Monday, May 13, 2019

Stained Glass and Shoddy History

Being on sabbatical has brought me blissful isolation from most things ongoing in the SBC. If it is big enough to hit my Google News feed, however, then it pops up into my field of view in the morning. Some of the news that comes my way is encouraging. Some of it is downright dismal. Most of the dismal news has been baseball-related, but for this unsavory tidbit ("Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Displays Stained-Glass Windows Recently Removed from Southwestern Seminary") the only connection to baseball I could discern was my imagination of what a Paul Goldschmidt line drive would do to a stained-glass window.

From the article:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

The first SBC Annual Meeting I ever attended was in St Louis, MO, in 1987. I attended the convention meeting with my pastor. I was seventeen years old. I voted for Adrian Rogers. Dr. Jerry Vines was elected to serve as president the very next year.

I care about the Conservative Resurgence.

So, because I care about the Conservative Resurgence, I would like to make a few observations about what Falwell has said, and about the general mood of the convention regarding the Conservative Resurgence.

Stop Saying the Stained-Glass Windows Honor the Conservative Resurgence

The stained-glass windows at SWBTS are not a collection of windows "honoring the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Period. Full stop.

Rick Warren had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? Nowhere I know. Search in vain for his name in any history of the Conservative Resurgence.

Frank Page had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? For this one, I actually DO know. I've had a lot of people talk to me about his window in light of his ending, but we ought to talk about his beginning. He was getting a Ph.D. in ethics at SWBTS under T.B. Maston, writing a dissertation friendly to the idea of women pastors. Frank Page was not friendly to the Conservative Resurgence.

By the way, I don't mean to take cheap shots at Dr. Page here. He claimed to have changed his position later. I 100% take him at his word for that. I'm just trying to lead us to do good history, not to attack anyone.

Speaking of that, let's talk about Jerry Falwell. Jerry Falwell was a leader in America. He was a leader in conservative politics. Jerry Falwell was not a "[leader] of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Jerry Falwell wasn't a Southern Baptist at the time. His church wasn't a Southern Baptist church at the time. He never served on any SBC committee or board during the Resurgence. He never presided over any SBC Annual Meeting. I do not deny that there is perhaps some way that the things that Jerry Falwell was doing were intertwined with the things that the ACTUAL leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence were doing, but there is a difference, if you wish to do careful history, between leading a movement on the one hand and leading some other related movement on the other hand.

Of course, the one way that my observation about Falwell would NOT be true is if you can't see any difference between Falwell's Moral Majority political movement on the one hand and the ecclesiological movement that was the Conservative Resurgence on the other hand. But if you can't see any difference between them, then you need to get some new spectacles. They were friendly to one another, but they were not the same thing.

Dr. Jerry Vines, on the other hand, WAS a leader of the Conservative Resurgence. As were many of the people depicted in the windows. But the three that I've mentioned are not the only people depicted in the windows who will not be mentioned in any serious history of the Conservative Resurgence.

So, to recap, the window collection includes (a) some real leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (b) a man who was AWOL during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (c) a man who was, by any fair measure, on the other side during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, and (d) a man who wasn't even a Southern Baptist during the SBC Conservative Resurgence. These are not stained-glass windows honoring leaders of the Conservative Resurgence.

They are stained-glass windows honoring people for whom there existed someone willing to pay money to depict them in a stained-glass window in the chapel, regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) to the Conservative Resurgence.

These observations are simply factual. Please remember, you can acknowledge these facts (some of which are pretty much indisputable) and still remain hopping-mad at the removal of the stained-glass windows if you like. But fidelity to the ideals of the Conservative Resurgence is absolutely not (as some people seem to think) part-and-parcel with fidelity to these stained-glass windows.

Indeed, to my way of thinking, I've always seen these windows as the worst possible way to try to remember the Conservative Resurgence, even if participation in the project HAD been limited to REAL leaders in the Conservative Resurgence. If I were planning a series of stained-glass windows to honor the Conservative Resurgence, I would have designed windows featuring scenes from the Bible that men like Ralph Elliot thought were pure fiction: the six-day creation of the world, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, the angel preventing Abraham from offering up Isaac.

