SBC Politics beyond Beth Moore (or will Southern Baptists save evangelicalism?)

I was listening to the Quick to Listen interview with Thomas Kidd about his new book, Who is An Evangelical, and heard a startling advertisement. Just about 32 minutes into the discussion, I heard Truett Seminary, the Southern Baptist institution for training ministers at Baylor University, plug its programs. Although the seminary describes itself as “orthodox” and “evangelical,” in that order, it also trains women to be pastors. The advertisement was explicit about that part of Truett’s endeavor. Here‘s an excerpt from a piece on Truett’s female alums:

Another reality for many Baptist women called to preach is whether to remain inside the Baptist denomination or to move to a denomination more open to female pastors. As Lillian enters her final semester at Truett, she is considering another denomination. As the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a Baptist all her life, this is a difficult decision to make. But Lillian is a woman in her fifties who has been divorced and she has to accept the fact that there may not be a place for her in Baptist life. She says, “I have already been turned down by one church as their music minister, because I was divorced. Being a woman and talking about preaching makes most people uncomfortable so I have to be careful what I say.” Lillian believes she is called to preach, not to divide churches. She loves the church and the people of God and believes that she will be a good pastor. Although the future is unclear, she resolves to remain hopeful, positive, and faithful to her call.

Leah also faced changing denominations, but says that she could not move because she is committed to Baptist beliefs and core ideas. She says, “…I see myself committing to this and so at the same time calling churches to committed to calling women, because I am not giving up on the Baptist church and the Baptist church doesn’t not need to be giving up on women either.”

Now, see if you can follow the bouncing balls.

Kidd has written a book about Protestants who have been generally opposed ordaining women. Evangelicals typically affirm traditional family values and roles for women (though that is not a big part of his book). Kidd is also a regular blogger at The Gospel Coalition which is firmly in the complementarian camp. The editors at Christianity Today who interviewed Kidd, at least one of them, is in a mainline Protestant denomination that ordains women. And the podcast is being sponsored by a Southern Baptist seminary that supports the ordination of women.

To add to potential confusion, maybe you younger readers have the visual dexterity, Kidd is going to teach part-time in the graduate programs at Midwestern Baptist Seminary, a school that admits women to the M.Div. but does not train them to preach:

Purpose: The Master of Divinity degree, Women’s Ministry concentration, cultivates a Christian lifestyle, offers instruction in classical theological disciplines, and develops theoretical understanding and practical skill related to women’s ministry.

Objectives: In addition to the Master of Divinity degree objectives, students graduating with the M.Div., Women’s Ministry concentration will be able to do the following:

Demonstrate understanding of the biblical and theological foundations of women’s ministry in the local church.

Demonstrate increased skill in the practice and leadership of women’s ministries in the local church.

In fact, women at MBTS take courses not in preaching but teaching.

If you want an additional shell to follow, consider that Ed Stetzer went from Lifeway Christian Resources to Wheaton College. Lifeway is the publisher for the SBC but also controlled by conservatives, the ones who are inerrantists and generally oppose female pastors. The moderates in the SBC look to Smyth & Helwys as their publisher for theology and biblical commentary. Wheaton College has many faculty in denominations that ordain women and even has had some female professors who are ordained to preach.

So, go ahead, try and correlate Southern Baptist conservatives with evangelicals. I dare you. See if it makes any sense for evangelical (what used to be a Yankee word in the SBC) institutions to establish closer ties with Southern Baptists except for increasing readership, audiences, enrollments, and subscriptions.

It makes you wonder about looking to conservatives in the SBC for leadership in evangelical circles if only because the Convention may be as soupy as evangelicalism. Look at what Trump has done to turn Southern Baptist conservatives from supporting Republicans to dabbling with progressives. Withdrawing support from the GOP is fine. It’s a free country. But it took Trump to do that?

And yet, because of their size and their presence in evangelical institutions like Christianity Today, Wheaton College, and The Gospel Coalition, Southern Baptists, no matter the previous identification with Republicans and their opposition to female preachers, are in a position to dominate an evangelical world that has no obvious successor to Billy Graham and the institutions that grew up around his endeavors.

