We always struggle with how to criticize the SBC and its leaders.
Many of them, frankly, don’t like it much and we don’t enjoy doing it. Giving criticism will always put you in the crosshairs for others’ criticism (or the silent treatment, or…). We have often found ourselves playing defense against the outrageous and inaccurate criticisms lodged against the SBC and its leaders by angry Baptists with an ax to grind. Now, the tectonic plates have shifted and we are in a position to speak critical words about things we see in the SBC.
The SBC Voices team is made up of loyal, supportive, enthusiastic Southern Baptists, but that does not mean that we think everything is peachy in Nashville, Richmond, or Alpharetta, or our convention. We have had just enough time in leadership to glimpse the ugly underbelly of the SBC. Those who see themselves as powerbrokers in our convention do not like it when others shake the status-quo. We believe things need to change – that the mega-metro stranglehold on power must be broken, that diversity is essential, and that other changes must happen. Change is needed in the SBC.
And those in power will often not like it when we speak out. Why do you think they bash bloggers and social media at every possible chance? Of course, some bloggers and tweeters earn the rebukes and I am sometimes embarrassed to be identified as a part of the SBC social media world (probably earn it sometimes). But all things being equal, blogging and its cousins have had a powerful and positive effect on the SBC. It has taken power from the elite and put information into the hands of the people. Of course, the power brokers don’t like that!
That genie is out of the bottle and isn’t going back in. The only question is whether we will do it well or poorly. Here are some thoughts, revised from previous blogs, about how to give criticisms of the SBC, its entities, and its leaders, and remain faithful to the word of God.
1. Criticizing our leaders is an act of accountability and is not ungodly.
There is nothing in Baptist polity that calls us to sit quietly and submit to our leaders. We elect trustees to hold our leaders accountable and we speak out to hold trustees accountable. The act of speaking our biblically-based convictions is part of the Baptist way and any leader who seeks to punish dissent or pressure those who lodge criticism into silence is abusing his power.
Of course, our criticism must be filtered through a biblical and spiritual lens to see that it is edifying and not destructive, and the person being criticized (and his friends) will almost always tend to see the criticism as destructive, but voicing criticism is not inherently ungodly.
2. If we give criticism, we must receive criticism.
There is a man I’ve tangled with on Twitter a few times recently who is devoted to “calling out” anyone who disagrees with him. He blasts this person and that person for disagreeing with his rather narrow views. Recently, I disagreed with him and he accused me of “trolling.” I found it odd that he was allowed to go throughout Twitter calling out anyone whose tweets displeased him in any way, but to disagree with him was a shameful act.
It is easy to fall into the habit of giving criticism and not receiving it. That is exacerbated by the fact that we receive so much ridiculous criticism here. There’s one odd guy whose comments used to go immediately in our trash but now go in the SPAM folder, who regularly called all of us liberal Democrats and Hillary supporters. Not one of the Voices team voted for Hillary nor is any one of us either liberal or a Democrat. Almost every time we moderate a comment we get a stream of vitriol about how our moderation shows our lack of character and our failed policies.
It is easy to stop listening to criticism.
This is a constant battle for us. If you saw some of our private conversations, you’d know we do not share a common brain. We have some disagreements – sometimes sharp – and express them to one another. But anyone who becomes a critic must be open to criticism.
3. There is a difference between offering criticism and seeking to be the Holy Spirit.
It is the role of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and repentance. It is my role and the role of any commenter, contributor, or administrator here who criticizes something or someone in the SBC to articulate our understanding of biblical truth and how what is happening does not match up with that truth. Having stated that, and clarifying (and refining) our position, we must then trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, not demand that everyone see things our way.
Many blog arguments start because people attempt to be the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. I have violated this principle often. I state something I believe strongly and – horror of horrors – someone disagrees. I continue to share my impeccable wisdom with the other person (or persons) who does not bow to my view and gradually I become frustrated and begin to lash out.
What I need to do is speak the truth and then just walk away and let the Spirit work in the heart of the other person.
4. We ought to seek to criticize privately before we expose publicly.
No, I do not think that Matthew 18:15 is incumbent upon all interactions in the blogosphere, but there is a principle there that we have applied often. We have received information, sometimes explosive information, and have shared it with the trustees or administration of the entity rather than exposing them publicly.
