Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 7

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

National Holy Days and Holy Places

Robert Bellah recognized the important place of national holidays in the cultus of American civil religion and the ways that “the public school serves as a particularly important context for the cultic celebration of the civil rituals.” It is not only that the public school year moves along the cycle of national holidays, but that the classroom and hallways are decorated and the entire school environment infused with the symbols of national holidays which necessitates considerable attention when assessing the nature of civil catechesis in the American context . Gamoran comments:

Because the holidays are expressed in the same way in school, they carry a common message: being American means celebrating these festive occasions. Consequently, I consider all these holidays as part of a civil religious ceremonial calendar. Although they clearly vary in the extent of their spirituality and in the centrality of American themes, taken as a whole they represent a yearly cycle of collective celebrations that define and organize the American calendar.

While purely secular holidays have entered into the national public school calendar (Labor Day, Memorial Day, and others) and achieved the necessary public observance to receive vacation time, other holidays (Valentine’s, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day) which have a more explicit religious heritage have all but lost that heritage and now consists of detached symbols alone, thus not receiving vacation day status. Yet other holidays, which have not lost their explicit religious history (Thanksgiving and Christmas), provide the most controversial instances of perceived “establishment” by a host of national observers. Long before George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation, and long before Pilgrim harvests and Governor William Bradford, there were traditions of agricultural festivals in the Hebrew and Christian traditions with which the earliest colonists would have been familiar. And unlike the observance of more secular holidays in the school calendar, Thanksgiving is an event which is celebrated at home though it is more likely that the educational framework and meaning of the holiday is provided by the public school.

Still, there is the threat that an overtly and true religious message might overshadow the secularized civil religious message when characteristically sectarian holidays are observed, to any degree, in the public schools—the democratic creed could be robbed of the universal priority it is afforded in public education by those confessions whose creed’s transcendent themes incline the hearts of men with more persuasive force. Nevertheless, the pattern of the American calendar with respect to public education demonstrates that the national “holy days” are of at least equal significance with those true holy days whose traditions, festivals, and rites they parallel. They are sanctified and hallowed in the classrooms, and children are taught to respect the men and events which they commemorate with solemnity and pride.

Closely related to national holy days are those holy places where the observance of these days is commemorated in the American public consciousness. Places like the Washington Monument, as well as the Lincoln and the Jefferson Memorials occupy hallowed ground along the most sacred landscaped corridor of American public life—the Capitol Mall. The architectural frames of these sacred monuments are built to resemble obelisks of ancient Egyptian religions or temples of the Greek and Roman pantheon. Inside the Lincoln Memorial the high priest of American civil religion is seated on a great, white throne—presumably in judgment—as his gaze is fixed eternal toward the other end of the mall where the nation’s laws are enacted. All who enter the memorial are invited to enter a “temple,” and many remove their hats and speak quietly in due reverence.

Behind the Lincoln Memorial and across a land bridge is the Arlington National Cemetery, where thousands of the nation’s sons and daughters are buried, their blood sacrifice commemorated by endless and sime simple, white headstones dotting a sloped, green lawn. There are the generals and the common soldiers, the Jew, the Christian, and the Muslim. There are the presidents and governors and the unknown soldiers who died in defense of the national faith at home, or seeking to advance it in opposition to tyranny abroad. Every year, the sitting president makes his obligatory visit to the national cemetery to pay his tribute, place a wreath, and bow his head in momentary, prayerful reflection. America, indeed, needs to see its highest leader at such ceremonies and on such occasions in order to reinforce perennially the deep and democratic faith.

But the national holy days are not only commemorated at the temples of American public life, but at city centers, town squares and county seats all across the country. Mayors and councilmen, judges and clerks gather on momentous and nationalized occasions of public life to pay, each in his turn, their respects. July Fourth, Thanksgiving, and Christmas parades are marked with equal interest, usually ending or passing at some point the town hall, the county courthouse, or the civic center. And while these occasions are not universally observed in the public school, it is there that the nation’s children inevitably receive their indoctrination into the meaning and significance of these events. Without the public school, appreciation for and allegiance to the national faith could rob the holy days and shrines of their privileged place in hearts and minds of the body politic within one generation. The need for regular reinforcement is necessary to preserve the “shining city on a hill” that is the United States of America with such frequent reference that many Christians hardly recognize the particular biblical reference to the followers of Christ and the body he left empowered for prophetic witness of the resurrection life.

Religious Belief and Public Morality…

In one of the more articulate and compelling speeches he ever delivered, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo addressed the students and faculty of Notre Dame in 1984. At the time, Cuomo was a leading Democrat with presidential possibilities and a strong chance of becoming a United States Supreme Court Justice. In earlier days, I would have dismissed anything spoken from the lips of any New York liberal as unworthy of any substantive interaction or intellectual engagement on my part. Something about higher education, however, triggers within any aspiring scholar the desire to read honestly, critique fairly, and integrate cautiously the ideas of your ideological counterparts.

This search for an exposition of moderate and liberal political philosophy has led me to believe that Mario Cuomo is one of the more careful exegetes of the modern Democratic Party — both the philosphical commitments and practical legislative agenda thereof. In fact, compared to the likes of Howard Dean, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and John Murtha, Mario Cuomo stands head and shoulders above the rest. He is, to be sure, a moderate/conservative Democrat rather unlike the brand of social tinkerers and legislative amateurs who have seized the Democratic Party by the throat and lost the ability to understand or sustain the core values of the American Republic. Reading Cuomo makes political thinkers — both liberal and conservative — pine for earlier days when Kennedys and Moynihans and Humphreys steered the course of the Democratic Party.

I commend to you heartily Cuomo’s Notre Dame speech, entitled “Religious Belief and Public Morality.” I trust that its reading will reassure or introduce you to the fact that you that were days long ago in a land not so far away when Democrats had a coherent — albeit quasi-utopian — political philosophy. And now, for two of the many money quotes:

Politics as an improper use of ecclesial authority:

Now, of course the bishops will teach — they must teach — more and more vigorously, and more and more extensively. But they have said they will not use the power of their position, and the great respect it receives from all Catholics, to give an imprimatur to individual politicians or parties. Not that they couldn’t do it if they wished to — some religious leaders, as you know, do it. Some are doing it at this very moment. And not that it would be a sin if they did. God does not insist on political neutrality. But because it is the judgment of the bishops, and most of us Catholic laypeople, that it is not wise for prelates and politicians to be too closely tied together.

Religion as an improper basis for political discourse

I’m free to argue for a governmental policy for a nuclear freeze not just to avoid sin, but because I think my democracy should regard it as a desirable goal. I can, if I wish, argue that the state should not fund the use of contraceptive devices not because the Pope demands it, but because I think that the whole community — for the good of the whole community — should not sever sex from an openness to the creation of life. And surely I can, if I am so inclined, demand some kind of law against abortion, not because my bishops say it is wrong, but because I think that the whole community, regardless of its religious beliefs, should agree on the importance of protecting life — including life in the womb, which is at the very least potentially human and should not be extinguished casually.

Now, no law prevents us from advocating any of these things. I am free to do so. So are the bishops. So is Reverend Falwell. In fact, the Constitution guarantees my right to try. And theirs. And his.

But should I? Is it helpful? Is it essential to human dignity? Would it promote harmony and understanding? Or does it divide us so fundamentally that it threatens our ability to function as a pluralistic community? When should I argue to make my religious value your morality? My rule of conduct your limitation? What are the rules and policies that should influence the exercise of this right to argue and to promote?

To download the entirety of Cuomo’s speech, click here.

Civil Religion and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 6

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

The National Hymns

America The BeautifulClosely associated with the pledge of allegiance is the singing of national hymns and anthems that further nurture the inculcation of an American civil religion. Gamoran observes: “The pledge is often followed by a song [which] carries the theme of the pledge, and when sung immediately following, must be seen as a part of the civil religious rite. Though they lack mention to God, they refer either to a sacred object or to the death sacrifice of the nation’s founders.” On a profound and fundamental level, the national hymns serve to inspire, challenge and unite the American people. The most hotly contested sports event is preceded, in most cases, by the national anthem, during which both fans and contestants remove their hats, emblazoned with symbols of cultural partisanship, cover their hearts, and with authentic reverence join voices in solemn pause. During moments of national crisis, the bitterest of political opponents can join hands and sing more explicitly theistic national hymns, entreating divine blessing upon the land and its citizens. We all remember Democrats and Republicans alike standing on the Capitol steps — much to the chagrin of the ACLU — and singing “God Bless America” during the 9/11 crisis.  These are not holdovers from a day gone by where Americans believed that God was superintending the affairs of men, but rather reflect the enduring ability of a childhood catechism to unite the nation’s citizens throughout their entire lives even if it takes 19 terrorists and a few airplanes to forge that bond of citizenship.

The Saints and the Martyrs

Tertullian of Carthage is credited with having observed that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” Alongside those whose death-sacrifice warranted special attention in the life of the church are saints whose lives exemplified the religious ideal, and an essential part of catechism is the telling and re-telling of the lives and deaths of the saints and martyrs so that the abstract nature of faith does not eclipse the practical potential that the faith actually works to embolden the church’s witness.

