I knew as soon as he said the words, it would make news. I was reminded of Alabama’s football coach Nick Saban comparing the shock and gravity of their loss to tiny University of Louisiana-Monroe to Pearl Harbor and 911. Cecil Sherman’s comparison of the SBC Controversy to the Holocaust drew immediate criticism from those outside and within the CBF community. Upon receiving an initial copy of his book about the Fundamentalist takeover from Smyth & Helwys, Sherman commented that some persons did not want to talk about the past. “Every once in a while, I meet someone of the younger generation who says ‘Don’t talk about that anymore,’ Sherman said. “Why don’t you ask a Jew not to talk about the Holocaust anymore? You need to remember the events that called us into being and be guided by them as you wisely chart your future.”
In response, a group of younger CBF leaders released an open letter lamenting Sherman’s association of the pain of the SBC takeover to the horror of the Holocaust. “You juxtaposed our relatively small amount of pain–where no one was injured or killed–to the 6 million killed in the Holocaust. In our opinion and the opinions of many others, your analogy was misguided.” The letter affirmed the need to recall our past but not necessarily be defined by it anymore. Apparently, young CBFers are tired of hearing about it and talking about it.
I’d make a few observations. First, I disagree with the statement that “no one was injured” by the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. No one was killed during those years of struggle, but hearing Sherman’s remarks made me realize once again how much pain and heartache he and others like him suffered. I can’t imagine how he was vilified during those formative years in the fight for the Convention. It’s hard to realize how important the SBC was 25 years ago to Sherman and other leaders like him. In some ways these men and women were “soldiers” in theological and political warfare. It seemed like there for a while that the SBC was more important than the church itself, and its influence in the evangelical world was tremendous. There was no alternative Baptist group viable and for many in the SBC saw themselves as “God’s last and only hope.” So, it is important to remember where the CBF came from and out of what turmoil it was given birth. A group “won” and another “lost” and thousands of Baptists became denominational exiles. That’s not something that can be forgotten, or should be.
Second, it’s unlikely that I will buy Sherman’s book simply because it’s a case of “been there, done that.” In my opinion, this “reckoning” is about ten years too late and doesn’t captivate my attention like the story did a decade ago. I’ve already read several accounts of the “Controversy” and don’t think paying $25 to buy another book about it is going to add a great deal to what I already know. This isn’t easy for me to say, especially knowing the signficance and place Sherman has within our CBF community. You can’t think of CBF without him, and I mean no disrespect in any way. Maybe if the book had been on sale during the 20th or 25th CBF Assembly (without the rhetoric) I would feel differently about the timing of its publication
Third, the CBF is going through a transition of leadership. Those ages 45 and under do not have the emotional scars of having their denominational home taken from them. I’m 43 and have experienced some degree of pain and sadness related to SBC life, but not nearly so as those older than me. I appreciate the sacrifice and faith who have been in this longer than I have been. I can relate to those my age and younger who do not have knowledge of the pre-CBF days and really don’t care too much about them. Many of us do not want to dwell on the past Baptist battles. We are more excited and interested in what the Holy Spirit is doing now and want to invest energies in a positive way. This truly is a time for discernment, as indicated by the last General Assembly. Younger, newer voices are being heard and will shape the direction of the CBF movement. I do wonder how the 1991 crowd feels about this development as this shift takes place.
Finally, I support the letter submitted by this group of younger CBFers. You can’t put the SBC controversy in the same league as the Holocaust, it is demeaning to Jews and the latter event. Sherman’s remarks do provide a glimpse of just how important the SBC was to his generation of pastors and church leaders, and we shouldn’t minimize that. But, he shouldn’t have made the comparision and in a way sounded condecending to those who don’t share his passion for CBF history and beginnings. We do owe a debt of gratitude to those Baptists who shaped our organization, but with an eye on what God is doing now through the CBF. No doubt the Controversy was a defining moment for Sherman and many others in the CBF organization, but we aren’t going to gain any more churches because of what happened in the early 1990s. Those churches and individuals who participate in CBF due to frustration with the SBC have for the most part already come over.
I hadn’t heard any derogatory remarks like this until a few days ago in Memphis. This rhetoric doesn’t play well anymore and I don’t care to hear anything like it again in future meetings.