Young CBFers give Reckoning of Sherman’s remarks

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.



11 thoughts on “Young CBFers give Reckoning of Sherman’s remarks

  1. Two comments.

    First, my wife bought the book and I plan to read it for two reasons–I respect the contributions the man has made and I am grateful for him as a caregiver to his wife.

    Second, I would have felt better if the letter had been sent to Sherman and he had been give an opportunity meet with the writers before it was released to the press. Seems like there is something in scripture about the proper way to deal with a brother who has offended you and this is not it!

  2. I hear where you’re coming from.

    Sherman initiated the exchange when he addressed the question of younger CBFers from the platform. He didn’t have to say anything in reference to them at all. Sherman’s remarks were heard by those at the Assembly and reported around the world almost immediately. It became a sensation, and coming from the platform was viewed as representing the entire Assembly. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to speak up at the business session about it.

    It was an “open” letter, but I interpreted more as an effort to communicate immediately that not all CBFers share this opinion and rhetoric. Mike was one of those who signed the letter, I’d be curious how its formation came about. I share your admiration of the man for his personal and professional life.

  3. I don’t think Sherman meant to literally compare the holocaust to the struggle for control of the SBC. I got what his intended meaning was, though by now, you would think he’d have caught on and would be more careful with his public remarks.

    As to what Sherman, and other inner-circle moderate leaders “suffered” during their battles with SBC fundamentalists, it never extended to the threat of the loss of their livelihood. There are those in the trenches like Dan Martin and Al Shackelford at BP, who wound up sacking groceries to pay their bills. They sacrificed. Sherman, along with Ken Chafin and Daniel Vestal, while they were out there in front of the troops, all pastored large, prosperous congregations during the whole battle and were never in danger of being fired for their words or their convictions.

    Cecil Sherman was my pastor while I was in seminary. I’ll probably enjoy reading his autobiography as much as I enjoyed his preaching. But these seven letter writers are on target. It is time to give up the rhetoric.

  4. I regret that Dr. Sherman used that analogy because it was hurtful to others. However, as one of the “older” Baptist survivors of the “great fight”, I can tell you we suffered enormously for 6 months in a former church, where our Christianity was questioned because we chose to give our mission offering to CBF. After serving in that church for 30+ years, my husband was attacked repeatedly at deacon’s meetings. We were told we were “starving the missionaries”. We may not have bleed physically but it was an emotional and spiritual nightmare until we moved to another church in town. It took years before we recovered so I empathize with Dr. Sherman — who bore the brunt of the attacks from the SBC with compassion and grace. Let’s not dwell on the past but let’s not forget it either. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Instead, let’s be excited about what God has in store for CBF in future years, while honoring those who paved the way with their faithfulness, bravery, and integrity intact.

  5. Perhaps it was good to get stirred up a little bit about SHerman’s remarks regardless of how one feels about it. It comes at a good time as CBF is in a “discernment process.” We’ll see how it goes.

    Read your blog Tim, glad you can be part of the CBF movement and hope at some point your church can get on board.

  6. Thanks, Tim. I took the time to read your blog and it was excellent. For such a young Christian pastor, you have your head and heart in the right place. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a clear, compassionate way.

  7. June,

    Thank you so much. I had bookmarked this blog after I read Bro. Danny’s response to the letter. I check back about once a day. 🙂

    Tim Dahl

  8. I hope you will read Sherman’s book. Cecil earned his credibility early on in the 1960s when he did face losing his job on the subject of race. About half of the book is about his experiences as a pastor and not about the “controversy.”

    By the way, being pastor of a “big church” doesn’t necessarily make it easier to take a stand for one’s beliefs. We need more pastors who are willing to preach the whole gospel and encourage their congregations to think before they decide. “No guts, no glory.”

  9. Tim, is that your beautiful little baby? How precious!

    Pastor Danny has 3 young and remarkable children, also. We are so blessed to have him lead our free and faithful Baptist church.

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