A crushing blow to inerrancy in the SBC will likely come on June 1st. Since 1979 the accuracy and authority of the Scriptures under the rubric of inerrancy has provided access to the SBC Speakeasy. In a single action the Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission may re-constitute the standard bearing reference to the importance of ultimate truth among most Southern Baptists.
There are two separate articles that form the most recent news about the upcoming Trustee investigative report on charges against Dr. Land regarding racism and plagiarism due on June 1st. The former has been mitigated by an apology. The latter likely hangs not on what would happen were a student to plagiarize but on the politics of a person’s “body of work.” After all a student has not had the time to amass enough credit to avoid the hook when plagiarism is discovered.
The Baptist Press article describes the change in Trustee leadership. It seems that after leading the Trustees to thoroughly investigate Dr. Land on these important matters, the former Chairman, a retiree, stepped down. Thirteen days left on the Trustee report timetable and more than one month into the investigation, the pressing needs of a local church took precedence over SBC politics. Now that is newsworthy!
Pardon me if I come across as somewhat skeptical. But, less than two weeks from issuing the report and a retiree cannot manage duties as Trustee Chairman and be involved in his local church? When these sorts of reports come out I cannot help but frame them in the light of the SBC’s recent history, since 1979; and, to be fair, in years prior. I am thinking of a piece that would liken the factions in the SBC – at least former factions – to national politics. The Democrats held sway until 1979 and the Republicans have since. We have a strong move of Independents but they are largely treated the same way as in American politics, too radical.
Before you think I am impugning Steve Faith, my skepticism is directed at the system. I am all too happy Mr. Faith feels the needs of his local church rise above the needs of the ERLC. We pastors would like to see more of that sort of sentiment expressed rather than how we owe it to the SBC, CP, CR, or the GCR to give and do more institutionally.
One can only wonder what other influences came into play. Rick Patrick posted over at SBC Voices, Let’s Open It Early, wondering why the details of far-reaching decisions must remain sealed. I suspect there would be minutes from a meeting or two that would give greater insight into the tug-o-war over what to do with Dr. Land when the Trustees most assuredly know plagiarism occurred. What option will they choose? I am already on record questioning the need for such an entity. I still contend we would do well to ensure ethics is a part of Christian discipleship in our local churches, maybe even teach theology as ethics. Let’s put our money there. But alas, this is not a sexy move and likely would not fit the pragmatic measures of buildings, bucks and, . . . people. Or as Len Sweet has put it, “Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.”
Pastor Faith was in the meeting in Nashville out of which Dr. Land’s apology came. Who else was there? Has anyone reported on all the participants? If so, would you leave a link in the comments? I suspect we would (not) be surprised by at least some person or persons in the room.
Which brings us to a second article on the ERLC decision put out by The Tennessean. Bob Smeitana titled his piece, Richard Land’s future with Baptists may hinge on report. Maybe it should have read, The Credibility of the SBC May Hinge On Report. I still contend one of Dr. Land’s peers should have shunned personal preservation and called for Dr. Land to resign – and yes, include a “Thank You” for his years of service. The incident calls into question how we value our own words and the words of others. Here is where this decision intersects the SBC’s love affair with Inerrancy. An aside here, I really like the language of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message on the Scripture as “truth without any mixture of error.” I find N.T. Wright’s description of the authority of God in the Scriptures illuminated by the Holy Spirit to be as strong a statement as the speakeasy code word inerrancy.
Everyone may make a dumb mistake. But, in the article in The Tennessean, David Montoya notes Dr. Land’s habit extends to his time as professor at Criswell College. Left out of the report was that Montoya was Dr. Land’s grader. And, if the ERLC Trustees exercised due diligence in this matter they likely discovered others who experienced Dr. Land’s Xeroxed text notes. Some remain anonymous on the matter for fear of their own jobs. Others refuse to talk about it because the PR departments of their respective institutions prefer employees not get involved.
The lack evidenced in this imbroglio calls into question how a group like the SBC can hold to inerrancy and not maintain the very expectations demanded from students in their educational institutions. I have noted before and will again; this issue is larger than Dr. Land. What happens in this matter will tell us if we have reached a land beyond inerrancy. I am wondering if we have not been there for some time we just cannot see it.
UPDATE: EthicsDaily published, Institutions Consider Plagiarism Intellectual Theft, by Greg Horton. Quoting Bill Tillman,
“You know the basic derivation of plagiarism?” Tillman asked. “It’s originally an Anglo-Saxon word for kidnapping and more than implies a violent act against someone. The whole concept was made to order for an ethics professor to get students’ attention toward how we should relate to others, how much we should respect their words, and on and on.”