A reporter from the Fort Worth Star Telegram asked me today how the whole “Dwight McKissic situation” got started in Southern Baptist life, and I determined it might be helpful for bloggers and blogreaders to know the whole story.
Prior to his August 29 chapel address, I had never spoken to Dwight McKissic. I knew who he was, and I knew something of his church. I did not know of his position on tongues or his experience with a private prayer language. On the morning of his chapel sermon I logged into the live webcast on Southwestern’s homepage and began to listen to the service in the background of my church office.
When Dwight got to the point in his message where he criticized the IMB policies, I knew something newsworthy had just occurred. Immediately, I called Wade Burleson to tell him to log in and start listening. Normally, Wade answers his phone immediately. This time, I kept calling back until he answered. He was in a staff meeting, but told me he would try to listen and then call me when it was over.
At that point, I called Marty Duren and Art Rogers to get them to tune in. Dwight had moved on from his momentary reference to the IMB policies and had begun sharing about his own experience with private prayer languages. My single thought at that moment was, “this man does not know what he has just done.” The reason I thought that is because I know Paige Patterson. I knew he would not tolerate the expression of McKissic’s position from the chapel pulpit. The reaction would be swift, and I began recording the sermon via audiotape.
I worked the phones laboriously at that point, calling my contacts at the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Associated Press, Baptist Press, Associated Baptist Press, Ethics Daily, and the Austin American-Statesman. Within ten minutes — and before McKissic’s sermon was over — I had alerted every major media outlet in the North Texas area and numerous state Baptist paper editors. Before noon, the blogs were already buzzing.
Shortly after the service was over, Wade called me back and told me that he couldn’t get the message on the archives. “Surely he won’t censor it,” I told him. “You watch,” Wade replied. “Patterson won’t let that message out.”
At that point, I decided to call Southwestern Seminary and ask for the audio-visual department. After a few transferred calls I was able to speak to a seminary student employee who was working on the internet archives. I identified myself as a “local pastor” who was “trying to access the archive of Dwight McKissic’s sermon” from earlier that day.
“Well, ordinarily we would have it archived immediately. But we’ve just received instructions from the administration that McKissic’s sermon is not to be archived until further notice,” he told me.
I thanked him for the information, hung up the phone, and fired a follow-up email off to twenty-something reporters/editors that Patterson was going to censor McKissic’s sermon. By early afternoon, Patterson’s statement was released on Southwestern’s website. A few reporters emailed back asking for a statement, which I provided.
I had not yet spoken to Dwight McKissic, though I had emailed a few denominational leaders about the ordeal so as to apprise them of what was about to go down in Ft. Worth. The next day, while I was at the hospital making a pastoral visit, Wade called me and told me that I needed to contact Dwight.
Before the afternoon was over, I called Dwight, who told me that he was considering resigning the trustee board. He didn’t need the headache, he said, and would rather not deal with the controversy. I asked Dwight to wait 24 hours before he made any decision, and told him that I would call him back the next day.
That night, I placed a few dozen phonecalls to pastors around the convention who I knew would be willing to call Dwight and encourage him to stay at it. I called BGCT pastors and SBTC pastors. I called pastors in North Carolina and South Carolina. I called a pastor in Tennessee and one in Florida. I told them all what was happening, and I asked them to contact Dwight and encourage him to stay on the board. By the next day, I had his chapel sermon transcribed and Wade Burleson posted it on his blog.
A flood of phonecalls and emails and letters hit Cornerstone Baptist Church from every conceivable corner of convention life.
In mid-October, Wade, Dwight, and I planned a meeting in Oklahoma City so that the two of them could meet face-to-face for the first time, and so that we could plan how best to respond to the narrowing trends in convention life. Early one morning, I picked Dwight up in a rented black-and-chrome Hummer H2 and we cruised to OKC to meet Wade for lunch. Along the way, I called Art Rogers to see if he was going to be around town. Art restructured his schedule and drove to meet up with us at a hotel in Bricktown. We spent several hours together planning, and what we came up with was the Roundtable and the Conference to be hosted this coming April.
At one point in the last two months I had the privilege to sit in Dwight’s office and talk about the chapel sermon. On his desk was a file. In that file were some copies of pages from commentaries he had studied in preparing his chapel sermon. On the shelf of his library was a copy of Paige Patterson’s commentary on First Corinthians. Dwight and I talked about how Patterson’s published comments on the issue of ecstatic utterance and Corinthian tongues could lead a person to believe that Patterson recognized McKissic’s position as an acceptable interpretation of the biblical texts. McKissic told me that “never in his wildest dreams” did he think what he was saying would be unacceptable to Patterson. If he had known, he would either have preached a different sermon, or he would have declined the offer to preach altogether.
Of course, I can sympathize with Dwight’s confusion. Anybody listening to Patterson introduce Jerry Rankin over the past ten years, or reading his public correspondence (not his private correspondence) would assume that the president of Southwestern Seminary supported Rankin’s leadership at the IMB. Anybody who’s watched things up close, however, can sift through the sweetest of accolades dripping from Patterson’s lips or flowing from his pen and find the bitterest of criticisms.
The same reporter from the FW Star Telegram who asked me how it all got started asked me to characterize my role in the SBC. I’ve never really been asked that question before, and it sorta stumped me. Just when I was about to give the whole, “I’m just a small church pastor, etc.” speech, another reporter chimed in.
“He’s the Karl Rove.”
I laughed, of course, and walked away a bit flattered thinking, “At least I’m not the Jack Abrahamoff of the SBC.”
And that is how it all went down…