Jerry Nash has put a burr under a lot of saddles. The Director of Missions (an endangered species in the new Southern Baptist Convention) of the Harmony Baptist Association in Trenton, Florida, Dr. Nash wrote an opinion piece entitled, “Hold the Hearse, I Have An Idea!” In his relatively short, five-paragraph post published at SBCToday on May 9, 2011, Dr. Nash uses strong language to express displeasure at what he sees as radical changes taking place within the SBC, changes that he believes will lead to the destruction of the nation’s largest Protestant body.
It did not take long for those with differing views from Nash to join the fray. Since Nash’s original post was published, Dave Miller at SBCVoices, a prominent site for Southern Baptist news and opinion, wrote a post challenging Dr. Nash’s arguments. Dave believes that Nash’s article “demonstrates to me a spirit of arrogance, exclusion and anger that is causing the splintering of the SBC.” Perhaps he is right about what Dr. Nash’s post demonstrates, but the spirit of arrogance, exclusion, and anger that is leading to the splintering of the Southern Baptist Convention has been on full display for the last two years, coming mainly from those who are in much more prominent positions of power within the SBC.
Even though Dave Miller disagrees with much of what Nash wrote, he nevertheless believes Dr. Nash’s “viewpoint should be heard and respected.” Furthermore, Dave believes that
“Nash has a valid viewpoint. He has every right to advocate that viewpoint. But he has no right to demand that everyone else agree with him and his viewpoint or leave the SBC.”
I appreciate that Dave Miller, even while voicing his own opposition to Dr. Nash, still believes Dr. Nash should have the right to advocate for his valid viewpoint. He even offered Dr. Nash the opportunity to write a response to be published at Voices. As a regular contributor to SBCVoices, where Dave serves as my editor, I know firsthand that he has published some of my strongly worded opinion pieces (which he disagrees with from time to time) in which I argue clearly and forcefully against the GCR, the new NAMB, and radical redefinition of the SBC.
In juxtaposition to Dave Miller, there are others who would like to see voices like Jerry Nash’s chilled. I am not going to defend all that Dr. Nash wrote or the tone of his article, but I will defend his right to share his opinion and the right of SBCToday (or any other blog for that matter) to publish Dr. Nash. When conservative bloggers — who should be the premier defenders of free speech — not only disagree with speech, but actually begin to question whether certain speech has gone too far, then Houston, we have a problem.
In another opinion piece published at Voices on May 16, this time written by Micah Fries, the question in the post’s title gives away the answer: “When is too much?” When a post about freedom of speech begins with a question like this, you know that free speech will be defended — at least until you get to the “but”:
“One of the best, and worst, aspects of being a Southern Baptist is our firmly held belief that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Absolutely everyone should have a platform to share that opinion. The fact that I can write what I’m about to write and publish it on this blog is evidence of that reality. In fact, our polity allows us a unique position among other ecclesiastical bodies that make up the American evangelical landscape. This freedom gives us the confidence of always knowing that our voice can be heard, but I wonder if there are times when we take this freedom too far?” (emphasis added)
Who gets to determine “when is too much?” Who becomes the final arbiter of who has crossed a line and who hasn’t? Is it determined on what we believe and whether or not we agree with the other side? Is it based on the tone of the article, on its content, or both? Do we apply the rules consistently or do we give a pass to those who are our political friends while castigating our political enemies?
While Micah and others may say that they are “honestly grateful that he (Nash) has the freedom to voice that opinion,” I am at a loss as to how attacking New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and their “partnership” with SBCToday truly supports that supposed freedom of expression.
SBCToday, which has been a popular and well-read blog, has recently been revamped with assistance from some folks associated with NOBTS. Apparently this new partnership sparked some thoughts regarding CP dollars being used by NOBTS to fund the new SBCToday. Other concerns that were raised had to do with what some view as an unethical and unhealthy relationship between SBCToday and NOBTS that is causing division within the Convention because of publishing articles like Dr. Nash’s.
There’s just one problem with the concerns that were sparked — SBCToday is not funded by CP funds from NOBTS. There is no ethical violations in this “partnership” between some associated with the seminary and the new SBCToday. To imply that Dr. Lemke (not named specifically) and others at NOBTS are somehow misusing CP funds to support SBCToday, is simply not true:
“To be clear, SBC Today is not owned by the Baptist Center or New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) or any of the churches involved, is not a publication of the Baptist Center or NOBTS (or any of the churches involved), and does not necessarily express the views of the Baptist Center or NOBTS (or any of the churches involved). SBC Today is privately owned, is supported by private donations, and its content is guided by an editorial board of contributing editors.” (here)
What is true, however, is that there is at least one seminary — Southeastern — which has its own blog, Between the Times. Prominently displayed on its homepage, above the “Follow Us on Twitter,” is this bit of information:
Sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Unlike SBCToday, it would appear that BtT is very much a part of SEBTS. I do not know if CP funds are used to operate this group blog, but it would be interesting to know. In any event, a blog sponsored by one of the SBC’s six seminaries has managed to use some pretty interesting language directed at certain constituencies within the SBC.
From Dr. Akin’s original “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence,” (published at BtT on April 16, 2009) where he implied that State Conventions were wasting money on “bloated and inefficient bureaucracies” to Dr. Ed Stetzer’s piece critical of traditional Southern Baptists who felt marginalized (i.e., Brad Whitt and others, although not specifically named by Stetzer, but interpreted to mean Whitt by SEBTS Professor, Dr. Nathan Finn), SEBTS has been ground zero for the GCR and the radical redefintion of the SBC.
Now, here’s the thing. I think that the best way to arrive at a conclusion is through an exchange of ideas. More ideas are better than less ideas. Even ideas which may not be expressed in a way that would be pleasing to all concerned are better than less ideas. I really do not care whether SEBTS or any other seminary sponsors a blog and uses CP money to fund the enterprise. Go for it. Let the marketplace of ideas within the larger SBC determine which ideas are good and worthy of acceptance and which are bad and need to be rejected.
If we want to open the door to critiquing NOBTS for supposedly using CP funds for SBCToday — which they have not — then we better be prepared to level the same criticism at SEBTS — which actually sponsors a blog that has published articles that some Southern Baptists might find objectionable. Instead, let’s keep the door open to debate and dialogue, even that which is strongly worded and with which we may not always agree. In the end, whether in our country or Convention, free speech should never be chilled!