It is no different with the structure of America’s civil catechism. When democracy is taught in public schools, it is taught most frequently by chronological and biographical narratives surrounding the personalities whose lives inform the civil catechism: presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan; military leaders like Lee and Grant and Patton and MacArthur; intellectual elites and innovators like Benjamin Franklin, Edison and Einstein; women like Betsy Ross, Dolly Madison and Eleanor Roosevelt. Among the saints of American civil religion, it is noteworthy that the presidents play a supreme role, even to the degree that the veneration of these men (the building of monuments and memorials, the carving of their likenesses into mountainsides, the marking of their birthplaces and burial grounds, the naming of public schools and the renaming of airports) can approach deification. All other players on the national stage must, in some part, derive their respective identities from the personalities who comprise this pantheon of former presidents. Charles Henderson is especially insightful in this regard:

Presidential politics is clearly the arena in which the implicit religion of the people is made explicit. While leaders of the established churches are virtually ignored by the general public, all eyes turn toward the president. This is the context in which the root symbols, beliefs and attitudes have their most dynamic relationship to everyday life. (The only religious leaders who are significant on the national scene are those who manage to place themselves, in one way or another, near the presidential power.) But the presidency is the stage on which the nation’s leaders play their parts, acting out their priestly and prophetic functions, piecing together those constellations of meaning which become the precarious vision of their various constituencies. It is not the nation which is the focal point of civil religion, but the presidency.

So while men like Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, and other religious leaders have a place in America’s civic faith, their place is not so much grounded in a contribution to the theologies of their respective denominational loyalties as much as a proximity to and influence upon the men who have occupied the Oval Office. Martin Luther King, in particular, will be an interesting addition to the roster of national saints, and the degree to which “MLK Day” will be celebrated like other national holidays is dependant on the attention it receives in the festal calendar of American public schools.

Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 5…

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Public education in modern America serves as the primary venue for overtly democratic catechesis. When assessing the way that civil religion has taken shape within our contemporary political milieu, the work of sociologist Adam Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin is helpful. Public schools, Gamoran argues, play a key role in producing and transmitting American civil religion and in teaching appreciation for the symbols and practices that accompany a robust nationalistic faith.

Among Gamoran’s more useful studies is one conducted over a calendar year in a public school located in a Chicago working-class neighborhood. Supplementing his research about the recitation of the pledge, the singing of national hymns, and the instruction regarding national holidays and heroes, Gamoran provides both his own memories from a public elementary and secondary education as well as the insights from profiles and reflections written by his students in an undergraduate sociology course taught at the University of Wisconsin. Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that there exists a distinctly religious tone to the structure of public education, and Gamoran provides a critical analysis of that evidence.

The Creed

It has been nearly sixty years since a case of any magnitude involving the pledge of allegiance was granted certiorari by America’s high court, but cases are forever under appeal challenging the words ‘under God’ in the national creed. And while it is improbable that the Supreme Court will remove the “offending” prepositional phrase, the legal precedence regarding the pledge should serve as a sobering reminder of how quickly the gears of American jurisprudence can be reversed.

Continue reading “Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 5…”

Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 4…

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

When Your Children Shall Ask, “What Mean These Things?”

More than a quarter century ago, Gladys Wiggins observed that the mere existence of a public school in society indicates that some degree of enculturative responsibility has been usurped from the family and absorbed into existing governmental structures. In this way, “the modern state, unlike earlier kingdoms and feudal manors, is kept alive either by an actively participant people or by an acquiescent people.” Mass education, Wiggins suggests, “ushered in by Protestantism for religious reasons, is made imperative by nationalism because of a new kind of political—some would say religious—faith.” Education, both civil and political, is the most efficient impetus for societal cohesion. Perhaps no better explanation of the precise way that a public school system functions as the locus of civil catechesis and parallels the sectarian interests regarding indoctrination of the young has been offered than by Durkheim, who demonstrates persuasively that all societies, religious or otherwise, share a common need for regular assembly and creedal reaffirmation:

There can be no society which does not feel the need for upholding and reaffirming, at regular intervals, the collective sentiments and ideas which animate both its unity and individuality. Now this moral reconstruction cannot be achieved except by means of reunions, assemblies, and congregations, in which individuals, being brought together, reaffirm their common sentiments. From this source arise ceremonies which do not differ from properly religious ceremonies, either in their object, the results which they produce, or the processes employed to attain these results. What essential difference is there between an assembly of Christians celebrating the primary holidays associated with the life of Christ, or Jews remembering the Exodus from Egypt or the reception of the Decalogue, and a gathering of citizens commemorating the institution of a new moral or legal system or some other significant event in the nation’s history?

The public schoolhouse, it seems, is the place wherein the nation’s children assemble to learn about the rituals and rites associated with the founding and perpetuation of the American republic. Like true religion, the civil religion that receives pedagogical entitlement is accompanied by forms, festivals, rituals and offices, which, while meaningful in their own right, enjoy heightened curricular interest on account of their quasi-religious, and sometimes overtly religious, character. Like true religion, American civil religion has its creeds, hymns, saints, martyrs, temples, holy days and clergy; and while any one of them cannot justify the opprobrious epithet ‘religious,’ together they nonetheless create the environment whereby the public school comes to resemble a church and its teachers, catechists.

Continue reading “Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 4…”

Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 3…

Part One

Part Two

These Things You Shall Teach Diligently Unto Your Children

If the lessons of history taught ancient Israel anything, it was that failure to impress profound appreciation for and obedience to the laws of God upon the minds of their children wrought disastrous consequences both in terms of cultic dissolution and national instability. In the same way, the enduring Puritan strain of American civil religion and its underlying thesis regarding the perceived inviolability of the United States as a covenanted, millennial and chosen nation has guided the development of a sophisticated system of catechesis for the nation’s young. By the same logic, failure to educate future generations of democratic citizens will result in disasters similarly suffered by previous ‘chosen’ nations. Even those who cannot embrace this Puritan strain readily emphasize that the future economic, political, and military stability of the United States depend upon the strength of American public schools.

Inherent in the democratic faith is an evangelistic and catechistic principle by which the nation simultaneously exports democracy abroad and expounds it at home. As Jacques Maritain has succinctly observed, “the body politic has the right and the duty to promote among its citizens, mainly through education, the human and temporal—and essentially practical—creed on which depend national communion and civil peace.” Moreover, “the educational system and the State have a duty to see to the teaching of that charter of common life, and thus to defend and promote the common good and the fundamental statute of the body politic even up to the common secular faith involved.” If it can be shown that an American civil religion parallels a true religion with respect to its accoutrements, structures, and offices, then it follows that the means by which that civil religion is transmitted might also parallel its symbiotic churchly forms.

The nation that seeks to inculcate its civic faith must establish for itself the instrumentality by which its catechistic purposes are achieved. For the nation that has anchored its soul firmly upon the vigilant refusal to allow the establishment of a national church, let alone the excessive entanglement or admixture of church and state, there arises no insignificant constitutional impediment from the very article it seeks to inculcate—in this case, the First Amendment. It cannot require that the nation’s free churches expound the democratic charter; neither can it establish for itself a true church wherein its own prophets reinforce the national creed. Even if the organized churches could be forced to teach the democratic charter, as Robert Michaelsen has noted, they would only garner limited returns, “not because the churches disagreed with the democratic proposition but because they disagreed among themselves.” What is required, therefore, and what some of the constitutional framers sought from the beginning, is “a system of public or common education, open to all, financed by taxation and under the direction of no particular sectarian group.”

Continue reading “Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 3…”

Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 2…

Civil Catechesis, Pt. 1… 

University of Chicago Professor Martin Marty has noted that “Americans had civic faiths from the time of Columbus or the Mayflower; Native Americans had tribal equivalents before that, [and] the founding fathers expressly advocated what has since been called ‘the religion of the Republic.” This civic faith, according to Marty, has taken various forms throughout the nation’s history either as a folk religion, a transcendent universal national religion (not to be confused with religious nationalism), a democratic faith, or many times as Protestant civic piety. Nevertheless, in every instance whereby the American body politic has coalesced, particularly in times of war and societal conflict, a civil religion has emerged as the “real religion of the American people by mere fact of their being American people.” Americans have not, however, developed without antecedent the notion of civil religion; that credit belongs in large measure to the 18th century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and his seminal work, The Social Contract.

In Rousseau’s thought, it is of little consequence what the dogmas of any particular constituent religion are so long as they make a citizen love his duties and fulfill his responsibilities to his fellow man. Each citizen is granted license, therefore, to hold any religious opinion he chooses, and those opinions are far beyond the sovereign’s competence so long as they provide for good citizens in the present life. But there will inevitably exist in any given national framework a “purely civil profession of faith whose articles the sovereign is competent to determine, not precisely as religious dogmas, but as sentiments of sociability, without which it is impossible to be either a good citizen or a faithful subject.” The dogmas of this civil religion should be “simple, few, and precisely formulated, without explanations or commentaries,” and Rousseau suggested both positive and negative articles of such a civic faith: the existence of a powerful, intelligent, benevolent, foreseeing and providential God, the continuance of life after death, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, and finally, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws. As for the negative articles, Rousseau limited them to one, namely intolerance.

