When the Southern Baptist Convention began the process of defunding the Baptist World Alliance and bore false witness against it, some Southern Baptists, who claimed to support the BWA, were publicly silent. They dared not challenge openly, if at all, the fundamentalist leadership. They engaged in collusion with wrongdoing, and that helped the SBC’s abandonment of the Baptist global commons.
Some of those same folk now express grief that the SBC isn’t part of the BWA. Wanting the SBC to rejoin the BWA, they have the gall to blame the so-called angry, former Southern Baptist moderates, who are near retirement, for being a stumbling block to a reunited Baptist family. They have apparently forgotten what happened only four short years ago.
Moral amnesia is never a virtue. It’s always a prerequisite to a weak view of human sinfulness and a wrongful social analysis, which cripples constructive reformation. Moral forgetfulness enables one to erase one’s own complicity in the failure to show courage and do the right thing.
Those who have forgotten what the SBC did would do well to remember what transpired. Those who do not know the story would do well to hear the truth, rather than to blame older leaders of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Those who engage in revisionism need to be challenged for advancing falsehood.
Only a few days before Christmas 2003, an SBC committee recommended that denomination withdraw from and defund the BWA in 2004.
The SBC committee report charged that
“The prominence of a number of European and North American conventions has resulted in an increasing influence of positions contrary to the New Testament and to Baptist doctrines.
“A decided anti-American tone has emerged in recent years.”
“Continued emphasis on women as pastors, frequent criticisms of the International Mission Board of Southern Baptists, refusal to allow open discussion of issues such as abortion, and the funding of questionable enterprises through Baptist World Aid provide just a surface sampling of what has transpired in recent years.”
A Southern Baptist pastor was “rudely treated by a significant number of BWA participants” at a July 2003 meeting.
Denton Lotz, BWA’s general secretary, called the report a “tragic decision” and compared the accusations of liberalism to “a form of McCarthyism.”
When the withdrawal recommendation came before the annual meeting of the SBC, its leaders leveled a new charge at the BWA, that of being tolerant of homosexual marriage.
“We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for gay marriage is on, to be in alliance with denominations that support in any form or fashion gay marriage,” said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What you give your money and name to, you give tacit approval to.”
Patterson named the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., in his broadside.
Tony Cupit, BWA’s director of evangelism and education, said that it was “unchristian and unfair” to inject homosexuality into the discussion without allowing the accused a chance to respond.
“Dr. Patterson’s statement is completely outrageous,” said Roy Medley, general secretary of the ABC/USA. “Nowhere, in any of our conversations with the BWA, has such an excuse ever been given.”
Medley said the SBC’s action was in response to the BWA’s decision to accept CBF into membership. “That is when the issue arose, and is the substance of their action, though they have consistently sought to cover it with patently untrue excuses, such as that the BWA is anti-American,” Medley said.
In summary, the SBC withdrew from and defunded the BWA with a number of spurious charges. The SBC disengaged because it couldn’t control the BWA, forcing it into its own fundamentalist image and extremist political ideology. SBC leaders opposed global Baptists’ commitment to the forgiveness of third world debt, opposition to the war in Iraq, support for women in ministry, respect for indigenous Baptist leaders and devotion to scholarship.
Yet during these tumultuous months, BWA leaders turned over every stone in an effort to keep the SBC from leaving. Nonetheless, the SBC stumped away.
SBC leaders have given no concrete evidence of repentance for their false accusations and no tangible proof that they want to work with global Baptists as respectful partners.
Even so, some finger the aging SBC moderates as those who should repent for alleged SBC bashing, which apparently in the minds of some is what keeps the SBC from rejoining the BWA.
That is moral rubbish.
Free from domineering fundamentalism, the BWA is a stronger, healthier organization today than it has been in years, one that can engage in constructive dialogue and interface with the 21st century realities.
This year in Prague global Baptists spoke openly about more inclusive leadership, dialogue with Muslims, the status of Baptists in the West Bank, the situation of the Roma people, global climate change and a host of other timely and touchy topics. That would not have been possible with the SBC in the room.
My 2008 experience differed sharply from my 1997 experience in Vancouver, when SBC fundamentalists acted as bullies and weak-kneed Southern Baptist state convention leaders and professors buddied up to the bullies.
We need to remember the past truthfully and move forward gratefully.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.