Many Baptists are afflicted with an “if…then” approach to expressing their moral convictions.
For two decades, thoughtful and decent Baptists have made “if…then” statements about the SBC conflict. These blustery statements sound morally decisive. They provide the idea that tolerant people will become tough people when a certain line is crossed.
A few years ago, ministers were often heard saying, “If Keith Parks is forced out of the Foreign Mission Board, then we’ll have to reconsider our support of the Cooperative Program.”
Two years ago, a lay person explained his moderate pastor’s passivity about the SBC strife. The lay person quoted his pastor threatening, “If Jerry Falwell joins the SBC, then we’ll withhold our funds.”
A year ago, a non-aligned pastor warned fellow ministers, “If the fundamentalists change the Baptist Faith and Message, then I’m going to speak out about this mess.”
This summer, an employee, at a state convention that sends all its Cooperative Program funds exclusively to the SBC, said, “If the fundamentalists try to take over our convention in November, then we’ll look at other options.”
A week ago, a non-Texas minister said, “If the Baptist General Convention of Texas forms a new convention, then we’ll have to consider joining it.”
Do these illustrations sound familiar? Have you heard similar ones?
“If…then” thinking is not inherently faulty. In fact, it can be a constructive way to express a condition and consequence.
Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31, KJV).
Jesus spoke clearly about the requirements of discipleship. He established a standard and acted on conviction.
Many people understand the value of thresholds or lines in the sand. Healthy parents provide their children freedom with boundaries. Strong nations give despots clear warnings.
Too often, however, the “if…then” sequence becomes a chest-tumbling way to sound tough and to avoid taking action.
The woods are thick with congregational leaders who have promised action if certain events transpired. Years later, a host of these leaders are still inactive.
Fence-straddling, moderate clergy and laity have a terminal case of the “if… then” disease. Only divine intervention can disinfect this malady and provide the healing of self-definition necessary for bravery.
We would do well to recognize that when this sentence structure is used, it waves a red flag, but not always the red flag of courage.
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.