Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Texas's Stormy Petrel of Denominational Politics

One of the major talking points of the recent dissent in the Southern Baptist Convention has been its supposed unswerving allegiance to the theological content of the conservative resurgence as expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000: "Frank Page is a sound conservative. Wade Burleson is a sound conservative. Ben Cole is a sound conservative. ad infinitum"

And it is possible.

The Castroesque propaganda campaign waged for years by liberals of the BGCT ilk notwithstanding, SBC conservatives have never been a monolithic host of mindless lemmings preprogrammed to vote the party line. The old liberal lie is that all conservatives are stupid automatons. Dissent among conservatives is almost to be expected. Depending upon the nature of the controversy—the issues at stake—controversy can be healthy. It is certainly possible that a group of faithful orthodox conservatives have taken issue with the status quo of the SBC and have inaugurated a minor-yet-important course correction of the convention.

But from the beginning there have been warning signs that have made me nervous. One of those warning signs appears right in the list of Memphis Declaration signatories.

In the comment log of another blog Gene M. Bridges defended the orthodoxy of the people on this list, not against a skeptical conservative like me, but against a jaded liberal angry at the group for not going far enough. Bridges said, "Nobody among this group disagrees with BFM 2000." From everything that I read, Bro. Bridges is a devout believer and a good guy. I believe that, in making that statement, he was sincere. But I know him to be sincerely wrong.

Among the signers (toward the bottom of the list of those who didn't make it to Memphis) is David Montoya of Mineral Wells, TX. Let us examine who Montoya is:

  1. Montoya is a CBFer...a liberal. He is clearly on record as someone who disagrees with the BF&M 2000 and favors the ordination and service of women as senior pastors.. I think Bro. Bridges needs to retract his earlier affirmation that the Memphis Declaration group is entirely comprised of SBC conservatives (hey, I have to retract something from time to time myself...we all do).
  2. Montoya is a mean-spirited attack dog. He is a remarkable man. He has been able to do something that I never thought anyone would be able to do: He has made me feel sympathetic toward Charles Wade (for a brief, fleeting moment). He is the only guy I know who has been able to burn his bridges to both the SBTC and the BGCT. Can this guy get along with anybody? Practically every sentence that falls from his lips is an accusation. Is this the sweet, repentant spirit that the Memphis folks tell us they are ushering in?
  3. Montoya is a long-time hardball player in denominational politics. First he wore the conservative jersey for a while. Then he wore the liberal jersey for a while. In both cases he insinuated himself into the inner circles of denominational politics (as he now appears to be trying to do with this dissent movement). And Montoya plays for keeps. He once snuck a tape recorder into a political strategy session. The fact that he was invited to a political strategy session reveals that he plays hardball politics. The fact that he managed to take in a recorder and publish the proceedings shows that Montoya plays harder ball than even the hardballers. Now he's tearing apart the BGCT (no skin off my nose, but it is a fact worth considering). Is this man an example of the new aversion to power politics that Memphis supposedly represents?
  4. Montoya is completely unreliable. At best, he spreads unsubstantiated gossip. At worst, he is a liar. He is currently busy assassinating the character of a man named Rick Hagar. I contacted Hagar to ask about Montoya's allegations, and Hagar assured me that he can document the falsity of Montoya's rumors. By the way, Montoya had never notified Hagar that Montoya's blog would contain allegations that Hagar had been fired from a previous position for alleged-by-Montoya financial improprieties. Montoya has published lies about the SBTC. I called and asked about his allegations that the SBTC was cooking up some grand strategy to use the Rio Grande Valley embarrassment to steal away BGCT churches. I asked friends who work at the SBTC. Some of them have close relationships with folks from the BGCT and are whole lot friendlier with that organization that I am. If such a thing were true, I would know about it. But Montoya's allegations about the SBTC are not true. That doesn't matter much—Montoya is not the sort of guy to let the truth get in the way of a good political strategy.


So a hateful, reckless misanthrope with a long history of savage political dealings on every side of contemporary SBC issues...this is one of our new young leaders who is going to rescue us from the misdeeds of the past? Surely no sane person believes that.

David Montoya is just one man. His character is not that of the others involved in this movement. Some of the folks on the Memphis Declaration list are much different. I've had a little bit of Internet chatter with Kiki Cherry, and she's got to be one of the most delightful people on the planet, from all that I can tell. Let nobody think that I am trying to paint with a broad brush.

But I do know this: Some of the people involved in this movement are not conservatives. Some of the people involved in this movement are indeed desperate to undo all the hard work of the past 27 years. Some of them will gladly affirm the Memphis Declaration or the Baptist Faith & Message disingenuously if it will help them further their personal agendas. And yet none of the people involved in the dissent movement, even if they themselves are conservative, seem astute enough to recognize this (or perhaps theologically-minded enough to care). One must seriously ask whether their brand of kinder, gentler conservatism is really prepared to deal with someone like David Montoya. The kind of naivete that counts the David Montoyas of this world as sweet-spirited, controversy-eschewing, hot-hearted, rock-solid SBC conservatives is the kind of naivete that might just ruin the Southern Baptist Convention.

May God prevent it.

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