Americans seem to be perfectly suited to fit Rousseau’s model of civil religion, as recent analysis of American religious beliefs confirms. For instance, belief in God is nearly universal at ninety-four percent, while seventy-one percent believe in the reality of heavenly reward in an afterlife. Moreover, eight in ten Americans agree that “Depending on how much strength and character a person has, he can pretty well control what happens to him,” and seventy-nine percent subscribe to the belief that universal moral absolutes exist and should be applied regardless of the situation. Finally, with respect to Rousseau’s negative article, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that every individual should have the right to formulate and possess his own religious beliefs independent of coercive institutional indoctrination on the part of any church or synagogue. These widespread affirmations of the American body politic, while not rising to the level of a systematic metaphysic, nevertheless constitute an unscripted creed which exerts palpable influence on the ways that citizens live their lives, raise their children and relate to their neighbors. And while the American experiment has long since eschewed the explicit theological content of Rousseau’s formula, this public creed, or democratic charter, retains adequate theistic avowals necessary to provide an adequate basis for social unity which “links the social order to a higher, truer realm [by providing] religious motivation and sanction for civic virtue.” In this way an American civil religion may resemble a true religion, albeit a doctrinally minimalist and utilitarian one sufficient only to engineer the good society.

Hence, democracy alone is the faith once delivered to the state and for which every citizen is obliged to contend. And while America may champion the separation of church and state by insisting on the separation of denominational religion from the apparatus of government, there is not, nor can there be a separation of religion and state so long as the national democratic creed remains the uniquely sacrosanct theme of public discourse. So important, in fact, is this democratic faith that some have argued it must be taught in churches and synagogues in addition to taxpayer supported agencies and institutions. It should come as no surprise, therefore, when those same voices call for democracy to be taught “as religion” in the public schools, which themselves must become “veritable temple[s] for the indoctrination of democracy.”

To Be Continued…

Civil Catechesis and the Democratic Creed, Pt. 1…

Reflecting upon his second and final visit among the American churches in the 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote prophetically of his frustration with the shape of Protestantism in the United States, assessing the influence that religious and ethnic pluralism had in the genesis of an anti-confessional, anti-creedal public life. American Christianity, Bonhoeffer observed, had “no central organization, no common creed, no common cultus, no common church history and no common ethical, social or political principles.” This ecclesiastic phenomenon had profound political implications owing largely to the “concept of tolerance among the Congregationalist-Baptist enthusiasts, particularly as it was developed by Roger Williams in Maryland.” In such an environment of absolute religious tolerance, Bonhoeffer continued, “the dominion of God becomes synonymous with the freedom of the individual to follow by himself the inner voice and the inner light.” Moreover, the path is paved wide for the formation of denominations without creeds wherein “the concept of tolerance becomes the basic principle of everything Christian.”

But perhaps Bonhoeffer unwittingly stumbled across the very religious and very nationalistic faith which binds together the ethnically and culturally diverse constituencies of America’s disparate faith traditions. Perhaps, indeed, there exists “alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.” And perhaps, with democracy as its creed and tolerance as its virtue, such an American public faith serves the purpose in the United States that a nationalized, confessional church served in Bonhoeffer’s Germany. And just perhaps, in an otherwise astute critique, Bonhoeffer missed both the existence and authenticity of America’s idiosyncratic “legitimating myth.”

If Bonhoeffer failed to recognize the presence and power of an American nationalistic faith, it is certain that many of his contemporaries in the United States did not. Among them, none other than the famed Harry Emerson Fosdick thundered from the pulpit of New York’s Riverside Church against the encroaching and seductive influence of what many have termed “civic idolatry”:

Millions today, some in this country and many elsewhere, are taking that attitude toward the absolute, nationalistic state. It is a substitute religion. It has its dogmas, its rituals, its symbols and its sacraments. At the heart of it is this tremendous matter: the utter devotion of millions of souls to the nationalistic god. Where do you think that substitute god will bring us out? He will tear our world into bloody pieces and make our children’s earth a hell.

Notwithstanding the perennial controversy about whether or not civil religion is truly an idolatrous counter-religion or merely a term employed euphemistically to describe the near-euphoric confidence of the American people in the democratic ideal, there is almost universal recognition that something exists which serves to unite the American people in spite of religious pluralism. That something is itself, to some extent, religious, if not a religion altogether.

Assuming that Emile Durkheim is correct in his insistence that wherever religious life is observed there exists a definite group at its foundation to adhere to and practice the rites connected with common religious beliefs, and that such beliefs are not “received individually by all members of the group” but are rather that which “give[s] the group its unity,” the question remains as to whether, as Durkheim implies, the civil religion of a nation necessarily results in the creation of a national church. If, then, America is run through with civic piety, and if these religious notions inform every citizen about his place in society and responsibility in the world, where then is the church by which the nation is united and in which its young catechumens receive their instruction in timeless truths held self-evident?

With this question providing the framework for the present inquiry, we shall explore the existence of a national, civil religion in the American context, giving specific attention to the role of public education in the cultivation of a “confessional” citizenry. The discussion will involve both the content of civil catechesis and the ways in which American catechumens are shielded from the “heresies” of compromised religious freedom, excessive governmental entanglement and improper religious coercion. In the end, we will argue that if American civil religion is not a truly established religion and therefore inconsistent with First Amendment guarantees, then it surely looks, sounds, and acts like one in spite of copious jurisprudential objection.

To be continued…

The San Antonio Wrap Up…

The Southern Baptist Convention is in a Corinthian crisis, and it doesn’t involve tongues at all. Instead, we are in a place where some are of Mohler, and some are of Burleson. Others are of Patterson, and some are of Chapman. The factionalism manifest on the convention floor over the past several years has grown. People do not only identify themselves with sides and personalities of our latest confessional cause célèbre, but they employ a similar taxonomy when evaluating the validity and motivation for any action initiated or supported by the “other side.”

This, more than anything else, is going to rot our convention. What we saw occur on the convention floor last year in the three-way presidential race were the middle symptoms of the division already entrenched among our denominational leaders. You had Patterson and Mohler pulling for Ronnie Floyd and using their offices to publicly endorse him. Then you had Pressler and the resurgent worker bees throwing their weight behind Jerry Sutton. Finally, you had a momentary alliance of dissidents pull off the biggest surprise victory of the convention since Jerry “Landslide” Vines won the convention presidency by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.

The Patterson-Pressler coalition has cracked, and perhaps irreparably if for no other reason than both old warriors are entering the twilight of their years. New leaders will arise, and it is unlikely that any confluence of personalities like Adrian Rogers, Jimmy Draper, and Charles Stanley will unite to provide the peaceable and endearing balance to rabid fundamentalists like some of their fellow resurgent patriarchs.

There is a palpable division among our entity heads, and I know more about this than I’m able to explain right now. For years, they have operated under the impression that their personal enmity could be contained within the Great Commission Council. The convention, they believed, needs to believe that their agencies are working together harmoniously and that their leaders share a common vision for Kingdom work. As the years have rolled on, however, the division has grown more pronounced and the sides have reached an impasse of personality and power. Unless reciprocal respect and mutual affection become sincere rather than superficial among these leaders, the younger generations will continue to choose sides between them.

There you have it: My most basic explanation for the disunity and disruption of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I digress from the purpose for this post, which is to assess and explain a good many things about the San Antonio convention. So here we go:

The BFM Statement

Several weeks ago, I determined that I would ask the convention to adopt the Executive Committee’s statement on the BFM2000. For some reason, I have this uncanny ability to remember parliamentary minutiae with impeccable accuracy. First, I scoured every copy of the SBC Convention Annual that I had on my shelf, dating back to 1962, to see if any entity report had been adopted in part or whole by the convention on a matter not recommended for adoption by the entity’s board of trustees.

I could find no precedent.

Second, I pulled out a copy of Roberts Rules of Order to verify that my recollection was correct, and that the convention could “adopt” a portion of a report to claim the report as its own. Of course, this little used parliamentary rule existed. Third, I checked Barry McCarty’s twenty year-old book on parliamentary rules for church leaders to discover if our convention parliamentarian had commented upon the provision. Of course, he had and I was confident that his counsel to the convention president would be consistent with his own written interpretation of the rule.

Finally, I notified SBC President Frank Page and Committee on Order of Business Chairman Allan Blume as a courtesy to apprise them of my intention. On Sunday evening before the convention, I emailed the exact wording of my motion to Rev. Blume.

Late Monday afternoon, Wade Burleson and I discussed the reality that the motion could suffer defeat if either of us made or spoke to the motion. Wade approached Rick Garner, whom we had both come to know, and Rick agreed to make the motion.

On Monday evening, Wade and I hosted over 40 people in our suite for a time of briefing about the motion. I explained the parliamentary rule, fielded questions, and highlighted the times in the convention schedule when these messengers would need to be prepared at a microphone. I anticipated the arguments that could be used against the motion, and together we all formed a series of responses to diffuse the certain objections of Patterson, Mohler, Land, Yarnell, York, Kelley and their students.

Right out of the shoots Tuesday morning, Rick Garner made his way to microphone number nine and read the motion into the minutes. Late Tuesday afternoon, I met with Boyd Luter, Rick Garner, and a few others to craft the three-minute speech that Rick would have to give when the motion made it to the floor. Just before going into the Tuesday evening session, Rick and I went over his final draft of the speech — I think I offered one phrase and two words — behind an escalator and then went into the convention hall.

On the front row behind microphone number nine, Wade Burleson, Dwight McKissic, and I sat to watch the debate flesh out. Rick spoke clearly and calmly, then the fireworks started to go off. Back and forth for a few minutes, messengers spoke in favor and opposition to the motion. There were four moments that I knew the motion would pass, and only one that I thought it would fail.