We are always willing to work privately with entities if they are willing to deal with things in a forthright manner. We generally are not looking to break rumors. We try to deal privately with people before we go public with our criticisms. That is not always possible or practical, but it is our preference. If someone has spoken publicly, those ideas may generally be dealt with publicly.
5. You will always be criticized for criticizing, but the key is to honor God.
Someone who criticizes a leader in the SBC will be vilified by the supporters of that leader. No matter how we tried to be reasonable, any criticism of Dr. Patterson was going to be seen by his supporters as vicious and ungodly. If I speak a word against Dr. Moore, many will recoil. In this politically charged environment, reasoned, balanced critique is difficult.
Every time I post a critique, I know it will offend someone. There are two keys.
- Make sure it honors Christ and is in obedience to the word of God.
- Make sure that if the person I criticize reads it, I would stand behind every word.
Here are some thoughts about criticizing biblically.
Criticism in the SBC – the Biblical Way
1) Our rebuke and correction must be kept in NT proportion.
The fact is that the church leaders in the NT did rebuke sin and call people to account. But these are relatively rare situations. They spent far more time feeding the sheep than hunting the wolves. If all you do is kill the weeds in your lawn, it won’t grow. You need a lot of fertilizer and a little weed-killer. I’m convinced that too often, we reverse that proportion.
Try an experiment. Get a couple of those Bible-marking pens and a New Testament. In honor of my brother, a lifelong Oakland A’s fan, get a green pen and a yellow one. Mark verses that advocate church discipline, the rebuke of false teachers, or call someone out by name in yellow. Mark with green those texts that deal with love, unity, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and such, mark.
When finished, your NT will look like a lush forest with yellow flowers in places.
Yes, doctrinal accountability and truth matter, but the unity of the Body of Christ is a primary concern.
Criticism may be PART of my ministry, but it must never become the HEART of my ministry.
2) Our rebuke and correction must be done to promote love and restoration, not condemnation.
Of course, every person who ever lodges a criticism says (and perhaps honestly believes) that he or she is doing so out of love and concern for the sinner. Only God knows the heart, but I have doubts about the love demonstrated in some of the criticisms I have read. Again, I’m no man’s judge. But I would appeal to the criticizers to examine their hearts and see how often the criticism truly comes from a heart of love.
Look at Galatians 6:1.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted.
Rebuke is designed to restore in a spirit of love, for the good of the person whom you rebuke. Rebuke should never be to “get it off my chest” or to “settle a score” but to restore the other and to build the Kingdom.
Only the critic himself, with a Bible and the Holy Spirit, can answer this question:
Is my criticism coming from a heart of love, a desire to build up and edify? REALLY?
3) Our rebuke and correction must evidence the Fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh.
Galatians 5 distinguishes between those things which mark the work of the flesh (sinful nature – whatever term you wish to use) and the Fruit of the Spirit – the behaviors that the Spirit of God builds into those in whom he dwells.
Galatians 5:19 says that the works of the flesh are “evident” – all too common and noticeable in our lives. Among those fleshly works are:
“…hatreds, strife, jealousy,outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy.”
He then contrasts the all-too-evident work of the sinful flesh to the internal work of the Spirit and the behavior changes it produces. In Galatians 5:22-23, this Fruit is delineated:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Read the two lists, honestly and openly, and ask yourself this question: Is the criticism I am lodging more a product of the first list or the second? Am I evidencing love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness, or strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries, and dissensions?
Again, this is a question each of us must answer before God.
Do my criticisms give more evidence of the works of the flesh or of the Fruit of the Spirit?
4) All Rebuke and Correction must be done in God’s love.
Love can be an overused, misunderstood, and even abused concept. In fact, many in the discernment world, view love as weakness. One such blogger wrote a post a year or so ago decrying the effort to build unity in the Body of Christ – ignoring many Scriptures in the process. Love makes us weak and keeps us from confronting evil, he said.
But God is love and if we are going to be godly we must be people of love! In Romans 5:8 we find that while we were sinners, unworthy, wicked, and undeserving, God sent his Son to pay for our sins. Love is selfless action for the benefit of others – self-sacrifice serving others. We are told to walk in love as Christ did.
Even criticism must be done in love. Part 2 of this series will examine 1 Corinthians 13.