Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Orangutans in a Cornfield

I wish to clarify that some key members of the Memphis Declaration movement have distanced themselves from McKissic's actions. This post does not apply to any such person. See the comment log for more details.

One of the wisest things I ever heard James Dobson say: "Many parents of teenagers don't know what they want their teenager to do; they just know that they aren't doing it."

It seems to me that there are a great many people out there with their traps flapping these days who don't seem to know what they want the Southern Baptist Convention to do; they just know that they aren't doing it. If Jerry Sutton proposes revisiting the BF&M, he is lampooned because he is an "insider" with whom we're dissatisfied. If Dwight McKissic proposes exactly the same thing, he's a champion because he is not an "insider" and we suddenly like him. Do we want a stricter, more specific BF&M or not? Maybe we don't know. Maybe we don't care so long as whatever process we employ strikes down the people we want stricken and leaves us in charge.

I heard a missionary tell this tale when I was a little boy at summer camp. I have no real reason to believe that it accurately represents the nature of orangutans, because I've grown up enough since then to know that missionaries fabricate as many illustrations as do preachers here in the good old US of A. But it is a good story, so I repeat it with my disclaimer.

Apparently, one orangutan can destroy an entire cornfield for two ears of corn. To hear the missionary tell it, he enters a row of corn, reaches up with his right arm, and plucks an ear, placing it under his left armpit for safe keeping. But then he sees an ear of corn on his left, so he reaches up with his left arm (the first ear of corn, of course, drops to the ground in this process) and plucks the second ear of corn. But wait, there's another ear on the right! And so the process repeats until the orangutan leaves a hundred ears of corn to rot on the ground to walk out with one ear under each armpit. By casually taking whatever he can get, he leaves a wake of destruction behind him, destroying the hard-won labor of those who were there before he came.

As I have said, I have no real reason to believe that this story accurately portrays the nature of orangutans. The nature of orangutans is immaterial to the effectiveness of this story because we can all recognize immediately that it so aptly depicts the nature of human beings. We react so rapidly to charges that someone somewhere is abusing power that people all over the world can, with very little effort, incite rioters to burn down their own neighborhoods and then go home somehow convinced that they have dealt a blow to someone other than themselves.

It seems to me quite destructive to stir up an insurgency with no clear objectives other than change and vague diatribes. The conservative resurgence was easy to define and understand: Fill the institutions of the SBC with employees who affirm the inerrancy of the Bible and who discharge their duties according to that belief. What, exactly, is this new movement trying to accomplish? You won't find it in the amorphous platitudes of the Memphis Declaration—a document that belongs on the next episode of Oprah. Sometimes the objective appears to be the defense of Dr. Rankin. Sometimes it appears to be the reinstatement of CBF folks like Wade, Glazener, Vestal, etc. Or is it about speaking in tongues? I've been watching since this Spring, and I still can't put my finger on it.

Maybe there is no well-formed constructive objective. And in my opinon, that just might be the worst answer of all for the future of the SBC.

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