First, when the microphone lit up and a young woman spoke against the motion, but for reasons that actually helped our cause. Rather than speaking against the main motion to affirm the BFM2000, she actually stated that she supported the old 1963 statement. Similarly, a man got to a microphone to speak about soul competency and the priesthood of the believer. He may as well have denied the virgin birth in front of that crowd.

Then there was Robin Hadaway, who with his mumbled, incoherent opposition did little to help his cause. In fact, Professor Hershael York has already observed that no “articulate and passionate antagonist” to the motion ever spoke during the debate. I certain hope — with authentic sincerity — that Hadaway’s articulate passion for teaching missions is greater than the inadequate measure noted so appropriately by York concerning Hadaway’s feeble foray into the convention fray. I also hope that Frank Page will regard incoherence alongside unsweetness as disqualifying characteristics for next year’s appointees to the Resolutions Committee.

When the camera switched to a microphone to speak against, I saw Art Rogers standing there. He said, politely, “No, Mr. President. I am speaking for the motion.”

Standing behind Art, and barely visible except for his pompadour of strangely red hair plugs, was Richard Land. Next to him was Hershael York. With these men warming up in the bullpen, I knew we had to have a vote fast. The question was called, and after a near 2/3 majority vote to end debate, Frank Page allowed the messengers to continue. The moment that he was shouted down by Southwestern Seminary professors and students was the lowest, basest few seconds of the annual session.

At one point, the microphone in front of us was empty. Wade ran up and pushed the “for” button. When the number was called, Wade pointed to Dwight and said, “you’re up.” Without fair warning and completely extemporaneous, Dwight moved quickly to the microphone and spoke – the only black pastor to do so from the convention floor this year.

Bob Cleveland spoke, wearing a t-shirt; and Jeremy Green spoke, looking like Fred Rogers. After the vote was over, I spoke with a retired convention executive and asked him what he thought.

“I didn’t recognize anybody at the microphones,” he said.

“That’s a good sign that things are changing,” I responded.

Knowing that Richard Land or Hershael York was next up, I went to a switchbox and pushed “Point of Order.” My question was going to be about whether or not the time had expired, and then I was going to move the question again.

Before I had the chance, Frank Page informed the messengers that the time for debate had expired and asked for a 2/3 vote to extend debate. After a raised vote that looked a clear majority from the back of the room, Page ordered a ballot, and the messengers calmed from what was the most vigorous and tense debate in the last few years.

I’m not going to try to parse the motion, because I think the statement speaks for itself. All the ballyhoo about whether or not the messengers knew what they were voting on is irrelevant to me. I have said before, and I reiterate my concern, that at any given moment there are only a handful of people who know what’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention. Most messengers are woefully ill informed and happily so. I can only speak to my reason for having pushed the issue.

I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention has the responsibility to reaffirm its confessional boundaries every so often. I also believe that the time to reaffirm those boundaries is when they are being challenged from the inside or the out. I further believe that the convention has the obligation to inform the trustees of the agencies and institutions funded with our cooperative program dollars of our doctrinal expectations.

The argument that respecting those doctrinal parameters established by the BFM2000 would bind the convention trustees from disallowing pedophiles or sodomites or adulterers or gluttons from employment is both specious and disingenuous. Early Tuesday, I was asked by an entity president if I wanted him to have that kind of freedom in his hiring. My response: “I wasn’t aware you were recruiting them, let alone trying to hire them.”

Al Mohler and Paige Patterson and Phil Roberts and Chuck Kelley – well maybe not the last two – know better. But they also know – as do I – that the convention cannot sustain a serious and nuanced discussion of polity or doctrine. What do they do, then?

The same thing fundamentalists always do: Trot out their three favorite tools of fear-mongering by shouting about abortion, sodomy, and the “feminist agenda.” Want to get the SBC out of the BWA? Get Paige Patterson to tell you that they are soft on homosexuality. Want the messengers to oppose a toothless statement on the Baptist Faith & Message, raise the specter of gay rights activists trying to make a living under Mohler’s administration. Nevermind the fact that Article XV of the BFM2000 addresses both sodomy and abortion, while Article XVIII sets this convention apart from feminist ideology.

Truth, however, makes an unwelcome ally when power is the prize.

Moreover, I am saddened that Barry McCarty and I are the only people in the convention who seem to know Roberts Rules of Order. The convention had the opportunity to amend the statement before its adoption. If Richard Land and Al Mohler and Malcolm Yarnell were dissatisfied with the Executive Committee statement, they could have exercised their rights as messengers to revise the statement by offering a qualifying clause or editing language they deemed unclear or problematic. Of course I don’t expect Jeremy Green or Bart Barber or Emir Caner or Nathan Lino to know how the rules work. But others surely must, I would think. Rather than leading this convention into greater disunity by mounting a challenge to an affirmation of the BFM2K as a sufficient guide, why not do something constructive to bring the sides together around a mutually agreeable statement?

Peace, it seems, is an unsavory morsel for dogs who prefer a fight.

Of course, it is possible that an amendment was contemplated but ultimately pulled because of concerns that — if it failed — it could have exposed some convention leaders to unwanted criticism or assured a larger margin of victory for those pushing its adoption.

Whatever the case, the convention has spoken. We did not vote on an interpretation of the statement, or about the motivation of its primary movants. Rather, we adopted a statement that is clear and concise, fair and balanced. It is, I feel, a rather innocuous statement, unless of course you don’t think the Southern Baptist Convention has the privilege to express its mind on any matter. I will grant that the messengers may not have been clear, and surely some of those who spoke for and against the motion were not. But the statement itself is very clear:

The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.

I do find it interesting that the arguments marshaled against the statement are strangely similar to those used to change the charter of Baylor University and remove direct appointment of trustees from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “The agencies are owned by the trustees, who set policies as they see fit. The convention cannot exercise doctrinal or administrative control of the boards, except by appointing trustees. And if you happen to appoint trustees we don’t like, we might have to take that privilege away too.” It seems, again, that the pigs are starting to resemble the farmers. But what do I know? I’m just a barnyard jackass looking into the windows.

On my way back to Dallas, I was stopped in the San Antonio airport by a member of the Committee on Order of Business. My motion, he said, was a “brilliant move.”

“You mean Rick Garner’s motion,” I said with a smile.

I suppose the greatest lesson our convention should learn from this whole ordeal is that the tiniest of rudders can turn the largest of ships. The headlines coming out of the convention, the issue that exposed the competing visions for our convention agencies that we might address them, and some of the most impassioned exchanges between convention leaders came about because of a single messenger who knew a minor footnote in Robert’s Rules of Order. Indeed, no deliberative body in the world has that kind of potential for both good and evil.

The Messengers

Nobody predicted the low messenger registration numbers for the San Antonio convention. When the SBC cannot get more than 8500 messengers in Texas, we’re in trouble. Even more troubling is the fact that messengers who do register do not show up for critical votes. I predict that we will have 7000 messengers or lower in Indianapolis, and even fewer in Louisville. Attendance will spike, however, when we return to Orlando. Quite frankly, Mickey Mouse can get more Baptists to the annual convention than all the bus tours and confetti cannons and shofarim our Cooperative Program dollars can buy.

One reason we have low voter turnout during the times for elections and debate is because of the constant changing of times for everything. We move things forward 15 minutes. Then we move them back. At any given moment, I had no idea which version of the program was correct, if any. If I was scheduling the convention, I think I would set up the election of officers for back to back votes. I would continue to allow multiple times to introduce new motions, but I would schedule the bulk of the Tuesday evening session for one block of time for debate on the motions presented during the morning. All of the previously scheduled business times would be rolled into one giant block of time for debate and votes. If we got through the time early, I would let everybody go home early that night. Resolutions would still be on Wednesday morning, followed by all the seminary reports back to back with a time for questions for all the seminaries in one block.

And then I would make sure that all votes were announced 15 minutes before they were to occur via a loudspeaker and an alarm in the exhibit hall. If messengers were given a heads-up about votes over a loudspeaker, I think many of them would make their way into the convention hall with ballots in hand. As it is now, the only thing you hear over loudspeakers in the exhibit halls are the blue light specials at the Lifeway store. I would also think about having “balloting kiosks” throughout the convention hall to enable messengers to vote at those places on all votes requiring a ballot.

The Election

Jim Richards won and David Rogers lost. Ultimately, this election will have far less impact on the convention than I originally thought, yet I realize my perspective might be different if my candidate had won. Many factors served to give Jim Richards a slam dunk election. Patterson whipped the fundamentalists into a feeding frenzy just before the vote, for one. Add to it that SBTC showed up for the vote and the BGCT didn’t, the greater name/face recognition for Mac Brunson coupled with the FBC Jacksonville pastor’s preaching the nomination speech. SBTexan articles were all provided to convention messengers prominently touting Jim Richards’ accomplishments.

And then there was the debacle regarding my having edited David Rogers’ answers to the Florida Baptist Witness article, though unknown to most convention messengers by the time of balloting, it didn’t help his candidacy among the informed fence-sitters. Of course, if it was known just how much editing and scripting I’ve done in the last two years, Jim Smith and Joni Hannigan would combust spontaneously.

