…I don’t care who you are.
Now that’s just funny…
…I don’t care who you are.
…I don’t care who you are.
Go read Timmy Brister’s post on the issue of
inconsistency in Southern Baptist investments. I don’t have a problem with SWBTS investing its endowment in Coors Brewing Company. Everybody knows that the Coors family are staunch Republicans, and fellow members of the Council for National Policy with SWBTS President Paige Patterson, as well as two other SWBTS trustees.
But, like Timmy Brister, I have a hard time seeing how such investments can be intepreted as anything other than supporting the “manufacturing, advertising, distribution, or consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
It’s a good thing that SWBTS will make the $90 million transfer of portable funds on October 30, just in time for Jerry Vines’ sermon on “A Baptist and His Booze” at FBC Woodstock.
In the Winter of 2004, I received an email from one of Paige Patterson’s personal assistants asking that I call the office at my convenience. I phoned him that afternoon, and was informed that Patterson wished to “hire” me and “pay” me to listen to audio-recordings of Jerry Rankin to cull them for suspicious doctrine. Essentially, the proposal was for me to listen to several hours of Rankin’s public and private comments regarding spiritual warfare – in sermons and in training sessions – in order to substantiate Patterson’s allegations that Rankin was inextricably charismatic in his theology. If it could be proven that Rankin was, indeed, too open to such theology, then a stronger case could be made for his removal.
It took me less than a minute to refuse Patterson’s offer. Earlier that month, Patterson had placed me under disciplinary probation at the school for use of the word “crap” on my personal weblog. The word, Patterson alleged in his sanction, constituted a violation of the school’s code of student conduct. I called Patterson as soon as I discovered his action – well after an email had been sent to numerous seminary faculty and staff – and challenged him about his hypocrisy. Patterson has demonstrated over the years a penchant for partiality in judgment, as well as the universal sins of the tongue against which James’ epistle so boldly denounces. Patterson has preached about “fingering the rosaries” in a sermon about sex and worship in Florence, SC; or he made jokes in his seminary classes about Adam’s genitals by reciting the phrase “glow little glow worm” when referencing prelapse nakedness; or he can tell chapel audiences of students year after year that lessons from his wife on “intimate matters” will make them “rise and call him blessed.” Yet the word “crap” was too much for Patterson’s sense of propriety. Since that time, of course, I have enjoyed hearing thirdhand about my “moral failure,” which is Patterson’s preferred way of referencing my use of the slang term “crap.”
As soon as he heard, a professor and dean at the seminary uncovered and mentioned to me the provisions of the seminary handbook that Patterson had sidestepped or overlooked in his unilateral sanction, thus jeopardizing the school’s accreditation. I quickly notified the proper seminary personnel of my intention to appeal Patterson’s sanction, thus exercising my student prerogative of administrative review. I requested a hearing by a faculty committee authorized to reverse Patterson’s decision. I wrote a 15-page brief on the situation, and met with Patterson the next day to ask that he rescind his action and save us both a lengthy and embarrassing ordeal. The next day, less than 72 hours after his imposition of disciplinary probation, Patterson reversed course. To date, I am told that my “discipline,” which had no stated term or direction, constitutes the shortest of its kind in seminary history. And to be perfectly honest, I would not change a thing about the events if I could. I have had great fun regaling fellow pastors and students with the silly story of Pattersonian paranoia.
Admittedly, I was frustrated with Patterson, and I could finally foresee the end of our long relationship. What remained of it, I am sure recent months have severed completely. Truth, however, is a far more reliable mentor, and to it I shall remain loyal should Patterson raise every manner accusation against me in the days to come. I confess this detail of my personal history only to beat to the punch those who would challenge some of my claims. Any way I slice it, I will be charged with axe-grinding. So, I figure, I will acknowledge that I indeed have a few axes to grind.
