Some questions to ponder, my beloved, blustery, battling, (bloviating?) Baptist-blogging buddies.
- Is there a secret conspiracy of Jewish bankers which has conspired through the centuries to control international monetary affairs?
- Did communists infiltrate every level of USA government and society during the Cold War era in an attempt to gain control of the US?
- Did the FBI, the mob, and/or the Cubans conspire to hire Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot JFK, or perhaps use him as a patsy in the operation?
- Did man really walk on the moon or was it all filmed on a sound stage somewhere?
- Did George Bush concoct an elaborately intricate plan to bring down NYC’s Twin Towers and pin the deed on Islamic terrorists to justify his war plans in the Middle East?W
- Most importantly: is there a secret plan among Reformed Southern Baptists to take over the SBC?
Joseph Nye Welch was born in Primghar, Iowa, not too far from where I sit here in Sioux City. He was the chief counsel for the United States Army during the McCarthy hearings in the early fifties. As the investigation and hearings became more shrill, more harsh and more conspiratorial, the nation became less enthusiastic about McCarthy’s work.
On June 9, 1954, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, one of Welch’s junior associates in his law firm, of contact with a legal organization with communist sympathies. Welch had reached the end of his patience and confronted the Senator. To this point, few had the temerity to stand up to McCarthy.
Welch challenged him.
Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think that I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
Then, Welch uttered the words that became so famous; the words that hastened the demise of McCarthy’s inquisition.
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
It was time for the inquisition to end. This one man’s voice coalesced those who felt the rhetoric had gone too far and the McCarthy era soon came to its end.
It is time that we, as Southern Baptists, bring the Calvinist/anti-Calvinist war in the SBC to an end. We must come to our spiritual senses and stop what we are doing. I’m not accusing anyone of being a modern-day Joseph McCarthy. I have no desire to put white hats on some folks and black hats on others. It is seldom that simple. My desire is to confront what I see as a growing tendency among Southern Baptists to define things in terms of conspiracy theories and takeover attempts, good guys vs bad guys, us against them.
Will we continue to disagree? Yes. But if the current culture of suspicion, innuendo, accusation and distrust continues, there will not be an SBC for us to fight over in 30 years. The manner of our engagement on Calvinist issues is much more damning to the future of the SBC than either the extremes of Calvinists or anti-Calvinists.
It is time we allowed the Spirit of God to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control among us. It is time that we leave behind the bitterness, envy, strife, rivalry and malice that has marked so much of this debate. The way we carry on the debate is far more damaging than the issues of the debate itself. If we continue to fight, bite and devour as we have done, there will be little left for the victors to enjoy!
We can do better than that. We must do better than that. I hope and pray that we will rise above the petty conspiracies and walk in unity.
I want to say two things to start this.
1) I am not part of any Reformed SBC conspiracy.
While I am what is generally called a Calvinist, I am not a 5-pointer, I am not one of those mythical “aggressive and obsessed” Calvinists we hear so much about, and I have absolutely no desire to see the SBC “reformed” and become a Calvinocracy. I’m a (moderate?) Calvinist who thinks some people make WAY too much of Calvinism.
In fact, there is much within the modern Reformed Baptist movement with which I disagree – in style as well as substance. I do not like the tendency toward celebrity worship (okay, veneration) among some Calvinists. I am opposed to the tendency toward arrogance that some in the movement exhibit. I am not a huge fan of the eschatological tendencies within the movement, but I know when the Rapture occurs, that will be corrected! I think the passion for things like elders and other side issues is “much ado about nothing (well, not that much anyway). I was supernaturally delivered from cessationism – it was a miracle! So I am uncomfortable with the tendency among some Calvinists to create, as Driscoll jokingly said, a new Trinitarian rubric – Father, Son and Holy Bible.
All of this is to say that while my soteriology leans to the Calvinist side, if there is a conspiracy, I’m not part of it. Of course, if I was part of the conspiracy, I guess I would deny it anyway.
2) I think the conspiracy theories are getting out of hand.
The current tendency among non-Calvinists and anti-Calvinists in the SBC (and among some of our esteemed regulars here) to posit some sort of Calvinist conspiracy to take control of the SBC is ridiculous on its face, divisive in its effect and dangerous to the future of the SBC.
First of all, does anyone really believe there is a secret cadre of the predestined elect huddled behind closed doors somewhere plotting this strategy? Is there not a single honorable man or women among the cadre who becomes disgusted with the manipulation and publicly refutes it? Look at the recent Calvinist brouhaha at the Elephant Room? Calvinists can’t agree on much these days except God’s sovereign choice in salvation. Are they monolithic enough to pull off this kind of conspiracy? Has anyone thought that the whole idea of such a takeover is directly contrary to the Calvinistic ethic that God is in control? Are these men all frauds who espouse one theology but live another?