I think I would like to debate Jim Richards about a number of things. In fact, I hope to request such an opportunity in the coming weeks. His vision for the Southern Baptist Convention is different from mine. The difference, however, is not one of direction but of degree. Speaking of debating, I think Malcolm Yarnell and I have agreed to consider doing such a thing at some point this next year.

The Motions

Bart Barber’s motion regarding the study of seminary professor salaries was nobly intended but poorly executed. I wish Barber had requested that the seminary trustees themselves conduct a study of their institutional salary schedules rather than asking for a “committee of eleven.” He would have been able to get his motion through without a problem had he followed that counsel. Neither should he have appealed the ruling of the chair. Rather, he should have asked if he could revise his original motion to reflect the parliamentarian’s concerns about procedural issues. If I understand parliamentary procedure – and there is reason to believe that I do – he could have offered a substitute motion, or asked to amend his original motion as the primary movant. Nonetheless, I was surprised that a man who’s made quite a reputation for respecting the trustee process would have offered a motion to supplant that process by appointing an outside review committee. I seem to recall another messenger trying the same thing last year, to no avail.

If any motion deserves convention action, in my estimation, it must be Les Puryear’s request that agencies and institutions of the SBC make available all trustee voting and attendance records both online and offline. The process of doing a roll-call vote on every item before trustees would be laborious, but there are ways to accomplish such a task by combining various reports, etc.

The motions about the Emergent Church Movement are getting tired, and the motion to ban the Chronicles of Narnia from Lifeway Stores was ridiculous. Perhaps the most absurd motion in my estimation was the one asking for a military color guard to present the American flag at the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention.

How about this, Jethro?

The Southern Baptist Convention isn’t a gathering of Americans to honor their country. It is a gathering of Christians to pursue Great Commission objectives. Of course, I’m one of a few dissidents in the SBC who think that patriotism in worship is idolatrous, and that George W. Bush addressing our convention is about as misplaced as having Dwight McKissic address the Sons of the Southern Confederacy or Jim Richards give the commencement address at Bob Jones Harvard University.

The Missional Thing

I was invigorated by Ed Stetzer – once again – as he shared his thoughts on the need for Southern Baptists to think critically and creatively about our strategies for evangelism and missions. Stetzer is clear when he speaks, humble in his criticisms, and prospective in his ministry philosophy.

To be honest, I’m still not sure what it means to be missional. The word itself is not very descriptive, and I have yet to find an authoritative lexicon. In my own simple mind, I think of missional as opposed to traditional, by which I mean status quo ministry structures and methods not “the faith once delivered to the saints.” More than anyone else in Southern Baptist life, Stetzer is asking questions that need asking. So far, he’s the only one that’s trying to answer them with any convincing credibility.

As I begin averting my attention away from convention politics, it is to Stetzer’s work that I will first turn to get my bearings on a confessional landscape of virgin rainforest yet untouched by the bulldozers and chainsaws of denominational bureaucracy. Stetzer’s challenge — and that of his missional colleagues — will be to see if they can retain their unconventional approach and perspective without becoming anticonventional.

The Mohlerites

Al Mohler wields tremendous influence in the convention, and rightly so. Once in a generation, Southern Baptists produce a man with the intellect, presence, and political instincts of an Al Mohler. Over the course of a decade, Mohler has shifted the fulcrum of theological education in Southern Baptist life to Louisville. His faculty is top-notch, and his students bear the fruit of serious ministry preparation.

He’s also got more than his fair share of marketing savvy, coupled with a healthy balance of humor and gravitas. Southern Baptists reformers would do well to seek Mohler’s counsel and cultivate his respect. The president of Southern Seminary is cultivating the brightest minds in Southern Baptist life by training the most pastoral track M.Div. students in the history of Evangelical Christianity.

Mohler is potentially victimized by the very thing the Apostle Paul warned about elevating men of youth to positions of such tremendous responsibility. Mohler is prideful, and elitist. I do not say this to condemn him, because the Lord knows that Mohler’s done a better job at keeping himself humble than I have. Of course, pulmonary emboli have a way of reminding a man that he’s mortal.

I respect Al Mohler — always have — but there were a few moments during the San Antonio convention when he tipped his hand a little too much. On the one hand, he gets preachy when he needs the bubba-pastors to rally for his cause. On the other hand, he’s got the finesse to satisfy the bubbas with a wink and a nod to the Southern Baptist intelligentsia who know what he’s up to.

I don’t believe that Al Mohler will seek the convention presidency next year, in spite of all the folderol and subterranean rumbling. If nothing else, Mohler is astute enough to see how Patterson’s influence in Southern Baptist life started to diminish when he needed the convention presidency to press his agenda. Mohler realizes that his legacy is tied to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and not to the convention presidency. With his seminary as the hottest ticket in evangelical theological education, Mohler has too much to lose by a presidential candidacy. If he plays his cards right, he will wield more influence in this generation than Adrian Rogers did in the last, and without the convention presidency to do it. If that happens, he will have to develop a more diplomatic tone than the one on display during his report in San Antonio.

The Southwestern Report

Unlike some of my blogging colleagues, the Southwestern Seminary report was a source of great humor for me. I had been dropping not-so-subtle hints during recent months that I might do something interesting during the Southwestern Seminary report. I was approached by two Southern Seminary students who asked if I was going to have Patterson subpoenaed during the report. Patterson himself was busy circulating the rumor that I might bring a lawsuit against him and make it public during the report.

Like dutiful pups, his loyalists made their way to microphones at the first moment Patterson took the stage, convinced that they could protect him from the anticipated assaults. From the back of the convention hall, I watched the scene play out; and before the time for questions, I passed down the middle of the room from microphone to microphone, tapping people on the shoulder and asking them if they had a question.

Jaws locked, eyes grew cold, and anger flared nostrils. Once I knew that Patterson would be buffeted by inane questions lobbed soft by Southwestern sympathizers, I conceived of a brilliant plan, which I ultimately rejected to sit quietly as was my intention all along. In conference calls and meetings leading up to the convention, I told people that I would not be doing anything during the SWBTS report. One never attacks his opponent at the moment an attack is expected.

Nevertheless, I thought I would follow suit and make it to a microphone and ask one of the two following questions, both of which are about as central to the seminary report as those asked by other messengers.

“Dr. Patterson, will you please take a moment and settle this controversy once and for all. Rumors and innuendo cannot continue about this matter, and I believe you could go a long way to resolving some issues right here and now if you will just answer my question. So, Dr. Patterson, which is it?

Coke or Pepsi?

Boxers or briefs?”

Patterson’s rant looked pathetic. Of course, so much that he does looks pathetic to me these days that I’m obviously not an impartial observer. This year he was able to skirt the question of declining enrollment, rising expenditures, and accreditation jeopardy. Next year, he might not be as lucky. At some point Patterson will have to face the music and explain to the convention why Southwestern continues to lag behind the other seminaries. This year, Southern Seminary received only $10,000 more in Cooperative Program allocation than Southwestern. If the trend continues, Southwestern will be due for a considerable drop in funds next year, both due to its declining enrollment and the new funding formula yet to hit the CP allocation budget.

Patterson is also suffering from advanced paranoia, due in large part to the frustration of wondering just what lawsuit or document or letter I will produce next. For now, however, I’m going to cool it on the public reproduction of the files I’ve amassed. I might post excerpts from the interviews I’ve conducted over the past year with denominational leaders of both conservative and moderate persuasion. Whatever the case, Patterson has been able to blame Southwestern’s problems on Dwight McKissic, bloggers, and me. In fact, Patterson is at his best when he’s under attack.

What he cannot stand is the increasing irrelevance that his views have upon Southern Baptist life. The seminary he spent ten years building – Southeastern – is now under leadership that owes no allegiance to Patterson’s idiosyncratic doctrine or politically manipulative ways. He does not have ten years to invest in Southwestern, and he must be frustrated that his legacy and influence will find its greatest distillation at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, MO. Like a lion in winter, Patterson is at a loss to deal with the mutinies and rivalries and parodies he’s facing with unprecedented force.

I was grateful, I must admit, that a messenger asked Patterson a question about that silly little program in sewing and cooking that he’s instituted at Southwestern. We at Baptist Blogger will wait and see what odd academic novelty Patterson will concoct next to try and float his sinking ship.

No, Southwestern Seminary isn’t drifting down river toward liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, or ecumenism. Neither is it traveling upstream with a seminary armada. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has hit a sandbar and found itself leaning far too right and immobilized. The whole evangelical world looks on with a mixture of laughter and tears. The sight of Paige Patterson commanding his institutional oarsmen to keep rowing – all the while they kick up nothing but sand – is sad indeed. The sight of Dorothy surveying the ship’s demoralized crew from the deck like some deposed British monarch is twice as sad. At some point, the trustees will have to explain their ultimate stewardship to the convention. I predict, however, that Patterson is busy searching for a retirement exit, wishing to himself that he hadn’t burned a bridge with Morris Chapman that might have afforded him a staff job at the Executive Committee to empower something or another.

The Resolutions

Overall, I was pleased with the Resolutions Committee’s report, though I continue to wonder about the need for resolutions at all. First, the resolution on child abuse was needed. In the past year, Southern Baptists have had our soft-underbellies exposed on the weakness of our autonomous polity to deal with child victimization in our churches. Most mid-sized to larger congregations in major cities have established policies to prevent the abuse of children. In the rural areas, however, most churches still operate with a naivete about the incubation their 1950s models of ministry provide for serial abusers.

