog.

Here is the link

And here is the address:


And now for something completely different:


I’ve just received a phonecall that the link to Dorothy Patterson’s blog is strangely inaccessible. I’ve been reloading the page, and it could be that the web administrator at SWBTS is changing some of the layout. If the link to her position paper changes, I will provide a new link as soon as possible.

We need fewer secrets

Today, July 3, 2006, carried an Op-Ed in the Washington Post by former United States President and fellow Baptist, Jimmy Carter. I have reproduced President Carter’s opinion piece in its entirety without alteration, trusting that the omni-capable minds who light upon this blog will see its germaneness to the current discusion about openness and accountability in Southern Baptist denominational agencies and insitutions:

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turns 40 tomorrow, the day we celebrate our independence. But this anniversary will not be a day of celebration for the right to information in our country. Our government leaders have become increasingly obsessed with secrecy. Obstructionist policies and deficient practices have ensured that many important public documents and official actions remain hidden from our view.

The events in our nation today — war, civil rights violations, spiraling energy costs, campaign finance and lobbyist scandals — dictate the growing need and citizens’ desire for access to public documents. A poll conducted last year found that 70 percent of Americans are either somewhat or very concerned about government secrecy. This is understandable when the U.S. government uses at least 50 designations to restrict unclassified information and created 81 percent more “secrets” in 2005 than in 2000, according to the watchdog coalition

Moreover, the response to FOIA requests often does not satisfy the transparency objectives or provisions of the law, which, for example, mandates an answer to information requests within 20 working days. According to the National Security Archives 2003 report, median response times may be as long as 905 working days at the Department of Agriculture and 1,113 working days at the Environmental Protection Agency. The only recourse for unsatisfied requesters is to appeal to the U.S. District Court, which is costly, timely and unavailable to most people. Policies that favor secrecy, implementation that does not satisfy the law, lack of a mandated oversight body and inaccessible enforcement mechanisms have put the United States behind much of the world in the right to information.

Increasingly, developed and developing nations are recognizing that a free flow of information is fundamental for democracy. Whether it’s government or private companies that provide public services, access to their records increases accountability and allows citizens to participate more fully in public life. It is a critical tool in fighting corruption, and people can use it to improve their own lives in the areas of health care, education, housing and other public services. Perhaps most important, access to information advances citizens’ trust in their government, allowing people to understand policy decisions and monitor their implementation.

Nearly 70 countries have passed legislation to ensure the right to request and receive public documents, the vast majority in the past decade and many in middle- and low-income nations. While the United States retreats, the international trend toward transparency grows, with laws often more comprehensive and effective than our own. Unlike FOIA, which covers only the executive branch, modern legislation includes all branches of power and some private companies. Moreover, new access laws establish ways to monitor implementation and enforce the right, holding agencies accountable for providing information quickly and fully.

What difference do these laws make?

In South Africa, a country emerging from authoritarian rule under the apartheid system, the act covering access to information gives individuals an opportunity to demand public documents and hold government accountable for its actions, an inconceivable notion just a decade ago. Requests have exposed inappropriate land-use practices, outdated HIV-AIDS policies and a scandalous billion-dollar arms deal. In the United Kingdom, the new law forced the government to reveal the factual basis for its decision to go to war in Iraq.

In Jamaica, one of the countries where the Carter Center has worked for the past four years to help establish an access-to-information regime, citizens have used their right to request documents concerning the protection of more than 2,500 children in public orphanages. Two years ago there were credible allegations of sexual and physical abuse. In the past year, a coalition of interested groups has made more than 40 information requests to determine whether new government recommendations were implemented to ensure the future safety and well-being of these vulnerable children.

Even in such unlikely places as Mali, India and Shanghai, efforts that allow access to information are ensuring greater transparency in decision making and a freer flow of information.

In the United States, we must seek amendments to FOIA to be more in line with emerging international standards, such as covering all branches of government; providing an oversight body to monitor compliance; including sanctions for failure to adhere to the law; and establishing an appeal mechanism that is easy to access, speedy and affordable. We cannot take freedom of information for granted. Our democracy depends on it.