SBC Tomorrow welcomes Howell Scott as guest contributor*
Some of the Southern Baptist Convention’s best and brightest continue their on-going exercise in missing the point. The parallels between Congressional elites missing the point of the grassroots Tea Party Movement that began in the spring/summer of 2009 (culminating in one of the worst electoral defeats for the incumbent party in November 2010) and SBC elites missing the point of the growing grassroots movement of “traditional” Southern Baptists is astounding. However, that’s what elites do, regardless of their venue. They are masters of missing the point. And, when they do miss the point, they often try to rewrite the story or change the subject of the story altogether. Such is the case with two well-known leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention>>>
In reading recent posts by Dr. Ed Stetzer of Lifeway (here) and Dr. Nathan Finn of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (here), I’m not sure which is more troubling: 1) that certain SBC entity employees – particularly our Convention’s top researcher – seems to only recently have become aware of the growing discontent of “traditional” Southern Baptists or, 2) the condescending attitude that these “denominational servants” display toward the “few people” who write or read manifestos, documents that would otherwise be fascinating reads if not for a lack of facts. I can’t speak for the other “few,” but I always enjoy the backhanded compliments that Convention leaders heap upon rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors.
While Dr. Stetzer does not call out 37 year-old Southern Baptist Pastor Brad Whitt by name, Nathan Finn speculates that Stetzer’s article is in response to Whitt’s recent post entitled “Young, Southern Baptist . . . and Irrelevant.” Regardless of whether or not Dr. Stetzer had Pastor Whitt in mind when he penned his post, there are serious issues that need to be addressed as they relate to the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. And, even though both Drs. Stetzer and Finn have tried to rewrite the storyline for what is taking place within our beloved Convention, I will let the facts – which Dr. Stetzer seems to think are missing – speak for themselves. As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “Facts are stubborn things.”
Fact #1: The 2011 SBC Pastor’s Conference is not the problem. It is merely a symptom of the problem. Dr. Finn contends that Pastor Whitt (whom he admits to not knowing personally) “is upset by the Pastor’s Conference lineup in particular and the direction of the SBC in general.” Brad Whitt’s article did not even mention the upcoming SBC Pastor’s Conference in Phoenix. The Pastor’s Conference is a nice diversion, one that both Nathan Finn and Ed Stetzer use to deflect attention away from the real problem that confronts the SBC.
I certainly can understand why Dr. Stetzer and others want to re-frame the debate and narrowly focus on opposition to the Pastor’s Conference coming from a clearly deranged minority who have are unhinged and now irrationally see themselves as “one of those marginalized traditional Southern Baptists.” What would I have ever done if Dr. Stetzer had not patronizingly told me that I’m O.K.?
The fact of the matter is that this year’s Pastor’s Conference is not the problem. It is another symptom of the problem that we face as a Convention of cooperating, autonomous Southern Baptist churches. But, instead of addressing the problem, the SBC elites continue to bury their heads in the sand, acting as if any opposition to their attempts to radically redefine what it means to be a Southern Baptist are nothing more than the rantings of manifesto-writing wackos like Ted Kazinski or Charlie Sheen.
Fact #2: The “Problem” that the SBC is facing – one that may cause our ultimate demise as a Convention – is not primarily “traditional” vs. “contemporary.” It is primarily about cooperating Southern Baptists vs. nominal, non-cooperating “Southern Baptists.” Dr. Stetzer deftly uses the “traditional” vs. “contemporary” template to do what he says he doesn’t even think is happening in the SBC – to in fact marginalize those he has labeled “traditional.” That may not have been his intention, but it is a logical conclusion one could draw from his post.
To label someone as “traditional” (or “contemporary” for that matter) without ever defining the term may be seen as a way to frame the debate over the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. To be called “traditional,” in the current context of religious and political debate (or both as the case may be) is to be put on the defensive. However, I would submit that what Dr. Stetzer has labeled “traditional” is not what you might think.
