When I returned from covering the 2006 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention — at which Frank Page was the surprise first-ballot choice for president — several friends wanted my take on the gathering.
The question was usually phrased something like: “What’s the big story out of Greensboro?”
Instead of referring to the election of a dark horse candidate, I responded: “The headline for Southern Baptists this year is, ‘Bloggers uncover fundamentalism in the SBC.'” Then the wise questioner and I would share a laugh.
Leading up to that meeting, blogs by innovative Southern Baptists — like Marty Duren, Wade Burleson and Ben Cole — were gaining popularity. While conservative in theology, these guys were questioning the blind allegiance given to SBC powerbrokers who had reshaped the convention into a tight, fundamentalist-controlled machine.
However, even these loyal critics continue to call the denominational shift “the conservative resurgence.” But it was indeed a “fundamentalist takeover.”
Last week, trustees of the SBC International Mission Board suspended Burleson, a fellow trustee, because he dared to challenge the SBC dictatorship. His major crime was insisting that Baptists — imagine this — have a right to dissent.
Overwhelmingly, Baptist history is on Burleson’s side. Fundamentalism is not.
Those who rule the Southern Baptist roost demand complete loyalty, to them and their cause, over competence, conversation or cooperation. You can either give them full compliance or get out.
Why? Because that is the time-proven attitude and function of fundamentalism. It is about more than narrowly-defined theology; it is a method of fear-based control.
Recently, a Baptist publication in Texas reprinted an editorial I’d written for the August edition of Baptists Today, titled,”Agree with me, then we can talk.”
I used the words of one leading SBC fundamentalist to show, once again, the incredible arrogance and ever-narrowing constriction of fundamentalism.
In response, I heard from defenders of the SBC telling me that my criticism was unwarranted and that the convention is not fundamentalist. Right!
To not see fundamentalism in the SBC is like walking the fairways of Augusta National and not noticing that the grass is green.
The censure, suspension and attempted silencing of loyal dissenter Wade Burleson by fellow Southern Baptists may be newsworthy. But it is not a shock.
He, and others like him, should have seen this coming some, oh, 20 to 25 years ago.
What part of the fundamentalist takeover don’t they understand?