The battle lines were set. The warriors were clad in outfits straight out of Middle Earth. With weapons and shields in hands, their adrenaline was pumping. The moment came, and they charged at one another and fought hard that day. Many brave men and women fell into the dust and dirt – casualties of war. When the dust settled and the victory had been won, all the fallen stood up, dusted themselves off, and headed to Applebee’s.
This is what it is like to Cosplay for Live Action Role-Playing. Those who participate know they are not in a real war, and they know they are not characters in Lord of the Rings. They are pretending, and aside from some unintentional scrapes and bruises, no one is really a casualty.
For the last several years, a vocal minority within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been cosplaying the Conservative Resurgence (CR). They look fondly back to a time when conservatives fought through the mechanisms of SBC polity to drive out actual liberalism that had infiltrated SBC entities. This was real and it was necessary. When professors at SBC seminaries are teaching against inerrancy, miracles, and exclusivity in Christ, there is a deep problem and, praise God, conservatism won out in the end.
Those in the aforementioned SBC minority look back fondly at the CR and see mainly glory and bravery and wonder what it must have been like to fight for the conservative values of the SBC. Those who were in the CR, want to return to the days when they were heroes worthy of stained-glass windows. But those days are over.
As a product of Criswell College, I was taught much about the CR (for the school was named after one of the main players) and its necessity. And I am thankful for it. I am glad that the theological conservatism articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) won out. I am glad that Albert Mohler was chosen to lead the flagship seminary to a return to actually following the Abstract of Principles. But, as Dr. Mohler himself has said, we are not now in CR 2.0. The “liberal drift” that has allegedly infiltrated SBC entities that we have heard so much about is simply not true. While we should always be on the lookout for theological liberalism and false teachings, the evidence for widespread liberalism is not there in a meaningful way. But, alas, the warriors want to get the glory for “righting the ship” and “changing the direction” before they head to Applebee’s.
This may be anecdotal, but for the last decade, I have attended and graduated from 2 SBC seminaries (Midwestern and Southern), and have been involved in SBC life from local associations to a state convention to an SBC entity, and have seen exactly zero liberalism. Nary a word of CRT or anything that can be considered “woke” (whatever that means) was taught at the seminaries or pushed in associations, conventions, or within entities. The idea of a liberal drift is little more than posturing. It is a longing for a glorified past that some wish they could have been part of or wished they could return to. They want to be the heroes again, or for the first time, so they put on their CR cosplay and get ready for war behind the safety of their iPhones and computers.
But here’s the thing about cosplaying the CR: there are actual casualties. Which, it seems, the cosplayers are just fine with. Who are the casualties? They are the same casualties that have been there all along for those whose main concern was to “protect the base:” Sexual abuse survivors.
When a hero of the CR was rightly relieved of his duties as president of Southwestern Seminary, suddenly a new network was created. What a coincidence. When this “hero” was fired for, among other things, not reporting abuse and wanting to “break down” a victim, he shot promo videos for this new network in his living room. What mattered was not what he did, but that his firing must mean that we have drifted left. Why would you fire a hero of the CR? Don’t you know what he’s done for this Convention? Did he do the wrong things in handling abuse? That’s not relevant. What is relevant is that we are heading left, and this “hero” of the CR’s firing is proof of it.
When the messenger voted to hire a third party to investigate the Executive Committee’s (against the powers-that-be in the EC) decades-long mishandling of sexual abuse, what mattered was protecting the entity and brand. Waiving privilege wasn’t worth it, they said. When the report was published merely a week and a half ago, what was the response to those who want to “change the direction”?
They ranged from “this is bad but” to “see, we shouldn’t have waived privilege, now we might be sued!” to “abuse is bad, but we disagree with the report” to flat out ignoring it and getting back to your regularly scheduled “we need to return to our conservative roots.” The roots, you will note, that we never left.
