Keith Olbermann is not my favorite commentator – not by a long-shot. But his recent suspension (and reinstatement) by MSNBC made little sense. He was suspended “indefinitely” (which turned out to be two days) for giving donations to Democratic congressional candidates. Really? I’m shocked! Olbermann makes no pretense of objectivity. He is a liberal Democrat and everyone knows it. He does not provide information, but analysis from a liberal perspective. Was MSNBC surprised that Olbermann supported liberal candidates?
Olbermann is the left wing’s Sean Hannity. Obviously, I agree with Hannity more than I do Olbermann. But Hannity is no more objective than his counterpart. When he speaks of Republicans, he says, “We”. He advocates for the defeat of Democrats as Olbermann ridicules and opposes Republicans.
And I don’t have a problem with either. They are not objective journalists, they are “opinionators”. If you want to know what conservatives think, Hannity is your man. If you want to see things from the far left, flip to Olbermann. Neither of them hides their biases or perspectives.
What really annoys me is when news people hide their agendas – giving the news in a biased way. In Sioux City, our riverboat casino was up for reauthorization this year. The local news outlets and the Sioux City Journal (which receive lots of advertising from the “Argosy”) ran a relentless stream of features about the positive economic impact of the gambling boat on the Sioux City economy. There was little attempt at balance nor was there any admission of their clear agenda on the issue. They pretended to be objective when they were not. And that annoys me.
So, in this post, I want to be open and honest about my agenda in blogging. I’m not an unbiased observer. I have a purpose, an agenda that I try to pursue with every post I write. You don’t have to agree with my agenda, but I hope you will understand where I stand and why I blog.
My Blogging Journey
Some might say that I blog because I have a big mouth and I simply like to spout my opinions. Those tend to be the people who know me well and they are probably right. But there is a reason that I got into blogging and I have not changed my agenda.
The cast of bloggers has changed so much in the years since I got involved. I was part of the early wave of bloggers that hit during the Wade Burleson saga at the IMB. I read that Wade got in trouble for blogging about the new policies on baptism and private prayer language that had been imposed by the IMB on the SBC missionary selection process. So, I started reading (and commenting) on that blog, supporting the effort he was spear-heading to reform the Baptist kingdom. Honestly, for quite a while I wasn’t even aware that there were other blogs than Wade’s.
I was incensed by the policies that the IMB Board of Trustees adopted. I thought it was wrong to impose a narrow view of Baptism and a prohibition against those who practiced a “prayer language” in their private prayer lives. I thought the policies were wrong and silly then. I still think they are wrong and silly today and I hope that one day soon, the IMB may see fit to undo them.
What really troubled me was the suspicion that formed in my mind almost as soon as I read about the policies. It was public knowledge that Jerry Rankin, then president of the IMB, practiced a private prayer language. It was my suspicion that the Board of Trustees was trying to undermine Rankin and force him out. I have been a big fan of Jerry Rankin and I did not want to see that happen.
While no one has ever publicly admitted it, there is ample reason to believe that there was, in fact, an attempt orchestrated by the head of another SBC entity to oppose Rankin to perhaps force him out. There was concern that Rankin was not toeing the line doctrinally in his mission efforts. There were documents produced and letters written which gave evidence that the effort to push Rankin out was real and was organized.
And that made me mad. I think that God’s work should be done in the open. In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul claims that he renounced “secret and shameful ways.” Christians operate in the sunshine, not in the dark. If you have to sneak around and hide your activities, there is a real good chance that you are not doing the work of God.
During the CR, a small group of men met and planned strategy. That never bothered me that much because we were in the middle of a conflict and needed an organized strategy. I wasn’t thrilled by it, but I saw the need for a coordinated effort. In the post-CR world of 2005, I no longer saw the justification for that.
So, I became a supporter of what was known then as the SBC Reform movement. (NOTE: There is a difference between the “Reform” movement and the “Reformed” movement. The Reform movement had nothing to do with theology or Calvinism, but focused on changing the way that the SBC operates.) We wanted to change the SBC – to make it more open, to stop the workings of the group that was behind the IMB policies. We argued for a “Big Tent” in which all who believed the Bible and basic Baptist doctrine were welcomed and were “tertiary” matters were not elevated beyond what they should be.
Concerns with the Reform Movement
As time went on, my dissatisfaction with the reform movement began to grow. I thought some of the attacks against SBC leaders were becoming too personal and extreme. I have many disagreements with Paige Patterson’s administration and some of the things he has done. But I thought some of the attacks on him went way beyond what was justified or even in good taste. I wanted to reform the SBC, not be a part of a group that focused on tearing down its leaders.
