Is your family more “Leave It to Beaver” or “Married with Children”? I am not completely sure that there is such a thing in this sinful world as a totally functional family. Sin causes us all to be dysfunctional at one level or another and we bring that to our families.
We also bring that dysfunction to our denominations. Liberals and moderates often present a nostalgic view of the pre-CR SBC, as if it was a place of peace, happiness and unity focused on missions and evangelism – in which everyone sang Kumbaya together as we aggressively won the world to Christ! When we don’t like the present, we often look to the past with wistful eyes and remember fondly what may not have existed in reality. I don’t know if the SBC was ever completely functional. Any reasonable history of the SBC would show conflict and division in almost every era.
It is safe to say that today’s SBC is what it has always been, a dysfunctional family.
In support of my assertion, I would make the following observations.
1) The SBC has no family identity.
The Miller family has an identity. There are certain ways we do things; ways that we relate to one another. When my wife and I were in Lamaze classed (325 years ago), the teacher hated me. She was horrified at the way I teased my wife. Jenni wasn’t offended, but the teacher was. In the Miller family, we tease. That’s who we are. When we are all together in one place, the trash talk flows in a steady stream. Your family may be different. Fine. But the Millers are who we are.
The SBC used to have an identity. In the 60’s, you could go into just about any SBC church in America, and it would be a lot like every other church. There would be a pastor in a suit seated at the front with the choir in robes behind him. There would be a piano on one side and an organ on the other. We all sang from the same hymnbook. After the hymns, the offering, the special music, there would be a 30 minute sermon followed by an invitation. All that took place at 11:00 AM, immediately after Sunday School. That night, you came back at 6 for Training Union followed by the Evening Service at 7 PM. On Wednesday nights, you came back for RA’s, GA’s and Prayer Meeting. We were who we were. And we LIKED it!
Now, there is very little that identifies an SBC church as an SBC church. Many churches don’t even have the name Baptist in them. They have sandal-wearing hippies standing in front of rock bands! Hymnal? What’s that? Deacons are being replaced by elders and sanctuaries are being replaced by multi-purpose buildings.
I’m not against that. In fact, I’m trying to lead my church to start a plant across the river in South Sioux, Nebraska that would have that contemporary feel. I think that Southern Baptists often focused on our structure and traditions more than on our Divinely ordained mission.
When I pastored in Virginia, I went on a mission trip to Honduras. You may not believe this, but one woman on the trip (thankfully, not from my church) said, “Every Southern Baptist church should have every Southern Baptist program.” Ridiculous. To this woman, SBC identity meant more than being biblical.
For several years, the blog world was dominated by the “Baptist Identity” movement. But the SBC at the national level rejected that movement and most of them have stopped blogging. I agreed with some of what they advocated, and came to view many of the advocates as friends, but disagreed with many of their views and approaches strongly. At the 2010 convention, the GCR was overwhelmingly adopted and the BI’s favorite candidate did not even make the runoff. Evidently, the SBC does not identify with “Baptist Identity.”
The fact is simple. We do not even know what a Southern Baptist is anymore. We defined ourselves as conservative and Bible-believing in the 80’s and 90’s, but what then? Are we the Calvinists our “Founders” meant we should be. Or is the modern Calvinist movement among Baptists an identity aberration? Are we defined by our church structure, our musical styles, our denominational programs? Nobody really knows anymore do they?
If I asked the question, “What is a Southern Baptist?” (maybe I will) the discussion would be long and little agreement would be reached.
Today, we do not even know who we are as Southern Baptists. We can agree that we believe in the Great Commission, but we can’t even agree on what it takes to obey that command!
2) We keep secrets.
Every family has things it doesn’t share with the outside world. I have tried to convince my kids that they do not have to share everything we do and say as a family with the whole world (especially with the church!) . Nothing wrong with a little family privacy. But I’ve known families that have deep, dark secrets and go to great lengths to hide the truth from the world.
I don’t know where the line is between family privacy and “skeletons in the closet” secrecy. We’ve debated that pretty hard here on this site. But I think we’ve crossed the line. I have no idea what is in the sealed records of the GCRTF. Maybe nothing. But for the next 14 1/2 years, a lot of people are going to assume that there are deep dark secrets hidden there.
Our entities work in secrecy and do not tell the people what is going on. We are supposed to give generously through the CP and shut up about what our leaders do.
Why do the “powers-that-be” disdain bloggers like they do? Because we are not in the power loop (and I have no desire to be) but we refuse to shut up and simply let them do as they please. We raise questions they don’t want to answer and give perspectives that are not approved by the power structure. I’ve had several conversations with the PR director for one of our entities. The conversations were cordial until I said something unfavorable about his boss – then it got ugly. I was no longer a good guy. I now wore the black hat and deserved to be shunned.
I believe it is evidence of dysfunction in the SBC that our leaders believe that we cannot be trusted with information, but have to work in secret to do what they do. If they are right (that the people can’t be trusted) we are dysfunctional. If they are wrong (and we could be trusted, but they don’t) we are dysfunctional.
3) We can’t find a leader for our most important entity.
I know, not everyone agrees with that, but my main reason for being SBC is because of the great work of the International Mission Board. I’ve been a big fan of Dr. Jerry Rankin and loved the work he did leading this missions organization. He publicized his retirement well in advance of his retirement date and has been fishing and golfing (I actually have no idea if he does these things) for half a year, and still the IMB has no president.
We don’t really know what is going on (see point 2) but the word is that there is a division at the IMB between those who want someone with a missions background and those who want a megachurch pastor at the helm. Internecine struggles would not be the mark of a healthy organization, would it?
4) We put a leader in charge of an important entity who didn’t even support the entity.
