Thursday, June 14, 2018

Southern Baptist Convention's New Smiley Face: What Really Lies Behind It, When We Get Beyond Media Spin?: "Wives, Submit to Your Husbands"

Perhaps as a former Southern Baptist, I should keep my mouth shut. In the view of the mainstream media, which love a both-sides-have-good-points approach to these issues, I have an "agenda," as an LGBTQ Christian who repudiated my family's Southern Baptist church after it split in 1964 or 1965 over the question of whether to admit African-American members. Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress don't have an agenda, in the eyes of the mainstream religious media. 

People like me do have agendas. So perhaps it would be the better part of wisdom for me to say nothing about a church I have repudiated.

Still, that church has enormous influence in American culture and politics — a fortiori in the administration of the current occupant of the White House. It has a lot of money backing it (and this is the ultimate reason that the mainstream religion-reporter media treat it with kid gloves). And regardless of what the conversational gatekeepers choose to think, I do happen to know Southern Baptists, because I grew up in a Southern Baptist family and culture, with a paternal uncle who spent his academic career as an academic vice-president of Southern Baptist colleges, married the wife of a Southern Baptist minister, and has two sons who are SBC ministers. 

I have skin in this game, as folks like to say. (My father's sister also married a man whose great-grandfather, an English Baptist missionary to the Creek people of Georgia and Alabama, was instrumental in helping organize the Southern Baptist church, and who spawned generations of Southern Baptist ministers in the Southern states. That uncle's grandfather was one of those ministers, and my uncle's lawyer father was head of the SBC in Arkansas for some years.)

So I'm going to open my mouth and share some of my thoughts about this year's SBC meeting and the decisions it has made. What I want to say is this: there's the spin. And then there's the truth.

The spin — this from the influential religion reporter Daniel Burke at CNN:

More spin — this from Ed Stetzer, head of Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center regarding the new SBC president J.D. Greear:

He's a new face for a traditional theology. Think about how Pope Francis, depending who you ask, hasn't really changed Catholic doctrine — but he has put a different face on that. Greear is sort of a new generational face.

Daniel Burke then retweets Ed Stetzer as Stetzer makes the astonishing claim that future SBC meetings will never again hear "a political speech" after the SBC invited Mike Pence to address its meeting yesterday:

More spin — the developing meme, the fatuous (and truly mendacious) claim that the SBC has just moved beyond politics and will in future be all about proclaiming the love of Jesus to bathroom attendants — continued yesterday to move into wider mainstream media circles with Ruth Graham's Slate article, "Mike Pence gave a Trump stump speech to a crowd of Southern Baptists, and it didn't go over very well."

More spin — Adelle Banks at Religion News Service and Daniel Costa-Roberts for Mother Jones telling us that 

Southern Baptists, grappling with some #MeToo-aided falls from grace among their leaders, have called for affirming women, showing compassion for the abused and expecting "moral and sexual purity" of their leaders (this is Banks).

And that Greear has "comparatively open views on race and gender" for someone representing a very conservative religious group (this is Costa-Roberts)….

The truth — here's Sarah Smith tweeting two days ago to summarize Greear's actual "open view" about gender issues:

And here, from the Costa-Roberts article linked above, is a succinct summary of where J.D. Greear actually stands on gender issues:

Although Greear has supported women's participation in the church, he upholds the traditional stance that some roles—such as that of pastor—are the domain of men.  
"Complementarianism teaches that there are roles, distinct roles, that God gives to men and women in the home and in the church," Greear said in his Facebook Live video. "And that is Biblical and we need to honor that."

In what real universe is this any of this "affirming" of women, or an "open view" about women? And in what real universe is any of this, as Burke and Stetzer want to spin the SBC's current status, not political? Precisely how has the SBC moved beyond politics by electing J.D. Greear its president? How is it not political to seek to curb the rights of women and LGBTQ people and to use the influence of one's religious group to accomplish that goal — as a voting bloc? As a voting bloc that controls Supreme Court nominations to seek to see that its religious views, representing a minority of American voters, are imposed on the majority via a right-wing Supreme Court?

