We must be nearing the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. A kerfuffle broke out.
Planners of the Annual SBC Pastor’s Conference invited Dr. Ben Carson to close the Sunday evening session. All of this before indications emerged that Carson would run for President of the United States.
Why Invite Dr. Ben Carson?
Wiley Rice wrote a piece to announce Dr. Carson would not, in fact, speak at this year’s event due to rising criticism. In the note he outlined his initial interest to offer the invitation.
I considered it a great honor months ago to invite Dr. Ben Carson to address our Pastors’ Conference. I asked him to speak as a national leader on issues of pressing importance. Dr. Carson is a great American hero and a man who boldly and publicly professes his faith in Christ. Those closest to him, including several Southern Baptists, know him to be a man of unimpeachable character and deep faith.
I invited Dr. Carson knowing that, he has not only been a consistent courageous voice on the national scene, but he has also been a frequent and welcomed guest among evangelicals. He has spoken at the National Prayer Breakfast twice (the only other person to do so was Billy Graham); he was a frequent guest of James Dobson; he has spoken at several Southern Baptist churches for major events. He loves Southern Baptists and considers them friends. I believe most Southern Baptists equally respect and appreciate him.
Baptists21 sponsors an event over a box lunch during the SBC Annual Meeting. Since that first event in 2007, it has played to a packed room. I attended the event in New Orleans. Sandwiched like sardines, we all eschewed better food at local restaurants to hear a panel discussion. Since its inception it has been a popular side show to the Annual Meeting, attracting many young Southern Baptists.
A post appeared at the Baptist21 blog outlining the concerns/criticisms of the selection of Carson to speak at this year’s Pastor’s Conference. The young fellows over at Baptist21 categorized their objections as theological, missiological, generational, and gospel. The concluding note offers,
Our desire in raising these concerns is to start a conversation regarding the purpose of our annual gathering, and why our affiliations matter, as we advance the Great Commission in America. Our suggestion is that we believe it would be prudent for future SBC leaders to stop inviting politicians to our meetings. Period. We are all actively involved in the political process, and we pray for and submit to our elected officials, but we need to keep a prophetic voice with both parties. Inviting affiliated politicians to our religious gatherings cannot help but mute our voice in this culture.
And of course,
Pressing issues like this will be discussed at the Baptist21 panel in Columbus. Make sure you don’t miss out on the conversation.
The line that immediately struck me was this one,
. . . but we need to keep a prophetic voice with both parties.
That is we in the SBC, Southern Baptist Convention.
Prophetic or Protection?
I really do not care about the kerfuffle. I do care about the notion the SBC is prophetic. In fact, I am inclined to object.
The first year, 2006, current SBC President Ronnie Floyd ran for the office, the convention was treated to Condoleezza Rice. The following year President G.W. Bush spoke to the SBC. The boys at Baptists21 rightly point out that the SBC has a long history of appearing to be in bed with the Republican Party. The SBC’s capitulation to the late Jerry Falwell’s vision for the SBC required the political move so we could be in the majority of moralists.
Maybe some of these young fellows were not around at the time. Likely when they have heard the story it is the one written by the victors. The danger for the victor is they often move from the prophetic to the center. Or, in the Orwellian sense, they move from the barnyard to the dining room table.
I have a couple of thoughts about the concerns/criticisms of those over at Baptist21.
What Baptist21 Gets Right
To be prophetic, the SBC does not need, or ever needed, the sense of legitimation that comes with hosting high profile politicians. The action actually subverts the aim. On this, the Baptist 21 fellows are dead on. They are also right to note that there are a variety of ways to be involved in the political process and we should all participate as we feel most effective.
It should be remembered that abstaining in some forms of the political process is in fact to participate.
One of these days when you are bored, look up one of your SBC friends on Facebook or read their blog. Follow the comments and you may be sure to find some of the strongest opinions on political matters. Today a friend faced Christian un-Christian criticism and had to block a fellow Southern Baptist. This may happen every day.
What Baptists21 May Need to Re-think, even Read
Alignment with the center means a loss of the prophetic. It is here that I found the criticism almost laughable were it not the fact these young men likely have not read David Fitch‘s, The End of Evangelicalism. And, if they have not then they surely have missed the adaptation of Zizek’s metaphor of caffeine free diet Coke. There is as narrow a band for what fits in their categories of criticism that would almost surely disallow the prophetic. What is most often accepted is confirmation bias.
My own adaptation of Fitch of Zizek would go something like this. The claim to value the prophetic is ruptured when the guests for the panel at Baptist21 events come from the center of SBC Life, from the structures and halls of power. Look back over the history of the event. Note the panelists. How many repeat? In fact, Alan Cross may be right in a comment he left on the discussion of this kerfuffle. He posits,
As much as I love Voices, it was B21, which provides the forum for Mohler and Akin to address the SBC each year on the state of the SBC over lunch. Once B21 wrote about it, many from the Southern and SEBTS communities joined in.
So, with B21 writing about it and others like Denny Burk speaking to it, you had an assumption that the establishment was now against it. That might not be true. It might be that Jonathan Akin all by himself had the thought yesterday morning for a blog topic. But, the perception would be that this was an SBC hierarchy position and it likely caused Willy Rice to reconsider. But, who knows? I am just observing as I have for the past decade or so.
The stated desire is for a prophetic SBC. Is there a rupture that reveals the empty nature of the claim? Is there such an event that exposes something else at work here? I think so.
Who is on the panel at Baptist21 this year? It has been a small band of fellows on the panel of this event. They represent the center of the SBC. As such, the criticism is really an illustration of protecting the center more than an interest in the prophetic.
The problem with the prophetic is that you will not draw a crowd. Offer a box lunch to those desiring access to the center and those attending will ignore better local fare. Provide attendees with locusts and honey and you may be sure there will be plenty of helpings for those who show up, if they show up at all.
Prophets do not take up the center.
To become prophetic, ask questions, raise concerns about the center and know for sure, you would get ostracized. It would surely end your dreams of ever reaching the center. But, when you have already arrived at the center, there is nothing for which to reach. Effectively, once at the center, it is a matter of maintaining the position, protecting turf.
Do not misunderstand me. I like the young fellows at Baptist21. I do not know them, but I like them. They are eager and interested in the Gospel and their context in our world today. But, if the SBC will ever recover a prophetic voice, it will need to look outside the center for those voices. And, that would mean those who made the center after a long tireless journey would have to let go.
I will let you decide as to that possibility.
Image Credit- Carson
Image Credit – Baptist21
Image Credit – Four Legs