Monday, August 11, 2008

Unity or Integrity?

A week ago, David Gushee wrote an essay bemoaning the absence of Southern Baptists from the Baptist World Alliance. He chided "a generation of wounded "exes" for "their public airing of the hurt and anger that resulted from the SBC controversy" and called on "wounded ex-Southern Baptists to renounce SBC bashing, and to seek the Spirit's power to forgive."

What David Gushee doesn't realize is that forgiving Southern Baptists for leaving the Baptist World Alliance is relatively easy for many of us. We are constantly praying "father forgive them, they know not what they do." We don't seek the Spirit's power to forgive them, we seek it to forgive the myopia of those, like Gushee, who insist that unity is more important to Baptists than moral integrity.

Southern Baptist churches are full of people who know that the fundamentalists controlling their Convention have treated God's servants unjustly, have infused secular politics within their churches, and have shattered world peace by championing unjust, preventive wars. Like Gushee, they think unity is more important than integrity. They are quick to forgive unrepentant offenders for injuries caused to others and tireless in their efforts to silence the outcry and protest of those who are injured. For nearly forty years now, their self-righteous piety has been like a glove protecting and concealing the brass-knuckled fist of the neighborhood bully who takes delight in beating senseless anyone who gets in his way.

Unity on Southern Baptist terms, and those are the only terms by which unity can be achieved, is the last thing that the world needs today. Southern Baptists have completely undermined the integrity of the Baptist witness in the eyes of the world.

More than anything else, the world needs to hear that all Baptists are not like Southern Baptists. They need to know that all Baptists are not champions for a violent clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations. They need to know that all Baptists are not advocates for unjust, pre-emptive wars. They need to know that all Baptists do not condone torture and brutal interrogations. They need to know that all Baptists do not support secret renditions and indefinite imprisonment without opportunity for adjudication. They need to know that some Baptists put their loyalty to Christ and his Kingdom high above any patriotic allegiance to their flawed and fallible nations.

Today, there is no way to maintain moral integrity as a Baptist without distinguishing yourself from Southern Baptists. That may look like "SBC bashing" to some. To others, it looks like an apology to the world on behalf of Baptists and a call for all Christians to repent.


matthew61 said...

Good job Bruce. Unity, while a noble goal, can be difficult when the cost of unity is so high.

Glenn Jonas said...

That is so well-said!

Bill Jones said...

Many Baptist voices today are urging that moderate Baptists, such as those of us in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, "move back closer to" or "work with" the SBC leadership. Their call is akin to the call for "unity" to which you refer, Bruce. But one cannot "work with" the Southern Baptists without yielding to their control.

Why did the SBC withdraw from the BWA? Because it couldn't control the BWA! Why did the SBC withdraw funding from the Baptist Joint Committee? Because it couldn't control James Dunn, Brent Walker, Holly Hollman, et al!

The SBC does not seek to cooperate with anyone - it seeks only to control. The kind of unity sought by the New Baptist Covenant is worthy - a unity that acknowledges and respects one another's differences while working together in the far more important areas in which we find agreement.

However, that is far different than the kind of unity that requires one side to bend its knee to the other - the only kind of "unity" that the SBC will countenance.

Thanks, Bruce, for your forthrightness, your integrity, and your uncompromising defense of our Baptist heritage.

David Gushee said...

Bruce, you misunderstand me. I lamented the SBC absence at BWA because such a breach with the global Baptist community is in fact lamentable at a theological level. I named the tensions that the particular SBC posture at those meetings once created. I noted visible expressions of anger at the SBC from a few Americans, even when the SBC was not at the meeting and not under discussion. This struck me as not terribly constructive. But I am not calling for unity at the price of integrity. My own work on issues such as torture, and the attacks I have received for that work from some in the SBC, offers plenty of evidence of my own commitments in this regard.
Writing is dangerous. No matter how one works to write texts so that misunderstanding is impossible, misunderstanding is always possible. This is very sad.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Texts have an autonomy that is all their own.

It's hard to communicate the full context for what we write.

I'm sorry if I misunderstood what you wrote, but I'll stand by what I wrote about preferring moral integrity to denominational or theological unity.