The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC’s) 2021 meeting in Nashville last week led to significant reactions from both outsiders and insiders.
As the findings against fired seminary president Paige Patterson, the baseless fears of critical race theory and anxiety around who the SBC would elect as the next president rumbled across social media, the commentary this denominational gathering created was palpable.
Perhaps it was the fact that for a second year, I could not see my friends and loved ones at my own denominational annual gathering, or perhaps it was the New York Times’ absurd headline about “moderates” in the SBC, but it has driven me to write about some observations on denominations today.
I pray it is the last time I allow the SBC to live rent free in my mind.
The stories have become Baptist lore. Told around bar tables, in seminary classrooms, church parking lots and Sunday School rooms.
No one person has the same story of when it began.
Some say it was at Café du Monde one night over hot chocolate and beignets or with strategically electing the new board of trustees.
The timeline is often shared one event at a time, each person waiting their turn to share how they experienced it.
“I was there when they locked him out.” “I was there when they fired her.” “I was there when they made them sign it.” “I refused to sign.”
I am convinced that I could make some decent money selling “alumni” shirts that read, “I went when it was a seminary.”
My father was taking classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, when the president was locked out of his office. It never meant much more to me after that – simply that we no longer made the long trek from San Antonio to Fort Worth.
It didn’t mean much to me until my parents were appointed as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In my simple terms, they were working for “the Baptists that allowed women to serve.” And that was my understanding for a long time.
The SBC kicked out my “uncles” and “aunts” for supporting women and believing a broader understanding of the Bible.
The stories are so clear for many still. And no matter how the retelling goes, I cannot ignore the unprocessed hurt and trauma in the stories – and the effect it has on folks today, almost 40 years later.
The great split from the Southern Baptist Convention began in the late 1980s with the creation of the Alliance of Baptists and then later in 1991 when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed.
Folks considered themselves exiles, denominational refugees and outcasts. And while I truly believe that grief is not linear, the anger and trauma from “the split” have gone unprocessed.
I see it each time a fundamentalist makes a statement about the role a woman ought to play in her home life or in church, and how angry and bothered my moderate to progressive siblings get.
I hear it each time Al Mohler tweets the bias statement du jour, and we link arms and find ways to say we’re better than that.
I see it each time annual gatherings fall within the same days. We find ways to point out who we aren’t.
But why focus on a space and institution we have claimed to have left and said goodbye to when we ought to concern ourselves with the ways in which we’ve stumbled? What are the biases that have carried over?
It is time to stop worrying about the plank in the eyes of organizations we do not claim and time to start asking how, and why, we ignored the plank in our eye.
How do we still play into sexism, racism and exclusion of LGBTQ+ siblings in big and subtle ways?
We cannot take the moral high ground as “other Baptists” or “not that kind of Baptist” and not do the hard and good work of processing the trauma and anger some carried over from their previous denominational experiences.
What would it look like if we stopped giving fundamentalists a platform from our reactionary responses and went on about our business of liberating ourselves from the white supremacy that we claim to not claim?
Because in the words of my sister Starlette Thomas, “Jesus did not die for this.”