Rules for Radicals, Pt. 7.

Saul Alinsky glosses over rules seven and eight, which we shall consider together:

7. The seventh rule of ethics of means and ends is that the less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.

8. The eighth rule of ethics of means and ends is that the morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.

Rules number seven and eight explain why school board and town council elections seldom get dirty. When was the last time you saw one of those mid-May elections involve an all out brawl complete with pictures of adulteries, videos of college fraternity parties, or swift boat veterans lining up to question the validity of Mayor So-and-So’s service in Vietnam? The stakes of small town politics can get dirty, but only on a small scale.

Denominational politics works the same way. If members of First Baptist Church of Savoy, TX, decide they don’t like their pastor, it would be laughable for them to start some website named The tiny church on Highway 82 between Sherman and Bonham hardly has cellular telephone reception, so the chances are that a website dedicated to removing the pastor might — on a good day — generate five hits.

Jump across the Mississippi River, however, to Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, and you enter another world of politics altogether. When the stakes are that high, the game gets uglier. Let a man be accused of a seventeen year-old molestation in Lake Swamp, South Carolina, and a town of fifty with a church roll of thirty is scandalized. Let the same thing happen at Bellevue, and the national media rolls in.

Again, Alinsky would not argue that a molestation at Bellevue is morally worse than a molestation in rural South Carolina. He’s simply making the observation that men will adjust their ethical judgment on a sliding scale when the stakes are higher. An airing of Bellevue’s dirty laundry — though Bellevue’s is hardly as dirty as laundry in the SBC can be — fascinates even the most offended of souls. “It’s just shameful what’s happening at Bellevue,” they’ll say. Just before they read the latest blog about it.

Or put another way, the worst gossips are usually those who claim to disdain gossip.

In the same way, questions raised about the ethical integrity of Southwestern Seminary’s president can be viewed by different people in different ways. For some, the president is under attack and trustees need to “circle the wagons” and attribute the opposition to satanic influence. Others, who have long hated Paige Patterson for wrongs suffered thirty-or-more years ago will grin when they read what’s on the blogs. Faculty members at Southwestern Seminary who owe their degrees and jobs to Patterson, will respond to my actions with understandable nastiness. Their little wagons are hitched to his star. If his star falls, they fear they’ll be the next victim of “momentarily lax” trustee oversight and be forced to start circulating resumes. Other faculty members, particularly those who mentored Sheri Klouda, surely sit in their offices with a sense of relief that the injustice of her termination has not gone unnoticed.

This also explains why I get emails from some people in remote states who “cannot believe” that I would “attack such a godly man.” It also explains why I get emails from people who “cannot believe” that it has taken so long for somebody to start “telling the truth” about Patterson.

Or let me put it this way. If you had been denied due process because of Patterson’s theological whim, would you take issue with my raising certain questions? If your board of trustees had been plagued for almost a decade by one of Patterson’s deputy dogs calling press conferences to take issue with your leadership, wouldn’t you feel some sense of justice from watching Southwestern’s president squirm when one of his own trustees does the same? What if your name was Sheri Klouda, or Morris Chapman?

So the questions that I’ve been asking for more than a year now are these: What is at stake if the convention is allowed to continue under the narrowing control of a few denominational elites? Are those stakes sufficient to warrant any possible means to oppose the narrowing trend?

Do you commit to working “within the system” only, or do you fight on two fronts by exerting pressure from the outside also? And how long are you willing to commit to use whatever means you choose? What compromises are you willing to make in order to achieve your ultimate ends? Or in other words, are you willing to allow the IMB trustees to dismiss the Burleson motion, so long as they reverse the two policies that ignited this Baptist bonfire? Would you settle for Paige Patterson issuing a public apology and a few thousand dollars for the way he treated Sheri Klouda, or will you insist upon some Herodian ceremony of decapitation?

Idealists are not able to answer questions such as these. Black and white are the only colors on their political palette. Pragmatists, on the other hand, are the masters of denominational politics. Some master politicians, however, succumb to the temptations of tyranny and descend into a quasi-despotic paranoia. Others stay above the fray and enter retirement as true statesmen. It’s the difference between Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan…or Paige Patterson and W.A Criswell.

To be continued…