On June 6th, the week before the SBC met in Indianapolis in June of this year, Ben Cole, notorious gadfly of all things Paige Patterson, posted his publication schedule of convention matters at SBCOutpost to the predictable accolades of his routine supporters. One exhorted: "Keep involved and keep writing, keep twisting our tails and keep making us mad, keep telling the truth and keep pointing to where the skunk odor emits the awful smell, keep being Jeremiah. And another: "Ben, glad you will be there to let us know what really is going on."
By the convention's start, however, Cole had his own groupies gnawing their fingernails: "Hmmm … it’s Sunday; still no other articles. Was the whole thing a joke? I was actually hoping to see some of that stuff"..."Well, son, if you’re gonna keep us up to date you’re gonna have to do better than this."
Evidently, the "ever-increasing disinterest in all things Southern Baptist" that Cole concedes in his present public surrender to all things politic among Southern Baptists had finally come to its fruition even before the convention started. Cole promised his faithful readership six revealing essays on the SBC that would make them cry for more. Delivering only half of those, he substituted another and then only gave half of it. Were I of Cole's fearless advocates, I'd be a bit peeved as well.
Even more heartbreaking for his fellow dissenters must be the final post "Exit Strategy" which was a veiled title for his own exit as the chief instigator of all things opposing the "powers that be" in the Southern Baptist Convention. In this the dissenters are most certainly correct: Ben Cole was their most creative, persuasive power-broker verbalizing their complaints, organizing their strategy, editing their media answers and intellectualizing their cause to rid the SBC once and for all of the selfish sleaze which surely guarantees the SBC will remain a condemnable bureaucratic hull of irrelevant, fussy fundamentalists. While Wade Burleson was a popular voice, Wade Burleson was no Ben Cole.
In Cole's departing words, he does not disappoint. He gives his army one last hurrah. He now comes out bleachy white in his chief motivation and objective: "The objective was simple. Neutralize the influence of fundamentalist, landmarkist, legalistic theologies that trace their most recent incarnation to Paige Patterson and his graciously submissive wife, Dorothy" whom Cole refers respectively as a "junkyard dog" and a "one part old lace and two parts arsenic."
For all the times over these past couple of years when critics charged Cole in particular and SBCOutpost in general with the obvious destructive pursuit of bringing down Paige Patterson only to be met with their repeated denials of such cannot be missed. Cole comes clean and admits such. Read it again: "The objective was simple: Neutralize the influence of...theologies that trace their most recent incarnation to Paige Patterson..." The blatant deception in repeatedly denying such is shocking.
In addition to this confessional, Cole seems confident enough to confess some more:
"Unlike many of my contemporaries, I do not desire the pastoral office...[In the churches I served] I have evangelized because it was required of me. I have visited the sick and shut-ins because Holy Writ had thus enjoined me. I have blessed the baked beans, consecrated the babies, immersed the repentant, and interred the dead. At times there has been a sense that this work of mine was a holy calling. At others, I have felt something like a medicine man full of pious, rote incantations and mesmerizing magic."
Now that's an eye opener. I am wondering if the churches where Cole served as their Pastor was aware that Cole had no desire to be a pastor. Personally, I would think that to be something I'd want to know of my pastor. In addition, I'm wondering if the folk Cole evangelized, the sick folk he visited, the shut-ins he saw, the babies he consecrated, the converts he baptized, and the families of the dead he buried had a clue that he was not doing such because he was called to be their pastor and consequently possessed a deep passion for them but because he was paid to do a job and would experience guilt if he didn't. Some may think this is a very harsh thing to say. So be it, my dear reader.
One thing is for sure: we do not need men leading churches who lack a call to do so, not to mention men who may think as often as not that they are "a medicine man full of pious, rote incantations and mesmerizing magic". If this is not the embodiment of hypocrisy, could someone please inform me what is?
He writes again:
"As I have said on numerous occasions, the only difference between a Baptist pastor and a politician is in the intellectual honesty of the politician. He will announce unashamedly the nature of his craft. A Baptist pastor, on the other hand, must pretend as if he gets his every order straight from the Almighty."
In another context, this would be taken as Cole's infamous satire for which he is well known. The screwy thing is, Cole is serious! Politicians, by trade profession are intellectually honest while pastors by trade profession are not intellectually honest? Sure.
Unfortunately, just because one is oneself dishonest about not desiring to be a pastor but continuing to serve in that capacity anyway does not make all pastors equally dishonest, not to mention a sub-species under politicians. For that reason singularly, Cole's lament about young seminarians being "called" to ministry is to be taken as the height of narcissistic frustration:
"when young men and women tell me they feel “called” to the ministry, I grieve. And then I remember that most seminarians do not see what I’ve seen, hear what I’ve heard, or smell what I’ve smelled inside the rotten gut of denominational power."
There are more juicy scents to smell than Nashville can produce.
Finally, Cole makes a few closing observations. The first is a prediction: the SBC will not look the same in ten years. Well, that's a Nostradamus whopper if I've ever heard one. I'd say Cole is spot on--no matter what takes place. Second, his book is due in a few months. He wants it to be called "A Hill On Which To Kill" which is an obvious piggy-back on Judge Pressler's "A Hill To Die On". My own guess is, the book will please the dissenters who loved Cole's leadership and others will simply yawn, and yawn even more now that he's come clean that he was out to get Dr. Patterson all along.
Third, Cole takes a closing poke at the IMB policies as well as advocating for more lenient policies for beer-drinking Baptists. I continue to be amused at statements like Cole makes about many seminarians drinking beer to the dismay of the CR machine. When I was on Southern campus in 1979, there was talk of the beer parties off campus, not to mention the "swingers" club amongst the seminary wives. This is nothing new. And, it will be around till Jesus comes. The young dissenters thinking their context is so much different only reveals their disengagement with their older brothers.
Last, Johnny Hunt will do well. With this I agree with Cole and, honestly, Cole had some warm things to say about Hunt.
Some say they feel really bad about Ben Cole leaving the SBC. I am not one of them. Not because I do not like Cole. I've never met Cole. Nor is it because I do not like what Cole says. It's not about like and dislike when it come to ideas--at least that's the ideal for which we should strive. We do not like or dislike ideas; we agree or disagree with ideas. I dislike anchovies. I do not disagree with anchovies. Thus, I do not dislike Cole's perceptions; I disagree with Cole's perceptions.
Hence, I can say, I am glad Ben Cole is leaving. No one should be doomed to be in a place he both knows he does not fit as well as lacks the love for the people who make up that place. I wish Ben Cole the best in what he believes is a higher pursuit, a more intellectually honest pursuit--that of the politic.
I would also offer him this brief caution: changing professional contexts is no assurance that one will become intellectually honest. If one cannot be intellectually honest as a pastor, one is not going to naturally be intellectually honest as politic. Intellectual integrity, as with moral integrity, transcends contextualization. The problem lies elsewhere. Maybe the title of the book should be "A Hill From Which To Fall".
With that, I am...
Tim Guthrie has a great response to "Exit Strategy"