Editors Note: This was written well before the recent public release of the Southern Baptist Convention report on sexual abuse. And as in keeping with the intentional delay in responding to any news on this blog there won’t be anything about that for a few weeks. However, the point about culture in this article will be playing into that forthcoming bit of writing. So consider this something of a primer along with what will, probably, show up next Tuesday about the problem with top down condescension that is rife in Evangelicalism, including the SBC.
This article will be some commentary on a kerfuffle that occurred here in my fair city. And I can not emphasize enough how much I think the word kerfuffle is appropriate. The actual dust up is wildly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. No one should get that hackles up over it (which some have). What it does do is afford us a small glimpse into something that might be useful to asses controversies in the future. And perhaps that will be edifying.
For entertainment purposes I will not strain myself to keep any snark out of the following rundown. In these here parts we have a couple of seminaries. The biggest are Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary headed up by the Right Honourable Mike Spradlin , and Memphis Theological Seminary, overseen by a raving commie loon, and I mean that in the best possible way. Mid America hosted an event, a conference right on the cutting edge of ten years ago called, Engaging the Culture. From all accounts it was a sparsely attended event, which is ok considering who all was getting a platform. The Conservative Baptist Network, is… something. One of the groups slated to present was the team behind the documentary film Enemies Within the Church. I have not seen this film, I don’t intend to, It looks to be mostly accurate but obnoxiously clickbait-y in it’s presentation. Anyhoo, Spradlin decided not to show the film, or a trailer for it. The school had already shown it at a different event, and maybe he didn’t like it. Whatever his reasons were, the film was nixed. The representative Trevor Loudon was still offered his full time to speak and share the information in the documentary. he then used that time to blast Spradlin and the school for canceling the film and saying this proved Mid America was going wok. The school cut the live feed, shuffled Loudon off the stage, a pastor friend of the school gave a vigorous defense of Spradlin, and the conservative baptists on the internet lost their minds.
The Elements of a Wind Eddie
In the fall it is not odd to see a little swirl of leaves blowing for a few seconds before petering out. It is a slight diversion that is momentarily entertaining and a few things have to fall into place to create it. Wind has to hit multiple vertical surfaces which changes its direction causing a curve against itself. And you need some leaves. Basically this is what happened at Mid America. A group already on a spring, the kinds of folks who make Joe McCarthy look like as if he were a passive voice in the fight against the Reds, was present. Their chosen representative, Loudon, is professedly NOT a christian*, and very from New Zealand. And unfortunately for them, he is undeniably a stranger in a strange land. He blew up against the walls of Mid America, an institution that is steeped, steeped I tell you, in good ole boy southern honor. And that is where the leaves began do dance.
It seems that there had been a bit of howling form the left leaning corners of Baptist internet about the film. But I honestly I doubt Spradlin paid any attention to that, if he even knew. If I had to bet cashy money I would say that Spradlin saw the film the first time around and had the same reaction to it I would. agreement, but irritation at the hysterical tone. A film like this is not honestly designed to persuade, it is designed to affirm suspicion. And there is a place for that, I suppose. I enjoy Not the Bee as much as the next conservative. But there is a limit to the good preaching to the choir can do. Spradlin probably did not want to fan the emotional flames of the minority of McCarthyists already in his school filling his inbox. So simply don’t show the movie, let the information be related, but in a less emotionally charged way. This is the good southern thing to do, it is called being genteel. All of that seems to have flown right over Trevor Loudon’s head, ____________. So Trevor did what he did, and when the natural southern conclusion arrived a very tiny corner of the internet went wild.
All of this is to say, context matters. I have met Mike Spradlin, I don’t know him personally. I have spoken in the chapel at the Seminary a few times and he has always been gracious to me. That said I do not hold the highest opinion of Mid America, but that is on par with my feelings about a lot of seminaries. But what I will say is that Mid America is very rooted in it’s cultural context. It absolutely has its own local quirks, and those quirks are very old school southern. The honor of the president had been besmirched, Loudon is lucky not to have been challenged to a duel.
What was seen, was not Mid America shifting left. It was two cultures smacking into each other, hard. And perhaps, this kind of thing should be considered when a similar kerfuffle happens elsewhere. It just might be that instead of the wokies taking over someone stepped on some social mores and got the natural negative response. And I am not trying to talk down Mid America, but it is a middling school that mostly puts out middling country pastors. I have never been blown away by a Mid America graduate, but I have never accused them of spitting out crazed commies. They produce exactly what they are, good ole southern boys. In other places there is probably going to be some equivalent, so perhaps, call a side show a side show. Assume there are things, maybe cultural, that you are wildly unaware of and hold your howling for when it really does matter.
*If I have a criticism, it is here. I am not entirely comfortable with having a non christian speak in a seminary without a clear disclaimer that he is not in agreement with us on the fundamentals.