Monday, December 19, 2005

Only in the Bible Belt

Southern Baptists have continued the effort to purge non-dogma elements from their churches. The latest issue is the speaking-in-tongues debate, which to most folks is downright nutty, has caused some ill will within their International Mission Board. Trustees of the agency "voted 25-18(actually 50-15 according to folks who attended) to establish a new policy banning the appointment of missionaries who had practiced a 'private prayer language,'" according to Robert Marus reporting for the Associated Baptist Press in an article for the ADG (registration required). Some interested folks believe the new policy is an attempt to embarass board president Jerry Rankin who has publicly engaged in a private prayer language and "interpreted" another "message" in tongues for a congregation.

The first impression of most who might read this is "what are they talking about?!" In the south where the tongue-talkin' faiths usually had their churches built in a remote location in the middle of a cotton field or across the tracks or in the mountains where they might be tempted to play with snakes, the issue is prime. Southern Baptists have their dogma and "holy-rolling" ain't acceptable for missionaries serving overseas in the name of the Southern Baptist god, er in the name of God on behalf of the Southern Baptist doctrine. If there was ever an illustration of why church and state have been deliberately separated by our Founding Fathers, this issue is proof of their wisdom.

I have in-laws who grew up worshiping in a tongue-talkin' or self-described "Pentecostal" manner who believe that among the "gifts" of the Spirit of God is included the ability to pray in other languages and the further ability for another to interpret messages sent in other languages for the edification of the Church. Mr. Jerry Rankin, current president of the Mission Board since 1993, believes his faith must include a "private prayer language". Mr. Rankin, welcome to the multitude of "purged" Christians whom the SBC decided weren't doctrinally sound, thus, they must "get their mind right" or leave. Many former SBC congregants have left the convention the past 25 years because of "unsound" political views or Biblical beliefs which the SBC have decided to formally condemn. The tongue-talkin' controversy had a public show during the media evangelist scandals of the late 80s when Jerry Falwell, not a believer in "gifts of the Spirit", took over Jim Bakker's, a tongue-talkin' proponent like Baptist Pat Robertson, "Christian Disneyland"(to quote Jimmy Swaggart, fellow hypocrite). Falwell was forced to answer questions on the doctrinal taboo and his view of what these folks are really saying or what psychological reason there is for the existence of such a concept. Needless to say, those years were not shining moments for evangelical Christendom. I would argue they should be viewed as cautionary. The religious component of the nasty political environment can lead to some absurd reasons for nasty occurrences.

It is sad how nutty and imposing a so-called "Christian" believer can be when it comes to differing or "unsound" doctrine. What did this Rankin fellow do to deserve be singled out by a 50 of 65 Board trustees? The SBC inquisition has been taking place for nearly thirty years with past efforts to purge differing doctrines from being taught in SBC-affiliated colleges like Wake Forest or Baylor, jokingly referred to by SBC preachers and congregants alike as the "Sodom and Gomorrha of the Brazos" and other SBC schools of divinity were under attack until Wake Forest left the convention in 1986. I remember my SBC preacher crowing about their "ouster" for undoctrinal teachings and his support for the work of Adrian Rogers of Memphis. Adrian Rogers, in the news last when it was announced he had died, was the most influential SBC preacher in the Mid-South and he was one of those responsible for the the slowly developing SBC version of Inquisition, purging all "liberal" ideas about doctrine from being heard or discussed in any of their affiliated congregations. As far as SBC devotees are concerned, folks like Rankin can join the Cooperative Baptist "apostate", more commonly referred to as the "Jimmy Carter Baptists".

Mr. Rankin can deny his "gifts" or leave the SBC altogether. It sounds like a purge to me and among Board members, he's already out the door. Shameful! The battle for who really knows God's Will is heating up and the mud in the name of Christ will continue to be flung until folks come to their senses, stop fearing death, and start caring more about people and less about dogma. When people are afraid, they tend to go to extremes to prove to themselves and others they are capable of plunging irrationally into a dogma and the way to Christ gets real easy from there. Nice fantasy to maintain! If it was so easy, the rivers of blood shed over religious differences within the same Christian faith would never have been a fact in our history. Luckily for Protestants, at the time the Catholic defenders were prepared to slaughter the Lutherans, the Turks decided to go a-conquering in Europe again. Naturally the Islamic infidel must be stopped BEFORE "apostate Christians" could be dealt with. Sad. Party-line Christianity can never be a pretty sight.

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