I also became concerned by a perceived leftward drift in the reform movement. I’ve never desired to revisit or reverse the Conservative Resurgence. While I’m not proud of every action taken during that time, I am thrilled that we settled the inerrancy issue as a denomination. People who once supported the CR were now repudiating it and its leaders and that gave me pause.
Few in that original “reform” movement are still active bloggers. There is a fella I met along the way named CB Scott who still stops by from time to time to talk about some small-school college football program from the deep south.
My agenda today is pretty much what it was then. I haven’t really changed my viewpoints too much, though the blogging world has evolved rapidly. The things that brought me to blogging keep me involved in the process. Perhaps it is a conceit among those of us who blog to believe that we can really make a difference in all this. But I hope to continue to advocate for those things I believe in. Maybe, perhaps, by chance, something we do here might make a difference.
So, having said all that, here is my “agenda” – spelled out clearly for anyone who cares.
1) I want to build a better SBC
I know, that sounds kinda silly, doesn’t it? But I have been a Southern Baptist since nine months before I was born. I once considered moving in a different direction, but without being too mystical, I can only say that I sensed a call from the Lord to invest my life in the SBC. That is why I transferred from Dallas Seminary to SWBTS in 1980. I have been an active part of SBC life, an associational moderator, a state convention president (not a HUGE deal in Iowa, folks) and now have focused on Baptist blogging.
I see a lot that is wrong with the SBC right now. I am going to be critical of things that I think are unhealthy or unwise. But my criticisms come from a lifelong and loyal Southern Baptist who does not intend to go anywhere else. As Popeye said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” I yam Southern Baptist.
I believe that part of being Southern Baptist means dissenting when the leaders we have elected do or say things that are wrong. During the early days, some of the loudest voices on the status quo side told us to obey our leaders. They said that we should not argue, but should simply submit to the governance of those powerful men who were in charge, and not question their decisions. We were to obey, not to dissent. Baloney.
There are no “elders” in Baptist life to whom we must submit. We elect our leaders and have every right to hold them accountable and to criticize them when they do things that we believe are wrong. Those criticisms ought to be productive, not destructive. I thought some in the dissent movement missed this principle and let their voices become shrill, personal and yes, ungodly in their attacks. But make no mistake. If Kevin Ezell does something I believe is wrong, I’m going to crow about it. If I disagree with Al Mohler or Paige Patterson, I will have my say.
Baptists have a long history of dissent and I think it is important. Fair warning to the leaders of the SBC. We bloggers are here and we are not going away. We are going to speak our minds and not be silent. The Kevin Ezells of the SBC can try to intimidate us into silence with their insults, but we will continue to speak. We’ll go overboard sometimes and have to apologize later. We will get our facts wrong and have to correct them. But we will look. We will watch. We will listen. And we will speak!
I love the SBC. I want it to be better than it is today. When I see things I believe are damaging it, I’ll speak my mind. I just want everyone who reads to know my heart. I criticize what I love. I criticize what I am committed to. I think the criticisms of some in the reform movement because destructive instead of constructive and I rejected that. If you are going to criticize, then offer solutions – seek a better way.
That is what I will try to do.
2) I want the SBC to be inclusive, within limits
Again, I have no desire to reverse the course of the conservative resurgence, but I see no need to coerce uniformity on issues that are not fundamental to being a Christian or being Baptist. Honestly, what difference does it make if a Baptist practices a private prayer language or not?
We need to build a brick wall around certain doctrines – inerrancy, salvation through Christ alone, substitutionary atonement, etc. May we never “revisit” those fundamental truths. But look at what we fight about on blogs. Calvinism. Moderate use of alcohol. Worship styles. Whether tithing (10%) is NT or not. We just came through a raucous debate about the GCR task force which revealed some VERY different perspectives in the SBC.
Last week, I published a post suggesting that one way to get more missionaries on the field might be to de-fund and disband the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. There were several bloggers who logged on with reasonable arguments why that might be a bad idea. But one blogger came out swinging, accusing me of having an “anti-ERLC” agenda even though I said I did not (and, in fact, do not). He used the word “vile” to describe the discussion and basically called us tools of Satan for even suggesting such a thing.
