I’m Shocked, Shocked at the Politics in the SBC!

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
[aloud]
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!  (Casablanca, 1942)

Just as Captain Renault, in the 1942 classic, Casablanca, was not truly shocked that gambling was going on in Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) establishment, neither should it come as a shock to anyone that politics is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Such has been the case since the SBC’s founding in 1845 and such will be the case until the Convention’s demise.  Such is life.  As a political science major in college, former attorney, and student of politics, religion, and culture, I have an appreciation for the art of politics.  At its best, it is persuading people to your cause or vision.  At its worst, it is abusing process or power (or both) to accomplish through force what you cannot achieve through persuasion and compromise.

Of course, what one sees as persuasion another can see as abuse.  Our perspectives are usually skewed by our own biases and prejudices.  We would be less than honest if we said that we always look at the political process from a purely objective point of view.  That’s true whether we are evaluating the tug-of-war between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich or debating the battle shaping up between the ruling elites and the grassroots within the nation’s largest Protestant body.

Politics can be both a noble calling and a dirty business.  Politics can be about serving the needs of your constituency or feeding the needs of your own ego.  Look to Ronald Reagan for an example of the first and Newt Gingrich for an example of the second.

Which brings me back to the politics that are going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.  To deny the reality of politics — even of the hardball variety — would be naive at best and willfully blind at worst.  Of course, those who play hardball always want the other side to “play nice.”  That usually means taking off your helmet and waiting silently to be hit by the high fast ball to the chin.  We have seen that strategy work magnificently far too often in the secular world of politics when one party (usually Democrats) wants the other party (usually Republicans) to be more “bi-partisan.”  In our current state of politics, that’s just code for “stand down, shut up, and give in to our every demand.”  And, that’s not confined to just Washington, D.C.  It has become the rallying cry for the establishment within the SBC.

If I did not know any better, I would think that the powers-that-be within the Southern Baptist Convention have borrowed President Obama’s playbook (although that playbook may not lead to another win).  From calling for transparency and doing the opposite to appointing unofficial committees (think Obama’s Czars) to advocating for immigration reform (read, “amnesty”), those in leadership within the SBC have used the art of politics to leverage some fairly big wins.  And, why not.  Those who have the gold make the rules.  The ends justify the means.  All’s fair in love and war.  To the victor go the spoils.

While Christians can understand the political gamesmanship that takes place in the halls of government, many Christians simply cannot fathom that this same gamesmanship takes place within religious institutions.  Even when compelling evidence of political maneuvering is presented, many of my fellow Southern Baptists will simply dismiss it (either because of the messenger or the message or both).  I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt and for extending grace in less-than-clear situations, but that does not mean abandoning common sense, reason, and wisdom.

It’s far past time for grassroots Southern Baptists to use politics — the art of persuasion — to make a compelling case for a Convention based upon a bottom-up, cooperative model of missions and ministry.  The establishment, to their credit, has used (and in some cases, abused) the political process to accomplish their goals and to implement their top-down, societal model of missions and ministry.  What happens in New Orleans will determine the future of the Southern Baptist Convention as we know it.  Don’t be shocked at the raw political power that will be exerted to push forward the establishment agenda (just as it was with the GCR, so will it be with the Name Change).

Just remember — politics isn’t always a dirty word.  After all, the Conservative Resurgence was won because politics was used to persuade the grassroots that a change of direction was needed.  That’s something that this generation of leaders has somehow forgotten.  And, that’s why, no matter how the establishment tries to spin it, the GCR and the Name Change will never be the legitimate descendants of the CR.  Stand down.  I think not!

 

3 comments for “I’m Shocked, Shocked at the Politics in the SBC!

  1. February 2, 2012 at 8:11 AM

     

    Howell,

    Thanks for the post. I’ve missed your perspectives.

    I mentioned on another post the idea of politics in the SBC. The context was SBC Voices present post by Dave Miller wherein he seems to assign all dissent—concerns with aggressive Calvinism, concerns with name change, concerns with Wright’s back-door ‘task force’—to the ash heap of conspiracy theories. It doesn’t seem to dawn on him that observing unhealthy politics or even healthy politics as you rightly remind us remains fodder to suggest people are proposing conspiracy theories. For me, this makes little if any sense.

    I’ve hoped SBC Voices would step up to the plate and play fair ball. But the continued logging of posts which fairly well greases the bucket rather than deals with tangible evidences seems to show little encouragement to those of us who insist on linking actual sources and making inferences from them. Far from what’s normally imagined in wacko-nut-job “conspiracy” theories like the post references where no real tangible proof is entertained, we make most all our inferences from public information to which anyone has the same access as do we. People therefore can examine our reasoning and determine whether or not our point is well taken.

    Sorry. While I do see the connection on your helpful piece and the hopelessly incorrect flaming of those who dissent to be “conspiracy theorists” that dog could take us way off the trail from what you’d like to engage here.

    Lord bless, Howell.

    With that, I am…

    Peter

  2. February 2, 2012 at 8:19 AM

    Howell,

    Sorry. I am too big a hurry this AM. Too much going on. I wrote above:
    “It doesn’t seem to dawn on him that observing unhealthy politics or even healthy politics as you rightly remind us remains fodder to suggest people are proposing conspiracy theories.” That’s completely unclear. This is better I think:

    It doesn’t seem to dawn on him that observing unhealthy politics or even healthy politics as you rightly remind us remains a viable alternative interpretation as to what those whom he criticizes are actually doing when they dissent and publicly criticize actions and words of SBC leaders as opposed to his insistence that they are definitively proposing preposterous conspiracy theories.

    Now. I feel better.:^)

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • February 2, 2012 at 8:41 AM

      Peter,

      I understand the hurry of the morning. We have two additional boys as house guests this week, not to mention our own three. Five boys, 12 and under, will make anyone’s life harried 🙂 I appreciate your comments. I think you have nailed it regarding the red herring of bringing up conspiracy theories. There is simply no conspiracy going on to take over the SBC. What is being done is very public and well-known, even if the strategizing is taking place behind closed doors. That’s what politics is all about. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are locked in a death battle for the Republican nomination. They have different visions for the country. Everyone knows that. It’s no secret. But they do have private planning meetings with their campaigns, supporters, and allies. That’s just common sense and it’s perfectly legitimate.

      Goodness, wasn’t the CR about a political movement of grassroots pastors and lay folks who met, from time to time, in private to hash out strategies for winning elections? I don’t begrudge the establishment from doing what they are doing (although the abuse of constitutional process with the appointment of the Name Change Task Force still bothers me). But, when you can label your opponents as engaging in conspiracy theories, then you can effectly marginalize them as “nuts.” The grassroots just needs to be reminded that politics is alive and sometimes not well in the SBC. If we don’t rally the troops — however that will happen — then the establishment will win another victory in New Orleans. And, if they win there, then it will be hard to stop for the forseeable future. Thanks for your perspective and for your reporting on the domain name registrations. All of this has been an open secret. It just takes eyes to see what is really happening. Keep up the good work and God bless,

      Howell

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