I am surprised that some (not all) of my conservative friends in current Southern Baptist leadership do not comprehend what it is that I am saying in my blog calling for peace and unity in the SBC. A few have told me "you don't know what you are talking about," and one went so far as to say that just as there will never be peace between the Shiites and Sunnis, there will never be peace among moderate and conservative Southern Baptists until Jesus comes.
I don't believe that. I am of the firm conviction that there can be peace within the Southern Baptist Convention BEFORE Jesus comes.
We must acknowledge that, at times, there has been an unchristian spirit on both sides of the controversy. We must then do all we can to foster a spirit of graciousness and respect toward each other's interpretations of the Word of God (while not necessarily agreeing with one another). Then, we agree to cooperate in missions and evangelism for the sake of the gospel. Of course, we must agree that the gospel is the good news that sinners can be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are a diverse group of Southern Baptists after agreement on these fundamentals, but we need to celebrate our rich diversity rather than demand absolute conformity.
I am committed to the Southern Baptist Convention. I always have been, and always will be. When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed in Oklahoma in 1993, I nailed "95 Theses Against the Formation of the CBF" on the door of their organizational meeting. I was not condemning these Southern Baptists for who they were, but challenging them NOT to withdraw because we were stronger as a diverse body. Throughout the years I have been excoriated by the CBF for my "Fundamentalism." I harbor no ill will toward the CBF and wish them the best in their missionary efforts, but would ask that any evangelical conservative SBC pastor or church who is sympathetic with the belief that some "moderates" were falsely maligned and slandered to not leave the SBC, but remain and help us moderate the SBC in terms of love, grace and cooperation.
"But How Can You Love Someone Who Disagrees With You?"
In the past two weeks I have had people tell me that "moderates" are dangerous, evil, and Satanic, and that I am "naive" to want to cooperate with those who interpret the Bible differently than we do as theological conservatives. On the other hand, some moderates have told me that my Fundamentalist friends are mean, nasty and satanic in their dealings with fellow Southern Baptists
This is where I get really confused.
It seems that what is really wrong with our convention is that we have for so long picked sides (ex: "He's a liberal" or "He's in the moderate camp" or "He's a Fundamentalist) that we lose sight of the fact we are brothers in Christ. I am attempting to be more temperate and cautious in labeling people. I confess, when I come under attack, it is easier to label my attackers as "the enemy" rather than to dialogue with them, but I am absolutely convinced that every person in the SBC is a brother or sister in Christ and I can learn to love each of them, respect their views on Scripture, and cooperate and fellowship with them---- EVEN IF WE DON'T AGREE ON EVERY DOCTRINE -- because we join hands around a common cause and have a common bond of love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think all of us in the Southern Baptist Convention are capable of doing this, even my very conservative friends. Let me give you a recent example.
Dr. Billy Graham was interviewed by Newsweek Magazine this past month. Dr. Graham made some comments with which I, and most of my conservative friends, would disagree. You can read the entire interview here, but the following portion of the article clearly reveals Dr. Graham's moderate views of Scripture.
While Dr. Graham believes Scripture is the inspired, authoritative word of God, he does not read the Bible as though it were a collection of Associated Press bulletins straightforwardly reporting on events in the ancient Middle East. "I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord," Graham says. "This is a little difference in my thinking through the years." He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative—a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California's San Bernardino Mountains. Troubled, Graham wandered into the woods one night, put his Bible on a stump and said, "Lord, I don't understand all that is in this book, I can't explain it all, but I accept it by faith as your divine word."
Now, more than half a century later, he is far from questioning the fundamentals of the faith. He is not saying Jesus is just another lifestyle choice, nor is he backtracking on essentials such as the Incarnation or the Atonement. But he is arguing that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror," Paul wrote, "then we shall see face to face." Then believers shall see: not now, but then.
Debates over the exact meaning of the word "day" in Genesis (Graham says it is figurative; on the other hand, he thinks Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale) or whether the "Red Sea" is better translated as "sea of reeds"—which takes Moses' miracle out of the realm of Cecil B. DeMille—or the actual size of ancient armies in a given battle may seem picayune to some. For many conservative believers, however, questioning any word of the Bible can cast doubt on all Scripture. Graham's position, then, while hardly liberal, is more moderate than that of his strictest fellow Christians.
Asked about his son's use of the phrase "evil and wicked" in reference to Islam, Graham says: "I would not say Islam is wicked and evil ... I have a lot of friends who are Islamic. There are many wonderful people among them. I have a great love for them. I have spoken at Islamic meetings, in Nigeria and in different parts of the world." The father's view, then, is different from the son's. "I'm sure there are many things that he and I are not in total agreement about," Graham says. "I'm an old man, he's a young man in the prime of life."
A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart."
Why Silence Over Dr. Graham, but Anger and Exclusion for Others?
There is a deafening silence from our Southern Baptist leaders regarding the remarks of Dr. Graham. These Newsweek remarks are just a portion of what Dr. Graham has said publicly about what he believes. His moderate views on women in ministry, the church, the priesthood of every believer, and other topics run directly counter to the BFM 2000. Yet, he is a beloved statesman of our convention.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is an appropriate silence from our leaders, but it is deafening because if anyone in the "moderate" camp of the SBC had made these remarks he would have been labeled a heretic so fast his head would spin.
Yet Dr. Graham's statue, dedicated at this year's Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, now stands in front of the Executive Headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
Here's my point.
I don't agree with Dr. Graham's views, but I would not stop him from preaching in my pulpit, serving as a trustee of one of our agencies, or even being a missionary from the SBC to the world at large --- not to mention seek to remove him from leadership or fire him from employment.
I propose that when we can come to the place that our common faith in Jesus Christ is the ONE thing that unites us, and though we teach ALL the interpretative views of soteriology, eschatology, ecclesiology, and missiology, we don't demand conformity, but celebrate our diversity --- ONLY THEN will the power of God fall on our convention in ways it seldom has.
"By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" Jesus said.
It's time people started standing up for the little guy --- the missionary, the small church pastor, the dedicated Southern Baptist layman, who may not see eye to eye on every jot and tittle of any self-appointed doctrinal watchdogs of the SBC, and remind all of us that every believer is accountable to God, we have no creed but the Bible itself, and every believer is a priest unto God --- not just the Billy Graham's of this world.
Only then will the Southern Baptist Convention return to her heritage of a reverance for Scripture, free debate and conscientious dissent, cooperation in missions, and a love for our fellow man.
It's time for all of us to lay down our swords and pick up the plows.
The fields are white unto harvest. If you and I can't get over the past, and focus on building a bridge toward the future with all Southern Baptists, then the problem is possibly in our hearts, not our brother's.
In His Grace,