One of the best, and worst, aspects of being a Southern Baptist is our firmly held belief that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Absolutely everyone should have a platform to share that opinion. The fact that I can write what I’m about to write and publish it on this blog is evidence of that reality. In fact, our polity allows us a unique position among other ecclesiastical bodies that make up the American evangelical landscape. This freedom gives us the confidence of always knowing that our voice can be heard, but I wonder if there are times when we take this freedom too far?
I was thinking along these lines the other day when I read Jerry Nash’s recent article, “Hold the hearse, I have an idea!” on SBCToday.com. To be fair, I strongly disagree with much of his position. With that said, I am honestly grateful that he has the freedom to voice that opinion. What concerns me most, however, is not the opinion itself, but rather how the opinion was expressed and where the opinion was published. SBCToday is a blog that has existed for quite some time now. It has gained some popularity and has produced a steady stream of content that is most often identified with the Baptist Identity movement in SBC life. In the spring of 2011, however, it was announced that “The Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary partnered with the founders of SBCToday to help provide technical assistance in hosting the blog.” The site got a fresh look and now utilizes many new authors as well as many of the former writers as well. This partnership is an interesting one which certainly provokes a few thoughts.
While I am thankful that Nash has a forum from which to share his perspective, I am also greatly concerned with the ethics behind an SBC entity, financed by Cooperative Program dollars, being closely connected with a site that is publishing a piece that clearly addresses a significant segment of the SBC population with harsh (bordering vicious) language. This piece treats with a great level of apparent disdain sister SBC agencies (namely NAMB) and evidently a seminary or two as the author aligns groups of people that he chastises in the article together with these selected SBC agencies. To clarify, my issue is not so much the fact that Nash holds these opinions. It is far more specific. The fact that he voices them in such a way that attacks so many Southern Baptists and agencies on a website directly connected to one of our seminaries is disconcerting to say the least!
It seems odd to me that the Baptist Center for Ministry (which is part of the NOBTS community) would partner with SBCToday, unless of course, that is the point. The folks at SBCToday are good folks, with strong opinions. In fact, I know most of them personally, and I count a couple of them as friends. I do wonder, however, if there is an unspoken message when one of our entities is in a partnership with the place that muses about an alternative Pastor’s Conference, endorses SBC candidates and is in the news as the place where Jerry Rankin was publicly called a liar (an apology was later offered for that misstep). Those seem like difficult positions to reconcile with any SBC agency.
If the Baptist Center of NOBTS wants to blog (and I am glad they do) surely they could have started their own work. Instead, we get a confusing message with this new partnership.
While there is obviously nothing in writing that forbids such a decision by an SBC entity, it would seem to me that ethical standards and general decorum would cause them to refrain from being so closely connected to the publishing of an article that is such a clear attempt to divide the convention – even though there may be those within the agency that personally hold to the same perspective. To be sure, there have always been divides in SBC life. In fact, in my opinion that is part of what makes us as strong as we have been throughout our history. Yet, to see division fostered (even encouraged and prescribed as a remedy) in a partnership with an SBC entity in a public forum is of great concern to me, and I would imagine it would also be of great concern to many Southern Baptists, whether they agreed with Nash’s article or not.
This kind of connection to an SBC entity would seem to open an unhealthy, and frankly, unfortunate door. This sort of writing can do little more than foster dissension, divisiveness and stunt our ability to effectively advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, considering the tenor and the content of the article, division is apparently the desired response. It is discouraging, however, to realize that an SBC agency seems to be involved in pushing that door open.
Furthermore, it seems an odd choice to me to publish this article (and many other articles recently on this website) that apparently says to prospective students that those who hold to some level of Reformed theological persuasion are not welcome at New Orleans Seminary. Could it be true that men like Charles Spurgeon, William Carey and Jonathan Edwards would not be welcome at this seminary or this vision for the SBC? The choice to publish so many individuals over the previous weeks who seem to be aggressively anti-Calvinistic is interesting, if not disconcerting; and I say this as one who is not a 5 point Calvinist, though I am certainly sympathetic to much of Reformed theology.
So, in closing, let me again reiterate that I am grateful for the freedom that Southern Baptists have to share their opinion, and as I previously stated, my concern is not with one SBC entity critiquing another entity. I am instead greatly concerned with uncaring, negative and even intentionally divisive efforts – particularly ones that appear to be connected at some level to an SBC agency. Might it be true that we should ask our entities to treat other Southern Baptists, and other SBC agencies, with a bit more grace than this – particularly when we disagree?