Saturday, February 17, 2007

Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War

I recently published a book review of Exiled: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War in the Louisville Courier-Journal. I decided to post the review here and invite your comments.

Faithful Baptists, exiled from a radicalized faith

By David P. Charlton
Special to The Courier-Journal

A Holy War may be the ultimate oxymoron. In 1984, Roy Honeycutt, then president of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared a holy war on the fundamentalist leaders seeking to take control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a declaration of resistance to the fundamentalist takeover, it was short lived. Honeycutt resigned in 1993 after fundamentalists had gained a majority of seats on the seminary's board of trustees and by the mid-'90s the Southern Baptist Convention was firmly under fundamentalist control, and a purging of conservatives and moderates within SBC institutions was nearly complete. In Exiled, 31 writers tell their stories of being stripped of their positions and being sent into exile from the denomination they had faithfully served for years. Readers of their stories quickly find there was little or no holiness found in the flexing of institutional muscle by the fundamentalist leadership of the SBC.

These are stories from those who paid a personal price for their convictions. They are the stories of church politics, betrayal and the power over others that can be wielded by those who control religious institutions. They reflect the cold, hard reality of people committing unChristian acts in the name of Christ. And they express the chilling effect that intimidation, the threat of career and financial ruin, and damaged reputations can have. It is also a powerful warning of how the silence of moderate voices can be complicit in allowing such acts to take place.

Some readers may ignore this book because they have no interest in Southern Baptist life. But these stories should not be overlooked, as they warn of the dangers that arise when fundamentalist religious beliefs are institutionalized and given control and power over the lives of others.

Exiled is a warning of what can happen if religious fundamentalism is allowed to operate unchecked. The same fundamentalism that came to power in Southern Baptist institutions is now moving into the larger culture, seeking to enforce a uniformity of belief that can be seen in the debate over same-sex marriage, the teaching of evolution in public schools, the treatment of the environment and even our nation's foreign policy decisions.

Two of the stories are by local writers. Michael Duncan, pastor of the Eminence (Ky.) Baptist Church, writes of a sermon delivered to his congregation in which he resigned his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Paul Simmons, a former faculty member of Southern Seminary and now a faculty member at the University of Louisville, writes bluntly and powerfully of his forced departure from Southern.

David P. Charlton, of New Castle, Ky., has been pastor of New Castle First Baptist Church for 16 years. He is a member of the local Renaissance Board, Tri-County Community Action Board and CARE Team Board, and is a mentor for the Henry County Public Schools. He is a 2006 Forum Fellow.

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