"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

4.03.2007

in God's country

Last week I finished reading Carl Kell and Samuel Hill's edited volume, Exiled: Voices from the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War. The book is a collection of short essays by various moderate and liberal Baptists, all of whom used to be part of the SBC but do not identify themselves as such anymore (although a few of the contributors are members of dually aligned churches).

I found the book to be fascinating and heartbreaking. Because I was a child when the battle for the SBC happened, my knowledge about what actually happened is based mostly on second-hand accounts. I don't think anyone has written about the children of the split - children whose parents were pastors of divided churches or leaders in SBC agencies - but we knew, at least in a broad sense, what was going on. I learned most of what I knew about the split not from my parents, whom I'm sure wanted to shield us from what was going on, but through whispered conversations with friends in the summer at Ridgecrest and Glorieta, and from a friend at school whose family was in a church that was having problems and whose dad also worked for the convention. I read my daddy's copies of the Baptist Standard and the Baptist and Reflector and wondered how people I knew from church could say such mean things to other Christians, even if they were being honest.


Exiled helped me to better understand that the roots of the split were not just between Baptists of moderate and conservative theology, but that in many ways the split formalized a long-existing divide between those who focused more on missions and those who focused more on evangelism. Indeed, as several of the writers point out, there were very few Southern Baptists at that time whose theology could truly be called "liberal." Most moderates and conservatives had (and continue to have) far more in common theologically than they did differences.


Sometimes I get tired at CBF or BGCT events of hearing about how awful the split was. Why can't we just move on, I wonder, and why can't we stop pretending that the CBF isn't a denomination? The book was valuable in helping me to further understand how painful the split was for moderates who were forced, either directly or by conscience, to leave the churches and agencies they had given their lives to building up. It helped me to see how much moderates really have moved on, compared to where they were after the 1990 New Orleans convention. It was interesting to see how some commentators see the split as a kind of punishment for the pride the SBC had in its huge, well-organized system of getting things done. Others question why God allowed the conservatives to win, and some graze over the question of what that says about the rightness of moderate views as opposed to the political organization of the conservatives.

I especially enjoyed the essay by Rev. Cecil Sherman, "Getting My Head on Straight," and the one by Gladys S. Lewis, "Still a Baptist Woman." Lewis' words about the importance of soul competency in helping her to navigate her "own faith positions when life gives [her] conditions not covered by doctrine" was particularly powerful, as she told the story of her husband being paralyzed in a skiing accident. I also enjoyed Professor Paul D. Simmons' reflections on academic freedom in "Finding a Voice in Exile," for although I may not agree with all of his positions, I too have wondered about the search for truth in the face of absolutist definitions about what constitutes true doctrine. One of the reasons I chose to no longer a member of a Southern Baptist church was the sense that if I stayed in the SBC, I would forever be dealing with those who would ask me to check the mind God gave me at the door.

Exiled is an excellent collection and I highly recommend it to those of you who are interested in Baptist life. It left me with two impressions: First, the wish that there were an equally thoughtful book from the conservative SBC side of this fight. I would like so much to read honest reflections about the reasons for the split, the justifications for the tactics that were used, and the resulting shape of the churches.

Second, and more troubling, the book left me thinking even more about something I have wondered since I was a child: how can it be pleasing to a God who calls us to first be reconciled to our brothers and sisters for Christians of different stripes to hate one another? For although it is neither feasible nor wise to think that we could or should find a way to fully reconcile and return to what we were, I also find it heartbreaking that we can't worship together. This is not how it was meant to be.

I hope that all of my Baptist readers, both conservative and moderate, will take time to read Exiled. It is definitely food for thought.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Sister said...

Missions or evangelism? I don't get it. Do they mean "foreign" or "home" missions? Because I don't understand how they could say the two are distinct and separate. Or do they mean strictly numbers evangelism versus holistic social ministry including evangelism?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007 12:32:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

You should read the book, because you'd probably understand what they mean better than I do. But, yeah, I got the sense that what they meant was missions in the broader sense (eg, running a hospital in Ghana) as opposed to trying to convert as many people as possible (and therefore only focusing on church planting, for example).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007 1:27:00 PM

 
Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

My only "complaint" (if it can be called that) is that Exiled didn't come a decade earlier. I do think that many CBF seminary students take for granted the experiences and blood shed by the contributors of Exiled (and many many more). In alot of CBF churches (ex. CBC) Baptist identity and heritage are low on the totem pole of priorities. That's unfortunate.

I read your comment on Burleson's blog - I'm rather sure he read Exiled a few months ago. David Flick of BaptistLife.com gave him a copy.

Uneasy in Babylon by Barry Hankins is likely the best book on fundamentalists involved in the Takeover. Hankins allows Mohler, Land, Patterson and many others to tell their story. Unfortunately, Hankins does not always provide a moderate response to the fundamentalists assertions but it's a good book nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007 2:23:00 PM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks for the suggestions, BDW!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007 3:37:00 PM

 
Blogger David Flick said...

TexasInAfrica,

As Aaron Weave (BDW) mentioned above, I loaned my copy of Exiled to Wade a couple of months ago. I'm satisfied that he has read it by now inasmuch as he emailed me a week or so ago indicating the same.

I resonate with your thoughts concerning Dr. Kell's book. In many ways, your thoughts mirrored mine.

I met Dr. Kell in Charlotte, NC back in 2002. At the time he was in the process of writing Exiled. I am an "exile" myself. He invited me to write my exile experience but I never got around to putting it on paper. Thus, I missed telling my story in his book.

Last February, I purchased my copy from him at the 6th Annual Mainstream Baptist Convocation. In March of 2006, I wrote a blog message about my personal reactions to the book. I invite you to read my thoughts by going here.

Blessings,

-- David Flick

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 4:21:00 AM

 
Blogger Coleman Fannin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 10:23:00 AM

 
Blogger texasinafrica said...

David, thanks for your comments, and for passing the book on to Wade. I'll be interested to see if he has anything to say about it. I really enjoyed reading your comments.

Coleman, hey! I didn't know you knew I had a blog. I think you're right that people on both sides behaved badly, but that the conservatives were more aggressive and ruthless in their strategy and tactics.

When I said it wouldn't be wise to try to reconcile, I was partly referring to the total impracticality of an attempt. It isn't going to happen, because there are people on both sides who don't believe that those on the other side are true believers. "Wise" was probably the wrong word, but there is a question as to whether it's a good idea for people who don't trust one another to even try to work together. Would it lead to more conflict and animosity?

Then again, it burdens my heart that Baptists and other believers can't get along. I don't think this is what God intends for us.

Anyway, let's definitely talk about this in the summer. Hope y'all are well!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 10:42:00 AM

 
Blogger Coleman Fannin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007 12:32:00 PM

 

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