Raised in what is now Big Twelve country, my football allegiance is to a certain burnt orange team currently rebuilding. However, when Oklahoma wins a football game or Kansas wins a basketball game, it frankly has never occurred to me to start chanting “Big Twelve! Big Twelve! Big Twelve!” Because we are part of the same conference organization, our interests often overlap, but I normally do not celebrate the victories of other teams within the Big Twelve as if their victory had anything to do with mine, at least not in the same way SEC teams often do.
Of course, everyone doesn’t do this. More than a few Auburn fans were rooting for Texas against the Tide in the 2010 National Championship Game. And I did see a lot of Oregon Duck jerseys on Alabama fans last year before Auburn’s National Championship Game. For a few fans, at least, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But for a strong majority, the SEC is everything, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks or does. The attitudes of those outside the SEC will not interfere with the internal sense of conference pride and loyalty.
I’m thinking that it is good and healthy for an organization to view itself positively, and I wonder why the SBC cannot seem to generate such loyalty. Most of the articles I read only tell part of the story. They focus on the negative, on what’s wrong with our denomination–declining statistics, inflated record keeping, isolated situations in which a specific church or agency makes a questionable decision and so on.
The SBC is like that insecure preteen girl at the party who is constantly checking her hair and makeup, making sure she doesn’t have anything stuck between her teeth, and nervously looking around the room to see if the cool guy in the jeans and t-shirt is going to walk over and start talking with her. Of course, insecurity has never been very attractive. All our hand wringing over perceived weaknesses only makes us seem more desperate and confused.
By way of contrast, we used to be confident in our own skin. However you keep the records, we are the largest Protestant/evangelical/non-Catholic denomination in America. We have the largest theological seminary system in the world. We have the largest religious publishing house in the world. We support a larger full time missionary force than anyone in the world. Maybe it sounded arrogant when we used to mention these things, but at least we held our heads high. Today, we only mention our acne problem and our C+ in Algebra. If we’re down on ourselves, what makes us think Mark and his friends are gonna like us?
We may be getting older. We are not young and cool. But the constant focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right creates a negatively distorted sense of self-worth that can actually become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we think we have nothing to offer, that we’re so pathetic we require a complete makeover, we may find ourselves making the kind of mid-life changes scorned universally–face lifts, sports cars, gold chain necklaces and changing our last names.
What if our greatest need is not to change everything but to accept who we are with all our attendant strengths and weaknesses?
The SEC is not perfect. I don’t like the tendency to overbook scholarship offers, the nut jobs who poison trees, the money which allegedly flows from rogue boosters and the prevailing attitude that no one else in America ever plays any football. But the SEC has won five straight national championships and is on its way to a sixth. It is indisputably the preeminent college football conference in America.
What I admire most about it, by way of comparison with the Southern Baptist Convention, is that it knows how to celebrate its own success. It’s an organization happy with itself, comfortable in its own skin, confident and popular. One must admit that the SEC is unashamed of its own greatness.
Not so long ago, Southern Baptists demonstrated the same confidence. That half empty glass is still half full. I just wish we could chant “SBC” the way they chant “SEC.” We may have a few problems, but we are definitely not losers. And I’m tired of us acting as though we were.