Dr. Stetzer and others prefer to define traditional/contemporary in terms of hymns or choruses, ties or Hawaiian shirts, pulpits or stools. Only those who sing hymns, wear ties, and stand behind pulpits are considered “marginalized traditional Southern Baptists.” Those who sing choruses, wear Hawaiian shirts (ratty jeans and untucked shirts will do) or who use stools are considered “contemporary.” There’s only one problem with this analysis – it is wrong!
There are many Southern Baptist pastors like myself who like to sing contemporary praise songs and hymns and who have been known to wear a Hawaiian shirt on Sunday morning while preaching from a lectern instead of a pulpit (can’t say I’ve done the stool thing yet). There’s no doubt that there are a few pastors somewhere in our 45,000+ strong Convention who are “traditional” (in the sense that Dr. Stetzer uses the word) and who also vehemently object to “contemporary” pastors. They are most certainly the dwindling exception, not the rule. To act as if this type of “traditional” pastor is the norm is nothing short of a red herring.
But, red herrings and redefinitions are the order of the day when one does not want to deal with the pink elephant in the room. And, just what is that pink elephant? It is the increasing number of nominal Southern Baptists who are in positions of leadership within our Convention. Nominal Southern Baptists are definitely not traditional. Nominal Southern Baptists do not primarily identify themselves as Southern Baptist. Nominal Southern Baptists often shun not just the “Southern” label, but the “Baptist” label, even in the Bible belt. Nominal Southern Baptists say they believe in cooperative missions, but in reality give a pittance through the Cooperative Program. Nominal Southern Baptists tell others to give sacrificially to SB missions, but give little to nothing to SBC missions’ offerings. Nominal Southern Baptists would rather network with non-Southern Baptists than to partner with SB churches in their association or state. Nominal Southern Baptists want to radically recreate the Southern Baptist Convention in their image. Nominal Southern Baptists are increasingly coming in limited shapes (Reformed) and sizes (Mega and their progeny).
Traditional Southern Baptists are definitely not nominal. Traditional Southern Baptists primarily identify (after Christian) themselves as Southern Baptist. Traditional Southern Baptists are not ashamed of the label, “Southern Baptist.” Traditional Southern Baptists believe in cooperating with like-minded conservative Southern Baptists through one of the greatest forces for mission advancement in North America and the World – the Cooperative Program. Traditional Southern Baptists give sacrificially to SBC missions’ offerings – Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. Traditional Southern Baptists cooperate with other Southern Baptist churches, starting at the local, grassroots level. Traditional Southern Baptists see the weaknesses in our Convention, but do not want to radically alter who we are as Southern Baptists. Traditional Southern Baptists come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
If the last sentence were not so, I would not be writing a guest post for SBC Tomorrow. Peter and I do not see eye to eye on every issue, but we have forged a friendship and common bond as Southern Baptists. That’s what the Conservative Resurgence was all about – true conservative Southern Baptists coming together to return the Convention to her Biblical foundation. That foundation is beginning to crack. If the current SBC leadership continues to push for radical changes while ignoring the grassroots, the Southern Baptist Convention as we know it will cease to exist in a few years. That’s why so many are uniting together.
William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review and one of conservatism’s true leaders, once said:
“A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'”
The cooperating, conservative Southern Baptists – proud of our heritage and history – a diverse and growing group -- who not only say they value cooperation, but actually cooperates together through the Cooperative Program -- stands athwart history yelling “STOP!” Stop the radical redefinition of the Southern Baptist Convention. Stop the radical changes before it is too late. Perhaps if enough Southern Baptists yell “STOP,” then the ruling class within the SBC will notice. However, Obama and the Democrats missed the point of the Town Hall Meetings in the summer of 2009. Like in November 2010, perhaps it will take an election in Phoenix or New Orleans for the elites to finally get the point. We shall see. Until then, let your voice be heard!
*Howell Scott is a lifelong Southern Baptist who grew up in Florida and ultimately began practicing law in his home state after graduating with a J.D. from FSU’s College of Law (1991). Sensing a call from God to focus on preaching grace rather than practicing law, Howell and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1994 to attend Southern Baptists’ historic flagship seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Both he and his wife, Brenda, received Master of Divinity degrees in 1997. Howell presently serves as Senior Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Alamogordo, NM. Find Howell on the web here