I do not wish to burden Patterson’s administration with petty accusations, but neither do I wish to sit idly by while he seeks to burden Rankin and others. Rankin deserves public confirmation that Patterson has intentionally and systematically undermined his administration and coached trustees at the IMB. Patterson, too, deserves the confirmation of his criticisms of church planting methodologies that were taught until 2003 at IMB.
Much has been written and spoken recently that serves only to escalate the tensions between Patterson and Rankin and their respective camps. I have been informed by one former trustee, the Rev. Bob Pearle, that Patterson told him in no uncertain terms that he wished to remain “uninvolved” in the fight playing out at the IMB over Rankin’s leadership. Yet as recently as December, Patterson emailed another trustee, Wade Burleson, and expressed his belief that the IMB would be better off with a retirement “at the top.” Keeping Patterson away from the gears of the denominational machine, however, will prove more difficult than keeping Baptists away from buffet lines at the Golden Corral. For too long Patterson has carefully networked, paid out favors, and injected his loyalists into the denominational bureaucracy. At times, this has been more blatant than others. One such attempt was thwarted in recent years when Patterson’s brother-in-law – a man under federal indictment at the time – was put on the board of trustees to serve as a stalking horse at the IMB during Patterson’s reign as convention president. His term was cut short, however, when federal marshals came knocking on his south Dallas door, though his short tenure was marked by repeated attempts to undermine Rankin’s administration and to hire Keith Eitel away from Southeastern Seminary. I have copies of some very interesting emails in this regard, and I will publish them at an appropriate time.
There is little doubt that Patterson’s counsel is sought by several influential IMB trustees, a fact that is not denied by any of them with whom I have spoken, including former Chairman Tom Hatley. The strange irony from my perspective, however, is that Patterson is quite unwilling to accept it when his own trustees at Southwestern Seminary seek advice and counsel from sources outside his approval. Trustee tinkering can cut both ways, a reality that Patterson seems unable to recognize either because he cannot see the hypocrisy or because he absolves by fiat any wrongdoing of his own through some contortion of utilitarian hierarchical ethics. If heads must be severed, Patterson’s axes are always sharp. Like an Henrician ecclesial figure, if Patterson can’t go through the normal means of redressing his grievances, he’s more than willing to go around them.
I must stress, therefore, that the real source of conflict between Patterson and Rankin is neither ideological nor doctrinal. The real source is an obstinate impasse of personality and the scars of territorial conflict. I must also stress that in my experience, I have not seen or heard Jerry Rankin make any statement that endorses or affirms the use of signs and wonders, or the use of tongues or their interpretation, or anything that contradicts a single article of the Baptist Faith & Message. I have read countless manuscripts of his sermons, heard multiplied hours of him teaching in various settings, and scoured every word he’s written for Baptist Press and The Commission magazine. Recent developments at the IMB lead me to believe that Patterson is either directly or indirectly involved in attempts to pressure Rankin’s resignation, and Patterson’s track record is informative in this regard. If you’re in doubt, I suggest you ask some of his institutional predecessors.
Moreover, Rankin has never behaved rudely to me, nor have I been given evidence to the contrary. At all times, even when I have disagreed with him in public sessions, he has been kind and courteous. I wish I could say as much for Patterson, but sadly, I cannot. There is a place for rigorous, even angry disputation in theology. There is no place, however, for underhanded political tactics such as those to which I have been both a party and a witness during my time at Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries.
Perhaps this paper does nothing to foster the former and everything to increase the latter. Time will tell. And while I cannot agree with Patterson’s tactics or his busybody denominational manipulations, it might be possible that Rankin is so vested in the church planting methodology that this paper has examined that he cannot possibly be expected to scale back its implementation at the IMB. Rankin has, however, elevated replacements to top board posts that bring balance and a more careful doctrinal eye. By the hiring of Gordon Fort to replace Avery Willis as Vice President of Overseas Operations, and by the selection of Oklahoma pastor Tom Elliff to be responsible for the doctrinal training of missionaries when it comes to Baptist ecclesiology, Rankin has at least demonstrated an openness for which I would not have given him credit three years ago. He seems to be making strides. Rankin is not, however, the only denominational executive that can be replaced through outside interference with his board – a fact that Patterson would do well to remember. Whatever the outcome of the political conflict, Southwestern’s president should memorize the wise proverb of Solomon: whoever rolls a stone, it will roll back upon him.
