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.

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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.

11 comments on “Louisiana College – More Wagging the Dog

  1. Guy Rittger says:

    Todd – Does it never occur to the people who provoke and stoke these types of power struggles, masquerading as “theological” controversies, to consider how they appear from the perspective of those outside their tribes, particularly to that class of observer commonly referred to as “unbelievers”?

    Why would any person, looking for answers to life’s most difficult questions or relief from the burdens of suffering and guilt, take such people seriously, assuming, at some point, the Gospel message ever sprang from their mouths?

    How difficult could it be for such men – and isn’t it almost always men who embroil themselves in such folderol – to look themselves in the mirror and ask one simple question honestly: “In doing such things, how am I furthering the spread of the message of hope, forgiveness and deliverance?”

    You and I lived through this in the mid-1980’s at Oklahoma Baptist University, where, in fact, I adopted the Calvinist perspective myself, complete with a hard-cover edition of Calvin’s “Institutes” in the trunk of my Ford Pinto. And even back then I can remember having to endure visiting Ministerial Alliance speakers bloviate about the “evils” of Calvinism, whatever that was (though it probably had to do with the whole “General” vs. “Particular” debate you refer to above). My own view is that salvation is for nobody in general and everyone in particular, which should lay the entire issue to rest, once and for all.

    Anyway, the irony of this pseudo-dispute is that, if I remember my church history correctly, Presbyterians of various persuasions made up a vanguard of foreign missions activity, from about the 18th century onwards, albeit riding on the coattails of European imperialist expansion, particularly in Asia. How do the enemies of Calvinism reconcile this odd historical fact with their caricature views of the same?

    Perhaps they will answer if we ask politely?



    1. Guy,
      My first thought of a reply went something like this,

      Cannot imagine.
      Extremely difficult.
      You picked up on something I was thinking about as I wrote about this incident.
      It is about the power not the mission.
      Too entrenched.

      Then, I considered your reply to be a solid jumping off point for a follow-up.

      What do you make of reading this politically, as in political theory? Or, maybe there is an angle wherein the jouiissance of victory in the purge of those who differ theologically that provides energy enough to maintain the facade of substance keeping the desire of desires alive? My take, as noted in this post, would be that eventually there will be too many irruptions for anyone, especially young fellows like Breland and Wales, to take calls to radically follow Jesus seriously. A sad day indeed.

      1. This is exactly the issue. Ultimately, this sort of behavior takes the Lords name ins vein and becomes an impediment to faith.

        You may be interested in the following two posts:

  2. Guy Rittger says:

    Hmmm… good questions. I’ll have to ponder and get back to you.

  3. Great post, Todd. You nailed it.

  4. Guy Rittger says:

    Todd –

    Placing personal status and power over devotion to the Gospel mission may have an interesting history. Consider this rather odd conclusion to the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man, where Peter (who else) speaks up and says (Luke 19:27):

    ““We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

    The context, here, is Jesus’ listeners’ anxiety about the apparent disproportionality of the sacrifice required to follow Jesus relative to the perceived rewards for doing so. According to Luke’s account (19:28-30), Jesus replies:

    “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

    What is relevant here, I think, is Jesus’ promise to his disciples of signifcant authority and power, couched in temporal terms, though deferred to an indefinite future state. My guess is that this is an interpolation by the writer to counter an attitude apparently common at the time – and no less common in our own day – that linked short-term personal sacrifice to long-term reward, both of material things and status (both are mentioned in Jesus’ response).

    So, let us suppose that leaders of large religious organizations or institutions, having at one time in their ministries made various degrees of “sacrifice” for the Gospel, ultimately reach the point in their careers where they believe they are entitled to sit on one of those thrones and judge their tribe. Ironically, while starting out as disciples of Jesus, they end up in the place of the rich young man, albeit, unlike him, lacking any outward sign of the spiritual dissonance of their state.

    Thus, looking at the specifically political dimension of the Louisiana College situation, what the two accused students stand guilty of is summoning up that spiritual dissonance, by calling out the gap between what the institution and its leaders claim to stand for, and how they actually behave. Being called out as hypocrites didn’t sit well with the rich and powerful in Jesus’ day, and it apparently doesn’t sit well with their latter day Christian counterparts.

    So, therein lies the eruption of the Real, to which I think you’re referring. The jouissance on display is not the jouissance of Christian sacrifice and devotion – i.e., of powerlessness; rather, we witness the jouissance of empowerment and authority, cloaked in the discourse of theological correctness.

    Or, to resort to a crude Freudian example: “This isn’t personal, it’s about serious doctrinal issues!” = “This is personal!”

    1. Guy,
      Precisely. And, if i understand the way Fitch employs Zizek, the Real existential expressions, the current imbroglio, expose the real emptiness of the championed ideology. The two students actions demonstrate a call to consistency between verbal claims and lived reality – a case against hypocrisy. You point out the dissonance that this brings to light and the force of effect on those beholden to an empty ideology is generally to double down on the action that was called into question in the first place. For instance, I do not know why Dr. Russell Moore was disinvited to preach a revival at Louisiana College, but amidst the current controversy the appearance would insinuate that Moore’s Calvinism would be a continued disruptive force in the current purge that includes at least three professors who have been non-renewed – most likely for their Calvinism.

      Your last retort is a better summary. It in another idiom illustrates how theology functions, which means not much theology is getting done.

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