Rules for Radicals, Pt. 1.

“Confronted with the materialistic decadence of the status quo, one should not be surprised to find that all revolutionary movements are primarily generated from spiritual values and considerations of justice, equality, peace, and brotherhood. History is a relay of revolutions; the torch of idealism is carried by the revolutionary group until this group becomes the establishment, and then quietly the torch is put down to wait until a new revolutionary group picks it up for the next leg of the run. Thus the revolutionary cycle goes on.”

With these words, 20th century social organizer and provocateur Saul Alinsky captured in 1971 the current struggle in the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the next week or so, I will be spelling out for readers of this blog the way that some of us have appropriated the lessons of radical reformation distilled in the pragmatic primer written by an agnostic Jew who was incredibly effective in efforts to organize, mobilize, and deliver institutional change to a society languishing in old biases and the advanced stages of bureaucratic rigor mortis.

Today’s installment outlines the unambiguous essentials for sparking reformation/revolution in any institution, including the Southern Baptist Convention. To the discerning reader, the degree to which these principles and strategies were implemented — either consciously or subconsciously — during the conservative resurgence/fundamentalist takeover of the SBC will be clear. It is my contention that the conservative/fundamentalists were more thorough in implementing these principles than were the moderate/liberals. It is also my contention that the push for change/reformation/revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention by emerging voices will be successful in pulling the SBC back toward center because 1) the bureaucracy, now ruled by and large by resurgent loyalists/activists, is handicapped to confront the challenges of the insurgents; and 2) the passion behind the drive for change in any organization is much more intense than the passion of protectionist bureaucratic elites. Once momentum is gained by insurgents, the only recourse available to the bureaucracy is to stem the tide of change. They cannot stop it altogether.

Or put more bluntly, all things being equal, Paige Patterson et al have fewer days to defend the kingdom than I have to challenge it. Without further ado, then, here are the requirements of any effective revolution/reformation/insurgence/resurgence/takeover.

1. Effective communication is necessary to generate interest in the revolutionary cause and to provoke a state of unrest about things as they are. Key to effective communication is the use of humor, Alinsky argues, “for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too, is tragic.” (Rules for Radicals, xviii)

2. An effective organization for change must purpose to work within the system rather than outside it. Start where you are, not where you want to be. Stealing the car from its driver will get you further, faster than trying to build another one from the ground up. In other words, don’t fall into the follies of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

3. Patience – Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change. To build a powerful organization takes time. It is tedious, but that’s the way the game is played.

4. Reformation must precede any lasting revolutionary change. “It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics. A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny.” (Rules for Radicals, xxii)

This, of course, is the primary reason why the conservative resurgence is suffering hardship in recent days. One regime was replaced by another; and while the new regime has a nuanced epistemology, they have adopted the same ethic of denominational governance and fiscal irresponsibility that their protectionist forbears employed.

5. Not every person has to take up arms for a revolution/insurgence to succeed. Some bees have stingers, others do not. The coupling of a passionate minority advocating change with a passive majority who, while they might not work for change, will not work against it, is all that is necessary for the insurgents to win. The majority’s apathy is a more useful tool to revolutionaries than it is to the bureaucrats who are unable to draft the laity to defend their kingdom’s walls.

6. Stamina and resilience– when you lose a fight, do one of three things: “One, find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start bombing – but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a lesson. Go home, organize, build power, and at the next convention, you be the delegates.” (Rules for Radicals, xxiii)

7. Pressure – It is not enough to elect your candidates. You must keep the pressure on. Action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough. Frank Page is just as capable of retooling old denominational hands as Ronnie Floyd/Jerry Sutton would have been. Appointments must be watched like a hawk. The bureaucrats have had their boys recycled for a quarter century. Frank Page must not equivocate on his assurances to inject new blood into the veins of denominational service. Insurgents must make it clear: Any nominee with the name Patterson, Kelley, Nichols, McClain, or any of these people or their children/grandchildren/siblings or these people must be opposed outright and, if necessary, on the convention floor.