Rules for Radicals, Pt. 5.

“During a conflict with a major corporation I was confronted with a threat of public exposure of a photograph of a motel ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ registration and photographs of my girl and myself. I said, ‘Go ahead and give it to the press. I think she’s beautiful and I have never claimed to be celibate. Go ahead!’ That ended the threat.

Almost on the heels of this encounter one of the corporation’s minor executives came to see me. It turned out that he was a secret sympathizer with our side. Pointing to his briefcase, he said: ‘In there is plenty of proof that so and so [a leader of the opposition] prefers boys to girls.’ I said, ‘Thanks, but forget it. I don’t fight that way. I don’t want to see it. Goodbye.’ He protested, ‘But they just tried to hang you on that girl.’ I replied, ‘The fact that they fight that way doesn’t mean I have to do it. To me, dragging a person’s private life into this muck is loathsome and nauseous.’ He left.”

For Saul Alinsky, the decision to resist no-limits gutterball politics was easily made. There were other means of addressing his concerns and championing his cause than to start airing everybody’s dirty laundry. “Ethics,” Alinsky argued, is “doing what is best for the most.” In other words, utilitarian ethics. Alinsky’s next rule:

5. The fifth rule of ethics of means and ends is that concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.

The man who is starving to death has little recourse but to steal a loaf of bread. In fact, it is this hierarchy of ethics that buttressed a monastic theology of concern for the poor. Franciscan friars, in general, and William of Ockham in particular, went to great lengths to develop a theology of property ownership that included provisions for the use of stolen goods to meet basic human needs. These principles of hierarchial and utilitarian ethics continue to influence our system of justice in the West, as well as the way we think about criminal behavior.

For instance, a fifteen year old boy stealing a bicycle so he can ride to the hospital and say goodbye to his father who has just told he has hours to live will hardly face criminal prosecution. And if he is prosecuted, it is unlikely that he will receive a guilty verdict before a jury. A woman who steals a gallon of milk to feed her hungry baby will not face the same public scorn as a president’s wife who takes furnishings from the presidential home on his last days in office.

Of course I’m talking about the Clintons. Who else would I be talking about?

The bicycle-stealing boy and the mother lifting milk have fewer means available to them to address their concerns. The wealthy president’s wife loading U-Hauls with institutional property has a number of other options to furnish his new home. Her theft is without excuse.

In the same way, Alinsky demonstrates, his decision not to use the naughty pictures of his opponent’s sordid affair was the correct decision — not because he wouldn’t have found the information politically useful, but because he didn’t need the information to advance his cause. Alinsky continues:

If I had been convinced that the only way we could win was to use it, then without any reservations I would have used it. What was my alternative? To draw myself up into righteous ‘moral’ indignation saying, ‘I would rather lose than corrupt my principles,’ and then go home with my ethical hymen intact? The fact that 40,000 poor would lsoe their war against hopelessness and despair was just too tragic. That their condition would even be worsened by the vindictiveness of the corporation was also terrible and unfortunate, but that’s life. After all, one has to remember means and ends. It’s true that I might have trouble getting to sleep because it takes time to tuck those big, angelic, moral wings under the covers. To me that would be utter immorality.

During the hottest days of the conservative resurgence/takeover, decisions were regularly made about the propriety of leaking information about men whose convictions had placed them on the other side of issues. At times, all sense of ethical concern was thrown aside and the rumor mill was cranked up in the blogs of yesteryear, The Southern Baptist Advocate and The Southern Baptist Journal.

When David Montoya recorded the Arkansas strategy session in which state convention leaders orchestrated the unsuccessful election for Ronnie Floyd to defeat Mike Huckabee for the Arkansas State Convention presidency, he soon discovered how far the fundamentalists would go to destroy a person. His life before he was saved was written up while allegations of drug use and other criminal mischief were raised.