Kevin Ezell was not only tepid (at best) in his support of NAMB, but was publicly critical of it. Fine. So was I. I agree with his criticisms and continue to hope that the leadership purge he has engaged in might turn that organization around. It has been no secret that NAMB has been the most dysfunctional of all the SBC entities.
But isn’t it odd that a man who did not support an organization and was critical of it would be put in charge of that organization? Maybe NAMB needed a kick in the seat of the pants and Ezell can give that. But it seems to me to be a mark of dysfunction when you put someone in charge of the organization who did not support the organization. Will the Republicans ask a Democrat to head the RNC? Will MSNBC ask Sean Hannity to run their organization? I know – extremes. But isn’t that kind of what was done in hiring Ezell?
5) We don’t face our “issues.”
The way Baptist Press operates is clear evidence of institutional dysfunction. Baptist Press is seen as a PR arm of the SBC entities. It should be called “Baptist Press Relations.” That is what it is.
When a family is in trouble, they need to examine themselves openly, admit their problems, and deal with them. Baptist Press does not act as a press agency, but as a public relations arm. I have done an extensive (though not comprehensive) review of Baptist Press. They do a very good job on missions and evangelism articles – telling the stories of Southern Baptists who are doing the work well. This is where they are best.
But you will not find anything that could be seem as critical or negative about the entities of the SBC. Most of the articles about NAMB are written by NAMB staffers. Articles about the IMB are written by IMB staffers. How can we expect “news” when the articles about our entities are written by employees of those entities. Baptist Press is more like a clearinghouse for press releases when it comes to news about Baptists.
Those of us who are interested in what is going on in the SBC are often left to going to ABP for our news. That is unfortunate.
Some of the state paper editors have provided some perspective, but recently there has been a clamp down on them. Norman Jameson and Doug Baker lost their positions as heads of state papers (NC and OK respectively) because they would not cowtow to the power structure, but maintained independence.
Healthy families admit their problems and deal with them. The SBC only wants to publish fluff and hear how good things are. This is a sign of dysfunction.
6) We’ve become hyphenated.
The hyphenization of America has been addressed in full. We are not just Americans anymore, we are “Italian-Americans”, “African-Americans”, or “Arab-Americans.” We are majoring on our differences instead of what binds us together as one people.
The SBC is seeing that same process of hyphenization. We are Calvinist-Baptists, emerging-Baptists, contemporary-Baptists, traditional-Baptists.
When we were locked in the “Battle for the Bible” we ignored those differences and joined together to prevent the SBC from following other denominations into the morass and spiritual impotence of liberalism. But once that battle was won, we began to divide into camps.
In an article at sbcIMPACT, called “The Tug-of-War for the Future of the SBC“, “I identified ten major constituencies in the SBC (and there are many more). I guess I have returned to where I started – the identity issue. But the fact is that for many today, their denominational identity is secondary to something else.
Some Good Signs
I don’t want to be too negative. Hey, everyone’s dysfunctional in some way. The SBC has some challenges that need to be addressed, but we are not ready to fall apart yet. I see some very favorable trends. We may need some renovation work (to switch metaphors), but the house does not need to be torn down. There are some good things in the SBC, some hopeful signs. I would also mention a few of them.
1) We have honored the Bible
Southern Baptists bucked the trend. We did not follow the mainline denominations into the vortex of destruction known as liberalism. That gives us something to work with – a foundation to build on.
2) We have great seminaries.
I had no idea who Danny Akin and Nathan Finn were a few years ago. Now, I will encourage anyone who asks me to consider Southeastern as their first choice for theological education. I’ve never been on campus, but I like what I see.
And I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of young Southern grads here in Iowa. I know there’s a lot of controversy attached there, but I love the fact that these young whippersnappers tend to value expositional preaching. When I attended Southwestern (pre-CR), exegetically-based exposition of scripture was not highly valued in my homiletics classes. Now, our seminaries value the work of the expositor!
When I was young, I would have begged a young preacher to avoid most of our seminaries. Now, I can recommend any one of the them, and I appreciate that. Nothing blesses the future of a denomination like the faithful training of its young preachers!
3) Frank Page at the Executive Committee
I’ve been a fan of Frank Page for several years – since he became a candidate for SBC President back in 2006. He has been more open and approachable than some leaders. Time will tell, of course, I expect we are all (well, probably not all) going to be glad that Frank Page took over the Executive Committee.
I wish we could find a Frank Page type leader for every entity.
4) The Message of the GCR!
I know that many of our readers have a negative view of the GCR. Fine. Really.
What I like most about the GCR is the message it sent. Baptists have always tended toward be a traditional people – “let’s keep doing it the way we’ve always done it because we’ve always done it that way because that’s the way we do it!” The GCR was the denomination’s acknowledgement that we need to look at what we have been doing and ask if there is a better way.
I don’t know where we will go, if all the recommendations will be fully implemented. But I am grateful that we looked at who we were and where we were headed and asked ourselves if there is a better way.
A Dysfunctional Family is Still a Family!
Is your family dysfunctional? It probably is. There is a place where there is no dysfunction. It’s called heaven. Those who have trusted Christ will get to go there someday. Today is not that day. We are sinners who live in a sinful world and our families, made up of sinners, will be dysfunctional.
Is the SBC dysfunctional? Of course it is. It always has been. At some level, it always will be. But that does not mean we should abandon it. Just because a family is dysfunctional doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family, does it? The Millers have their dysfunction, but we are still a family.
I’m a Southern Baptist. I love my family – the SBC family. I think we’ve got a few significant problems, which will be dealt with best if we face them and work on them, not by hiding them or pretending they are not real. \
So, brothers (and sisters) in the SBC family, what do you think?