“I can help you go places.” My long-time friend, who is also a pastor, retold a story shared years earlier. He and at least one other were carpooling when his new acquaintance informed him, “You need to know me.” As a self-described redneck country boy, my friend fired back with something like, “God will get me where he wants me.” The wanna-be mover and shaker chose the wrong young fellow to impress.
I once invited a well-known denominational employee to consider speaking at our church. We were not large enough.
Quite a few years ago I served on a denominational committee. It was during the post-CR (Conservative Resurgence) move to re-enchant churches with the Cooperative Program. Some may remember during the early days of the CR, the CP was something of a pawn used to wrest power away from the then current leadership. That is, leaders in the CR called into question what their CP dollars were supporting and said when things change they would encourage their churches to give more.
The committee on which I served worked to fill leadership roles on convention committees. We call it a Nominating Committee. Pastors and lay leaders names were submitted for consideration and this committee vetted them. One key qualification for consideration was how much the church associated with the nominee gave to the Cooperative Program. If the figure was less than 10% the person was set aside. The committee might return to that person if another could not be found. But, the clear goal was to install those whose churches gave at least 10%. There were no considerations given to the church’s unique circumstances that may have created the decision as matter of economics. It was assumed to be a lack of loyalty.
In retrospect, I think this is extortion for self-preservation.
As I typed that last sentence I could not help think of John Boehner’s words about President Obama’s use of military personnel to champion the need for Congress, specifically the House, to act before we enter the period known as sequestration on March 1. Boehner said the President used the military personnel at a public event as props to provoke action. I think there is a PhD to be earned exploring the way American Christianity, particularly in Southern Baptist life, mirrors the political culture in whichever era it found itself. And, I have little doubt we would read of a developing a/theology of power.
We rarely hear calls to follow Jesus’ weak power, or as some describe it a weak messianism. You know, the type of leadership that leads to death on a cross; the sort of leadership that expresses solidarity with the blind, the lame, the infirm, the least of these of Matthew 25. Or, the push to champion the small church, the struggling mission, something beyond task forces and, “I will preach at one small church,” by the largesse of our denominations.
Recently I suggested the events taking place at Louisiana College turned on the issue of power and not theology. I imagine that on the other side of emergency Trustee meetings, regular meetings, and hearings on the activities of students someone will tell the story of intrigue and decisions related to power and influence. Maybe that student interested in religion and politics will help us call for the turning of swords into plowshares.
A friend questioned my assertion that this imbroglio is about power and not theology. We chatted it up a bit. I thought that while we wait a few weeks for what may come from the regular Trustee meeting at Louisiana College we might explore my contention a bit more, maybe offer a clarification.
The much-anticipated emergency Trustees meeting at Louisiana College revealed little except that the jury is still deliberating. Nothing of substance took place.
I know too little of the details to speculate. It simply seems that a seven hour, or so, debate over Calvinism left little time to investigate the more weighty matters of the future of academics and accreditation at Louisiana College. Observers now wait for the scheduled meeting in March.
The heart of the issue at Louisiana College, as it gets played out, is not about the agency of God or the agency of man. I should also note, I do not believe that is the larger debate in the SBC either. Regardless where you fall on the theological spectrum about such matters, I contend the matter is power and not monergism or synergism.
Those locked in a heated debate over Calvinism consider the two poles the only options. Those holding one end of the pole or the other seem to think they get to call king’s x on any other possibility. The debates and even my description expose that the real matter is power, not what one believes. After all, the watching world really wants to know how we hold our beliefs. If we persist in being uncharitable and always fighting over what we believe, we have lost the battle and missed the manner of Jesus. Cue the recent stories about Tebow withdrawing from the Grand Opening Festivities at FBC, Dallas.
We want this to be about theology. If we can convince one another the issue is theology then we can justify all manner of behavior in our battle for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And, at that point the issue is theology but not in the way traditionally framed.
Instead of a choice between Calvin and Arminus, or any of their theological descendants, as if theology only sprang up in/after the Reformation, the current malaise conjures a theology, or a/theology, of power. One wonders if the current emphasis on God’s sovereign power is not a rouse for a desired human sovereign power, sort of a false humility or a grand cover for pride. In short, employing the mechanics of modern politics and lawyering up betray a fundamental trust in the Way of Jesus, the Revelation of God.
We have created elaborate arguments against the masters of suspicion who asserted, and whose ideological descendants assert, that religion is nothing more than a false consciousness. And yet, when we step outside of the pattern of Jesus, in our leadership tactics, it seems we provide a material illustration in support of their contentions. These instances undermine our verbal declarations in what is termed our war with culture as we practice the very habits of our culture.
Further, when we preach and teach the life and ministry of Jesus and fail to offer a contemporary instantiation of what that might look like in our world we convey a suspicion of the very beliefs we say we hold. Our attempts to gain and control power betray Jesus’ message of weakness in the face of strength.
Our matter is a lack of trust. Our lack points up Jesus’ Way. We cannot continue to take up a different way and expect anyone to believe in the material difference Jesus makes in life, much less offer any confidence in a life after life after death.
Jesus maintained his determination in the face of Herod’s wants and Jerusalem’s lack of desire. (Luke 13) He continued on course, at the very least, as an illustration of his trust in God. Staring down those in power – on all sides – Jesus entered the center of his world unarmed and without a cabal of minions to do his bidding.
Jesus demonstrated in real life what we marvel at with Abraham. When we read the writer of Hebrews note that Abraham had committed Isaac to death believing God would raise him up, we see Jesus as a greater illustration. Abraham believed his son would live again. Jesus went to the cross faithful that he would live again. He need not hold power in the way his culture practiced it. His power came in his faithfulness to God, a weak power by most standards.
Louisiana College is merely another case in point. The college and the players involved are not the problem. They merely manifest the lack we all experience – a lack of trust manifest in the pursuit of power. My fear is that when we take up such patterns of power, we ourselves have become the masters of suspicion.