Maybe the solution is Beth Moore. Maybe she can transcends all the parties and unite moderates and conservatives in the SBC along with evangelicals. Maybe she is the next Billy Graham. That way, if you like her, as George Marsden had it about Graham, you can be an evangelical.

Would Jesus Forgive Ken Starr?

A little over a month ago I attended an evening of offbeat film where one of the archivists responsible for the program introduced himself as hailing from Raleigh, N.C. He said that he used to say this was the home of Slim Jims (I think) and Jesse Helms. But since the cooking of spicy meat bi-products was going on somewhere else, and since Jesse Helms had died, he could no longer talk that way about his home. At the point where he mentioned Helms’ death, the mostly academic and artsy crowd began to applaud.

Now I know conservatives are regularly guilty of bad taste and the examples of Rush and Glen provide daily reminders to non-conservatives of how mean the Right is supposed to be. But I find it hard to believe that even the vox talk-radioli greeted the news of Edward Kennedy’s death with the same glee evident at this evening of film. Granted, everyone on planet earth is a sinner and so constantly guilty of hypocrisy (which is sort of Paul’s point in Romans 1 and 2, right?). So I shrugged off the incident and despite discomfort with the egregious bad taste stuck around for the movies (plus, I had paid my $7). But I do scratch my head at the liberal talking point that conservatives are meanies when instances like this, not to mention various hosts at MSNBC, seem to balance the scales of meanness between the Right and the Left. If liberals want conservatives to stop being mean, shouldn’t they embody the niceness that supposedly typifies their understanding of a good society?

I was reminded of this incident when reading Randall Balmer’s recent reflections about the appointment of Kenneth Starr as president of Baylor University. I myself think that the Republicans treatment of Bill Clinton during the Lewinski scandal was in the ballpark of Clinton’s own shameful behavior – maybe not at home plate, but still inside the white lines. But liberals don’t forgive and forget anymore than conservatives, hence the helpings of meanness that fill up both the Right’s and the Left’s plates.

Balmer writes:

Starr’s appointment is not surprising because it apparently reflects the right-wing leanings of the regents, if not necessarily the faculty or the students. Starr as special prosecutor, of course, sought to bring down the Clinton administration. (Was it my imagination, or did Starr seem just a tad too interested in the tawdry Monica Lewinsky business?) Starr also has been dean of the notoriously right-wing Pepperdine Law School, and he has been in the forefront of supporters for California’s Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that reversed the legalization of same-sex marriages.

At the announcement of his appointment, Starr sought to play down his past. “Baylor’s pursuit of knowledge,” he intoned, leaning closely to read his notes, “is strengthened by the conviction that truth has its ultimate source in God.”

As a person of faith, I have no quarrel with that statement. But the real question for the faculty and students at Baylor is how the new administration approaches the “pursuit of knowledge” at the university. What if the pursuit of knowledge entails stem-cell research or leads to the conclusion (gasp!) that evolution is the most satisfactory explanation of human origins? What if a member of the religion department or the divinity school faculty notices that Jesus really had little or nothing to say about homosexuality or that Paul’s statement that in Christ there is no distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female merits a capacious interpretation?

The difficulty for Balmer here is even greater than the one that afflicted my fellow movie watchers. On a minor level, he should know that universities, their trustees, and presidents regularly engage in activities that are inconsistent with the ideals they uphold. Think, for instance, of the welcome that Balmer’s institution, Columbia University, gave to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But an even greater problem is that Balmer identifies with the evangelical left, a group of believers who supposedly point to the kinder and gentler Sermon on the Mount, as opposed to the Right’s harsh Ten Commandments, as the model for Christians getting along. So if Christians are to do as Jesus did, turn the other cheek, and forgive at least seventy times seven, why is Balmer publicly bearing a grudge against Starr? If the love and forgiveness that Jesus taught and practiced is supposed to provide a different model of Christian engagement in public life and discourse, wouldn’t it be good either to let this editorial against Starr go, or extend the right hand of fellowship and thereby embody the sort of ethic that Balmer finds lacking in the Religious Right?

It could be that wherever you get your law, either from Moses or Jesus, it is awfully demanding and so fails to produce the Rodney King-like society for which that liberals and evangelical lefties pine. Or it could be that Balmer is simply regretting that his most recent book has come out with Baylor University Press. At least he can explain that it wasn’t issued on Starr’s watch.