To posit a conspiracy, you have to answer these questions yes, and that is preposterous to me.
There is a better, more charitable, more grace-filled way of explaining what is going on without resorting to conspiracy theories or near conspiracy-theories.
Could it be that there are just two (actually more) divergent visions of what the SBC’s future ought to be? Could it be that one side simply has more votes at the SBC than the other and that no actual conspiracy exists?
What Are Conspiracy Theories?
A conspiracy theory is a way of explaining what is going on in the world, or in our nation, or in an institution such as the SBC. It usually involves some kind of clandestine or hidden effort to take control of the nation or institution contrary to the will of the people involved. The elements of a conspiracy theory are:
- A small group of people who exert undue control over a larger group, usually for personal gain or other hostile intent.
- The employment of secret, often manipulative, methods to accomplish the goal. Conspiracies operate in the darkness, not the light.
- The conspiracy is often parasitical or destructive to the host. Communists were not infiltrating America to build the American dream!
- By definition, conspiracies are difficult to prove or disprove. The proof of the existence of a conspiracy theory is almost as impossible as proving it does not exist.
- Some conspiracies really exist. While Senator Joseph McCarthy may have gotten out of hand, there is little question that communists had actually infiltrated American society. Sometimes, they prove true, but most of them are imaginary. The few that prove true provide support to the many that are fictional.
The SBC Conspiracy
Some are insinuating, or in some cases trumpeting, the existence of a conspiracy among Reformed Southern Baptists to take over the Southern Baptist Convention and to make the SBC their own.
- A smaller group of very powerful Reformed celebrity pastors are working clandestinely to take over the SBC structure and make it their own.
- These Reformed Baptists don’t really like the SBC as it has existed, but want to remake it in a completely new way, one that is inimical to the historical SBC.
- The GCR was designed in furtherance of this conspiracy – it was not really an attempt to refine the SBC’s mission, but to break with the past and to forge a new future in which the infamous “YRR” faction prevails.
- The (stupid) decision of the GCR committee to seal their records was part and parcel of the conspiracy. Of course, the committee’s stated reason to seal the records must not be true. There is something in those records that proves the conspiracy and “they” don’t want you to see it.
- The name-change proposition is evidence of this conspiracy. It is not really, as has been claimed, an effort to find a more missionally-appropriate name, but to reforge a new and presumably Reformed community inhabiting the hallowed halls of what was once the SBC.
- In all of these issues there was a pre-determined outcome (they’ve already picked a name) and the whole process is just to hoodwink us into thinking that this wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
- Especially pernicious in the name-change is the fact that Bryant Wright used an unconventional method to appoint the unofficial task force. The tyrant did an end-around Convention history, thereby proving that he is part of the conspiracy.
But, Is There a Conspiracy?
There are certain things that are undeniable in the modern SBC.
1) Calvinism is on the rise.
When I was a young seminarian, Calvinists were kind of like Bigfoot – a lot of people believed they existed but they were very hard to find. At Southwestern, I had both Curtis Vaughn and Tom Nettles as professors. Both were known as Calvinists, though it was not a significant part of what they taught, at least in the classes I had.
People were wary of Calvinists back then, but Calvinists were such a small minority in the SBC that we were hardly a threat big enough for anyone to target. We were tolerated, but held almost no positions of influence in the SBC.
Today, the percentages are very different. The Calvinist of Calvinists, Albert Mohler, has been at the helm of our flagship seminary now for nearly 20 years. In that time, Calvinism has risen in prominence and Calvinists have been included in the highest offices of the SBC. Seminary presidents, agency heads and other positions of influence – places once closed to the Calvinist contingent are now open.
And that is where the problem arises. Calvinists are no longer contented to sit silently in the rear pew. Calvinism is now a real threat in the SBC to those who view the doctrine as a threat to the gospel and to Christianity. It can no longer be ignored. Those not willing to coexist with it must fight against it.
2) Calvinists and Non-Calvinists are both Convictionally Baptist
While some have tried to question this, both SBC Calvinists and SBC non-Calvinists are convictional and committed Baptists. Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike believe in inerrancy, in baptism by immersion of believers and support the Baptist Faith and Message. There is more on which we agree than that on which we disagree.
One of the most divisive and regrettable tactics in modern Baptist debate is the tendency to insinuate that those with whom you disagree are not really Baptist. They are not “Convictional Baptists” or celebrate true Baptist Identity, nor do are they a part of someone’s perception of the Baptist majority.
3) Calvinists and non-Calvinists have a different vision of the SBC’s future.
Calvinists and non-Calvinists are not the same. They differ in some of their methods, beliefs, strategies and leadership styles. There is certainly disagreement over some programmatic preferences and strategic priorities. A Calvinist is more likely to operate a church with a plurality of elders and will not likely end a service with an evocative invitation.
