Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Still More Baptists and Higher Education Reporting

The Future of Baptist Higher Education Conference wrapped up at Baylor today with some interesting sessions. Most notably, Martin Marty (in case you don't know THE RELIGION SCHOLAR IN AMERICA) addressed the entire conference. Your intrepid reporter showed up at the session with four friends who are also Ph.D. students. For some reason, perhaps nobility of soul, Dr. Marty made a beeline for us and spoke to us corporately and individually for 5-10 minutes. He asked about our research interests and commented on each. Before walking away he whispered his email address as though to say, "Write me. I'll actually field your questions and give advice." Shocking stuff from a tremendously prolific scholar. I'm still composing my message in my head.

In any case, Marty attacked the standard account that claims America is secularizing in linear fashion. Nothing new there, but he was trying to blunt the alarm many of us feel about the trajectory of the American academy. He sees America as very religio-secular, in a good way, with more give and take about religion than ever before. In particular he points to the profusion of good scholarship relating religion to . . .well, everything.

We also had a concluding session by young Baptist scholars who convincingly criticized older lions for being stuck in the old Southern Baptist Convention war and completely absorbed in defending freedom and autonomy. Being Baptist better mean more than freedom and dissent, otherwise we can just don our baseball caps and be Michael Moore-ons. Not a pretty future, not for me, anyway. Sadly, that's just what we heard from some conference speakers. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, gave an account of reality that sounded exactly like Moore in Bowling for Columbine. Happily, the young scholars in the final session offered hope for something other than freedom (surely the value that needs less defending than any other in North America) as a basis for Baptist life and scholarship.

11 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"We also had a concluding session by young Baptist scholars who convincingly criticized older lions for being stuck in the old Southern Baptist Convention war and completely absorbed in defending freedom and autonomy."

Funny you should pick up on this meme. The baptist church was one founded on an idea of a personal relationship with god, the ability of everyone to read the bible for themselves, and other ideas that were heretical to the extremely rigid authoritarian structure of the Catholic Church.

Sadly the organization eventually became corrupt when the more conservative elements siezed control of the church structures long enough to establich an unbreakable stranglehold on the bureaucracy.

It's a fine example of the anarchist ideal that give any organization long enough and it will become corrupted and embody the opposite of what it originally stood for.

Hunter Baker said...

The similarity of your response to that of some of the older Baptists is the supreme verification of the bankruptcy of their position. If any value can be said to have won the day in North America, it is freedom/autonomy. It takes no courage to wear blue jeans when everyone has four pair. If Baptists want to be counter-cultural now, they have to emphasize a different portion of the denominational DNA. I'd recommend love of Scripture or insistence on a regenerate life and church membership.

Tlaloc said...

"The similarity of your response to that of some of the older Baptists is the supreme verification of the bankruptcy of their position."

Ah the old "poisoning the well" fallacy.


"If any value can be said to have won the day in North America, it is freedom/autonomy."

Interesting perspective, so by the conservative takeover and the resultant crackdown on independent viewpoints within the church establishment freedom was somehow won? How precisely do you justify that?


"It takes no courage to wear blue jeans when everyone has four pair."

SO if everyone chooses to wear jeans and then the thugs show up and make them wear spandex they are more free, yes it makes perfect sense. We can't allow them to choose to wear jeans because they must have the "freedom" to do only what we tell them to do.


"If Baptists want to be counter-cultural now, they have to emphasize a different portion of the denominational DNA. I'd recommend love of Scripture or insistence on a regenerate life and church membership."

Wouldn't it be better to let them decide for themselves what to focus on since the point of the religion was a personal relationship with god rather than obedience to a church authority?

Hunter Baker said...

What you're missing is that Baptists rebelled against the connection of the church with state power. They emphasized a regenerate church membership as opposed to one where the state and church see that all are baptized at birth as a sign of community membership. Baptists have always held to an orthdox view of scripture and have always been able to easily disassociate from those who are in heresy. The battle of the last couple of decades was over the question of whether determinations of orthodoxy would extend to cooperative institutions beyond the local church.

Tlaloc said...

"What you're missing is that Baptists rebelled against the connection of the church with state power."

Lets clarify that when you say "Baptists" here you actually mean a tiny group of conservative baptists, and who "rebelled" by gaming the system using a loop hole so they could seize control in a way that couldn't be contested. Not so much a rebellion as a coup.


"The battle of the last couple of decades was over the question of whether determinations of orthodoxy would extend to cooperative institutions beyond the local church."

