Farewell to the Southern Baptist Convention I once knew
Published 12:07 pm Friday, September 15, 2017
By Randy Weeks
In 1979 when I was a seminary student, the right-wingers of the Southern Baptist Convention started a thinly-veiled grab for power with what was they called “the battle for the Bible”. They got organized and initiated a successful political takeover of SBC agencies and schools. Since then they’ve continued to chip away at the Southern Baptist faith of my youth by adopting more and more doctrinal statements that I can’t imagine Jesus condoning.
Recently about 150 evangelical leaders, including many from the SBC, signed “The Nashville Statement,” a manifesto (their word, not mine) declaring what God believes about marriage. It includes statements proclaiming that the LGBTQ community and those who are accepting and supportive of them are sinful. I guess interpreting scripture for others and announcing their version to be THE one and only correct version is what exclusive religious leaders do. But here’s a newsflash for them: everybody sins. Everybody. And who gets to decide what is and is not sin? It ain’t you and it ain’t me.
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When Jesus walked the earth he pronounced woes upon the Pharisees (religious leaders) for their high-and-mighty ways that further oppressed the oppressed and rendered unto Caesar what didn’t belong to Caesar. Guess what? Jesus didn’t hang out with Pharisees. He hung out with prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors. I guess the men and women (yes, women) who signed The Nashville Statement think Jesus was wrong. There’s something very, very troubling about that to me. I suggest that everyone read Matthew, chapter 23. You’ll catch my drift.
Although I’ve disagreed with many of the doctrines and policies of the right in the SBC, I’ve held on to the SBC and defended it many times because of my belief that those of us in the center and to the left still had a place in the SBC. I’ve finally admitted that such a place no longer exists for me.
In 2000, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter left the SBC because of official dogma that excluded women from most leadership positions within the SBC. I gave serious thought to leaving then too but chose to stay. By that time I was working as a counselor and not actively involved in the SBC, so what did it matter? What mattered was that my inaction made me complicit with what I considered to be a gross misinterpretation of the Bible. I won’t let that happen again.
It’s hard to let go of something that’s been such an important part of your life for as long as you can remember, but holding on to something that’s dead and has been dead for years drags a person down and doesn’t allow them to experience life as fully as they could. It’s like conjoined twins where one has died and the other one has to lug their dead sibling around until they can be separated or until they die themselves.
A snake sheds its skin because it doesn’t fit anymore. Imagine a snake that had grown new skin, but kept it covered under the layer of skin it had already shed. That’s where I’ve been, and it’s been extremely uncomfortable for years. It’s crystal clear that I have to stop holding on.
A couple of months ago the Mississippi Baptist Convention gave the boot to one of the most important Southern Baptist spiritual communities of my life. Speaking only for myself, I concluded that the MBC had done us a tremendous favor. So I thank them for setting many of us free by letting us know where they stand on churches that do such horrendous things as ordain women as ministers and deacons and practice inclusion rather than exclusion. I also thank the evangelicals who arrogantly signed The Nashville Statement for declaring their exclusivity with such condescension.
I’ll dispose of my certificate of ordination from the SBC whenever I can find it, but not in anger. I’m sad about it – very, very sad. The powers that be probably won’t notice or care. I suppose you could say that I’ve effectively de-frocked myself. I’m okay with that. I’ve never found a frock that I looked good in any way.
Alas, poor SBC! I used to know you. You carried me on your back a thousand times, and now this is you. I’m sick over it. But I’ve put my hand to the plow and I’ll not turn back. I’ll no longer grieve – rather find strength in what remains behind. (Apologies to Shakespeare and Wordsworth.)
Now I can breathe freely again.
Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford, MS. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.