Southern Baptists are convening; Will any Christians be with them?
06/11/2007, San Antonio Express-News
Nineteen years ago, this is how I described the bosses of the Southern Baptist Convention as the nation's largest Protestant denomination began its 1988 convention in San Antonio:
"Mostly male, mostly white, self-styled 'anointed ones' who control the SBC and who by the force of their egocentric personalities and the threat of eternal damnation to anyone who opposes them rule and reign as surely — and at times as ruthlessly — as any religious cabal of the Middle Ages."
That was one of my nicer descriptions as I prepared the residents of San Antonio for the Baptist invasion.
In 1988, the religious right's crusade to dominate SBC boards, agencies and seminaries was a decade old. The denomination's fundamentalists were on the brink of a complete takeover of the convention. And as a lifelong Southern Baptist, I was ticked off about everything from their pompous attitude to their no-holds-barred tactics.
But that was a long time ago.
Today, the takeover is in the distant past. SBC institutions have been in fundamentalists' hands for nearly two decades. And this year's gathering of mostly male, mostly white, self-styled anointed ones is expected to be, in sum, a yawner.
That's not good for newspaper columnists, who prefer fodder for comments like this:
"Southern Baptists float from city to city, cutting off ears, punching noses, cracking spines and giving a huge black eye to the Christian faith while proclaiming that God is love."
"If the SBC were the Mafia, resolution of the ongoing war would be easier — and more humane. One half would rub out the other half and get on with the rest of their lives."
"The war in the SBC is simply a Big Preacher Fight — an internecine battle to see who gets to be the Top Dogs, the Head Honchos, the Distributor of the Religious Spoils."
And this June 1988 snail-mail exchange that began when a Kerrville critic took exception to my jabs at the SBC conventioneers:
Critic: "You owe every Christian who read your column of June 14 a sincere apology!"
Columnist: "Sorry, brother, but you must have me confused with some other writer. On June 14, I wrote about Baptists."
Nineteen years later, I'm writing about the same Baptists.
But they are no longer battling.
And neither am I.
In 1988, I still had close friends who worked at SBC agencies and seminaries. (I grew to admire, respect and love them while editing an SBC magazine from 1964 to 1970.)
Within a few years of the fundamentalist takeover, they were, to a person, expunged from the convention.
Some have died. I have lost touch with others. And the ones with whom I've maintained contact have moved on — in most cases, to spiritually better things.
In 1988, my parents — Bible-believing, Sunday-school-teaching conservatives who despised the self-righteousness of the fundamentalists — were emotionally involved in and distraught about the denominational conflict. But they have passed on to that Great Peace Conference in the Sky, and the matter hasn't been mentioned in family gatherings in years.
In 1988, I still thought the matter of who bosses a denomination was important.
Today, I realize the term "denominational boss" is antithetical to "spiritual leader."
So this time around, I won't be wasting time, energy or emotion on San Antonio's Baptist guests. And if I speak to one of them at all, I will simply ask:
1. Have you sold all you have and given the proceeds to the poor?
2. What is the percentage of minorities (a) in your community and (b) in your church?
3. When was the last time you emptied a bedpan?
At the end of the Q. and A., I will know whether or not I'm speaking to a Christian.
To contact Roddy Stinson, call 250-3155 or e-mail email@example.com.