One final thought seems appropriate given the brouhaha boiling over about Rankin’s presidency at the IMB and the leaky faucet that keeps dripping out new information about secret trustee meetings and moves to start the bloodletting in Richmond. If Patterson has even an ounce of the political weight that I have alleged, or if he is completely uninvolved and wishes public perception to reflect such uninvolvement, then he should try using his network and influence for something more noble and call off the dogs he’s appointed to nip at Rankin’s heels. And I do not mean some conference call or private communication. I mean a public, open, and sincere appeal for the nonsense to stop, today. I doubt, however, that such a proclamation has been drafted, most probably because it could not honestly be given. In all likelihood, both men will survive the conflict, as will the denomination. What profit, if any, the exposure and analysis I have offered will have toward calming the waters of conflict, I do not know.
Before disseminating this paper, I have allowed one field missionary and close personal friend to read it, one likeminded pastor, and Jerry Rankin himself. All have provided me with clarification and objectivity. I did offer to let my friend and former teacher, Keith Eitel, read the paper, though after expressing initial interest, Eitel emailed me and asked that I not forward the paper to him. Anything that might be critical of Patterson poses a problem for Eitel, and it is regrettable that our friendship has become strained in recent days due to Eitel’s insistence on absolute loyalty to his boss and my absolute commitment to exposing some of the nonsense that Patterson’s manipulations have wrought. Eitel suggested that I allow Patterson to preview the paper, but such courtesies are one-way streets with Patterson. He is owed no such courtesy. I wonder if Rankin was given the chance to read Eitel’s critique before it was disseminated to every IMB trustee under Patterson’s cover letter? I think not. Moreover, Patterson is a seasoned veteran, an artful dodger, when it comes to deflecting any hint of wrongdoing. If my intuitions are even partially correct, Patterson will not respond at all. If he does, he will most likely deny much of what I have written concerning him and mine the paper for anything that substantiates his crusade against Rankin. He will also move to undercut my credibility through more innuendo and whispering, a process that is, to some degree, already underway.
More than anything, this paper was written to meet the requirements of a seminar in sociology of religion at Baylor University, where I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Religion, Politics, and Society. If my thoughts serve no other purpose than to meet the requirements of that degree, then so be it. Time enough will be afforded once I complete the degree to write more critical histories of denominational conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. When that times comes, perhaps the concerns I have raised in this paper will have been addressed, and the final chapter of any biography or history of the men and institutions examined herein will strike a note of peace and resolution rather than the sad story of good intentions corrupted by the ruthless acquisition of absolute power in a denomination of men who should have known better. I continue to wrestle with my own degree of involvement in this matter. The Southern Baptist Convention has not elected me to serve as a trustee of either the IMB or Southwestern Seminary. I do not wish to work for either institution. I continue to have friends who are employed or studying at either the IMB or Southwestern who routinely ask for my read on the things they hear about through the Baptist grapevine or read in Baptist Press. Together we hope for an end to the tightening, narrowing trend of the empowered elites in the convention. Fundamentalism has a long, checkered history when it comes to such shortsightedness. Southern Baptists might yet be able to survive the threat posed by men who forget such lessons of history. To that end, I will watch and pray.
Most preachers have accumulated enough sermon tapes over the years to fill a small volkswagon. Before the internet revolution, particularly, the buying and sharing of the great pulpiteers’ sermon tapes was the only way to hear the best of Southern Baptist preaching. Now, with the advent of streaming audio/video and podcasting, tapes are becoming more and more obsolete.
