Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Southern Baptist Creed?

In 2004 my wife and I were forced to resign as missionaries with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because we would not--could not in good conscience--sign that we would work "in accordance with and not contrary to" The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), 2000.

Our problem was not just with the content of the revised BF&M, we objected to it being used like a creed. As I wrote earlier, I have never been much of a supporter of creeds, especially when they are used for forcing conformity and getting rid of deviants. But that certainly seemed like the way the BF&M was being used. SBC employees either had to agree with it or resign, retire, or be terminated.

So, refusing to sign, we became Southern Baptist heretics--although, to my knowledge, that term was never used. It did mean, though, that we were unilaterally placed on retirement status, lost a year's salary, and also lost no telling how many invitations to preach in Southern Baptist churches back in Missouri and elsewhere.

So even though I wrote about creeds and heresy in my previous posts, creeds should not be used as the BF&M was--as a weapon to force conformity (or duplicity, as some signed the necessary statement in order to continue their missionary work while not agreeing with the revised content of the BF&M). Nor, as I suggested in the previous posting, should heretics be punished (although our "punishment" was certainly light compared to that of many considered heretics throughout the history of the church).

Actually, the use of the BF&M as a creed was worse than using the historical creeds as statements of orthodoxy. The addition of the words "the office of pastor is limited to men" was the main (but not the only) objection we had to the revised and amended BF&M. Unlike the creeds, though, which can be interpreted on different levels (such as the Ascension, which does not have to be affirmed as literal or physical), there is no interpretation possible for the statement denying the possibility of women in ministry.

So, even though the Southern Baptist Convention was my church home for sixty years, now that is is operating with a creed, I am glad to no longer be a part of that organization. (But, still, I feel some sadness, too, as it was my denominational home for so long.)


  1. Random, sad thoughts come to mind as I read your and June's own story about the end of your careers in Japan, at the hands of a "Pharaoh who knew Joseph not." Of course better judgment tells me, along with James Cone's admonitions, that those who have not suffered really do not have the voice to speak (my presumption brings to mind Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar!). My only thin justification is in having to watch for a string of years and comfort many of my teachers, friends, and colleagues as they went through the agonies of losing jobs and even eventually giving up on their vocations. Surely you would be willing to affirm that, if there is any evidence that something had (has?) gone dangerously awry in western expressions of the Southern Baptist experience, your and June's experiences are the proof, no?

    I know you would never use the term "martyr" to describe your decisions to dissent from the decree to "sign the document," but in the purest sense of that word--witness--that's exactly what you pair are. You and June bore witness to a more important principle than merely agreeing with a statement of faith (a Southern Baptist Creed, if you wish) and retaining employment in a corrupt institution (and, I'm not condemning all its employees, only a small tyrannical minority). Statements of faith, creeds, excellent and devoted service really did not matter when it came to the demand to knuckly under to a regime that only understood the force of raw power. You two lost your jobs, because you would not knuckle under. What a martyrdom--what a witness!

    I read an essay, today, describing one political aid's impressions of his recent employment in the Kansas City Mayor's office (with Funk and Gloria) from the early days. He made the statement that power not only discloses corruption, but humanness, too: humanness in the forms of weakness, fear, doubt and all of those things we like to keep hidden from the public eye. When I read your blog, I thought about that statement and realized that the episode of the SBC metamorphosis into a doctrinally paranoid power-mongering, self-perpetuating institution reveals not so much corruption as humanness, frailty, fear, doubt, and mental illness.

    Statements of faith as well as creeds seem on the face of their existence to mirror that human paranoia about the possibility of losing control, if of nothing other than that of meaning. They constantly remind us of what we are in that sense; and, while I'll grant that they may simultaneously assist in our aspiration toward some higher and nobler transformation, I must confess my deep abiding suspicion of them when I come near to them with anything other than a scholar's jaundiced eye.

  2. I received the following e-mail from my good friend Michael Olmsted, and I am posting his comments with his permission. Michael retired as pastor of the University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, MO, and last year he was the interim pastor of Second Baptist Church in Liberty, where June and I are members.

    "The SBC creed you address is more than a simple statement of faith. It is an instrument for forced submission, utilized to intimidate and prosecute. Such a creed does not affirm life-transforming faith, but becomes a barrier or substitue to knowing God, and a tool for circumventing the clear words and example of Jesus who is the Word in flesh.

    "The 'Baptist Faith and Message' has indeed become the instrument for prosecution of anyone who dares to disagree within SBC life (an idea foreign to our Baptist heritage), but specifically it reinforces gender discrimination and denies the doctrine of inspiration (also incarnation) in it's approach to the interpretation of Scripture. To read the Bible without an understanding of God's incarnational relationship to his creation, his people, and his written Word is to miss the wonder and power of God's love.

    "Words are so encumbered with cultural nuances, that no written creed can be totally reliable or sufficient. There is discovery and depth when we struggle with theological truths, debate and challenge our ideas, and learn from one another. I can recite the Apostle's Creed with believers who do not agree with me on every doctrinal interpretation, because I understand that we agree on the basics even though we have some divergent ideas."

    Michael Olmsted