Not political?! Do tell.

The spin about the SBC's election of J.D. Greear that Ed Stetzer is offering mainstream media reporters — who obviously gobble it up with uncritical glee — is that the SBC has now taken what's old and dysfunctional (see: Paige Patterson; see: Andy Savage; see: Frank Page) and has slapped a "new face" on it.

And we hope you won't notice that we're offering you the same old, same old that has led to our dysfunction (see: #ChurchToo and #MeToo; see: 8 in 10 white evangelicals voted for Trump) because you're too dumb or too shallow to see we've given you a new smiley face without changing a damned thing about ourselves.

The same old, same old that has led us to our current dead end: another heterosexual white male leader, since the "traditional theology" we follow permits us no other choice: God is a heterosexual white male, after all.

Have those offering us this glib spin read any of the biblical prophets, with their scathing denunciation of people who try to dissemble and pretend by presenting deceptive faces to the world, while their hearts remain as ugly as ever? Have they read Jesus talking about whitewashed tombs that try to prettify their external appearances while they hide corruption within?

Only morally and spiritually corrupt, moribund, organizations try these image-management techniques — we're going to give you a pretty new face and hope you'll be too stupid to see that the same old, same old ugly face lies beneath the mask — in the face of serious challenges calling for serious self-reflection and real change.

Mainstream media religion reporters are clearly buying the spin. They've bought the smiley-face agenda that Ed Stetzer so helpfully sums up for us when he tells us that Greear puts a nicer new "face" on the SBC and its agenda, which won't change a whit in any substantial way underneath its nice new smiling face.

The U.S. mainstream media are fatefully allured by "faces" — and this is particularly true of religion reporters, who are willing to give endless mulligans to white evangelicals, never probing their racism, misogyny, and homophobia deeply at all, and in this way, paving the way for the moral monstrosity to enter the White House.

Part of the problem here? The guild of top mainstream media reporters in the U.S. consists almost entirely of heterosexual white married people.

If this guild would try for a change asking a broader group of people familiar with Southern Baptist culture and politics what really lies behind that new smiley-face mask of the SBC, they might hear a very different story — as Ruth Graham would have done when she wrote her glowing tribute to Billy Graham earlier this year if she'd listened seriously to lots of other people whose lives have been very negatively affected by his politicking in various areas, including race matters and gay rights, and who were telling less varnished and prettified stories about who Billy Graham was and what he meant in their lives. 

Here's what J.D. Greear and the SBC are actually saying to women, when we get beyond the spin and stop pretending that the SBC just "affirmed" women in electing J.D. Greear its president, or that J.D. Greear has a "comparatively open" view about women:

Ladies, God has given you special gifts and talents. When taking care of your husband and children doesn't consume all your time (since marrying and bearing children is your primary talent and gift to the world, your primary calling), you can bake pies for the church bake sale. Or, better yet, make a nice fried chicken dinner and invite the pastor over. We won't permit you to stand in the pulpit — God doesn't want that any more than God wants a woman to have authority as U.S. president, the very idea! — but we will allow you to teach Sunday School. We'll permit you to teach children and other women, since God gives women special "feminizing" gifts to understand other women and children better than men do.

Men are called to rule, not to understand or listen.

Do you see ANYBODY but white men in the photo at the head of the posting, which is by Roger Mallison of AP/Star Telegram, and is in the article linked above at "this from Ed Stetzer"? 

New face, all my eye and Betty Martin!

(For a critical and prophetic statement of an African-American Baptist pastor committed to full inclusion of LGBTQ people in Christian churches regarding the SBC and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meetings, see my friend Wendell Griffen in "Baptist Mendacity About Missions This Week in Dallas" — an article I featured in my posting yesterday.

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