"The stakes are pretty high for the SBC in 2007. Burleson and Cole are very well organized and focused. I think it very possible that they will carry the day in San Antonio, because they have quite the head start on conservatives. Your faithfulness to attend in San Antonio and bring your full slate of messengers could make all the difference."
I chuckled when I read the above paragraph for a couple of reasons. All the people I know in the SBC are conservative. Whichever ideology ultimately prevails, conservatives will ultimately 'carry the day,' because both ideologies are held by conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, I can't speak for, or on behalf of, Ben Cole, but I can say with an easy assurance that I have as much interest in organizing people for political purposes as Bill Clinton does in attempting to raise funds from staunch Republicans.
My desire for the last year and a half has been to raise the awareness within our convention that there really is an ideological conflict among those who call ourselves Southern Baptists. Both ideologies are similar in that they are both based on a conservative approach to the holy Scriptures and a firm adherence to the fundamentals of the faith. However, beyond these two areas of agreement, the two ideologies are as different as night from day. I believe with all my heart that if one of the ideologies prevails, then the SBC will not be, within a generation, the vibrant, evangelical missionary convention we are today. So, in one respect, I agree with Bart Barber --- the 'issues' in the SBC are important, but I disagree they are 'politically' motivated -- the issues are ideological in nature.
THE DEFINITIONS OF THE COMPETING IDEOLOGIES
An ideology can be defined as "the unifying system of beliefs, attitudes, and values expressed in the superstructure of a culture."
- A separation ideology held by crusading conservatives
- Doctrinal purity is essential for cooperation, and since there are no non-essential or unimportant doctrines in the Bible, it is absolutely necessary for there to be a uniform doctrinal interpretation of all Bible doctrines, and if not, separation from those who hold to different doctrinal interpretations.
- A gospel ideology held by cooperating conservatives
- A desire to advance Christ's kingdom on earth through the confession, proclamation, and application of the good news. The Bible is undoubtedly central to this cooperation, but Jesus Christ is the center of it. Therefore, there is a desire to cooperate with one another, affirming the essentials of the gospel and our Baptist identity, but granting liberty in the non-essentials and love in all things.
Those who know me well understand that my passion in life has always been my family and my church. I was involved with what is now called 'the conservative resurgence' in the 1980's, but beginning in 1995 until 2005 I was totally uninvolved in Southern Baptist denominational life except through support of our denominational missions program and positions of leadership within the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. During my ten year absence from SBC leadership I did not hang around with the powers that be in the SBC. I did not 'network' with pastors in national meetings, or attend conferences where SBC leadership spoke. I also did not attend most Southern Baptist Convention meetings. I was too busy with church, young kids, and state ministry.
That all changed in 2005 when a sitting trustee of the International Mission Board contacted me and asked me to serve as a trustee of the IMB. I quickly discovered that the SBC I loved and cherished for over forty years had significantly changed in the previous decade. I had fought 'the battle for the Bible' believing it was essential that the Southern Baptist Convention take a stand on the veracity, reliability and sufficiency of God's Word, but I soon realized in the summer of 2005 that a small group of Southern Baptist leaders seemed to be forcing the entire convention to accept uniform doctrinal interpretations regarding matters that go far beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. When I publicly expressed a different opinion and biblical interpretation regarding certain views held by those separatist ideologues,, they took the steps they believed necessary to keep the convention pure, and I experienced first hand the effort to exclude a conservative, evangelical Southern Baptist from leadership. The convention I believed was built on gospel cooperation seemed to be overtaken by a separatist ideology.
MAY OUR RELATIONSHIPS ENDURE THE STRAIN
When there are ideological conflicts, even among brothers, there is always the possibility for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It is unconscionable for any Southern Baptist to lie about a brother in Christ or spread slander or gossip. In addition, it should be possible for Southern Baptists with opposing ideologies to discuss the issues without rancor. It is one thing to talk about verifiable facts and quite another thing to go public with unsubstantiated statements which cannot be supported. Take it from a person who realizes everything he writes is scrutenized to the nth degree -- never write anything you are unwilling or unable to prove as fact. I would go further and say that anyone who falsely slanders a brother in Christ should be held acccountable -- in every way possible.
However, to discuss the ideology of separation involves describing how people are excluded from Southern Baptist missions and ministry. The separation ideology is only exposed when you tell the stories of the people who have been hurt by forced removal through a narrow interpretation of non-essential doctrines that are forced on the entire convention -- without convention approval. Again, the two ideologies discussed in this post are both held by conservative evangelicals. This is not 'us' versus 'them.' The questions is rather simple: Which ideology do we wish to prevail in the SBC?
Regardless of the outcome, I think a letter I recently came across expresses my heart regarding my brothers in Christ within the SBC with whom I disagree. The letter, written in 1940 by M.K. Ghandi to Aruthur Moore, aptly summarizes my feelings toward those in the SBC who are holdinga to the separation ideology in our Southern Baptist Convention:
I see that we cannot agree as to facts and, where we agree, we view them from different angles of vision. Therefore we must for the time being agree to differ. We shall know each other better when the mists have rolled away. I know that our friendship can easily bear the strain of our differences.
In His Grace,