Friday, June 2, 2006

Southern Baptists Blind to Convention Wickedness?

Memphis Declaration

We publicly repent of having turned a blind eye to wickedness in our convention, especially when that evil has taken the form of slanderous, unsubstantiated accusations and malicious character assassination against our Christian brothers.

The Memphis Declaration alleges that Southern Baptists have turned a blind eye to intradenominational wickedness. This one is just too vague to comment upon without drawing upon specifics that appear outside the document. In Wade Burleson's personalization of this point, he confesses to "not believing that maliciousness...ever occurred in the SBC." And here I was thinking that he believed in Total Depravity! :-) In my experience, Bro. Burleson is in a pretty slim minority. Frankly, I think a great majority of Southern Baptists are as cynical of their convention leadership as they are of their secular government. Here I am defending the SBC against this attack, but I've got to admit that I'm a little suspicious of many in SBC leadership. The level of naivete that Burleson describes, "not believing that maliciousness...ever occured in the SBC," just is not nearly prevelent enough to be an item on a reform agenda that addresses the entire convention. Most of us believe that we are all sinners, and even those of us who are conservatives, if my circle of conversation is any indicator at all, clearly acknowledge that conservatives in the SBC are human beings whose fallenness actually shows up in what they say and do. Unfortunately for Bro. Burleson, the same open-eyed realism prevents me from naively hanging on every word that drops from his lips. Here's a guy making a serious bid for power within the SBC. There's simply no denying it. And he's doing it by making serious and derogatory accusations against other people. The entire "Memphis Declaration" is an accusation. Why is their accusation holy, while those of their elders (whom I thought the Bible taught us to respect) are "sladerous, unsubstantiated,... and malicious"? In fact, my "potential inquisitorial dictator" flag really starts to go up when I read allegations that the Memphis 30 have the Holy Spirit, the rest of us don't, and therefore nobody better have different ideas than these people because THEY SPEAK FOR GOD! (click the link above and read it for yourself). So, I'll concede that every last individual Southern Baptist has the need to repent for maligning somebody somewhere in their speech. But does that justify the "cure" proposed in the Memphis Declaration? "Therefore, we commit ourselves to confront lovingly any person in our denomination, regardless of the office or title that person holds, who disparages the name of our Lord by appropriating venomous epithets against our brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus divides our fellowship by careless and unchaste speech." Perhaps someone can interpret this for me, but this looks to me like a declaration that nobody can describe shortcomings in anybody. Have we focused so much on avoiding division that we've lost sight of 1 Corinthians 11:19 ("For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.")? The Southern Baptist Convention is simply untenable if people lose the freedom to approve and disapprove of theological and methodological options that are presented to them. Disapproval doesn't have to mean that a person is drummed out of the convention, but it must mean that Southern Baptists have the right not to listen to them. Here's a trivia question for you: In this supposed Draconian tyranny that this alleged cabal has thrust upon the SBC, how many churches have been kicked out of the SBC for being "liberal"? "Ah...," you say, "...not kicked out, but denied a seat at the table, so they had to leave!" Well, I grew up in Bethabara Baptist Church in rural Northeast Arkansas. Bethabara has been a part of the Southern Baptist Convention since at least the mid-1800s (the church's origins are shrouded in lost history). To my knowledge, Bethabara has never had a trustee, a member of a board, an agency head, or an elected SBC officer come from her midst. These things simply are not privileges of membership in the SBC. These things you must earn by garnering a special confidence from rank-and-file Southern Baptists. Unfortunately, some big-city or university churches have come to believe that these things are their birthrights. The Conservative Resurgence proved that they are not. And as soon as current leadership steps away from what grassroots Southern Baptists believe, they will learn that it is not their birthright, either. Perhaps they already have. We'll find out in Greensboro. But I think the Memphis Declaration is a far worse barometer of Southern Baptist messengers than, for example, the BF&M. To say that someone is too liberal to preside over a seminary, draw an SBC paycheck, or serve on a board of trustees may hurt their feelings. Nevertheless, it is not the same thing as saying that they are too liberal to be my friend, to be a Christian, to share the gospel, to be a good missionary when paid by people who really want to spread the ideas that they are teaching, etc. To say that they are too liberal for me to vote for them or write them a check is not to deny them any fundamental right of Christian or Southern Baptist brotherhood. If the Memphis 30 plan to confront everyone who seeks to make a judgment like that, then they are unrealistic and wrongheaded. Since they themselves are hard at work making the same sort of judgments, I don't think that's what they really mean. Instead, I suspect that they mean that everyone making judgments different from theirs have to stop making judgments. Indeed, it does matter whose ox is gored.

No comments: