Rules for Radicals, Pt. 8.

“One of our greatest revolutionary heroes was Francis Marion of South Carolina, who became immortalized in American history as “the Swamp Fox.” Marion was an outright revolutionary guerrilla. He and his men operated according to the traditions and with all of the tactics commonly associated with present-day guerrillas. Cornwallis and the regular British Army found their plans and operations harried and disorganized by Marion’s guerrilla tactics. Infuriated by the effectiveness of his operations, and incapable of coping with them, the British denounced him as criminal and charged that he did not engage in warfare “like a gentleman” or “a Christian.” He was subjected to an unremitting denunciation about his lack of ethics and morality for his use of guerrilla means to end the winning of the Revolution.”

9. The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.

If ever one of Alinsky’s rules for radicals captured the nature of the current crisis in Southern Baptist life, this is it. On the one side are blogging guerillas and an occasional renegade writer for the Christian Index; on the other side are the ‘regular armies’ of the fundamentalist establishment. One side rallies at the rebel yell to make end-runs on the status quo with lightning speed and the element of surprise on their side. The other side marches in red coats to the tap of snare drums what time they aren’t powdering their wigs and polishing their pistols.

In political conflict there are inevitably two arguments. One side argues from principle. The other side argues from process. One side is concerned with justice. The other side faithfully tithes their mint and cumin.

To the revolutionaries, narrowing doctrinal parameters and lax trustee oversight and administrative malfeasance pulls them together like minutemen prepared to fight the king and his army. To the bureaucrats and their lackeys, the “process” has been subverted and the “regular” means of combat have handicapped them to mount any reasonable defense. Their insistence upon following a “process” renders them politically inert, if not impotent.

“He didn’t work through the proper channels,” they say about Wade Burleson.

“He shouldn’t have preached that sermon,” they say about Dwight McKissic.

“He shouldn’t have gone to the media,” they say about me.

And the revolutionaries respond:

“He shouldn’t have flown to London,” they say about Bob Reccord.

“He shouldn’t have censored Dwight McKissic,” they say about Paige Patterson.

Of course, when it suits the revolutionaries’ cause, they can argue process too. It sounds something like this:

“The policies of Southwestern Seminary assure Sheri Klouda of a process of tenure review. Paige Patterson denied her the process. He should be censored.”

Or, “I tried to contact Paige Patterson five times, and he wouldn’t return my calls.”

At which point the bootlickers respond by arguing principle:

“The administration has an obligation not to talk about employee matters. Paige Patterson was justified in not returning your calls when he feared his comments would become public on your blog.”

Thus both sides demonize and damn the means employed by their opposition. The reason bureaucratic bootlickers are so peeved about these little blogs of ours is that we have managed to arrest the media’s attention. Like it or not, the media is the chief means of moving public opinion. Any successful political initiative must have mastered the art of propaganda for their own ends. For years the “official press releases” of SBC institutions were regarded as fact and routinely reproduced in the local newspapers and Baptist state papers without edit.

Today, however, Southern Baptists are learning to wait for the minority report before they form their opinions. Bureaucracies trade in bull like the Fort Worth stockyards. Blogs, while they are apt to err because of their haste, have shaken up the way information is disseminated in the Southern Baptist Convention. If people want to hear the party line, they can read the press releases from SBC institutions, which explains the diminished webtraffic on sites owned and operated by the bootlickers.  It also explains why the biggest bootlickers’ blogs are often rote reproductions of Baptist Press articles.

If they want to hear the minority report – or ‘the rest of the story’ as Paul Harvey would call it – they come to blogs like Marty Duren’s or Art Rogers’ or Tom Ascol’s or Wade Burleson’s or Paul Littleton’s or Alan Cross’ or this one.

To prove my point, ask yourself this question:

“If the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Time Magazine, etc., had not written about the influence of blogging in the SBC, would Bobby Welch, Paige Patterson, Gary Ledbetter, etc., have blinked about blogs?”

Of course not. If every blog in the Southern Baptist Convention had the readership of Jeremy Green’s or Tim Rogers’ or Brad Reynolds’, little notice would have been taken. But the revolutionary/reformation blogs are achieving a measure of success, so the bureaucracy and their bootlickers scramble to respond with tired, old arguments about the “process.”

So I give you, dear reader, this solemn assurance. We revolutionaries have heard the cries of “process.” We understand the course of action necessary to achieve the ends for which we labor. The only way to change the convention is to change the president. The only way to change the president is through messengers. The only way to get boards to respond is through motions. The only way to make motions is on the floor of the convention.

And the only way to guarantee a response from Paige Patterson is during the Southwestern Seminary report in San Antonio.

Until that time, you’ll have to deal with the guerrillas.

Weekly column…

On Sunday, our church bulletin will include the following article:

This week I will be attending a conference at Union University in Jackson, TN, that promises to be a watershed moment in the life of our convention. Conceived in the mind of the university president,  David Dockery, the Baptist Identity Conference is gathering together groups from all perspectives across Southern Baptist life to try and answer some questions that keep surfacing for our convention.

I find it interesting that Baptists in America are about 400 years old — Southern Baptists are almost two centuries old — and we are still unsure what it means to be a Baptist. For some people, being Baptist is a matter of how they were raised. Their parents were Baptist; their grandparents were Baptist; and they’ve been in Baptist churches since they were negative nine-months old.

For others, being Baptist is a matter of conviction. I recall the first time I heard a deacon in my home church announce in a business meeting that “the Baptist faith” was “closer to the New Testament” than any other denomination. I remember thinking, “Either this guy has never read the New Testament, or he’s never been in a Baptist church.”

And truth be known, I’ve never been in a Baptist church that obeyed the New Testament on matters of discipline and doctrine more than Parkview Baptist Church.

I find myself less and less claiming the moniker of “Southern Baptist” when asked to identify my denominational affiliation. In some parts of our country, announcing that you are Southern Baptist is tantamount to wearing a swastika to Auschwitz on the Sabbath. Regrettably, Southern Baptists have been known for their bickering and politics more than their compassion for sinners in the past few decades.

But things are changing, at least on some levels.

This week Union University will host the old guard fundamentalists and the new guard evangelicals. The architects of the conservative resurgence will be in attendance, as will the newly elected president of the SBC, Frank Page of South Carolina.  In the midst of it all there will be a host of conference attendees trying to discover what the future of the Southern Baptist Convention will look like.

Lately, I’ve been trying to decide for myself what kind of Baptist I want to be. Do I want to be a Southern Baptist? A Texas Baptist? A Reformed Baptist or a Mainline Baptist? As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve arrived at the best answer I know.

I’m not any of those kinds of Baptist. If people ask me what kind of Baptist I am, I will proudly tell them that I’m a Parkview Baptist, and I’m pretty excited about that affiliation.