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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Maintaining Moral Integrity & SBC Bashing

A week or so ago, Baptist ethicist David Gushee penned an op-ed for Associated Baptist Press titled Reflections from BWA: Missing and forgiving, Southern Baptists. In his column, Gushee called on "the Southern Baptist Convention to rejoin the world Baptist family, on humbler terms." Gushee also "called on" us former Southern Baptists to "renounce SBC bashing, and seek the spirit's power to forgive." Here's a snippet from Gushee's lecture to "ex-Southern Baptists":
I hope it is clear that I am sad rather than angry about the SBC split from the BWA, and -- for that matter -- the split between the conservatives who now firmly control the SBC and the moderates and progressives who have largely left it. Most of the time (but not always) I heard sadness rather than anger when the SBC was mentioned in Prague. There were a few presentations still characterized by what felt to me like active hostility toward the SBC.

These all came from Americans, mainly aggrieved former Southern Baptists. I wonder when the anger, hurt, and grief that so many still feel about the SBC will finally run its course. My sad fear is that a generation of wounded “exes” will never get there, and that only their retirement will end their public airing of the hurt and anger that resulted from the SBC controversy. It would be nice if Baptists could (re)learn a radical commitment to Christian forgiveness -- which would mean not that some of us weren’t hurt, but that all of us know that Jesus demands that we forgive.
Bruce Prescott, Executive-Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, responded to Gushee's column with a post titled Unity or Integrity. Here's Prescott:
What David Gushee doesn't realize is that forgiving Southern Baptists for leaving the Baptist World Alliance is relatively easy for many of us. We are constantly praying "father forgive them, they know not what they do." We don't seek the Spirit's power to forgive them, we seek it to forgive the myopia of those, like Gushee, who insist that unity is more important to Baptists than moral integrity.

...Unity on Southern Baptist terms, and those are the only terms by which unity can be achieved, is the last thing that the world needs today. Southern Baptists have completely undermined the integrity of the Baptist witness in the eyes of the world. More than anything else, the world needs to hear that all Baptists are not like Southern Baptists....Today, there is no way to maintain moral integrity as a Baptist without distinguishing yourself from Southern Baptists. That may look like "SBC bashing" to some. To others, it looks like an apology to the world on behalf of Baptists and a call for all Christians to repent.
And today, Robert Parham, Executive-Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has weighed in on his discussion.
When the Southern Baptist Convention began the process of defunding the Baptist World Alliance and bore false witness against it, some Southern Baptists, who claimed to support the BWA, were publicly silent. They dared not challenge openly, if at all, the fundamentalist leadership. They engaged in collusion with wrongdoing, and that helped the SBC's abandonment of the Baptist global commons. Some of those same folk now express grief that the SBC isn't part of the BWA. Wanting the SBC to rejoin the BWA, they have the gall to blame the so-called angry, former Southern Baptist moderates, who are near retirement, for being a stumbling block to a reunited Baptist family. They have apparently forgotten what happened only four short years ago.

Moral amnesia is never a virtue. It's always a prerequisite to a weak view of human sinfulness and a wrongful social analysis, which cripples constructive reformation. Moral forgetfulness enables one to erase one's own complicity in the failure to show courage and do the right thing.
And Parham's conclusion:
...Even so, some finger the aging SBC moderates as those who should repent for alleged SBC bashing, which apparently in the minds of some is what keeps the SBC from rejoining the BWA. That is moral rubbish. Free from domineering fundamentalism, the BWA is a stronger, healthier organization today than it has been in years, one that can engage in constructive dialogue and interface with the 21st century realities. This year in Prague global Baptists spoke openly about more inclusive leadership, dialogue with Muslims, the status of Baptists in the West Bank, the situation of the Roma people, global climate change and a host of other timely and touchy topics. That would not have been possible with the SBC in the room
First, it is worth noting that David Gushee has objected to Bruce Prescott's analysis. In the comment thread, Gushee states that he is "not calling for unity at the price of integrity." I usually like Gushee's ABP op-ed's especially his most recent writings on homosexuality. I enjoyed reading his book, The Future of Faith in American Politics. But rarely, if ever, do I find myself in total agreement with Gushee on the subject of the Southern Baptist Convention. Maybe our differences can be most easily explained by the fact that up until making the trek to Mercer University a year or so ago, Gushee was still a self-described "Southern Baptist ethicist." Honestly, I can't really recall the last time that I used the words "Southern Baptist" to describe myself. I suspect I was last a self-described "Southern Baptist" around 1992 when I was baptized, shortly before being shown the door by fundamentalists at First Baptist Soperton, Georgia. Another difference: Gushee describes the events of the 1980s as a "conservative resurgence" while I recognize the Southern Baptist Controversy for what it really was...a fundamentalist takeover - "fundamentalist" being a word that Gushee oddly refuses to use in this context.

