Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary declined to archive a Webcast of Tuesday’s chapel service, after a prominent black Southern Baptist pastor and seminary trustee reportedly said he uses a “private prayer language,” a form of speaking in tongues forbidden for Southern Baptist missionary candidates.
The seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, began live streaming of chapel services on its Web site Aug. 24. Tuesday’s message featured Dwight McKissic, founding pastor of the 3,000-member Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and an SWBTS trustee.
A news release said audio and video recordings of each chapel service would be archived immediately. But on Tuesday, seminary officials instead posted a statement saying President Paige Patterson decided to not post McKissic’s sermon “lest uninformed people believe that Pastor McKissic’s view on the gift of tongues as ‘ecstatic utterance’ is the view of the majority of our people at Southwestern.”
“While Southwestern does not instruct its chapel speakers about what they can or cannot say, neither do we feel that there is wisdom in posting materials online which could place us in a position of appearing to be critical of actions of board of trustees of a sister agency,” the statement said.
While praying in tongues is common among charismatic Christians, it is controversial among Baptists.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a policy last November saying if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, a missionary candidate is eliminated from being a representative of the IMB.
That is despite the fact that the IMB’s current president, Jerry Rankin, acknowledged using a private prayer language.
“Any trustee or faculty member is free to communicate his concerns to the boards of sister agencies, but it is difficult to imagine a circumstance that would merit public criticism of the actions of a sister board,” the seminary’s statement said.
An IMB position paper said the new policy banning private prayer language “is in keeping with the practice and expectations of the vast majority of Southern Baptists.”
Disagreement with the policy, along with another new policy on baptism requirements, stirred discontent among bloggers, which is viewed as one factor in the election of a political outsider, Frank Page, as SBC president in June.
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., is scheduled to speak in Southwestern’s chapel Sept. 14.
An IMB trustee who led criticism of the new missionary requirements in a blog said he didn’t hear McKissic’s entire message, and he hoped the seminary would make it available.
“We do not need to fear information in the SBC,” wrote Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla. “We do not need to worry about what others will think if they hear opinions that are different than the status quo. Truth has no enemies, and we are not harmed by an environment where people can speak their convictions freely without fear of reprisal or censure. In fact, in that kind of environment, we will prosper.”
Burleson said the issue is not whether most Southern Baptists would agree with McKissic’s views but “whether or not we have the ability to hear him.”
The seminary statement said most of McKissic’s message “represented a position with which most people at Southwestern would be comfortable.” But his “interpretation of tongues as ‘ecstatic utterance’ is not a position that we suspect would be advocated by most faculty or trustees.”
“In keeping with Baptist convictions regarding religious liberty, we affirm Rev. McKissic’s right to believe and advocate his position. Equally in keeping with our emphasis of religious liberty we reserve the right not to disseminate openly views which we fear may be harmful to the churches.”
McKissic has spoken in the seminary chapel before. In October 2004 he criticized gay-rights leaders for comparing their movement to African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights. Baptist Press carried a story quoting those remarks.
Last year Texas Gov. Rick Perry distanced himself from McKissic after sharing a podium with him at which McKissic suggested God sent Hurricane Katrina “to purify our nation.”
“They have devil worship. They advertise ‘SinCity’ tours. They celebrate Southern decadence. Girls go wild in New Orleans,” said McKissic, a founder of the “Not on My Watch” coalition against gay marriage. “Sometimes God does not speak through natural phenomena. This may have nothing to do with God being offended by homosexuality. But possibly it does.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Suggested resource for group discussion:
God’s Purposes in Prayer