“The mental shadowboxing on the subject of means and ends is typical of those who are the observers and not the actors in the battlefields of life…The organizer, the revolutionist, the activist or call him what you will, who is committed to a free and open society is in that commitment anchored to a complex of high values. These values include the basic morals of all organized religions; their base is the preciousness of human life. These values include freedom, equality, justice, peace, the right to dissent, the values that were the banners of hope and yearning of all revolutions of men, whether the French Revolution’s ‘Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,’ the Russians’ ‘Bread and Peace,’ the brave Spanish people’s ‘Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,’ or our Revolution’s ‘No taxation without representation.’ They include the values in our own Bill of Rights. If a state voted to keep blacks out, and claimed justification by virtue of the ‘democratic process,’ then this violation of the value of equality would have converted democracy into a prostitute. Democracy is not an end; it is the best political means available toward the achievement of these values.”
Saul Alinsky concludes his discussion of means and ends by capturing the motivation behind employing a particular means for a particular end. If a revolution would be successful, it must be preceded by a reformation. The way a man thinks about his own soul and the value of community and the social order must undergo reflective assessment. The way he thinks about his king or his congress must be controlled by the highest ideals of human life. In other words, he must come to love the polis more than the politician. And the revolutionary must frame his revolution in terms that appeal to a man’s inner sense of justice.
This is how the past sixteen months of denominational struggle began. At the end of November 2005, the International Mission Board approved two new policies to govern the appointment of Southern Baptist missionaries. These policies would have passed with little notice if it had not been for one man, a lone dissenter, Wade Burleson, and his accursed blog. Wade began articulating for Southern Baptists the danger of applying such restrictive theological parameters to our kingdom work. In essence, he fired the shot heard ’round the convention.
I was not originally drawn into this fight because of the new policies. Trying to argue doctrine among Southern Baptists is like trying to explain a logarithm. The attention span of our convention when it comes to nuanced theological discussion is about as long as Richard Land’s old combover. Well, maybe a little shorter, but you get the point.
Debating doctrine on these finer points of theology or philosophy ends up as a point-counter point of scripture quotation, mixed with a few historical references and a string of supporting commentaries. It gets confusing and the people get tired.
But talk about “autonomy” to Southern Baptists, and their ears perk up even though the historical and exegetical pulp with which to construct a doctrine of “autonomy” is thin indeed. And for all the reticence of the current regime to talk about “priesthood” or “liberty,” these themes will strike a resonant chord in the hearts of Southern Baptists until the eschaton.
Which is why the debate over tongues must be framed in terms of the “freedom” to worship and pray without coercion or retribution. And why the baptism policies must be refuted because they are restrictive upon autonomous churches, not because Baptists should start affirming Arminian baptism.
It’s why Paige Patterson’s decision to censor Dwight McKissic caught fire…not because the majority of Southern Baptists want to have a private prayer language, but because they believe a man should be free behind the pulpit to preach without some pope or prelate telling him what he can and cannot say.
And it’s why $90 Million boondoggle over at Southwestern made headlines. Not because Southern Baptists don’t think Southwestern trustees have the sense to oversee the school’s endowment, but because the secrecy of the whole thing, and the apparent hypocrisy involved in the investment strategy, raised enough ire to reverse the course.
And it’s why Sheri Klouda will get a few hundred thousand dollars. Not because Southern Baptists believe women should be teaching men in schools of theology. But because an injustice was done to a woman who was made certain assurances that were broken.
And it’s why Paige Patterson will retire from Southwestern very soon. Not because Southern Baptists have turned their back on inerrancy. But because little old ladies in Sunday School classes don’t like their widow’s mite being spent on taxidermy.
At every turn, the “revolutionaries” of the convention’s imminent reformation have framed their arguments in terms that appeal to Southern Baptists. They are for church autonomy, not denominational hierarchy. They are for scriptural sufficiency, not confessional uniformity. They have placed their priorities on the Kingdom, rather than the kingdom. They believe the bureaucracy should serve the churches, not the other way around.
These principles of Southern Baptist cooperation will keep gaining steam, and our convention will begin to refocus and reform. One year ago, Wade Burleson, Marty Duren, and I were hosting conference calls by the bushel to get people talking about the problem. What was written on a few blogs has framed the discussion at major conferences. Readership that started in the low hundreds has now surpassed five thousand a day.
What, then are the goals toward which Southern Baptists should strive? As I see it, they are at least seven:
1. A renewed commitment to the sufficiency of scripture and a generous confessional identity that allows for new partnerships and cooperative mission endeavors to supplant our provincial narcissism.
2. A revived heart for social justice, for ministry to the poor and oppressed, and a strategy for serving the “least of these” that safeguards the church from the compromises of the Social Gospel Movement that threatened a bold evangelistic witness in an earlier century.
3. A reduced bureaucracy that eliminates reduplication and administrative waste coupled with an institutional transparency never realized in Southern Baptist life.
4. A reaffirmation of the transforming power of the gospel to work into the cultures of the world like leaven, slowly yet surely bringing this kingdoms of the world to the Kingdom of our God and His Christ, while avoiding the empty promises of postmillenial theology.
5. A reclamation of the prophetic witness of the church to the state, marked by fewer American flags and Republican politicians gracing our annual sessions, more pictures of Richard Land on the Capitol steps than in the Oval Office, and Justice Sundays that actually address issues of justice rather than lobbying for Supreme Court nominees.
6. A rejection of the fundamentalist cannibalism that snipes at Ed Young, Jr. for hosting a conference with T.D. Jakes, or that attacks Rick Warren for his PEACE plan, or that assaults Ed Stetzer or Darrin Patrick for appropriating emergent church paradigms.
7. A retraction from our Southern-Anglo ethnocentrism that keeps our convention as white as a tractor pull, brought about by intentional efforts to elevate ethnic minorities to strategic positions of influence in the denomination. In other words, the time has come for Southern Baptists to have a Black serving as convention president, a Hispanic serving as a seminary president, and an Asian serving as president of one of our mission boards.