On propaganda…

Some of you may have already read the concerns that hit the blogosphere in the last 24hours that yesterday’s edition of Baptist Press stepped down from the mountain of journalistic fairness and freedom to trudge through the yellow mud of Orwellian propaganda. Wade Burleson has taken issue with the headline commentary in an article originally titled “Page denounces New Covenant,” but changed to “Page responds to Carter.” Marty Duren has raised questions about the prominent coverage of the perennial rants of Ergun Caner. My issue today, however, is different.

Late yesterday evening, a FIRST PERSON article was published on Baptist Press entitled, “The Wall is the Castle.” In the article, Douglas Baker reflected on Southern Baptist’s return to San Antonio by dipping his quill deeply into the tradition of civil war rhetoric most notably characterized by our nation’s sixteenth president. The title for the article, and a major subject of consideration, was taken from the 1988 convention sermon preached by Dr. Joel Gregory, “The Castle and the Wall.” Baker looked back on 19 years of Southern Baptist history and addressed his hopes for a unified convention with a Kingdom focus and gospel resolve.

But this morning, Pravda Baptist Press pulled Douglas Baker’s article. Perhaps it was because he said nice things about Joel Gregory. Perhaps it was because he said honest things about SBC leadership. Or perhaps it was because he raised sincere questions about the viability of any denomination irretrievably inclined to war.

Or maybe there is another reason yet to be revealed.

Whatever the case, we at Baptist Blogger much liked Baker’s article. This morning, we asked him for a copy and the permission to reproduce it. Graciously, he agreed. So here you have it, dear readers. The article pulled last night from Baptist Press for reasons we know not:

The Wall is the Castle

By Douglas E. Baker
Wars are seldom easy to explain. Their causes change with the tides. What once seemed a just cause for engagement can soon become clouded amid scenes of carnage and death. People change. People die. Motives ever so slowly elide to camouflage error. One moment in time (often only one speech) is all that is required to morph a mountain of mistakes into a hill of courage.

This was once accomplished in American history by a President who knew that after news of one particular battle reached the eyes and ears of the American public, some new reason for the conflict had to be placed before them or else the gruesomeness of battles such as Gettysburg would no longer motivate men to lose their lives killing their own countrymen. Lincoln knew that once the photographs of the aftermath of this battle reached the public domain, the entire nation would respond with a collective gasp of horror. No one ever imagined the American Civil War would come to this. Entire generations of Americans were obliterated in one day.

And so with the smell of rotting flesh so bad that people over ten miles away could smell the stench of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln stood on what is now a cemetery and spoke memorable words of national identity. Masterfully, he did what anyone in his position would want to do: he transcended the politics of the moment and the strife amidst the armies to call the sights which he saw that day evil – for that is what they were. On that field of battle there were no victors. The groans of dying men revealed a nation in a deadly struggle for her soul. Regardless of whose cause was just, on that day the blood of men’s lives united a nation in grief.

For two minutes, however, there was peace. The guns were silent, and the thought that all battles might soon cease ushered in a moment of hope. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address attacked no one, but touched everyone on both sides of the national schism. After his address, the most hardened cynic mourned not only the loss of over ten thousand men, but the loss of the unity that caused the conflict in the first place.

When the Southern Baptist Convention returns to San Antonio in this summer of 2007 after nineteen years, it will be, in some ways, like visiting Gettysburg years after the battle. Some Baptist historians point to the 1988 annual meeting as the point when the great schism of the Southern Baptist Convention became most apparent.

Memorable in every way was W.A. Criswell’s famous “skunk sermon.” As he mounted the podium before the capacity crowd of the Pastor’s Conference he stated, “May I speak on the curse of Liberalism?” which was followed by the infamous statement, “a skunk by any other name still stinks.” Seemingly on cue the entire audience roared with applause mixed with shouts of “praise God” and “Amens” all over the coliseum.

At that same podium only days later, however, stood another Southern Baptist icon – Joel C. Gregory. A figure now derided by many in SBC circles as everything from a charlatan to an apostate, Gregory spoke words which are still remembered. His comments were so penetrating that no sooner had he finished the sermon, people were asking for the transcript. Were the age of the Internet alive back in that day, the sermon was sure to be on thousands of blogs by day’s end. Preaching classes across the nation still speak of Gregory’s, The Castle and the Wall. He moved beyond the business of the denomination to warn a convention of churches that her continued warlike strife could soon forever replace her witness before a watching world. When allies are regarded as enemies, Gregory warned, the very fortress of Christian orthodoxy can cause those who desire to protect the Christian castle to use their resources to construct a wall. For the same stones that build the castle can all too easily be used to erect a wall.

During this civil war of Southern Baptists, here was a Lincolnian moment. The silence of the rhetorical gunfire was only temporary as the war had to be won by one side. Just as Gettysburg was the turning point of the war between the states, the Southern Baptist Convention has never been the same since San Antonio.

Much has changed since that noon hour nineteen years ago in the Alamo City when words calmed the vast torrents of theological warfare. W.A. Criswell is dead. Denominationally speaking, so is Joel Gregory. Both candidates for president of the Convention that year have retired. A new generation of Southern Baptists – many of whom have never heard of Criswell or Gregory – will soon gather in San Antonio. The irony: the denomination seems to be still at war.

The very identity of the Southern Baptist Convention still stands in question for many. New frontiers of ministry in the post-modern age are demanding a re-evaluation of long-standing Southern Baptist programs, and the overall impression that seismic shifts are at work beneath the feet of the denomination have many worried that the way forward might be hidden in plain sight.

Some predict the inevitable loss of the denomination, and if history is a guide, they are correct. The effects of the Fall seldom enable people – even Christians – to work well together for very long. Pride renders its ugly head and personal agendas quickly choke the life out of good efforts and sanctified innovation.

Yet, this could be the Southern Baptist Convention’s finest hour if, by the sheer force of God’s grace, men of God will rise to remember the heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and those who gave their lives to establish her in 1845. The return to a founding vision once empowered an American President to transcend the trials of the present and press forward toward a reconciled nation. Perhaps such a study of the Baptist past might enable the pastors of the present to press toward the goal of future ministry armed with history’s warning that if great humility and prayer do not mark all who perform ministry in the name of Christ, the wall of human arrogance will replace the castle of Christian theology.

The new birth of freedom of which Lincoln spoke could only happen if, as was his wish, the dead who consecrated the killing fields of Gettysburg, would be remembered as something more as mere participants in a battle. He desired that they be seen as advancing the cause of the founding generation who conceived of a nation of liberty and dedicated themselves to freedom’s proposition that all men were created equal.

How much more should the Southern Baptist Convention remember the passion of past leaders as a uniting force dedicated to the divine proposition that all men are born sinners who stand in urgent need of the saving grace of God. Could this be a turning point in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention?

That history is yet to be written.

And here is a PDF file that shows the original publication, as edited, from Baptist Press:

The Wall is the Castle — Doug Baker

3 thoughts on “On propaganda…

  1. Thanks for posting this, Ben. My father still talks about Gregory’s sermon from that summer when everyone knew the convention would be so nasty.

    It’s sad to say, but there’s one other obvious parallel here: after speaking words of warning and reconciliation, Gregory may not have been assassinated as was Lincoln, but they certainly attacked his character. Speaking the truth in love often costs a man almost everything.

  2. Excellent words from Doug Baker. I’m not sure what included offense was…or who, exactly, was offended.

  3. Quite profound, though I think most of us are a bit too hawkish to embrace fully the sentiment. Still, I’ll do some thinking.

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