Only Everyone Else (In the SBC) Should Turn the Other Cheek

Not once when watching a cartoon bullfight did the animators expose the truth of the event. It wasn’t a fair fight. At least it wasn’t when I went to my first and only bullfight in Madrid in about 2003. 

Sitting in the open air coliseum, maybe half full, the first bull came out to challenge the young fighter. From the stands, it was hard to tell what the bull was wearing. And then someone explained, those are swords. What?! Where is the sport in that?

That year the Baptist World Alliance met in Madrid. 

More than twenty years had passed after the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

A dozen years had gone by since the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

How Did We Get Here

Joyce Shelby served on the Nominating Committee of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. She has been a long time family friend, now some 40 years. My mother worked with her at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in the late 1980’s. Joyce served as Minister of Education. My mother worked in the office doing the printing. She also served as an Interim Youth Minister and was the Director of Youth Sunday School for about ten years. Between the three churches in which my parents have been members, she has been part youth ministry in one form or another for more than 50 years. 

After I came to Snow Hill in 1994, Joyce called to ask if I would mind being nominated to serve as a Trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I felt it both an honor to be asked and an opportunity to serve my alma mater. 

I never heard back.

Then to my surprise, I learned I had been elected to serve on the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance representing the Southern Baptist Convention. A manila envelope arrived from the Executive Committee outlining the next five years of meetings and their locations. 

My first trip out of the Country, ever, was to Hong Kong. There I learned how it is that I ended up traveling out of the Country rather than down I-35. On an elevator ride, Morris Chapman recognized I was new to the SBC delegation. He told me how it is I was selected. The Constitution and By-laws of the BWA allowed for additional representation if a member body elected a youth person, considered under 35. Other provisions allowed more voting members if a minority and a woman were also selected.

The Conservative Resurgence of the SBC was fueled by the appointive powers of the President of the Convention. Influence in the BWA would come with stacking the votes on the General Council of the BWA. If the narrative worked that the SBC was unmoored and in danger of leftward drift, wouldn’t it work to dictate the direction of the BWA using the same story?

It didn’t.

You Don’t Know What They Did to Some of Us

I was elected to a second term during which these events took place. It was also during that last term that the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew participation from the BWA (2004). It was Dr. Patterson that stated the position of the SBC,

We have noted, with sorrow in our hearts, a continual leftward drift in the BWA,” Paige Patterson told messengers during the Executive Committee’s report at SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The Baptist Press article includes,

The SBC study committee noted in recent years the BWA’s increasingly anti-American stances, tolerance of liberal theology and disregard for its own procedures in accepting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a member in 2003.

The year before Madrid I met pastor JD Greear. We were in South Africa. By now I no longer qualified as the youth member. That would be JD. To this day I am grateful for the hospitality afforded by JD and his wife while in Madrid. Over time I came to know Tony Cupit and others with the BWA as well as other members of the General Council.

My first year learning the BWA ropes came as I roomed with Dr. James Leo Garrett, a professor at Southwestern. My experience was indeed Baptist. There were no conversations, as I recall, with any of the leaders of the SBC who attended either as institutional representatives or proxies for those who could not make the meeting. I was on my own.

That is, until Madrid.

Recalling that conversation all these years later, in light of recent events, may prove to be a cautionary tale.

Late one evening after meetings, JD and I were heading out to find something to eat. The hotel restaurant had closed. We passed Dr. Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler seated at a table in the lobby. We had just exited the hotel when we heard Judge Pressler calling out to us to return to their table. It quickly became apparent we were being vetted and tested. I confess at that point to being quite intimidated. Here we were with the President of the Convention and Southwestern Seminary and his well-noted ally in the Conservative Resurgence.

I had met other Presidents of the SBC at BWA events. I met Tom Elliff in Vancouver. My wife and I sat in front of he and Morris Chapman during a meeting. He and my late uncle served Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK in the 1970’s. He seemed non-plussed that I was Bill’s nephew. I met Jim Henry when he was President. The elevator is a good place to meet. He was very friendly. I don’t recall meeting other SBC Presidents. But here I was sitting at a table with the designated heroes of the Conservative Resurgence.

The vote regarding the admission of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship would take place the next morning. We were asked what we thought about the CBF matter. They wanted to know how we would vote. JD knew Dr. Patterson. He knew Judge Pressler. I knew neither. While we were talking Dr. Jimmy Draper came down to relay some information. He reported the number of CBF churches, members and money were down. Speculation was they would be little more than an innocuous group sooner than later. The fear was CBF admission to the BWA would be perceived as legitimizing the group and provide a shot in the arm to what was determined a declining body.

Today I am reminded of that bull. The bullfighter had an unfair advantage. His opponent was already wounded.

I do not recall what JD said. 

I do recall my reply. “If what Dr. Draper reports, that the CBF is in free-fall, why vote to decline admission and provide fodder for adversaries? If they are going to die, why not let them? Let’s move on.”

Judge Pressler looked at me and said, “Todd, you don’t know what they have done to some of us.

I reported that I would not be in attendance for the vote. My plane would be leaving in the morning. 

“Could we have your proxy?” 

What could I say? There I was a nearly 40-year old pastor. I felt like I could not protest. I was merely in their aura, in no way under their authority, yet all that was available to me – given the dynamics of the situation – was, “Sure.”

I left knowing I would have voted different had I stayed. 

That was my last BWA.

That bull died.

I never want to watch a bullfight again. Ever.

Not #MeToo But Me Too

Reflecting on that conversation fifteen years ago called to mind those feelings of intimidation. Across the table sat the embodiment of SBC power. As a young preacher boy, I thought Dr. Criswell hung the proverbial moon. First Dallas was Mount Olympus. On that day Dr. Patterson loomed larger.

Just days ago I spent almost an hour listening to a young lady still in therapy over her experience as a young woman who graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Panic attacks became her norm. The climate at the Seminary was so corrosive she said that she had to take leave. The scars remain. Her wounds are deep. She does not attend church.

My feelings of intimidation pale in comparison to what this young lady described. I cannot say #MeToo, only Me Too. My experience does not belong under the same hashtag. Not even close.

When I read, nearly all men, wonder how it is young ladies in their 20’s did not report alleged rape, how someone did not rebuff Dr. Patterson’s advice to stay with an abuser, or sat idly, maybe laughing, while in poor taste an illustration is told and retold about the eye-pleasing body a young teenager, I think about men.

Yes. I wonder how it is that Trustees at SWBTS who have known there is a lack of fiscal restraint did not step in. I still cannot fathom that the two Presidents prior were shamed and fired in part for a decline in enrollment; a situation much worse today. What changed when the news broke of the poor advice given an abuse victim prompted some of these leaders to break their silence, daring to challenge one of the architects of the movement?

But I know. 

I think you know.

We have all sat at the table with power paralyzed in the moment. Shaming young ladies is to re-victimize them again. For women to leak personal information about Ms. Lively is an abuse of power in a different direction. Remember, women have been involved in getting the information out.

These stories being told are met with suspicion, even derision. Dr. Patterson is given more than the benefit in the face of more than just one story. These young ladies have become players in someone’s sordid conspiracy theory.

Turn the other cheek.

“But, you don’t know what they have done to some of us.”

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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.

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