Last night I decided to sort through my file box of sermon tapes with the intent of discarding the ones that were of little use. But I found myself clinging to them, refusing to discard any. In that box are sermons of W.A. Criswell from the 50s and 60s, the very best of Adrian Rogers on the Lordship of Christ and Jerry Vines on the ascension, sermons by Charles Stanley on personal holiness, and sermons by Joel Gregory on depression.
I’ve got sermons of Junior Hill that make me laugh and cry, and sermons by John MacArthur that drive me deeper into Scripture. There are tapes of friends who have matured into exemplary expositors: men like Ben Durand in North Carolina and Frankie Melton in Kentucky. I have copies of my own first sermon, an abysmally dismal attempt to explain Joshua 24, and I have debates of Paige Patterson with Cecil Sherman and Clark Pinnock.
I have one tape where Patterson endorses the servant-calling of deaconesses, and another where Bailey Smith hints that Janet Reno is a lesbian. I have a brave sermon by O.S. Hawkins from Jude entitled, “A Clown in the Halls,” and another excellent challenge by Guidestone’s president on the fear of the Lord.
The most listened-to sermon in my collection is one by the late Homer Lindsey, Jr., on Acts 20:20. Dr. Lindsey wasn’t the best expositor, but something about his authenticity and integrity compels an audience with anybody who loves the Scripture. I have tons of sermons by Al Mohler, whose sermons always have a way of telling the old, old story of the gospel in ways that make me want to read and study and write with theological precision.
I have sermons preached by Miss Bertha Smith, Theresa Brown, Anne Graham Lotz, and Dorothy Patterson. There are a few sermons from some crazies, like a man that used to excoriate First Baptist Dallas as a “den of whoremongers,” and the various rantings of Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. There are sermons from the days when Jerry Falwell could get through a message without rallying the troops for some America nationalism or promoting Liberty University. There are sermons by Ken Hemphill that move the soul and by Johnny Hunt that prick the conscience. I have in my possession a veritable banquet table of the heavenly bread without which men do not live.
And then there was a sermon collection that I was given, but I had never opened.
The day of Dr. Criswell’s funeral was the date it was given to me. A pastor friend from North Carolina and I had flown into Dallas for the noon funeral, after which we traveled north to attend the mid-week services at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Arriving at the church shortly before the services began, we made our way to the book store and perused the sermon series of the church’s pastor, Jack Graham.
We had barely been there ten minutes when a blonde lady with a kind face approached us to offer her assistance. She greeted us warmly and asked about our ministries. We explained to her how we had come into town for Dr. Criswell’s funeral, but we had one more night in town and had decided to come see Prestonwood. She introduced herself to us as “Deb,” and asked us to wait for a few moments until she could return.
While we browsed the store, Deb retrieved four sermon albums of various messages preached by Jack Graham. When she returned, she gave them to us at no charge. She offered a quick expression of thanksgiving for our commitment to preach the Scripture, told us that she hoped the sermons would encourage us, and then went back to her responsibilities.
At the time, I knew who she was, but she never let on and I did not press her. She was unassuming and unpretentious, a perfect lady who took time to be a blessing to a couple of anonymous young preachers who were quite overwhelmed at the size of Prestonwood’s behemoth facilities. She put a welcoming face and a warm heart to an potentially intimidating place. Her ministry to us was that of a servant, and not what many people expect from a megachurch pastor’s wife.
So today I opened one of those tape albums given to us by Jack Graham’s wife, and listened while I drove to the sermons of Jack Graham that feed God’s flock at Prestonwood. For those wondering how a church can grow the size of Prestonwood, it is easy to understand when you hear the way that their pastor seeks to explain the Bible to them with simplicity, sincerity, empathy, and grace.
I intended to write Mrs. Graham back in 2002 to thank her for the gift, but as so often happens the busy-ness of ministry and the delay of time robbed my memory of her generosity and kindness. Last night, with sermon tapes scattered about my living room, I determined that it was time to say thank you…to a gracious Christian woman and her husband, who has had every reason to succeed in ministry with such a helpmate at his side.