There was also the battle over what could and couldn't be said by baptist teachers with the conservatives unfortunately muzzling their opponents by getting them fired. As I said, a religion of personal paths was seized and converted into a "My way or the Highway" religion. It's a pity but also a useful historical lesson.

John Huisman said...

tlaloc seems to view social institutions in general in anarchist, anti-organizational terms ("give any organization long enough and it will become corrupted and embody the opposite of what it originally stood for"). Organization itself, in other words, is immoral since it only leads to corruption. It follows that tlaloc's call for more individualism and freedom in the Baptist Church in particular could never be satisfactorially realized until it makes the existence of the denomination in any meaningful and coherent sense impossible.

Tlaloc said...

"tlaloc seems to view social institutions in general in anarchist, anti-organizational terms ("give any organization long enough and it will become corrupted and embody the opposite of what it originally stood for")."

Indeed.


" Organization itself, in other words, is immoral since it only leads to corruption."

I wouldn't say immoral so much as simply a bad idea. Trying to pound a nail with a sock isn't immoral, just bad planning.


"It follows that tlaloc's call for more individualism and freedom in the Baptist Church in particular could never be satisfactorially realized until it makes the existence of the denomination in any meaningful and coherent sense impossible."

Well lets make some distinctions:
1) will the baptist church ever suit me? No. But that's not the point.
2) Does the current Baptist church suit Baptists and the ideals baptism was centered on? No.
3) why? because the organization was coopted and corrupted and now embodies the opposite of the religious freedom it originally stood for.

So while in a sense you are correct that no organized church will suit me, personally, that's not really the issue at hand.

John Huisman said...

"1) will the baptist church ever suit me? No. But that's not the point."

Sure it is. Given your admitted anarchist, individualist, anti-organizational beliefs, no church or organization of any kind will ever suit you.

"2) Does the current Baptist church suit Baptists and the ideals baptism was centered on? No."

Of course it does. Many millions of Baptist members proves that it suits them.

"3) why? because the organization was coopted and corrupted and now embodies the opposite of the religious freedom it originally stood for."

Hunter Baker's point, however, is that no Baptist ever held to the radical anarchist and individualist definition of religious freedom you espouse.

Tlaloc said...

"Sure it is. Given your admitted anarchist, individualist, anti-organizational beliefs, no church or organization of any kind will ever suit you."

Again while this is true it is also beside the point. I'm not sure how to make that clearer.


"Of course it does. Many millions of Baptist members proves that it suits them."

That's why a small cadre of reactionaries had to take it over and change the fundamental principles of the church? People are funny about religion. If they've called themselves a baptist all their lives they are likely to continue doing so even after someone comes along and completely changes the Baptist church. The "older lions" who complain about the direction theior church has been hijacked into (as per Baker's post) are a clear indication the church is not working for Baptists.


"Hunter Baker's point, however, is that no Baptist ever held to the radical anarchist and individualist definition of religious freedom you espouse."

Quite possibly but still irrelevent. They had their own notions of freedom which have been coopted by a loophole in their chrch organization. My values are completely outside of the matter. The conservative take over of the baptists church organization was counter to Baptist values.

Hunter Baker said...

Tlaloc, there was no loophole. The SBC was set up in a democratic manner where presidents had the right to appoint committee members who appointed trustees. The conservative group won presidential elections enough times consecutively to gain control of institutions. Nothing hidden about that. It was a known strategy other Baptists tried to stop and failed. It did not compromise the core beliefs of autonomous local churches. Some autonomous local churches have left, which is their right. Many more have stayed, which is their right.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, there was no loophole. The SBC was set up in a democratic manner where presidents had the right to appoint committee members who appointed trustees."

You think they honestly intended to allow a group to dominate the bureaucratic structure so as to co-opt and take over the church structure? Cause if not then it was indeed a loophole. No one expected a powerplay with the intent of holding the presidency long enough to create a lock on a formerly democratic institution.


"It did not compromise the core beliefs of autonomous local churches. Some autonomous local churches have left, which is their right. Many more have stayed, which is their right."

My way or the highway huh? Those who didn't like a conservative take over could just leave. Not surprising but hardly an attitude that absolves the power hungry for their blatant (successful) attempt at seizing power.
In other words why didn't the conservatives leave the baptists instead of driving the baptists from their own church? The conservatives who love an authority centered church afterall could have joined the Catholics who welcome such attitude rather than trying to make the Southern Baptists into Catholic Lite (TM).