1. a natural liking for or attraction to a person, thing, idea, etc.; 2. a person, thing, idea, etc., for which such a natural liking or attraction is felt.; 3. relationship by marriage or by ties other than those of blood ( distinguished from consanguinity).; 4. inherent likeness or agreement; close resemblance or connection. (Dictionary.com)
In the title for this post, I was tempted to use the word “Identity” in place of “Affinity.” It would have conveyed almost the same thoughts, but some — perhaps many — would have gotten hung up on that one little word and not been able to understand what it is that I am trying to say. I don’t mind the word “identity.” In fact, I’ve been accused by some of being a Baptist Identity kind of guy. On Jared Moore’s list of BI guys that he has interacted with, I was #2, only behind the esteemed Peter Lumpkins. Really, Jared? What do I have to do to displace Peter as the #1 BI guy? (By the way, even though we have never met, I have an affinity for Jared and think he writes an excellent blog — check it out here — even if we have been known to spar from time to time).
I find it humorous that anyone would consider me a Baptist Identity guy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), not because I find my brothers in the BI movement humorous (although some can wield satire with the best of them). I find it humorous because those who label me as part of the Baptist Identity movement (if you can call it that) fail to grasp that my association with these folk did not arise because I somehow “saw the light” and started agreeing with everything that BI stands for. On the contrary, I have become friends with many within the BI movement because we have an affinity for one another based not on a general Baptist Identity but, on our common identity as cooperating Southern Baptists.
Before the GCR, I found myself in (mostly) silent opposition to the guys over at SBC Today and Peter over at SBC Tomorrow. Sad to say, but I had not yet discovered SBC Voices. I did not comment, but merely lurked. I had not even started my own blog yet. Apart from an introductory post when I launched From Law to Grace, my very first substantial blog posts were about the Ergun Caner/Liberty University kerfuffle (here, here, and here). They were a direct ( and rather pointed) response to Tim Rogers’ (and others’) defense of Dr. Caner. Go figure.
In time, I began interacting with a wide range of bloggers and blog readers — from Peter Lumpkins to Tim Rogers, from CB Scott (my “cuz”) to Bob Cleveland, from Lydia to SelahV (Hariette), from Dave Miller to Rick Patrick, from Big Daddy Weave to Stephen Fox and from Jared Moore to Mark Lamprecht. While I may not agree with all of these folks all of the time, I consider each to be friends and brothers and sisters-in-Christ, even though I have never met any of them in person, except Peter. I met him at a secret, smoke-filled meeting in Phoenix that I willed myself to attend even though I was holed-up in my hotel room, sick as a dog. That’s the kind of pull that Peter has 🙂 I guess I wasn’t supposed to reveal that people actually meet privately before, during, and after SBC Annual Meetings to talk about vision, goals and strategy for reforms within the SBC. Apologies to Dr. Patterson and Judge Pressler. My bad.
Truth be told, I would have identified myself much more with the Reformed/Calvinist brethren (I am one, even if inconsistent in my practice) within the SBC prior to what came to be known as the Great Commission Resurgence. Looking back, my journey began to take a turn at the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro. It was there that I first heard of Dr. Frank Page. Based largely on the passionate nominating speech delivered by (the late) Forrest Pollock (“you can’t spell SBC without a C and a P”) — and in opposition to the miniscule mega-church CP giving of one of the candidates — I, along with a majority of messengers, elected the non-establishment candidate, defeating Ronnie Floyd and Jerry Sutton in a three-way race on the first ballot. At that same meeting, I sided with the Reformed/Calvinist wing in voting against the Alcohol-use Resolution, obviously putting me on the opposite side of that issue from Peter Lumpkins and others.
Since the Orlando Convention in June 2010, when the GCR was
pushed through with much browbeating and parliamentary shenanigans passed by a majority of messengers, I have been a part of what might be described as the loyal opposition within the SBC. How did I end up here? Why can I now seem to get along with those who I had heretofore opposed and, no longer mesh with those who I had once been much more comfortable? The same question could be asked of certain non-Calvinist mega-church pastors and certain well-known Reformed/Calvinist Southern Baptists, both of whom were not previously known for their joint cooperative efforts.
The answer to those questions lies in a word — AFFINITY. I have found that I have much more in common and a much stronger connection with those whose primary identity is Southern Baptist (of course, that is after Christian, which should be presumed unless and until evidence to the contrary proves otherwise). For example, my affinity would look something like (L to R):
Southern Baptist — New Mexico Baptist — Conservative Evangelical — Calvinist — Baptist
Based on the concept of affinity, my natural liking will be toward those who I have more in common with and who identify more closely with me. That should not be hard to understand. For example, many churches have discontinued traditional, age-graded adult Sunday School and instead implemented Bible studies based on affinity groups. This is not only happening within individual churches, but it is happening within groups of churches. When I served in Virginia, the Baptist General Association of Virginia admitted a few churches from Georgia into the BGAV. At first I thought this was strange, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Those Georgia churches, who would most likely be considered moderate Baptists, would have had a stronger affinity for some of the more moderate churches (and the Convention as a whole) in Virginia than for their fellow churches in the more conservative Georgia Baptist Convention. Affinity, not geography, was what ultimately drew these Georgia churches to cooperative ministry with their Virginia brethren.
And ultimately, it will be affinity which will either draw Southern Baptists closer together or which will drive us further apart. What we are witnessing today is the slow death of the Southern Baptist Convention, not primarily because of politics (although politics is heavily involved), but rather because of the diminishing affinity that we have as Southern Baptists for one another coupled with the increasing affinity that we see demonstrated for groups that do not primarily identify as Southern Baptists. It’s one thing to love one another. After all, we are commanded by our Lord to do just that. It’s something different to like one another. Affinity cannot be commanded or coerced, especially when it comes to voluntary cooperation. However, the more that we like one another, the easier it is to cooperate together (and trust each other) for the sake of missions and ministry. The less we like each other, the harder it becomes to stay connected in cooperative partnerships.
As we begin to understand how and why some of the SBC’s establishment leaders seem to identify more strongly with, and be attracted to, certain non-Southern Baptist groups, we will perhaps begin to grasp why new alliances and reform agendas have been created in the last five years. Check back on Friday for an exploration of some of those alliances and agendas that are at play within the SBC and what that might mean for the future cooperative efforts of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.