C.B. Scott of Alabama offered a resolution — written by yours truly — that called churches to greater interest in the ministry of rescuing abused children. Both C.B. and his wife, Karen, have taken a personal interest all their lives in ministering to kids from broken and abusive homes. To some degree, I think this explains their deep affection and encouragement of me. Both that resolution and mine on preventing clergy abuse were merged into an excellent reaffirmation of Southern Baptist’s desire to protect children under the ministry care of our churches.

I wish that Marty Duren’s resolution on political non-partisanship — also written largely by yours truly — had made it to the convention floor. Marty Duren and I have had an ongoing conversation about the need for Southern Baptists to reanchor our primary concern with the Kingdom not of this world, convinced as we are that excessive entanglement and undue interest in the American political scene has compromised Southern Baptist’s prophetic witness against the state. Quite frankly, I’m tired of waking up in a Southern Baptist bed and seeing an elephant on the pillow beside me. Next year is an election year, and I hope that the SBC will consider adopting a resolution similar to the one Marty submitted for consideration. Of course, the greater likelihood is that we will adopt resolutions buttresses planks of the Republican platform.

The resolution on global warming displaced last year’s alcohol resolution in the number five slot, which henceforth should be reserved for the absurd. I didn’t vote for this resolution when it finally came up for adoption, not because I have any knowledge of all the arguments, both scientific and otherwise, regarding global warming. Sitting outside tonight on a unseasonably cool Texas evening, I have reason to have suspicion about the validity of global warming propaganda.

The resolution on integrity in church membership, offered by Tom Ascol of Florida, is not going away until Southern Baptists start referring to ourselves as the “formerly largest Protestant denomination.” Ascol and the Founders have done more to raise awareness of Southern Baptist deceit when it comes to the actual size of our convention, and I am amazed at the ridiculous and illiterate arguments offered against this resolution for two years in a row. I also think it’s strange that Southern Baptist conservatives are making strides to become the chief proponents of autonomy, proving again that the old moderate axioms have been adopted for reasons other than confessional appreciation for their place in Baptist history. “Autonomy” was the expedient article of Chuck Kelley’s unsuccessful end run on the Executive Committee. It’s the reason Malcolm Yarnell wants Southwestern Seminary to be able to enforce unrestricted doctrinal narrowness for the Fort Worth seminary. Simply put, it’s the rationale du jour for establishment conservatives to withstand accountability to the convention that pays their salaries.

The Victory

In our esteemed opinion, the best thing to come out of the SBC meeting in San Antonio is that Chairman Tom Hatley has rotated off the International Mission Board, as has Roger Moran from the Executive Committee. Frank Page’s appointments will start to trickle down to the denominational trustee boards, and the last, best effort for reforming our bureaucracy will gain steam.

The Heartache

When a man chooses the right enemies, he acquires the right friends. Of course, if he chooses an enemy of immense popularity, he loses a good many friends along the way. Through all the events of the past year, I’ve managed to maintain the friendship of men like Malcolm Yarnell, who appreciates more than any other my congenial ribbing. I’ve gained the opportunity to dialogue respectfully and temperately with Southwestern Seminary administrators. I’ve developed friendships with pastors and laymen across the convention with whom I might have never enjoyed fellowhsip.

And then, I’ve experienced the heartache of lost friendships. Men with whom I once shared a daily lunch appointment in Wake Forest now turn their backs when I pass their way. Fellow students and close colleagues during my seminary days bristle with resentment and turn a cold shoulder when our paths intersect. Perhaps most surprising to me was the encounter I experienced with a former roommate, coworker, and friend whom I’ve invited into my pulpit, shared accommodations at pastor’s conferences, laughed and cried and enjoyed holiday meals. While passing through the exhibit hall, we met face to face. I, unaware of his resolve to avoid me as a Jew would avoid Samaria, walked up and extended my hand with a smile. He glared stone-faced, gripped my hand with a cool, dispassionate salutation, and told me in no uncertain terms that he wished to discontinue all interaction with me.

Very fine, I told him, and walked on.

On the last night of the convention, an IMB trustee from Texas spoke rather rudely to me, though she and I have had no unpleasant personal exchange in the ten years we’ve been acquainted. “I wish you would leave us alone and stop trying to undo the conservative resurgence,” she said abruptly when I spoke a warm word of greeting. Go figure. The fighting spirit of fundamentalism has no ability to draw distinctions between ideological conflict and personal animosity.

This is the collateral damage of denominational conflict. People take up offenses that are not theirs, choose sides against their friends, and shake the dust off their feet. One of the things that I have admired about men like Wade Burleson, Art Rogers, Dwight McKissic, Bart Barber, Hershael York, Malcolm Yarnell, Russell Moore, and others is their ability to recognize that business is business without losing a sincere Christian disposition, forgiving spirit, and willingness to disallow our differences to separate the brethren.

This concludes my San Antonio wrap-up. I have one more SBC-related post before I transition the nature of this blog.

Stay tuned…

Roman Baptist Convention, Part Six and Final…

The final post in the series follows:

8. An allurement to extracanonical authorities.

During the days of the Conservative Resurgence, all parties appealed to the Bible. On the one hand there were moderates who claimed to have “no creed but the Bible,” which became a rallying cry for opposition to confessional accountability. On the other hand there were conservatives who claimed to be fighting a “battle for the Bible,” by which they meant a reclamation of the inerrancy principle to guide the convention’s ministries. To an extreme on the moderate side were the liberals — the exact number of which is unknown — who denied the historical reliability of biblical texts. To the other extreme on the conservative side were the fundamentalists — most of whom reject the opprobrious epithet — who affirm the sufficiency of Scripture in principle but not in practice or policy.

There are no longer any liberals in Southern Baptist Convention leadership to which any honest or educated person can point. Liberals have found safe havens for their deplorable doctrines in other academies of theological education. Many moderates are still nominally Southern Baptist, and most of them still support the International Mission Board, purchase Lifeway literature, invest with Guidestone, and contribute to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. They just don’t come to conventions or send their preacher boys to Southern Baptist seminaries or set their Tivos to record the latest interview with Richard Land on FOX.

Regrettably, the fundamentalists remain. I’ve often thought that the Southern Baptist Convention would have been better off if we’d lost 10 percent on either side. Nobody will argue that our convention is more biblically anchored without Molly Marshall Greens or Jack Flanderses or Ralph Elliotts or Temp Sparkmanses. The fact that many in the blogging community will have to google those names is evidence enough that we have inoculated the liberal influence in the SBC.

I’m of the opinion, however, that we might have been wiser to create an environment of theological fellowship in the Southern Baptist Convention that would have driven fundamentalists off stage right while the liberals were scurrying off stage left. For instance, I believe the SBC was unwise to welcome Jerry Falwell to our convention platform as regularly as we did. I think the SBC would be healthier without the extreme right either. Give us the 80 percent in the middle and we’d be better off, I suggest.

Nevertheless, fundamentalists have not only stayed but they’ve continued to exert a controlling influence in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. Fundamentalists are the ones who forced the silly Disney boycott. Fundamentalists are the ones who forced the silly Richards’ amendment to last year’s resolution number five. Fundamentalists are the ones who keep pushing our convention toward Landmarkism — as in the case of the International Mission Board policy on baptism — or narcissism — as in the case of Malcolm Yarnell’s programme for capital “B” Baptist everything.

For all their talk about “the authority of the Bible,” fundamentalists sure seem to find other authorities with equal or greater influence. When it comes to “beverage alcohol,” for instance, we are told to impose a strict rule on Southern Baptist trustees because of our “history of having opposed the alcohol industry.” For more than one hundred years, we are told, Baptists have been against drinking, as if a history of cultural opposition makes for exegetical precision. Go read the various “white papers” that are disseminated around Southern Baptist seminaries these days, and discover how much talk there is of “Baptist theology” or “Baptist history” and less talk of biblical authority. What began as a push for the authority and integrity of the sacred text has morphed into a relentless push for the authority and integrity of the sacred tradition.

Of course, the Southern Baptist fundamentalists — most of whom are consistently anti-Calvinistic — are selective in their attempts to elevate Baptist tradition to a quasi-canonical authority. Don’t believe me? Go ask Tom Ascol & Company. Basil Manly and James Petigru Boyce and a good number of their contemporaries find reference in Paige Patterson’s scholarship (pause for laughter) insofar as they address issues of Baptist ecclesiology. When it comes to election or the atonement, however, they may as well have written on stewardship.

I guess I’m saying that it bothers me when preachers at Pastor’s Conferences get louder shouts of amens when they quote Criswell or Rogers or Truett or Carroll or Scarborough then when they quote Peter or James or John. Want to get a bunch of Baptists howling, start barking ad nauseum about our “Baptist forefathers.” Want the room to get quiet, try preaching on the Olivet Discourse.

As far as I know, the Conservative Resurgence was about the inerrancy of the Bible…not the inerrancy of Baptist theology or practice. Yet it seems we’re being told the two are somehow caught in a classic case of clinical codependency. This, of course, leads me to my next observation:

9. An overdeveloped ecclesiology

Here’s food for thought: The more Southern Baptists focus on ecclesiology, the less we focus on Christology. The purpose of the church is not to look in the mirror and focus on itself, but to look to the Word and focus on Christ. The more central ecclesiological concerns become to our theologies, the less central Christ becomes. The church is a vessel charged with the responsibility to preach the good news of Christ’s sufficient and completed atoning work, not an academic institution charged with the responsibility to herald the ecclesiological excellence of Baptist churches.

