I had a decision to make.
Do I make public the email to expose the tactic used to intimidate Southern Baptists who had dared to publish a paper with a doctrinal viewpoint different than that of the majority? Or, do I remain quiet? It was not an easy decision. Our church's Cooperative Program gifts pay the salaries of seminary professors. They are our employees too. I have a responsibility to be involved if I am aware that someone is being pressured by ideologues to conform to one view (i.e. "the ideologue's view") of a tertiery doctrine over which Christians often disagree. Personal considerations, including a vow I made to never again be silent when I saw employees of the Southern Baptist Convention under attack, were thought through carefully. I knew that if I chose to publish the email that a number of Southern Baptists would consider my action unethical, that many would not be able to comprehend my view that all Southern Baptist cooperative ministry business should be public and transparent (particularly efforts to remove SBC personnel over questions of doctrinal integrity), and that a few Southern Baptists would even question my personal integrity and Christianity. I knew all that before making the decision.
I chose to publish the letter because of a greater good than my reputation. People in the Southern Baptist Convention must be willing to cherish and protect the freedom needed by our SBC professors, pastors, teachers, leaders and/or laymen to believe, teach, preach, write, and publish different interpretations of the sacred text without fearing repercussions or intimidation from ideologues who demand absolute conformity. We are a Convention built on cooperation. By the very definition of the root word cooperate, demands for conformity must be resisted. It's time that we Southern Baptists push back against those who want everyone to look like them and believe like them; and my decision to publish the email was part of that push back. The decision to publish the email was thoughtful, intentional and convictional.
When a Decision Is Based on Conviction, One Is Enabled to Embrace the Disgrace
I do not begrudge any criticism or strong condemnation that comes my way as a result of my decision. I neither fault, nor desire to discourage, any of my fellow Southern Baptists from publicly questioning my integrity, my honor, or even my Christianity.
When Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo defied the king's law, there is no record of them yelling and screaming at the king for putting them in the fiery furnace. They walked into the fire calmly because they lived on the basis of conviction and made their choices on principle. When Daniel defied the king's order and continued to pray, he quietly went to the lion's den. His decision to defy the law, based on a conviction, led him to not whine about his punishment. When Peter defied civil authorities and preached Christ, there is no record of him complaining about the jail term that came his way. He sang in jail rather than passing notes around about how he shouldn't be there. When John the Baptist was sentenced to capital punishment, you have no testimony that the Baptist bemoaned the fact he spent his life bowing his knee to the Lordship of Christ rather than kissing the ring of the king. When you do what you do because of conviction, then you embrace any disgrace that comes your way because of your decisions. Likewise, you pay little attention to any praise, which is easier, since most convictional choices are countercultural and bring little praise. Convictional people do not make good politicians. There's never any finger up in the air seeking the wind direction of public opinion. Our chosen path comes from within, as we are led by the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit leads us down an unpopular, unlawful (think Hitler's Germany, modern Iran, the rescue of orphans in Haiti, etc...), or difficult path, then we above all people should never complain when others seek to shame us or disgrace us.
Let me illustrate how this plays out for me in practical ways these last couple of days.
(1). The author of the email I published writes that he is receiving supportive and encouraging emails at the rate of 50 to 1. For his sake, I can wish it were a million to zero in support of him. Nothing in me is affected or changed by any ratio of support.
(2). One man wrote that Wade Burleson was "a pile of human excrament (sic) with the integrity of belly button lint." If I remember right, Paul called everything in his life "dung" (reputation, career, etc...) for a greater cause. To me, that's pretty good company. In other words, no offense taken with this man for his words. He feels them; I receive them.
(3). One SBC lawyer opined "It is a serious ethical breach for lawyers (which I am) to receive mail from other people like this. Ah, if only you preachers would live up to the standards set by the bar associations. I freely acknowledge that my decision does not live up to the ethical standard of attorneys, and were I one, I would welcome any censure or punishment handed out.
(4). One SBC pastor charged I had a self-perceived messianic complex. Others have alleged I desire adulation or want to be a hero. I admit a tad bit of confusion on those charges since it's been indicated support is running 50 to 1 against me. Messiah's and heroes usually have the 50 on their side. Of course, those pastors' charges actually go to the motive, not the results, of my decision to publish the letter. I feel quite comfortable knowing God and I are the only ones who can know my true motives, and even I am sometimes blind to them. For my motives to be considered suspect or sinful because of my decision is something I accept.
(5). Others have weighed in with their opinion that "they would not have done it the way Wade Burleson did it." That's absolutely true. Nor should they have. Were the whole world to choose a different path, that would not change any decision I make based on conviction.
Back when I saw the same pattern of forcing a specific ideology on all Southern Baptists through new doctrinal policies at the International Mission Board, I made the decision to make public my concerns. Trustees at the IMB were backdooring the new doctrinal requirements by bypassing a vote from the Convention, and then trustees were removing from service anybody who disagreed. In addition, trustees in charge changed the trustee guidelines in an attempt to keep me quiet. They passed a policy that stated any trustee of the IMB who publicly criticizes a board approved policy will be censured. I voted against the "no dissent" policy, and at the time stated that "it was the worst policy ever passed by any Southern Baptist board of trustees in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention," violating the no dissent policy within five minutes of its passage. When I chose later to continue my criticism of the new doctrinal policies implemented by IMB trustees, policies that exceeded the BFM 2000 (see The Garner Motion), trustee leaders moved to publicly censure me. When a reporter asked me how I felt about the censure, I responded in this manner:
The board of trustees have every right to censure me, and should--because their new trustee guidelines call for it. I welcome their censure and any future censures. I am choosing to criticize these new doctrinal policies publicly because I believe a greater good will come from my criticism. We must cease narrowing the doctrinal parameter for Southern Baptist cooperative mission efforts by refraining from demanding interpretative conformity on biblical doctrines that are not essential to our salvation. Southern Baptists must be free to disagree."I've not changed my views on this in the last five years. When I come across secret attempts to intimidate or threaten fellow Southern Baptists for disgreeing over tertiery doctrinal matters, I will contact the person who initiates the intimidation privately, but if there is no remorse or repentance, the intimidation will be publicly exposed and publicly opposed--every time. The attitude "you must agree with all my interpretations of the Bible or get out of the SBC" is neither historically Baptist or essentially Christian. I will at all times, and on all occasions, publish any private emails or written communications from SBC ideologues that seeks to intimidate into silence any Southern Baptist employee who believes, teaches, or publishes a contrary or dissenting doctrinal viewpoint.
Ideologues in the SBC need to know that any and all attempts to intimidate other Southern Baptists who view things differently will continue to be exposed and opposed. Nobody who intimidates, bullies or threatens others in the Southern Baptist Convention--a Convention built on cooperation-- gets a free pass.
Lord willing, Southern Baptists will once again experience the true measure of Baptist identity--the freedom to believe, teach, preach, write and serve others as God leads. Our willingness to work with other Southern Baptists with whom we disagree is the essence of SBC cooperation. Those who can't cooperate, or won't cooperate, shouldn't be allowed to lead the SBC or determine who will be employed by those of us who pay the bills.
In His Grace,