I got into blogging to “fight the power.”
I did not like the now-infamous IMB policies, which prevented Baptists who were in full cooperation with the BF&M 2000 from serving as missionaries if they did not kowtow to a narrow view of Baptist identity. I was infuriated by them and motivated to do what I could to make a change. Since about the only route available to me was blustering on blogs, I blustered.
I saw myself as some sort of modern day Don Quixote tilting against the powers-who-were who were trying to take our convention the wrong way. I was especially put off by the tendency of some of our leaders to attack those who questioned them. The stifling of dissent is a dangerous thing among Baptists.
I spoke against some of the actions of one of our seminary presidents which I felt were unwise. I spoke out on the (rumored) actions of a search committee that was going to make what I thought was a huge mistake. I complained about megachurch pastors and self-appointed power-brokers and unresponsive agency heads.
Then came the Kevin Ezell imbroglio. His nomination was a surprise. A man who seemed to have disdained our convention’s work was suddenly in charge of one of our entities. When a couple of state convention presidents questioned his qualifications for the job, he responded by attacking – bloggers.
I was annoyed and I told him so by email. He responded by telling me that he had been misinterpreted and asked for my cell phone so we could talk. But once he got to NAMB, that all changed. Staff told me that there was no benefit to Ezell in talking to a blogger. To me, it was the ultimate example of an arrogant attempt to stifle dissent and to tell those of us without power that our voices weren’t welcome.
Now, I was really torqued. My attitude toward the convention and its leadership was decided negative and it often showed in my blogging.
Then, three things happened (not necessarily in chronological order).
1) I saw what I considered to be an overwrought and extreme reaction to the GCR. I am not crazy about everything in the GCR report, but I thought it made a lot of sense. But as I read the comments of bloggers and the extreme disdain for the leadership of the SBC, I began to question whether some of our “holding them accountable” was really just angry negativity. Perhaps it was not justified. Maybe we were becoming nattering nabobs of negativity.
I still believe that the stifling of dissent is a terrible mistake in the SBC. It should not be done. But I began to wonder if our desire to prevent the stifling of dissent was starting to stifle our ability to see that our denomination has some pretty good men as officers, seminary presidents and agency heads. Maybe we went too far.
Watching the pettiness and self-aggrandizement of some bloggers made me examine my own stance and alter it some. I can state opinions without being arrogantly negative about all things SBC.
2) The election of Tom Eliff to the IMB was an important moment for me. This is a really fine man who was a surprise nominee. I had been somewhat suspicious of the IMB search committee but then I began to realize that maybe the Boards had some information I didn’t have and some wisdom I didn’t see.
In other words, I began to realize that often we blog on the basis of partial knowledge and act as if we have a perfect understanding of all that is going on. Wasn’t it a little arrogant of me to assume that I knew more and better than the search committee, or the GCR task force, or whomever was making decisions. We Baptists have the right to state our opinions and dissent from our leaders, but we ought also to respect that other godly people can come to conclusions that differ from our own. Just because an entity does not please me with their actions doesn’t mean that the Father in heaven isn’t pleased.
3) The biggest thing that happened to me was some conversations I had with some people who worked with NAMB. I’ll admit that I wanted to hear some bad stuff about Kevin Ezell that I could turn into negative articles against him here, showing that my initial impression of his arrogance and self-aggrandizement was correct. That is not what they said. They said that he was making headway. He’d had some false starts and perhaps taken some wrong turns, but he was showing signs of being a quick learner and an effective leader.
You’re kidding. He’s not the antichrist? Was it possible that my relentlessly negative view of him was unfair?
As I have observed the recent reaction to Wright’s task force appointment, I’ve noticed the tendency of some to assign motives to him. He’s trying to become a top-down dictator. He’s trying to bypass the convention. He’s abusing his power. He’s…whatever.
Why not just believe that he is a good man who wants to get some information? Maybe he made a mistake and should have gone to the convention. But is it worth the vitriol that has been directed his way? Is it naive to believe good things about our convention leaders? That has been implied to me. But I don’t think so. As I have opened my eyes, I have come to believe more and more that these are good men (and a few women sprinkled in there) who are doing what they believe is right. I don’t always agree, but I’ve stopped believing the worst about them either.
And so, I’ve changed. I hope I’ve grown a little, and not just lost my edge. But I’ve come to realize that the negativity that sometimes characterized my attitude toward the leaders of the SBC was unproductive and perhaps not glorifying to God.
If the leaders of the SBC are in fact conspiring to impose top-down, elitist rule, then I am a fool and a lackey. But if they are men of good will, then my constant questioning of their motives is wrong. I certainly do not believe in the perfection of the leaders of the SBC. But I believe in their general good intent.
It is not an easy balance. I think blogging has an important role in holding those in power accountable. We can be the populist voice in the SBC, asking uncomfortable questions that the powers-that-be avoid. But we can also go too far. For a while, I believe I did that.
When we are angry, unreasonable, when we see everything that is done as negative, we become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I’m tired of fighting. I am still willing to confront egregious mistakes when I see them. The stifling of dissent would still draw a reaction from me. But I want to be part of the solution and I don’t think relentless negativism will get that done.