Is There Room for Me?

These days, everyone is talking about the SBC’s recent steps (and ongoing trend?) toward narrowing parameters of cooperation. Denominational leaders are redefining what it means to be a Southern Baptist in order to “defend the faith” from liberalism. They seem to think that without them, we’d all be heretics.

Some bloggers are asking whether we’ve gone too far in restricting the parameters of who is “in” and who is “out.” Others are insisting that we haven’t gone far enough. Through all of the discussion, the boundaries are drawn and redrawn, and I get the feeling that I’m no longer welcome. I can’t help but wonder, “Is there still room for me?”

For many, it all comes down to the question of inerrancy of the scriptures. I affirm that the Bible is without error, but I also believe that many of our interpretations are in error (or at least incomplete.) Others show their allegiance to the SBC by stating their support for the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (which I signed), or by emphasizing their thankfulness for the “Conservative Resurgence.” While I agree with the doctrinal position of the “Conservative” players in the Resurgence, I believe that their “hostile takeover” tactics were unChristlike, and essentially negated the good thing they intended. I believe that we as a convention are suffering the consequences of the worldly and divisive approach both sides used in their battle for the “doctrinal purity” of the SBC. It’s true that most of us today affirm that the scriptures are without error, but many (most?) of us no longer trust our leadership. We are known for what we oppose. We are marked by division, gossip, and a need to be right. We act as though it is more important to demolish the people we disagree with instead of working to restore them.

My political views don’t follow the party line. I believe in the sanctity of all life (not just legally innocent life), so I’m against abortion and capital punishment. I do not believe that a preemptive war can ever be considered just. I believe that with our great material blessings come an obligation to help the people among us who are less fortunate (even if it’s their own fault). While many church leaders are excited about the political influence they think they might have, I think we need to be careful to retain a separation of religion and State; joining the two is only fun when you’re the favored religion.

I’m a fan of simple, organic churches. I don’t think we need professional clergy, buildings, or Sunday School programs. I don’t think “what works” is always good, nor do I think bigger is necessarily better. I believe in the autonomy of the local church, even if it means that I might have to associate with a body of believers that do things differently than I’m comfortable with.

I’m frustrated with the way money is handled in the SBC. Giving to the Cooperative Program is not, in fact, the same as giving to missions. I think that we’re going to have to make some major changes, because churches are not going to continue to pay for fancy denominational buildings or to support missionaries they don’t know.

I don’t think that theological training is the answer to all of our theological problems. I don’t care about denominational politics, or who knows who in the Convention. I disagree with the recent resolution against drinking. I think that the State Baptist “news”papers are a waste of time and money.

These are the differences that I continually run into between me and many outspoken Southern Baptists. You’ll notice that very few of the things I’ve outlined here are doctrinal. Nevertheless, these are things that we debate and discuss.

I’m not sure who gets to define the boundaries for “in” and “out.” I suppose it’s the men in positions of convention leadership and influence. I don’t think I’ve even met one of them in person, yet I get the feeling that they’re trying to get rid of me. Because of the differences I’ve listed here, they don’t want the money that they administer going to support someone like me.

My question is this: Is there room for me?

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.