Komen, Lifeway, SGM and T4G Or, Maintaining the “as is” Structure

David E Fitch


Oh boy. Here’s a question from scotmcknight (@scotmcknight) . Dare I suggest Bill Kinnon (@kinnon) tackle this one? Ok gotta go 🙂 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/02/06/why-3/

Blame Bill Kinnon. He took the bait. David Fitch posted Scot McKnight’s, “Why,” about the different responses to Piper/Driscoll and Tim Keller. Kinnon trod where . . . well we will see where.

Yesterday I was reading the Out of Ur blog post informing readers of the recent decision by Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) to re-instate C.J. Mahaney as President. I vaguely remember when this quake hit last year. Evidently the handling of the situation is churning quite an aftershock.

Several things converged in my mind reading this post concerning my own tribe, the Southern Baptist Convention. Lifeway, the for-profit entity of the SBC, planned to support breast cancer awareness via the production and sales of a pink Bible. The Bibles were produced and sales had begun when, and I am speculating here, Thom Rainer or another ranking SBC figure received word that Komen provided grants to Planned Parenthood for breast exams and breast cancer awareness. That Planned Parenthood spends more money funding abortions problematized the Lifeway gift. It was rescinded. (As an aside, it appears the situation between Komen and Planned Parenthood was no surprise to Planned Parenthood. Their reaction surprised Komen.)

We Southern Baptists have long guarded ourselves against investing dollars where we have an ethical position to preserve. We take guilt by association seriously. Well, most of the time. It really depends who is associating with whom.

Lifeway is a “proud sponsor” for the upcoming T4G event. (Just wait for the scrolling banner to appear.) Al Mohler is a co-founder of the event as is Mark Dever. Several Southern Baptists will speak at main sessions while others lead Breakout Sessions. I know a number of Southern Baptists will attend the event. Even if the scope of “together” is narrow, that Southern Baptists participate with those outside their denomination is noteworthy.

What problematizes the Lifeway/SBC sponsorship and support is C.J Mahaney. Mahaney is also a co-founder of the event. Others have noted the curious timing of his re-instatement. The suggestion is that it came so he could participate in this event. An inside investigation into his admittedly poor leadership ethics did not prompt a change in leadership. For others this raises questions about an independent investigation report that may be released.

That Mahaney admitted to behavior that would get most of us removed from the pastorate does not rise to the level where the SBC entity has an ethical position to preserve. Bill Kinnon is aghast at the developments – not Lifeway. Even a member of the SGM network is flummoxed. But, the sorts of practices Mahaney acknowledged were, and who knows if they remain, normal fair in the pragmatic antics pre- and post- CR in the SBC. It is very difficult the pot calling the kettle black. And, since Mohler defended Mahaney when the story broke it would be hard now, I guess, to suggest either Mahaney withdraw participation until the independent investigation is complete or that the SBC /Lifeway would rescind its support, sponsorship, and participation. But wait, what about Baptist autonomy. We do have our trump cards, even when ethics are in question.

The point is not about the “togetherness” of a group of Christians for the Gospel. I am for a much wider vision for “togethering” for the Gospel. I have no issue with Mahaney personally. I am as frail and prone to hubris as the next pastor. What interests me is the way decisions are framed. Lifeway rightly positions itself against abortion – it is an ethical position. But, so is leadership ethics. On the one hand we defend the “not yet born.” What about those lives littering the byways of this world suffering at the hands of powerful religious leaders? Are they less valuable? Surely Ed Stetzer has written something about the reasons there are “de-churched” people in our Country. Clergy abuse fits that bill.

Political theology would frame the matter structurally. I recently heard the descriptor, “Inverse Theology.” The move in “inverse theology” is to privilege a different move that disrupts the “as is” structure of the way the world works. Or, put more plainly, the radicality of theology is witnessed when the move shifts from the “up (God) and in (heart)” as the primary real world move to the “down (wounded lives) and out (structures lending support).”

Another way of saying the same thing may be to suggest the “up and in” move represents the vocabulary associated with “What God has done for you,” and “what is residing in your heart toward God.” The “down and out” move describes a sensitivity to the damaged lives strewn around as we travel the world and the actions taken to change the structures that produce those real world wounds. The pietistic move, or for McKnight, the neo-Puritan revival tends to couch human need in only the “up and in.” Structures are created to attend to those internals thereby keeping the “as is” structures in place resulting in the ongoing wounding of real people, in real time.

Put another way, if the “up and in” references the Great Commandment – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind – then, the “down and out” becomes the Second Like Unto It – love your neighbor as yourself. There is no reform when only one move is made. In fact, there is a greater chance reform comes with the “down and out” move than ever with solely and “up and in.”

Why? Once more we may look to the radical move the Apostle Paul makes. Loving God and others is not new with Jesus. Deuteronomy contains the admonition. Jesus makes an alteration. From, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, he agrees with, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Paul offers a shorthand move in Galatians by asserting it all may be summed up in, “love your neighbor as yourself.” He is not simply doing so due to a lack of papyrus. The collapsing of the first and second commandments into this shorthand radicalizes Jesus’ move further. The new way the world works under the reign of God is to privilege those moments where we choose love for others over power and position, where we bind up their wounds and sacrifice for their good.

Jesus people cannot privilege one ethic over another where people are concerned. When we cast our support for life, it cannot be selective. When we withhold support it cannot be selective. Now that is a radical move that changes the “as is” structure of the way the world works into the world “as it should be.”

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.