(For the audio version of today’s post, click here.)
Southern Baptists have had a convulsive — some might say cataclysmic — year in the trenches of self evaluation. Many factors have precipitated an overdue theological, cultural, and institutional reckoning that has rattled the soul of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. National politics have played a role, as have tectonic fissures in the once-united front of the American culture wars. Five Southern Baptist entities — including its mission board, publishing arm, and once-largest seminary — have been on the search for new leadership.
For some self-described traditionalists, the events of the past 12 months have left them standing alongside the convention’s edifice like bystanders helplessly watching a Louisiana church burn. Without warning, a fire started somewhere they weren’t monitoring in a portion of the old building that was never fully up to code. Quickly, it burned through most of what they’ve known and loved about the SBC, including the myths and the men who nurtured them. For twelve months, they’ve been huddling in the shadows of the smoke. In the aftermath, they’re hugging it out and vowing to rebuild, somehow.
For others, 2018 has been a welcome season of change. They’ve stuck it out through the last decade or so, probably grown a beard, and white-knuckled it through the last couple of SBC presidencies, confident that time was on their side. When they saw the fire, they saw not an Apocalypse but an opportunity for renewal, for refining. It’s unfair to say they have enjoyed watching the slow burn; but they’re not wistful either.
There is a scene in David O. Selznick’s 1939 classic, Gone With The Wind, that comes to mind. After the fires of Atlanta overtake the city, the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara returns to her beloved home to find the Yankees have destroyed the cotton fields, burned most of the surrounding area, stripped the plantation bare, and left the delicate, defenseless Southern women and household servants to starve.
Scarlett finds her father, a first generation Irish immigrant named Gerald, mentally incapacitated and struggling to understand what has happened. Reverting to childlike bewilderment, he speaks of his deceased wife as if she is his living mother. He sits in a darkened, upstairs room and clings to a stack of Confederate War Bonds, certain they will provide the necessary resources to bring Tara back to its former glory.
But the war bonds — in reality, scraps of worthless paper — cannot redeem the plundered institution. In the end, the once-proud Irishman falls from his horse and dies.
It’s a pathetic scene, but representative of the predictable psychological trauma that occurs when a worldview built on myths and sustained by slave labor runs its inevitable course. And so it has been for some leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. By their own admission, they don’t recognize it any longer.
Pardon us if we sing no requiem.
Indeed, there is cause for great joy in what has transpired. The gathering storm clouds have started to release their mercy drops. Showers of blessing and seasons refreshing cannot be far off.
Against that backdrop, we have prepared a list of the ten worst and ten best moments of 2018.
Stay tuned for the list . . .