Well, they’ve done it again.
One more time, a body of Baptists has gone and done something I disagree with. In fact, they’ve done something that qualifies as downright foolish. One could easily question the ethics of their actions, the righteousness of their thought processes, and perhaps doubt the salvation of the people involved.
Who has done what now?
Oh, any number of things: Brewton-Parker College hired somebody. Louisiana College fired somebody. Southern Seminary didn’t fire anybody, Southwestern Seminary did. The KBC voted for this and the Florida Convention did not vote on it at all. And don’t get me started on the behavior of various evangelical rock star pastors–or the existence thereof in the first place! Why, I could source a blog post a day with the mistreatment of Calvinists, the mistreatment by Calvinists, and the foolishness of the allegedly “Great Ones” of our denomination. And then I could fill in the weekends with the dumb things done by those of us in the small time.
So why don’t I? Surely I should say something, shouldn’t I?
There are times, certainly, when silence is sinful. If we remain silent in the face of abuse of innocent people, then we are complicit in that abuse. If we allow people to be defrauded when we can put a stop to it, then we are complicit in that fraud. If we sit idly by and allow heresy to root, sprout, bloom, and reproduce, then we are complicit in its spread. True, we may not be legally responsible. I honestly do not care if we are or are not in these cases. We are morally responsible and that is of far greater consequence. (Please note–I’m not saying you’re not legally responsible to report certain things to the police–if you are, then you absolutely better do so.)
Why, then, am I not burning up the webs with critiques and criticisms of the latest controversy? Here are the reasons:
1. Biblical Optometry: Remove the plank from my own eye first, and then go after the speck in my brother’s. (Matthew 7) My first question before criticizing someone is this: Do I continue to do the same thing? Am I standing behind a pulpit because of a deceptive resume? I’m not talking about the gracious people who are my references who told the church I was a good guy–they’re responsible for that. I am talking about the question of hypocrisy: do I intentionally do that which I want to criticize another person for doing?
If so, then perhaps my mouth should stay shut and my fingers tied about how someone else is doing it, too.
2. Personal Ignorance: I usually know half of the story, and it is ill-advised to over-pursue a case based on one side. (Proverbs 18:17, especially) Do I have all the facts? I honestly do not. This does not mean I do not trust other people to have gathered the facts and accurately report them: I see the concerned reports regarding Vision Forum and the complete meltdown of the leadership there. I have not investigated it, but I trust the people speaking about the issue. It is better to allow someone who is more aware of the facts to address a matter. In that case, for example, the only thing I knew about Doug Phillips and his view of the family was that a friend of mine had talked about starting to follow that method, then they left it. My wife already had plans for how she wanted to teach our children, the programs that had prepared her for college (where she had a better GPA than I did), and I did not question her choice. I still don’t.
If I do not know the facts well, it is better to avoid pontificating at length on an issue–note your concern and then provide links to someone who has the facts.
3. An Assumption of Repentance: This connects to personal ignorance: if an individual flamed out of public visibility ten years ago, and now reappears, before I throw his old sin back at him, it would be wise to consider the possibility of repentance. I have had friends who left ministry roles due to marital issues, addictions, or other personal problems. Yet I would not be fair if the moment I saw those names listed under “Ministerial Moves” in the Baptist paper to let forth a laundry list of sins that God Himself has removed (Psalm 103). This does not apply to those items which are disqualifying: if a man used his pastoral office to abuse children, there is no statute of limitations on his disqualification. He may be forgiven by God without being requalified for office. But if a former friend has walked through the wilderness and now returns, give him the benefit of the doubt.
If I am not willing to rebuild the relationship, then my accusations should stay where my knowledge is from: the past.
4. Closer Threats Abound: I am well aware of the Martin Luther King, Jr., quote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I will, however, tell you this: Southern Baptists in the 80s were right to be more concerned about liberal Baptists than liberal Episcopalians. If I am skipping over a threat to effective Baptist ministry or Christian witness in arm’s reach, I should not spend great effort going after one farther away. I said in the comment stream on one of these posts that it’s far easier to go after Caner or Driscoll or Mahaney because there is no downside for me. All three of these, for example, I could blog about every day and all I would suffer is an eventual drop in blog readership. And I would have no effect, at all, on their continued freedom to do as they please.
Meanwhile, nearer to me, there are threats to the effectiveness of the church. There are racists, crooks, financial frauds, all filling pulpits of various denominations. Do I pursue those with the same vehemence I pursue my online foes? If I am hesitant to engage when it comes at a personal cost, then lobbing online bombs at a distant target is not a courageous stand for the truth. It’s a cowardly avoidance of my duty. The wolves that threaten my flock are closer at hand than Driscoll, Mahaney, or Caner, though I will keep a wanted poster up in the office in case they come ’round these here parts.
If I find myself being “discreet” with my friends and “passionate for light” with everyone else, then I am not rightly engaging in the situation.
5. Response Exhaustion: This ties with the closer threats abound issue above. If I expend, and demand my congregation expend, a great deal of energy over a distant threat that ultimately we can do nothing about, then what do we have left for a near threat? If they book Mark Driscoll for our local association meeting, then there’s a close thing we can deal with. We can readily put a stop to it–or at least greatly impact the event and reduce the attendance and involvement. Yet if I spend all of my time shouting “Wolf” and then telling folks, “You’ve never seen him, heard of him, and he’s not around here, but way over there, in the mountains, there’s a wolf!” then what does the assumption become? That my warnings are of no consequence.
There’s also an aspect here where we need to be proactive more than we are. The Great Commission says to “make disciples” and “teach them to obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.” When we use all our energy responding to threats far away, we are not making disciples that are more wolf-resistant.
In all of this, I do not wish that we would become complacent. We need to be aware of and respond to things appropriately, but understand that there are reasons why not everyone champions your cause. It is not always that we are cowed into submission by the great cover-up machine. It is not that I do not care what happens to people. It is that I have people closer in, a congregation that I am personally responsible for, that I am extremely zealous for. And I am less concerned for a specific personality or two than for the overall machinations that make them–the names change with the decades.
Contend where you must, but focus your efforts where they do the most good for the Kingdom of God.