That is the kind of thing I blog to oppose. I oppose those who say that to be Southern Baptist you have to have a private prayer language AND those who would say that a private prayer language should eliminate you from service in the SBC. I oppose those who say that Southern Baptists have to be Calvinists AND those who say that true Southern Baptists can’t be Calvinists. I think that Southern Baptists can advocate abstentionist and moderationist viewpoints on alcohol and can believe that tithing is a NT imperative or a left-over from the OT law. I think Baptists need to believe in baptism of believers only by immersion in the name of the Trinitarian God. But there is room for disagreement on some of the other issues related to baptism. We can have a wide variety of ecclesiological philosophies and all support the same Baptist missions program.
The buzzword back in the blogger’s reform movement heyday was “Big Tent” – some of us were advocating a bigger tent while others advocated a “narrowing of parameters” of cooperation. I am still in favor of a big tent – not so big that it includes those who deny inerrancy or who believe that people can be saved in other ways than through a conscious faith in Jesus Christ, not so big that it includes those who compromise on baptism or other key doctrines, but big enough to include people with divergent views on almost any other subject.
So, when the subject is fundamental doctrine, I’m going to be rigid, even fundamentalist. But on most other subjects, I am going to argue for unity within diversity. That is where I started blogging and I haven’t moved.
3) I HATE secrecy and back-room scheming!
I got into blogging because I did not like the wrangling that was going on behind the scenes to force Jerry Rankin out of office. I still think that secrecy and behind-the-scenes covert action sets a bad precedent.
When Kevin Ezell was elected president of NAMB, there was a lot of criticism lodged against him and his church’s history of support for convention causes. It was, frankly, measured criticism by some important people – convention presidents and others. A few bloggers raised some issues of the wisdom of hiring a man who has shown little respect or support for the SBC’s causes as the head of one of our entities.
Instead of answering the questions, the president-elect went on the attack. He told his people to simply ignore the criticisms and blasted anyone who would dare to question him as a blogger wearing housecoats who live with their mothers. I contacted him by email and told him that I thought that was offensive. He promised to address bloggers and try to make up for his comments, but he never has. Evidently, he does not intend to be accountable to the people he insulted.
Ultimately, the leaders of our entities are accountable to the trustee boards that oversee those entities. But the leaders cannot continue to act as if they have no accountability to “the people” and then wonder why people are less enthused about the process and are giving less to the CP.
Last year, I strongly supported the GCR, but I thought the Task Force made a huge mistake by sealing the records for 15 years. It gave everyone the sense that they had something to hide, that there was information that was being kept from us. It was stupid. I voted for the GCR and for the release of the documents. If the task force had nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t be hiding things.
I think this is one of the fundamental problems of the SBC today. When I was 8, I didn’t know how much my dad made or how he paid the bills. I just did my chores (well, theoretically anyway) and participated in the family and let my parents take care of everything.
Often, it seems to me that the leadership of the SBC is treating us like children. We have no right to know what is going on and we have no right to criticize our leaders (Dr. Ezell made that VERY clear). We are to be quiet, do our chores and let them make our decisions for us.
There have been a series of votes at the SBC (starting with the election of Frank Page as president in 2006 and the passing of the Garner motion a year later) that have shown that we are less willing simply to carry water for the leadership of the SBC. We want to know what is going on. If the SBC leaders want us to increase CP giving and involvement in the process, one step in that process might be to stop doing things behind closed doors. Keep the lights on and the people informed.
Enough of this one – I’m preparing a post on this, hopefully for tomorrow.
4) I believe in Civility
I am sometimes shocked when I read comment streams on this blog and others, realizing that it is not petulant children who are engaging in the conversation we see, but church leaders.
One of the reasons I broke with many in the reform movement was that I believe they lost a sense of civility and fairness toward SBC leaders, especially Dr. Paige Patterson. I’ll be honest – I will not shed a tear when he retires. I wish he would do so today. But some of the criticisms against him were harsh, personal and in my mind, ungodly.
I thought that many conservatives, with whom I agreed on many matters, were unnecessarily harsh in their dealings with others. They had a tendency to question the biblical bona fides of those who disagreed with them on tertiary issues.
We all hate incivility (well, most of us do) and we all practice it sometimes. In fact, some who have talked most about civility have practiced it least when someone challenges their viewpoints, so this is difficult ground to walk on. I have written. several posts at sbcIMPACT about civility and the excuses people give for not being civil. (Here, here)
I think we can carry on serious debate and discussion without resorting to put-downs. It is a noble goal, one we all fail at times. But we should continue to pursue the goal anyway.
That’s who I am. Now, you know my agenda. its out there for all to see. These are the goals I will continue to pursue.
Oh, and there is one more. I want to share with as many people as possible the joys of being a fan of the greatest sports franchise ever – the NEW YORK YANKEES.