Censorship in the SBC?

It’s been amusing to read about events in the Southern Baptist Convention here lately. Amusing since I don’t have to be involved personally, politically, and more importantly, monetarily. This week, censorship is the issue (Well, I admit to censoring the SBC myself for several years). When Fundamentalists “won” the SBC in 1991, they became accountable for fixing everything they thought was wrong. Now that all the moderates have been exiled, there’s no one left to fight with but themselves. This is the nature of fundamentalism–A narrow, militant, angry spirit that naturally leads to divisions among the people. Now there’s talk of censorship of a sermon given at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) because the speaker challenged the International Mission Board’s policy on “private prayer language.”

Dwight McKissic, a graduate and newly appointed trustee of SWBTS, delivered a chapel message on August 29. McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church near Arlington, criticized a policy guideline that prevents missionaries who practice a “private prayer language” from being appointed. He himself admitted to having such a prayer practice and recalled several passages from the Bible that referred to speaking in tongues. In an unusual move, SWBTS President Dr. Paige Patterson ordered that McKissic’s sermon not be placed on their website after the chapel service. The seminary defended its position, saying seminary leaders “reserve the right not to disseminate openly views which we fear may be harmful to the churches.”

When Dr. Patterson was president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he had no trouble endorsing a paper written by professor Keith Eitel that was critical of IMB President Jerry Rankin’s leadership. The paper, written on seminary letterhead with a cover letter by Dr. Patterson, was circulated to all IMB trustees.

The new guard of SBC bloggers are having a field day, calling the action hypocritical.” It’s really amazing to me that there is anyone left who would challenge the leadership of the SBC on its behavior. But, there are those younger ministers who “knew not Joseph” (Pressler/Patterson) who feel free to voice their dissent on the blogs. Every now and then I’ll check one of those out to see what if anything new is going on. While not much has changed (or will) in the doctrinal climate, the SBC appears to have those emerging from the ranks who aren’t going to take this criticisms outside the scope of the 2000 BFM lying down. McKissic’s remarks do not go outside the boundaries of the 2000 BFM yet touch a nerve among many believers in the denomination. At least among those in authority at SWBTS.

What’s disturbing is not so much the policy of the IMB regarding private prayer language, even though one wonders how the Convention could monitor what is done in “private.” The noteworthy part is the actual censoring of a sermon by a SWBTS trustee who didn’t agree with IMB policy. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that younger Southern Baptists don’t realize that this sort of thing has been going on for decades. Now, they are finding out about it and speaking up. Censorship hasn’t worked, but only heightened the importance of the sermon.

It’s really fun to watch. Like a player who once played on a team but was traded, I still have a sentimental interest in the SBC. They didn’t want my skills, but I like to see how the team is doing. It doesn’t consume my time, fortunately, and I’m able to utilize my gifts through my new team. From the outside looking in, I can see how fundamentalism is continuing to eat away at what remains of the SBC. There has to be an enemy, and now the enemy appears to be those who are open to “speaking in tongues.” You can’t throw out the old inerrancy of the Bible argument, because many who hold this viewpoint are sympathetic to McKissic’s approach. The 2000 BFM doesn’t deal with the issue (yet). Trying to amend the BFM is this way might be the next showdown.

So, the enduring lesson from this ongoing comedy known as the SBC can be summarized by one phrase: it’s good to be free. Free as Christians. Free as Baptists. Open debate and disagreement of the issues should be a hallmark among Baptists rather than hindered. Censorship doesn’t help anything. Years ago, one of my dear Missions Professors offered his philosophy on church matters. He said, “Trust the Lord and tell the people.” I’ve always remembered that, and tried to live by it.

ABP 9/1/06 source

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