Elton Trueblood once said something like, “Baptist are as old Abraham. We have evidence of that when Abraham said to his nephew, “Lot, you go your way and I’ll go mine.” That reminds me of the TV and magazine ads of the 1960s by Tareyton cigarettes picturing a smoker with a black eye touting, “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!”
Baptist are known for quarreling and fighting. We are also known for being against social ills. In my first pastorate there hung a “Church Covenant” on the wall of our church in the auditorium that said in black and white lettering that we were against dancing, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.
Baptist don’t have winsome reputation in this world except among Baptist. Jesus had a reputation. The Pharisees had a reputation. Jesus’ reputation was that he loved the marginalized, powerless, and outcasts. The Pharisees were known for what they were against.
Yesterday I went to a denominational meeting in my home state and there were five resolutions put before the messengers of our state denomination. Three of the five were glorified “thank yous” for various acts of service by leadership in the last year. Two were resolutions that were against something. One was against women having the title of and any function of pastor in the local church. The other was against Critical Race Theory (CRT).
(I tried to amend the resolution but it failed and it wasn’t even close. My amendment was not in favor or against CRT. It was simply being FOR racial reconciliation.)
Thank yous (internal to our tribe) and what we are against (threats to our tribe). Why do we even do this anymore? Resolutions should be banned in all Baptist meetings. They set us up to be critical and divisive rather than loving and winsome to the very people we want to reach. Get rid of them, I say.
Why can’t we be a group of people who are FOR something? We are FOR the Gospel. We are FOR the dignity of all humanity for they are image bearers. We are FOR people of color because they matter to God. And if they matter to God, they should matter to us.
I am FOR women in the ministry, because they are gifted and called. And there is enough ambiguity in the Biblical text for different interpretations about this matter. Reputable scholars have valid and differing opinions about women in the ministry. I am for women pastors, but the church I adore, and pastor is not ready for that shift, and I’ll not lead her to do so. Good people can disagree agreeably.
My 84-year-old father told me that he remembered a time when a famous missionary to China, Bertha Smith, was asked to speak at a chapel service at Southwestern Theological Seminary. She had a flannel graph brought out and set on the stage beside her. Then she said, “Gentlemen, I am not supposed to speak to men unless you are boys.” Then she quoted verse in Matthew 18:33 that said, And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So, listen to me today as a boy, because I have something to say to you.”
Dad said she gave an altar call at the end of her “lesson” calling for repentance of sin and commitment to prayer. The altar was filled with broken and kneeling preachers.
Interestingly, the best speakers at our meeting yesterday were an African American man who was outside our tribe who spoke about racism. And close behind him was a fifth-grade schoolteacher who gave her endorsement of a new executive for our denomination. And yet the overwhelming passage of the two resolutions condemning CRT and women in ministry was like I was watching a train wreck and no matter what I tried, it couldn’t stop it.
I’ve said for years that children are wonderful at receiving information but terrible at interpreting information. They often can’t interpret dad’s surely mood as him having terrible day at the office, they interpret it as something is wrong with them—I must have done something to disappoint dad.
The conservative landscape in the church of my youth leaves us vulnerable to being misunderstood by people we are trying to reach with the Gospel of grace. I long for a time when we can unequivocally support women in ministry and open mindedly study why people of color are still being discriminated against in our culture, and stand with them in every way possible because they are the beautiful beloved of God.
I ache for us to follow Jesus in his love for those who feel overlooked or unwelcomed at the table of grace. For if the Gospel is not good news for everybody, it is not good news for anybody.
To quote the great theologian Michel Scott to my fellow Southern Baptists, “Why are you the way that you are? I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.” – Michael Scott to Toby Flenderson, (The Office 2.22)
I want to follow Jesus so closely that the dust from His sandals is all over my life.