Liberals do what liberals do. Fundamentalists do what fundamentalists do. These are givens. And, the reason they do what they do lies in their commitment to their own givens – their own framework for understanding and articulating the way the world works. This shows up in politics and religion. And boy does it show up in religion.
When I first read of the Louisiana College affair I could not imagine that the issue at heart turned on a couple of student responses to the President’s Pen. If that is the case, then the President has not spent much time in the local church, yea Southern Baptist Churches. What the two students wrote in response to what appears as a defensive piece pales in comparison to what pastors and staff endure, in some cases weekly.
Dave Miller rightly notes that many a pastor has nuked the playground in response to even the slightest criticism. That is to point up that pastors are not immune to similar behaviors and impulses as those of the President of LC.
What interests me is less the details, and boy are they sordid according to my sources, but more the way the story of two young men take center stage while indeed Louisiana College appears to be burning. And, the fire began inside, not an assault from without. Blaming the devil is little more than invoking the Flip Wilson defense.
I propose that Joshua Breland and Drew Wales have nothing to do with Louisiana College burning. They, instead, present an occasion to deflect attention away from a story that began while these boys were still in high school. Bringing Breland and Wales up on charges of disparaging the College should give the Trustees the framework to more than slap the hands of those who will be discovered having put LC at risk academically and embarrass the cause of Christian ethics and integrity. The players in this game would surprise most. Well . . . maybe many.
Moving colleges to the right has long been the game plan of Fundamentalists in the SBC from the get. The long narrative of lost colleges and universities played over and again in the early days of the CR. I suggest that what was lost was power. I realize there will be those who disagree. I acknowledge there are theological differences. But, when it comes to wielding power the two sides are the same. This represents the as is structure. Control the money, exert the power. In this Liberal and Fundamentalist are two sides of the same coin.
When power and money are threatened we tend to couch our battles in terms of theology, at least in the SBC. Consider the rise of the Calvinist/Non-Calvinist debate/divide the current iteration. Claims from both sides generate heat for the respective base from which to call out the other. I have read the contention that Tom Ascol is dark lord bent to turn the SBC toward Geneva. Really? Maybe so. He did survive lightning.
In an interesting public display Baptists21 held an event in New Orleans last summer maybe to convince young fellows the two groups may live together in the same denomination post-Conservative Resurgence. Yes, I did attend the event. The one thing they left out was how those on the dais have worked to hone the delicate balance of power. Everyone smiled for the event. Reciprocal accolades were passed. So long as the Reformer does not threaten the Radical Reformer, there will be peace in the valley. Unsettle the financial foundations and swing the pendulum ever so slightly and the sorts of skirmishes that threaten LC show up. This. Is. Not. About. Theology.
Except it is theological. What we witness is quite telling of the way theology functions and works within the SBC. It serves to keep the balance. The chief issue, despite calls to the obvious particulars – evangelism, mission, church planting, prayer, discipleship – is maintaining the general structure that hangs precariously in the balance of egos. Do not take that any other way than anyone of we human beings given the occasion to wield power and control finances will find our ego in the way. All of us.
As an aside, I was once told that if I did not like the way things were going in the SBC, I should do what they did. Get a group together and plan your own ten-year takeover. I should be prepared to get blood on my sword. This is precisely how the general structure is maintained as the particulars shift. Fight the same way and in so doing nothing really changes but the particulars adorning the institution.
We need no more wagging the dog. What we need are fewer leaders beholden to the general structure that has proven repeatedly to keep us always Fighting Baptists. We need leaders who will call the general structure to account. We need to dispense with the general structure, the as is. We need admit we have for too long worked to preserve what we have even when what we have suffers regular irruptions that betray our doctrinal and ethical commitments.
Dare I suggest we need progressive/prophetic leaders among us? These would be leaders who could identify when we are simply arguing about the particulars and who controls the narrative while the general structure that forms the foundation from which instances like LC rise. This is not unlike Land-gate from one year ago. Nor is there much difference in the way some high profile Southern Baptist leaders remain silent in the face of Mahaney-gate. I suspect a good Baptist historian could offer countless illustrations where these irruptions have occurred on all levels of Southern Baptist life.
Joshua and Drew represent an opportunity to act. They are not two young boys to be scapegoated. We cannot allow them to be used as the tail that wags the dog.
UPDATE: In the first version of this post I referenced Louisiana Baptist College. The name of the college is Louisiana College.