I am, however, in complete agreement with Bruce Prescott when he says that "there is no way to maintain moral integrity as a Baptist without distinguishing yourself from Southern Baptists." If doing so qualifies as SBC Bashing, so be it. When having political/theological discussions at the University of Georgia, I ALWAYS had to explain myself to others. Folks I encountered just couldn't understand how I could vote Democrat and be a Baptist. Surely Gushee understands this reality. So, as long as "Baptist" is still synonymous with "Southern Baptist" in the minds of most Christians and non-Christians, I will continue to explain why I don't share Richard Land's politics and Al Mohler's theology. Doing so in positive terms might be a little difficult at times. But my integrity demands explaining to the uninformed what "Being Baptist" means to me and millions like me.

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Blogger Bart Barber said...

I think we all have greater integrity when we don't pretend that our differences don't exist. And, oddly enough, I suspect that we get along better because of it. Were you and I laboring on behalf of our widely disparate viewpoints in the same convention, we'd likely be at each other's throats. But as things are, I enjoy reading your blog.

9:09 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heartily agree with your analysis.

11:40 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

I won't speak for Gushee, but I certainly agree that there needs to be a change in the tone of criticism of the SBC from moderate and progressive Baptists. Too many on "our side" - especially in the blogosphere - resort to pot shots or post gossip without substantiating the evidence. In my mind, that's just as bad as what the fundamentalists did to moderates back in the day, and what many continue to do. People of integrity with valid criticisms to raise should be able to do so without being petty.

That said, of course the fundamentalists need to be identified for what they are, and criticized for causing rifts in the body of Christ. I'm with those who think that our inability to find a way to get along with one another is displeasing to God.

12:30 PM

Blogger Rev Kev said...

I did not read Gushee's article as a pot-shot at moderate/progressive Baptist leaders but rather as a genuine plea for post-SBC Baptists to change their tone, as TXinAfrica says. But it seems Prescott certainly read Gushee's column as a pot-shot. Are we moderates talking past one another here?

The confusion here suggests to me 1) that is harder to forgive in the real, tangled, messy world than it is in our own mind or spirit 2) post-SBC moderates and progressives are not really as ready to forgive as we want to be, or say we are 3) Gushee's column, by and large, probably expresses the feelings of many younger Baptists who have given up on the power game while Prescott's response expresses the feelings of the more established folks who lost the power game. This is a fascinating division, I think, that is just beginning to emerge. Fascinating, but dangerous. I echo bart's sentiment: pretending differences don't exist doesn't help us a bit.

3:01 PM

Anonymous KM said...

For this ex-southern baptist, whether or not I can forgive and move on isn't the issue. I'll never be a southern baptist again due in part because I'd never be welcome. And, I never noticed much of an issue of anyone pretending that differences didn't exist. "I'm right, but you are a cancer that should be cut out" is a bit stronger than "we see things differently."

6:01 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Those who think that there is truly a problem with the "tone" of moderates/progressives towards the SBC should get into specifics. That was my issue with the "Young CBFers." They used one isolated example at one General Assembly (Cecil Sherman) to paint all OLDER CBFers with a mighty big broad brush. At the end of the day, all those Young CBFers had to offer was a bunch of assertions with no specific citations to back up their allegations. Similarly, Gushee alludes to these supposed potshots at the SBC during the BWA gathering but what was said?

The only gossip that I've read in the Baptist Blogosphere was actually directed AT certain moderates. As to potshots, we all take them from time to time - whether they be at religious politicians or secular politicians. I'm not capable of comparing the common "potshot" to the tactics of fundamentalist leaders during the Controversy. There is no comparison.

As to the inability to find a way to get along with Southern Baptists being displeasing to God: see Bart Barber's comment above. No need to force a "working relationship" that would inevitably be unhealthy and definitely not constructive. "Getting Along" doesn't necessarily mean "Working Together."

6:05 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Rev Kev

Thanks for stopping by.

Like I said earlier, I usually am in agreement with what David Gushee has to say in his columns and other writings. But not when it comes to his take on the SBC and past history. Gushee is indeed a newcomer to the post-SBC scene. His interpretation of the COntroversy is not mine and probably not in line with most "moderate Baptists." An example is how Gushee adopts the Fundamentalists framing of the Controversy by using the language of a "conservative resurgence" rather than a "fundamentalist takeover." I don't really want to rehash that here. But with that in mind, I think Prescott's response is quite understandable.