In fact, the first man to bear the name Baptist was, according to Jesus, greatest among those born of women. We should not miss the fact that his preaching was concerned exclusively with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and not with the peculiar practices of an ascetic people known as Essenes.

Yet Southern Baptists are in real danger of having our theological attention distracted away from the Bridegroom due to an inordinate fascination with the Bride. In this way, we are being led to think that our churches are His Church, and our kingdoms His. This, quite simply, will prove the undoing of our ministry fruitfulness. If we aren’t careful, one day we will wake up to find that our little vine has withered altogether.

In one of his earlier works, Alister McGrath observed the “under-developed ecclesiology” of evangelicals and the “over-developed ecclesiology” of the Roman Catholic tradition. Commenting on McGrath’s assessment, Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary noted:

“In our efforts to evaluate critically “weak” doctrines of the church we ought not to be insensitive to the dangers posed by “strong” ecclesiologies. We evangelicals have long worried about ecclesiological perspectives that are so highly detailed and all consuming that they marginalize other important theological concerns. In a sense, this worry has roots in the Reformation: when Luther raised a much-neglected soteriological concern about justification by faith, his critics regularly responded with complaints about his weak ecclesiology as allegedly evidenced in his lack of appreciation for the nuances of a proper account of church authority. This is but one example of situations in which evangelical Protestants have experienced the heavy-handedness of a theological perspective that is dominated by ecclesiology.”

I shall leave it for others to determine for themselves whether or not Southern Baptists are being tempted toward an eccentric theology that emphasizes our ecclesiological structures and traditions to the neglect of the gospel itself. Before you form your opinion too quickly, however, I ask you to think about the chief criticism leveled against emergent and reformed pastors by those who claim exclusive prerogative to the Baptist mantle.

10. Excessive entanglement in political affairs.

The history of the Roman Catholic Church is a fascinating and provident study for Southern Baptists seeking to develop our political theology. Of course, it can be argued that Southern Baptists lack anything resembling a political theology or a sufficient hermeneutic to discern between our obligations to Caesar and our allegiance to Christ. Nevertheless, the Southern Baptist Convention has become too closely identified with secular partisan politics in general, and the Republican Party in particular. Every four years the aspiring occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue line up outside the offices of influential Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders like Henry IV waiting outside Canossa for the papal blessing.

This year, Richard Land has advised Mitt Romney. Alberto “Guantanamo” Gonzales made an appearance at the Executive Committee. Rudy Giuliani met with Frank Page, and this week we all get to hear George W. Bush address the Southern Baptist Convention. Our resolutions have become increasingly political, ranging from our thoughts on the federal judiciary to our thoughts on the federal judiciary, and even including our thoughts on the federal judiciary. Throw in a eulogy for President Ronald Reagan and a not-so-oblique resolution opposing Democratic initiatives for campaign finance reform, and you’ve got a denominational agenda that would turn loose a ton of confetti on the Republican National Committee.

What can be done about reversing these trends?

Stay tuned for my next post, set to drop before the Tuesday morning session of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention, entitled “The Way Forward, Part Two.”

The Florida Baptist Witness…

The Florida Baptist Witness has released the answers to a questionnairre sent to all candidates for elected offices in the Southern Baptist Convention. This morning, I have received a kind request to comment on a story set to release today on the Witness website.

Essentially, the FBW will reveal that the answers to the questions submitted by David Rogers had been edited by me. Apparently, David Rogers sent in the working copy that he used, and in which I tracked numerous changes and suggestions for his consideration as we discussed the matter of his responses via internet chat. Here is the full email response I supplied this morning to the Florida Baptist Witness:

“Over the past eighteen months, David Rogers and I have developed a friendship grounded in our shared commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention and foreign missions. I am enthusiastic about his nomination, and will do everything I can to help him become our next first vice president.

While you are technically correct that I assisted David Rogers in his response to the questions provided by the Florida Baptist Witness, the answers are his and his only. The document you reference does not show the extensive online discussion via internet chat and messaging technology where David crafted his responses while I cut and pasted them into the original document so that he could track numerous changes from his original draft response to those he finally submitted to the Florida Baptist Witness.

It is obvious to any that have followed David Rogers’ and my thoughts on the matters raised in the questionairre that we do not agree on every point. Our disagreement, however, does not impede my desire to see him elected. Indeed, I believe he will be elected, and I pray to that end.”

David Rogers has also released a statement in response to the Florida Baptist Witness’s article:

“The answers sent in by me to the Florida Baptist Witness represent my thought and mine alone. Upon receiving the questionnaire, I first wrote out my answers to each question. Believing that “wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors,” I then showed them to my wife and other family members who are here in Spain visiting, asking for comments and suggestions. During this time, I also responded to an internet chat message sent to me by Ben Cole. Although I have never personally met Mr. Cole, I have corresponded with him on several occasions during the past year. Knowing his talent as a wordsmith and knowledge of denominational issues, I mentioned to him the questionnaire I was working on, and asked if he had any comments or suggestions. In the midst of a chat conversation on the wording of several questions, I agreed to send him the entire text by e-mail. Mr. Cole then wrote out his suggested changes, using the edit function of the Word document. Upon receiving Ben’s comments and suggestions by way of e-mail, I carefully read through them, and thought about and considered which ones most accurately reflected my own views and which ones did not. Mr. Cole’s comments, thus, do not affect in any way the faithful representation of my own thoughts in the final document turned in.

Not having used the edit function of Microsoft Word in the past, I was unaware, when I sent in the final draft, that the history of edits and revisions would be visible to others.”

For those that wish to see some of the development of the final responses David Rogers supplied, I am posting all three versions.

First, here is David Rogers’ original draft response.

Second, here is the edited response that shows changes made while chatting with David online.

Third, here is a link to the final draft David sent to the FBW.

Finally, people should know in advance that several of us are working on ideas for the nomination speech. I promise, it will be an excellent speech that highlights the commendable ministry and leadership of David Rogers, masterfully delivered by one of Southern Baptist’s best preachers and pastors, David Dykes of Green Acres Baptist Church.

And one more thing:

I know for a fact, given the same circumstance, if I had received a questionnairre response from Jim Richards with editorial changes tracked under the name Paige Patterson, I would have made much of the “story” too. I would have used it to a political advantage to keep Jim Richards from being elected, and I would have made no apologies for doing so. In a way, I guess, Jim Smith is just another blogger with political instincts. Kudos, Jim. We’ve always known you had it in you.

By the way, Jim. Thanks for making sure that people read closely three different versions of David Rogers’ response to the questionnairre before they read casually the one version of Jim Richards. We at Baptist Blogger can’t pay for that kind of exposure for a candidate we strongly endorse and diligently work to elect.

Street Fight…

Cory Booker was a 32 year old, ivy-league educated city councilman from Newark, NJ. In 2002, he decided to challenge the city’s incumbent mayor, Sharpe James, in what became one of the most contentious and highly-publicized mayoral races in American history.

Last night, I watched the documentary by Curry Marshall entitled “Street Fight,” which chronicles the bitterly contested election. The setup is classic: A young, visionary and highly motivated leader challenges the system of corruption, nepotism, fraud, and nest-feathering nurtured and led by an older, established career politician whose dirty tricks and intimidation tactics were reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson or Richard Daley or Boss Tweed.

Sharpe James hurled every accusation imaginable at Cory Booker. He called him a “carpet bagger,” an “Uncle Tom,” and even raised questions about his moral integrity. James used Booker’s lighter skin to question his “blackness,” and threw the city of Newark into a crisis of identity and purpose. Booker ran his campaign out of low income apartment rentals. Sharpe ran his out of city hall. Booker ran his with technology by exposing the failures of James’s administration. James ran his by using the police force to chase off cameras and follow Booker supporters around.

In the end, Sharpe squeaked out a victory against Cory Booker to win a fifth and final term. By 2006, however, Sharpe James was embroiled in the kind of lawsuits and federal investigations from which a politician seldom recovers.

Today, Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, NJ, having taken his oath of office on July 1, 2006, following the biggest landslide election in Newark’s history. In other words, while Southern Baptists were electing Frank Page to bring change to a system dominated by party bosses, the City of Newark was electing a younger leader to bring change to a corrupt city government.

Sharpe James is facing federal indictments this week. Cory Booker is posting podcasts and Youtube videos to take his message of reform straight to the people.

Southern Baptists have two more street fights before we know if things will change in our convention. The first is in San Antonio next month. The second is in Indianapolis next year. The first will bring the reelection of Frank Page. The second will bring — we hope — the election of David Dockery.

And the Sharpe Jameses of the Southern Baptist Convention will fade away. Below is the trailer for the documentary, “Street Fight.”