To my way of thinking, the ONLY people who ever characterized the history of the Conservative Resurgence as a movement to aggrandize and lionize men were the liberals who opposed the Conservative Resurgence. Why on earth should we adopt their narrative? As a supporter of the Conservative Resurgence, I have always understood it to be a battle for the Bible. If we're going to choose stained-glass as the medium for remembering the Conservative Resurgence, wouldn't it be better to depict the Bible in those windows, if we're really trying to remember a "Battle for the Bible"?

At least, that's the way that I see it. If you have a different point of view, then why don't we do this: I won't falsely and maliciously characterize your perspective on the windows, and you don't falsely and maliciously characterize mine. Let's try that out and see if it isn't the Christ-honoring thing to do. Surely anybody who cares about honoring Christian leaders in stained glass ought to care more about honoring Christ in what we say, right?

And if you are one of those who feel differently about it, you have my sympathy. Really, you do. It's embarrassing to have taken down something that was put up to honor you. I'm so sorry. I always knew that if the windows came down, there would be a risk that people I care about would be hurt. Alongside that fear, though, was the fear that if the windows stayed up, someone somewhere might think that look at them and think that they were learning the history of the Conservative Resurgence. Given the seminary's mission as an educational institution, I'm thankful that someone has successfully averted that fate.

Stop Suggesting That Advocacy for Victims of Church Sex Abuse Betrays the Conservative Resurgence

Taking you back for a moment to my seventeen-year-old self in 1987, I supported the Conservative Resurgence because I supported the inerrancy of the scriptures. I went off to Baylor a year later and learned forever how desperately needed the Conservative Resurgence was as I sat in Freshman Old Testament class and listened to Dr. Wally Christian as he derided those who (like me) believed in the truthfulness of the Genesis accounts. A lot changed for me between 1987 (at St Louis) and 1988 (at Baylor).

At Baylor, I came to be acquainted with Schleiermacher and Ritschl and Tillich and Barth. The ideas promoted by these men were, in many ways, the target of the Conservative Resurgence. The more I learned about them and their influence, the more convinced I became that I was right all along in supporting the Conservative Resurgence.

But before I went to Baylor? Back when I was a teenage-preacher in Northeast Arkansas? You could've convinced me that Schleiermacher was a brand of bratwurst. I knew absolutely nothing about German theologians or higher criticism.

But that doesn't mean that I wasn't in the battle.

To seventeen-year-old me, the "Battle for the Bible" was not a battle against the philosophies of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Tillich. To me, in my daily life, it was a contest against the philosophies of Bocephus, Cindy Lauper, and Boy George. The people I wanted to see won to Christ—the people around me who were rejecting the truthfulness of the Bible—were rejecting it so that they could get all their rowdy friends to come over tonight or because they just wanna have fun.

The pastor or Sunday School teacher or seminary student who is bedding 15-year-olds left and right is no less at war with the Bible and with the Lord than was Ralph Elliott. They just wanna get rowdy and have some fun, no matter whom it hurts. They have to be defeated, for their own good and for the good of the churches, but most of all, in defense of these victims. May God forgive us for some of the ways that some of them have been treated. As an aside, it is a wicked thing to break people and then blame them for being broken. But I digress.

In any event, there just cannot be a Battle for the Bible that isn't ready to sally forth to war against people like those abusers. There are things that are not really within our power to do to oppose these predators. Our polity is what it is, and I believe that it is biblical and good. By the way, I actually think that if we leaned IN to our polity, it would do more good than leaning out from it would do. Nevertheless, I confess that there are things we cannot do. But I plan to find whatever I can do and prosecute it with extreme prejudice. I do not mind doing battle for the Bible against all foes, whether they be liberal theologians or sexual predators.

An acquaintance with the Continental Theologians came to me later, but the battle between the Bible and worldliness never left me. So, when I do things to try to put an end to sex abuse in SBC churches, I'm not doing it because I'm "woke"; I'm doing it because I'm still a Conservative Resurgence Warrior. That's who I am. That's what I plan to be.

Ten years ago, I didn't care what Wade Burleson thought about it.

Now I don't care what Jerry Falwell, Jr, thinks about it either.

NOTE: I'm still on sabbatical, and I won't ever, in the history of man until Jesus comes back, be looking at these comments. So, I'm turning them off. Thanks for understanding.