When Lloyd Elder was holding onto the presidency of the Sunday School Board, rumors about his having a mistress were circulated among conservatives across the convention. The president of the Brotherhood Commission was accused of having a child out of wedlock. People were told they were “blind as a mole” if they didn’t see that Roy Honeycutt disbelieved the Bible. Duke McCall was accused of winebibbing, and the list goes on and on.

In the past year, it has surprised me the degree to which I have been handed documentation about mischievous little peccadillos and major moral failures. I’ve been given audits of megachurch finances and receipts from questionable reimbursements.But reading Saul Alinsky has taught me a valuable lesson.

There is no need to drop a few tons of nuclear warheads if a sniper rifle will get the job done. The collateral damage of airing some information is greater than the political victory to be gained. Telling everything accomplishes nothing. We aren’t looking to raze the Southern Baptist Convention, just to reform it.

So I’ve made a determination that I will withhold certain information in my hands about lawsuits and settlements and bankruptcies and harrassments and assaults and what-have-you because they do not involve the institutional resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. They are private sins that are better addressed in the context of local church discipline. If however, evidence exists that the integrity, solvency, and accountability of denominational resources have been compromised, I will address it.

That’s why I gave Marty Duren information about the $90 Million Dollar endowment fiasco at Southwestern Seminary. It’s why I’ve given C.B. Scott and Art Rogers documentation about administrative malfeasance. It’s why I turned over nearly 700 pages of documentation to Wade Burleson regarding the efforts to undermine Jerry Rankin’s presidency at the IMB, and it’s why I’ve requested a great deal of information from each of our Southern Baptist institutions.

Some corners of Southern Baptist life are as corrupt as Enron and about as sanctified as a Las Vegas brothel. But there’s no need to amputate our right leg if antibiotics will do the trick.

3 thoughts on “Rules for Radicals, Pt. 5.

  1. Ben,

    Thanks for the balanced perspective. Don’t kill the patient. ;)

    And thanks for the Alinsky series. I wish my seminary ethics class was this provocative and interesting. Radicals for Christ was our challenge; we could have benefited from real-world discussions. Thanks. is a research firm that deals with governance and accountability issues. “Boards that spoil their executives may not stand up to them on important decisions,” says Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate. “It indicates a board that is less likely to say no to a chief executive officer when it’s necessary.”
    “It’s like taking the company car to Disney World. You don’t do it,” says Charles Elson, a law professor at the Univ. of Delaware.

    The SEC is requiring disclosure of perks exceeding $10,000 per year per executive in proxy statements. Also, there is heightened disclosure rules for severance packages (golden parachutes).

    The average churchman (read: stockholder) might have a difficult time understanding executive compensation, sometimes based on “market conditions” and stagnant, or declining enrollments.

    So…. How are those financial report requests coming?

    During your Sabbatical, I’ll look for the remaining drafts of The Red Baron in my email. The first two chapters were quite good….

  2. Ain’t we just a dandy bunch? Mebbe Messiah was sweating those drops of blood ’cause he was looking ahead to how his supposed children would practice their shepherdin’ techniques. Let’s get this collection of messes cleared up ‘afore he jes’ labels us all as “chaff.” Enron & Vegas indeed.

    Well, if you’uns can get this damna- um, denomination cleaned up a bit you’ll have done us all a favor. Come, Lord Jesus!

    Steve Austin in Hoptown

  3. I seriously do not have a dog in this hunt or whatever cliche one might choose to write. I just want to make an observation.

    Are you not just as guilty of dirtmongering as those whom you accuse by inferring/implying (pick your word) that you have secrets on them? The innuendo, cleverly worded aside, and etc. are the worst form of gossip and character destruction as it causes minds to wander and wonder … often to the worst of human depravity. Either spill it or stop with the innuendos. I would prefer that you stop.

    And yes I am writing this from Fort Worth. So justify your actions because of my location. You have justified more than enough in the blog above. However, that will not stop the fact that your revenge motivation is destroying many lives who are innocent in this dog hunt.

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