John Stuart Mill on Mitt Romney…

While reading Mill’s classic treatise, On Liberty, I was reminded tonight of his thoughts on Mormonism and religious liberty. The money quote:

Much might be said on the unexpected and instructive fact that an alleged new revelation and a religion founded on it — the product of palpable imposture, not even supported by the prestige of ordinary qualities in its founder — is believed by hundreds of thousands, and has been made the foundation of a society in the age of newspapers, railways, and the electric telegraph. What here concerns us is that this religion, like other better religions, has its martyrs: that its prophet and founder was, for his teaching, put to death by a mob; that others of its adherents lost their lives by the same lawless violence; that they were forcibly expelled, in a body, from the country in which they first grew up, while, now that they have been chased into a solitary recess in the midst of the desert, many in this country openly declare that it would be right (only that is not convenient) to send an expedition against them and compel them by force to conform to the opinions of other people. The article of Mormonite doctrine that is the chief provocative to the antipathy which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints of religious tolerance is its sanction of holy polygamy; which, though permitted to Mohammedans, and Hindus, and Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when practiced by persons who speak English and profess to be a kind of Christians. No one has a deeper disapprobation than I have of this Mormon institution; both for other reasons and because, far from being in any way countenanced by a principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction of that principle, being a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the community, and an emancipation of the other from reciprocity of obligation towards them. Still, it must be remembered that this relation is as much voluntary on the part of the women concerned in it, and who may be deemed the sufferers by it, as is the case with any other form of the marriage institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it has its explanation in the common ideas and customs of the world, which, teaching women to think marriage the one thing needful, make it intelligible that many a woman should prefer being one of several wives to not being a wife at all.

Other countries are not asked to recognize such unions, or release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws on the score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissentients have conceded to the hostile sentiments of others far more than could justly be demanded; when they have left the countries to which their doctrines were unacceptable and established themselves in a remote corner of the earth, which they ahve been the first to render habitable to human beings, it is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny they can be prevented from living there under what laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on the other nations and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are disatisfied with their ways. A recent writer, in some respects of considerable merit, proposes (to use his own words) not a crusade, but a civilizade, against this polygamous community, to put an end to what seems to be a retrograde step in civilization. It also appears so to me, but I am not aware that any community has a right to force another to be civilized. So long as the sufferers by the bad law do not invoke assistance from other communities, I cannot admit that persons entirely unconnected with them ought to step in and require that a condition of things with which all who are directly interested appear to be satisfied should be put an end to because it is scandal to persons some thousands of miles distant who have no part or concern in it. Let them send missionaries, if they please, to preach against it; and let them, by any fair means (of which silencing the teachers is not one), oppose the progress of similar doctrines among their own people.

If civilization has got the better barbarism when barbarism had the world to itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after having been fairly got under, should revive and conquer civilization. A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy must first have become so degenerate that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilization receives notice to quit, the better. It can only go on from bad to worse until destroyed, and regenerated (like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians.

The Worst President???

President Jimmy Carter has lit the national news afire with his recent comments about George W. Bush’s foreign policy, labeling the current president’s record on international relations as “the worst in history.”

I lack the perspective to make such a sweeping assessment of President Bush’s administration in this regard, but I have to confess my disappointment with the current Commander-in-Chief. Whatever the case, President Carter is entitled to his opinion of Bush’s foreign policy, even though many who agree with him would question the propriety of his making his opinion public.

“Priggish,” they are calling Carter. “A doddering old fool and a quack.”

The cacophany of bloggers who see Carter’s criticism of Bush as further cause to despise his Baptist identity will surely commence. To many, criticizing George W. Bush is blasphemy. Asking serious questions about the injustice occuring under the current administration is high treason.

There are others — I for one — who are just as tired of Democratic potshotting and grandstanding over Bush’s foreign and domestic policy blunders as we are seeing Southern Baptists entangled excessively with the Republican Party. America is in a mess in Iraq. The Department of Justice is led by a man who thinks torturing detainees in Guantanamo is both acceptable and commendable.

I’m willing to say it myself: Alberto Gonzalez rivals Janet Reno as the worst Attorney General of my lifetime. I believe that George W. Bush, however, is a Christian brother trying to balance his personal religious commitments with his immense political responsibilities. Jimmy Carter is doing the same.

I’m also willing to admit that it took the tough arms race of President Reagan to end the Cold War.  Peace treaties failed where military strength prevailed.

For Bush, Iraq is evil, and the only moral thing for America to do is to prevent the spread of evil by the use of force. For Carter, preemptive strikes are evil, and the only thing moral for America to do is to clip the wings of the war-hawks in Washington.

Sure, I wish Carter hadn’t said what he did about Bush….just like I wish Bush hadn’t done what he did in Iraq. Nevertheless, I believe Baptists can align themselves on either side of the political spectrum — for Bush or against him, pro-Iraq or against — and still work together in shared commitment to those things which transcend momentary political skirmishes.

And for all the ugliness of political rhetoric in modern America, it comes nowhere close to the ways that Baptists have spoken of each other in our quarter-century fight. We can all agree that these things should not be. It’s just a little hard to move that mental assent into moral action.

Roman Baptist Convention, Pt. 3…

Before proceeding, read parts one and two as well as the introduction to this series.

5. The use of anathema and censorship to counter “heresies.”

Who can forget the immortal words spoken by a recalcitrant Martin Luther at the conclusion of the Diet of Worms? Standing before the pope’s tribunal, called upon to recant his works and facing the end of his career, Luther stood tall and announced:

“Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns or teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not believe in the authority of popes or councils by themselves, for it is plain that they have often erred and contradicted each other.) Those Scriptures that I have presented, for my conscience to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything. For to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Nevertheless, the works of Martin Luther were censored. The books of countless reformers were burned, and their reading was strictly prohibited. Ultimately, Luther was forced to pen his works from the tower prison in Wartburg Castle. If not for the Elector of Saxony, Luther might have never awakened the continent of Europe to the gospel of grace.

Book burnings have been used by every tyranny of men since Gutenburg first issued a page of Holy Writ from his printing press, and anathemas have been employed long before that. Whenever a modern establishment – be it political or religious – is threatened by ideas new or old, the most common retreat is to a medieval fear that the “ignorant commoners” will escape the iron grip with which the “learned aristocrats” have resisted lay interference in their “sacred task.”

Revolution follows reform, we are told. And anarchy follows revolution. Thus, for the ecclesiastics, the spirit of reformation must be suppressed at every turn. Baptists, however, have not so learned liberty.

And yet we watch as the Southern Baptist Convention becomes a place where dissent is discouraged and strict uniformity is preferred to modest confessional latitude. Let a man preach that an inerrant text allows for the continuation of all the New Testament charismata, and before nightfall his sermon has been pulled and ecclesiastic edicts have been issued denouncing the man’s message as “harmful to the churches.” Pay attention closely, and you’ll hear that this man is allowed to “ride on the denominational bus,” so long as he “doesn’t drive it.”

Let a man dissent from the narrowest application of Baptist ecclesiology in the selection of missionary candidates, and before you know it he’s being recommended for removal from the trustee board.

Let a man advocate the doctrines of grace and return to the Calvinistic sympathies of earlier Baptists, and discover how quickly he is labeled a threat to Southern Baptist evangelistic enterprises.

Let a man serve in an advisory capacity with a non-traditional church planting network, and watch as his name is smeared across tracts of propaganda distributed to Executive Committee members.

Let a man advocate scripturally defensible liberty and temperance in matters related to alcoholic beverage consumption, and wait for the denominational machine to crank out resolutions intended to limit his participation.

Let a church esteem the freedom for its members to designate their mission offerings, and watch as the state convention tosses that church to the curb, rejecting their cooperation in favor of control.

Let the brightest of Southern Baptist theologians begin to explore the biblical claims regarding the blessed Mother of God, or let him collaborate with Catholics in dialogue and issues of social justice, or let him explore meaningful alliances with the World Council of Churches, and hear him get excoriated in the carcass-filled rooms of Southern Baptist seminary educators who covet his academic pedigree.

Let a denominational executive affix his name to a joint statement of Evangelicals and Catholics, and watch as swampy backwater Louisiana Landmarkers cry foul until he is forced to remove his signature.

I could continue this litany of examples to further substantiate my claim that Southern Baptists are governed by an exceedingly troublesome xenophobia of faith whereby dissenters, however numerous, are threatened, maligned, and assaulted for no other reason than they hold views deemed dangerous by the fundamentalist elites who have risen to power in the Conservative Resurgence.

In other words, we need look no further than Dwight McKissic, Wade Burleson, Tom Ascol, Ed Stetzer, Timothy George, Richard Land, and others to observe the degree to which the spirit of control and conformity have wreaked havoc in the Southern Baptist Convention.

When Martin Luther gained traction in Germany, he raided cathedrals and monasteries. He liberated convents and converted the old centers of papal authority into blazing pulpits of reformation doctrine. The pope may have had his John Tetzel, but the Lutherans had their German Bibles. In a conflict between power and principle, the former will always and ultimately yield to the latter. And while we can be grateful that the ecclesiastic authorities in the Southern Baptist Convention do not have the fiery stakes at their disposal upon which to burn the heretics, we can also be assured that they bemoan the acquiescence of their best option to the modern invention of human rights.

Fortunately, things are changing, slowly but surely. When asked about my strategy to foster reform and revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention, I usually defer to the words of Christ in Matthew 12:29.

“How else can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house.”

We at Baptist Blogger, in a way, have been busy binding the strong man of Southern Baptist Convention during these last 18 months. I suppose we shall soon be able to plunder his house.

We hear it is a rather large house too.