And what do the victims of abuse see? They see those cosplaying the CR telling them that the real problem is liberalism. Yes, abuse is bad, but what about the “drift?” Yes, abuse is bad, but we have a denominational election to win so please tune in as I get interviewed on this political talking-head’s show. Yes, abuse is bad, but what about that Russell Moore recorded me without my permission? Ignore what I said on those tapes, by the way, it’s the fact that I was recorded that’s the problem. I’m the real victim here. Yes, covering abuse is bad, but we don’t agree with everything in the report.
What do victims see? Abuse is bad but at least it was only X amount, which hey, is only a small percentage of the whole. Yes, it was bad that the EC had a list of abusers for years and years and years, but the real problem is that the EC now released it, circumventing due process. Yes, there were abusers on there, but what about false reporting? Surely those who haven’t been believed for years should continue to not get the benefit of the doubt. Doesn’t the Bible usually side with the powerful?
What do victims see? The real problem is there aren’t any Scripture references in the Guidepost report. And yes, we should lament or whatever, but do be sure to come to our event where non-SBCer John MacArthur will talk to us. Ignore that he himself is being accused of protecting abusers and excommunicating victims. You know what we need? More complementarianism, but not of the kind that protects and advocates for the most vulnerable. You know what else we need? A resolution on the sacredness of the pulpit. But don’t look now, a week after the Sexual Abuse Task Force report, Paige Patterson is preaching at the pulpit of FBC Dallas. Did we mention he’s a hero of the CR?
What do victims see? They don’t see that those who claim to be the most conservative give one single rip about them. What they see is that, even if there is an admittance that abuse is bad and there was, in fact, decades of cover-up, it’s that the real problem is we aren’t conservative enough.
But we are conservative and no amount of cosplaying the CR or red herrings will change the fact that all of our entities are led by, and filled with, theologically conservative people who affirm the BF&M, inerrancy, miracles, exclusivity in Christ, and more.
And I realize these assertions will be met by a gif of an ostrich with its head in the sand (as one illustrious presidential nominee posted recently in response to another presidential nominee’s tweet), but the proof is seriously scant for this supposed “drift.” Are there liberals somewhere in the largest protestant denomination in America? Of course, there are. Are our entities full of liberals pulling us leftward against our will? No.
But now here’s a question: what does your affirmation of inerrancy mean when your orthodoxy ignores the orthopraxy of protecting the weak and vulnerable? You may be claiming that you stand for the truth of the inerrant Word, but when not even abuse coverup is enough to unite you to your self-created theological enemies to care for the weak, as God cares for the weak, we see what really is important to you. What’s important to you is that you win, and you return to prominence, and you get to be a hero on the battlefield that you created.
I simply cannot imagine being a victim of sexual abuse who has been hurt by people whose very job was to protect them. I cannot imagine how courageous it was to report the abuse only to be questioned or ignored. I cannot imagine seeing abusers go on to continue to be platformed and celebrated. I cannot imagine finally seeing the victory and vindication of the SATF report only to log into Twitter and see people cosplaying the CR change the subject back to #changethedirection and “return to conservative roots” that we never left.
I cannot imagine that with the SBC annual meeting looming, these guys don’t lay down their foam swords and axes and say, “Let’s unite around this and pray and lament. Let’s put these squabbles aside, and care for victims and ensure this doesn’t happen in the future,” but instead continue to insist that the most important thing is for them to win some elections.
There are victims of those cosplaying the CR, and it is the same victims that have been ignored all along: the weak, the wounded, the vulnerable. In other words, the very ones the inerrant Word repeatedly calls us to care for.
I hope the victims do realize that most of us see them and are for them, even if those in pirate hats and foam broadswords are distracted by a battlefield that exists more in their minds than it does in reality.
K.V. Paxton is Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church in Cordele, GA. He is a graduate of Criswell College in Dallas, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a recent doctoral graduate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Sayla have 4 children: Azi, Aly, Ayla, and Augustine.