But, are we so divergent that we cannot live together? Must Calvinists try to take over the denomination to protect their place in it? Must non-Calvinists stop the “takeover bid” of Calvinists who intend to bring the destruction of the SBC as we have known it?
There is no shortage of voices claiming that the SBC Reformed movement is a threat to the future of the SBC. Jerry Vines’ recent statement is just one among many who have made that point.
There is no question that a Calvinist-influenced SBC will have a somewhat different future than a Calvinist-free SBC.
4) Differences are not Conspiracies!
Just because we disagree does not mean that someone is fomenting rebellion or subterfuge. Permit me to develop this thought in more detail.
We Can Discuss Our Differences without Alleging Conspiracies
If we do not learn to live together, work together and partner together for missions, as Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike, the SBC is finished. If the current rancor and divisive spirit continues, we splinter into ineffectiveness.
- If Calvinists continue to treat non-Calvinists as if they were theological rubes, we are finished.
- If Calvinists continue to insinuate that being “gospel-centered” implies accepting Calvinism, pass in the song books and turn out the lights, because we are through.
- If anti-Calvinists continue to advance Calvinist conspiracy theories as facts, the SBC is over. Once you could get away with it and just tell Calvinists to tell their story walking. But if you do that now, you are drawing the curtain on the SBC. There are too many Calvinists holding too many positions of influence and giving too great a percentage of Cooperative Program dollars.
- If non-Calvinists continue to say, “We love Calvinists” but demand that they sit quietly on the back pew and not advance their views, we might as well call it a day.
In the words of the great Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence,
‘Gentlemen we must all hang together or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.’
The stakes are pretty high. If we keep relating to each other as we have related to each other, we are destroying the Southern Baptist Convention we all claim to love.
The Root of the Problem
The Southern Baptist Convention is a political, deliberative body. In such a body, the messengers of the Annual Meeting decide the future of the SBC. During the Conservative Resurgence, there was a group of conservative pastors who met to plan strategy and figure out how to present their case and prevail at the Annual Meeting. Those in power at the time of the CR painted this as an evil “takeover” conspiracy.
But the fact is, we conservatives had a different vision for the future of the SBC than did our liberal and moderate opponents. We showed up at Annual Meetings year after year and we won vote after vote. So, the direction of the SBC was returned to its more conservative roots.
Was that a conspiracy? Depends on whether you liked the results or not. Moderates still talk about the “takeover” as if it were an evil conspiracy to steal the convention from real Southern Baptists. Of course, we view Adrian Rogers, Patterson, Pressler and the others in a very different light.
That is the nature of Baptist life. Each constituency advocates its vision and whoever is in the majority sets the direction.
I believe that a lot of the frustration today roots in the fact that peole who believe themselves to be “majority Baptists” have not been able to win any significant vote in the last five or so years. At every point, they have failed to gain a majority. The Garner motion passed by a huge majority. The SBC approved the GCR by an overwhelming vote. The presidential candidate endorsed by most of the so-called “majority” groups didn’t even make the run-off in the 2010 presidential election. If self-described “majority Baptists” can’t win a vote at the Convention, something must be afoot.
If my side can’t win, the other side must be doing something evil, right?
Let’s admit where we are. We are a denomination in search of a future. And we certainly have different ideas what this means. My view is different than yours. So, we are going to New Orleans to talk about it, pray about it and vote on it. We are a deliberative body and that is how it works. Traditionalists. Hipsters. Calvinists. Non-Calvinists. The stray Arminian. Anti-Calvinists. People from all corners of America. We will be there to vote on some issues and the side that has the most people there to vote will get its way. That is the assumption of Baptist polity. A group of Baptists, even with disagreements, will gather and God’s will is done through the majority. Obviously, that doesn’t always happen, but that is who we are and that is how we do business. We have to accept that when our side has the votes and when they don’t.
The world will be watching us in New Orleans. If we can’t have a decent, Christ-honoring discussion about changing our name at the Annual Meeting, shame on us. If we bite and devour each other, we dishonor the One whose blood purchased us all. If we continue to posit conspiracy theories and evil motives in those with whom we disagree, this may be the end of the SBC as we know it.
If the Task Force brings a name-change proposal forward, and it passes at the Executive Committee level, I will likely vote for it (unless they want us to be the LifeGuideWayStone Baptist Convention). But if those who don’t want a name-change have more votes, I won’t be too devastated. Life will go on. But if there is a ruckus in which Baptists act like ancient Philistine warriors, then we will do real damage – way more than a name-change proposal could ever do.
Am I being dramatic? Yes. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But I believe the stakes are high.
For the sake of our Savior, let’s leave the nonsense behind. Let us rise above the flesh and the anger and the assignation of evil intent and as brothers and sisters let us pray and talk and seek the direction of the Lord.
Enough is enough.