Idle Words (Hushed in Private)
For the last couple years, I’ve been in ongoing conversation with a number of individuals who have offered complaint after complaint regarding certain aspects of or certain individuals in American evangelicalism. Daily, if not hourly, they would give updates on people like Russell Moore, Ed Stetzer, Ronnie Floyd or others. They would scour Twitter feeds and bring stupid stuff they’d say to my attention. They would suggest blog ideas, article topics, or social media posts. They – being regular Southern Baptist complainers for decades – knew more about what was wrong with the Convention and our little corner of evangelicalism than anybody. I’ve only been paying attention for a couple years, so I valued their much more seasoned criticism.
But then, I noticed, it would stop there. It stopped at criticism in private Facebook chats. It stopped at their private, negative appraisals of certain individuals via text message. It stopped with them, where it began – in the dark, quiet shadows.
So many times – like countless times – I’d say, “Do something about it. Say something. Write a blog post. Write a book. Call some people. Make a stink. Just do something and stop blowing your hot, worthless air at me all day long.” More than a few can testify to these conversations and my frustration upon others’ desire for private protest over public action. If anything my time with these mice (for I cannot call them men) has taught me, is that as entertaining as endless personal criticisms in the peanut gallery combox and private Facebook chat may be, idle talk doesn’t accomplish anything.
I’ve never found cowardice to be cathartic.
I Don’t Know
The first time (and only time) I’ve ever personally tangled with Convention officials was when our church and a few others had been lied to by two regional NAMB vice-presidents and the executive director of the Montana Convention. Our association voted to call upon the administrative team of the executive committee of our state convention to terminate the employment of said state convention, essentially for dishonesty, disregard and mistreatment of local churches. In the course of that long, sordid affair, sooooooo many pastors reached out to us and said, “We’ve felt this way for years.”
What I discovered is that most pastors felt that way. They were tired of having NAMB run roughshod over them. They were tired of the kingdom-building machismo that disregarded their local churches. And so, for years, I had heard these criticisms in darkened corners and hallways at associational meetings and in hushed tones at state convention meetings and whispered concerns at pastor conferences. In fact, I caught wind of these concerns (I’m a gifted eaves-dropper) long before I had them of my own. Simply put – many didn’t think the man should be employed and also believed there was a fundamental integrity problem with the relationship between local churches and NAMB. I asked one pastor, who told me of his concerns, why he never did anything about it. He looked down at his shoes, sheepishly, and said, “I don’t know.”
When I and a few others called for the executive director’s resignation, how many do you reckon were with us? Yeah. Just a few. In fact, a good many of those who had emailed us, texted us, or called us with their gripes over the years then publicly derided us for taking action. Some even sent him congratulatory notes and praised God for his deliverance, after the committee came out with a letter they typed the night before they met with us, saying they didn’t find our arguments compelling (before they heard them, mind you). A number on the committee sparing the director’s job later told us they agreed with our concerns entirely, but were not told of our concerns before drafting a letter repudiating them. When asked why they didn’t speak up at the time, they responded, “I don’t know.”
No one knew who I was before my “tangling” with the Convention over the dishonesty of NAMB and their mistreatment of local churches. My life was much happier then. There was no ‘JD Hall’ – which is what I started going by because hate mail doesn’t hurt as much when they don’t use your first name. There was only Jordan. I was just a normal guy who liked politics and hunting. But when I saw the epic problems at NAMB, and upon further reflection, the entire SBC – and that the only thing people were doing was whispering about it – I decided to do something. Fire up a blog. Make a website. Start a podcast. I just wanted to…do something.
Since preaching Modern Day Downgrade: A Call for Repentance to Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals, I’ve been contacted by literally thousands of Southern Baptists who are equally as fed up. Most lay people are saying something publicly, voting with their feet and dollars, and taking some kind of stand. Most pastors – though certainly not all – are complaining in quiet. They know the consequences. They see how those of us who do stand up are eviscerated and made enemies of. They see how we become the denominational pariahs. We are made examples of, and they have much to loose.
So, back to the Facebook combox, they go. They resist in measured form, through passive aggressive sub-tweets and snide but subtle comments on blog posts. There’s no persecution, no one is dying or being crucified, but still they drive their protests unnecessarily underground. They’re not making people angry, not being branded as divisive, and losing nothing but a slow, steady leak of hot air. They’re tigers without teeth, vertebrates without backbone and are more steer than bull.
And yet, they receive the positive benefits of being on the right team. They get to come to the parties, so to speak. They wear the uniform. They never get put into the game, however. They ride the bench. They’re like the kid on the football team who secretly hopes he never has to go in, but gets to ride the float in the homecoming parade with a jersey stained with neither grass, sweat nor blood.
These are the men who fill your life of incessant criticism, and when you speak up, call you too critical. The cause would be better had they never put their hand to the plow, pretending as though they were capable of work.
Speak Up, Stand Up
It came to my attention, at some point in the last few years, that some people do the church politics thing for the sheer fun of it. That never crossed my mind, until I met men who seemed to revel in the grab-handing of it all. They giggled about stupid tweets and ignorant posts and laughable thoughts uttered by the greatest targets of their private criticism. They liked the controversy heard about on podcasts and getting the “secret” denominational scuttlebutt that nobody will ever read in the Baptist Press or convention newspapers. But they don’t appreciate that information so that they can do anything with it. They appreciate the information just because it’s like collecting the latest comic book. It’s a game, to them. It’s a hobby.
I exhort you not to be like them. If you’re not going to actually man up and do something about the Downgrade, go fishing. Get on with your life. Pet your dog. Watch that Star Wars marathon you’ve been waiting on. In short, help us or get out of the way.
[Contributed by JD Hall]