6:06 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Rev Kev makes a great distinction in the losers of the fight/tired of the fight. I would add that there's still a division within younger moderates, though, given that many, like you, BDW, were directly affected by the split.

BDW, I agree that getting along doesn't mean the same thing as working together. At the moment, however, we aren't doing either. And I know that there's the problem that we aren't welcome in the SBC. But I do think it's possible for there to be a little more civility in the dialogue.

8:24 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I think there is actually a great deal of "civility" at the local church level. Many CBF and dually aligned churches still work with Southern Baptist congregations on a regular basis in their local community, associations, and at the state convention level. Granted, there is much less "civility" when it comes to moderate leaders vs. fundamentalist leaders. But, I think the CBF especially has great leaders who very rarely mention the SBC. Daniel Vestal seems to only mention the SBC when forced to (i.e. Killinger situation). At the leadership level, I don't know what degree of "civility" can actually be achieved as long as organs of the SBC continue to publish articleS which claim the CBF is not a Christian organization. Such hostility makes real dialogue next to impossible.

9:57 PM

Blogger Rev Kev said...

By the way, I hope people can distinguish me from the "Rev Kev" who leaves comments on Gushee's columns. Sheesh.

Here's my experience. I came into CBF life because I was drawn there. It was a peaceful and gradual process. The same is true for my wife. It's the core vision of CBF that I am attracted to. And I think leaders like Daniel Vestal have communicated that core vision well, instead of hanging out on the periphery always fighting fundamentalists. Here's the great thing: fundamentalists aren't attracted to the core vision of CBF.

Others came into CBF by another route, one more ragged and rocky. CBF was the lifeboat they built while the old SBC ship was pirated and plundered. I owe a debt of gratitude to those builders. Their journey was not mine: they had to fight and salvage and rebuild while I only had to step aboard. I can understand their anger at the past piracy. But such anger will not help us sail the new ship. Nor will it help us invite others to step aboard.

A new ship is sailing. It has been christened with a new name (CBF). It will never be part of the old SBC ship again. But if we constantly keep our cannons pointed at the old ship, we will always be sailing right next to them. I say put the guns away and let's set our own course.

Is the BWA better off without the SBC? Yes and no. It makes me sad where the SBC ship is sailing. Like Gushee, I want to call them to return to the larger fleet in a spirit of humility. But I am close to certain that will never happen. They would only return to control and command others, and that is neither Baptist nor Christian.

9:20 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I don't agree with Dave Gushee on this subject, but I do agree that folks in the CBF will never heal until they can simply ignore the SBC most of the time--as we in the Alliance of Baptists do. It does seem to me that many "moderate" (a term I hate because it sounds like "lukewarm" and I never use it to describe myself) white Baptists from the South, mostly associated with the CBF, are obsessed with the SBC. Likewise, the SBC is obsessed with the CBF.

I was kicked out of the SBC in '92--but I shook the dust off my feet. Until we can get on with creating a new Baptist reality that has no reference to the SBC, we will be stuck in the takeover of the '80s and '90s.

I DON'T miss the SBC and think that if it continues to bleed members and influence, the entire Body of Christ will be better off (unless a new generation can reform the SBC from within, but I do not hold out much hope for that). I hate what Mohler and co. have done to my alma mater, SBTS--and since I live in Louisville, it is hard to ignore. But I HAVE to ignore the SBC except when its actions spill over to larger fields or I become the mirror of the fundamentalists. I see much of that in the CBF and some, though less, in the Alliance of Baptists.

10:47 AM

Blogger Cat's Dad said...


Like Bart, I'm fine with the separation in working relationships of the SBC and the other moderate or progressive Baptist families/conventions, including BWA. As you pointed out, local churches can still find ways of cooperation.

What I'm not for is the coarse vermin of guys like Bruce Prescott. Actually, I don't know of any others right off hand like him. His comments indicate he continues to grow bitter, not better. He harms the cause of Christ when he says stupid stuff like:

"Southern Baptists have completely undermined the integrity of the Baptist witness in the eyes of the world. More than anything else, the world needs to hear that all Baptists are not like Southern Baptists....Today, there is no way to maintain moral integrity as a Baptist without distinguishing yourself from Southern Baptists..."

In addition to being totally subjective and emotional--if not flat out lies--these comments are offensive. My moral integrity is just fine, thanks, and I'm a Southern Baptist.

When I wish to distinguish myself from, say, the New Baptist Covenant, it's because of pluralist tendencies of Jimmy Carter, etc. But I don't question the moral integrity of all New Baptist Covenant supporters--including Carter.

Prescott crosses the line--he's out of bounds. And you don't need to be agreeing him, BDW.

2:24 PM


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