Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Last Thing I'll Ever Write About Baptists (Part 3 of 3)

From 1993-1999 I served as a professor in the School of Religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. At that time Belmont was still related to the Tennessee Baptist Convention—a relationship that has since ended—but even during my time there the college in general and the School of Religion in particular had a very Moderate bent. I was philosophically and theologically comfortable there although I did get a small taste, through some professors outside the School of Religion, of what my life and my scholarship might look like apart from some commitment to what I am most comfortable calling an evangelically oriented faith—and I knew that I did not want to go there, although certainly no one at Belmont required or even encouraged me to do so.

The reasons I left academia and returned to the pastorate are complicated and personal and still somewhat unclear to me, but among the reasons were my yearnings for study that was geared toward proclamation, for involvement with people in all the seasons of their lives, and for encounter with things high and holy through worship leadership.

When I returned to the pastorate I went back home—that is what it felt like—to the First Baptist Church of Adel where I served a second stint from 1999-2003.

In 2003 I moved to The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, an experience that deserves an article—if not a book—of its own but about which here I will simply say that I wish I could have and would have done a better job of leading that very fine congregation and that one of the reasons—one among many—that I could not and did not was that I was not forcefully insistent enough on leading them to face the changes that had taken place in their sociological and ecclesiological and denominational settings.

During my years at The Hill the SBC ended its participation in the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the Georgia Baptist Convention ended its relationship with Mercer University. While I tried to lead the church to see the error of the two conventions’ ways in those matters—and I did succeed in leading them to include both the BWA and Mercer’s Baptist Scholarship Fund in their budget for the rest of my time there—I knew that for the most part their hearts were not with me on those issues which indicated to me the unfortunate mismatch that our relationship had become.

In December 2008 I became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia, a church that, while it maintains its commitments to the missions efforts of the SBC, also provides generous space for involvement with the missions and ministries of CBF, for which I am very grateful.

Despite my gastro-intestinal—not to mention spiritual—inability to be overtly political in my efforts, I believe I can honestly say that I have over the years done my fair share of toting the Moderate or “free and faithful” Baptist banner.

I once served as a member of a committee that was recruited to recommend Moderate vice-presidential candidates for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

I served on the Board of Directors for the Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia until we voted ourselves out of business this year.

I am currently on the Coordinating Council for CBF of Georgia.

At the fall meeting of the Valdosta Baptist Association in 2002, when a resolution of support for the GBC in its dispute with Shorter College, which was at that time attempting to become independent of the Convention, was presented I attempted to amend the resolution to make it more even-handed but the motion failed for lack of a second. I then was the only person in the room who spoke in support of Shorter and against the resolution and I think I was the only person to vote against the resolution.

In November 2004 I made a motion at the GBC annual meeting that the state convention restore its share of the funding to the Baptist World Alliance in light of the SBC’s withdrawal from that organization but my motion was resoundingly defeated.

In November 2005, when the GBC voted to end its relationship with Mercer University, I was one of only two messengers—and the only Mercer alumnus—to speak against the motion; in fact, I made a motion to postpone the question since the recommendation had come with no advance notice but my motion was ruled out of order.

I attended the Baptist World Alliance meetings in Birmingham, England (2005) and Honolulu, Hawaii (2010).

In November 2010, when the GBC voted to declare the Druid Hills Baptist Church a “non-cooperating” church and thus withdraw fellowship from it because the church has a woman serving as co-pastor, I was the only messenger other than the Druid Hills deacon chair to speak against the motion.

That statement on the Druid Hills matter is the last public stand I intend ever to take at a Baptist meeting.

Over the years I have also written quite a lot about Baptist matters. From letters to the editor of our Baptist state newspaper to posts on this blog to articles in the Baptist Heritage newsletter to church newsletter articles to essays at EthicsDaily.com, I have tapped out quite a few words about Baptists on various computer keyboards.

This article is the last one I intend ever to write on Baptist matters.

Why? Well, as this memoir attests, I have expended a lot of time and energy and emotion on things Baptist over the years and frankly, I am weary of it.

Thirty years is a long time and that’s about how much time I’ve given to the effort.

Enough is enough.

It’s not that I don’t care anymore; I do. It’s not that I don’t still believe in the historic Baptist principles for which I have stood up all these years; I do. It’s not that I don’t think there’s value in trying to be a voice in the wilderness, so to speak; I do.

It’s just that the SBC is, from my perspective, long gone and, so far as the GBC goes, I’m weary of speaking up and having the only voice I hear in agreement be my own echo—except for those few friends who offer me some “Atta boys” from a distance. All of my friends gave up on that effort long ago and their wisdom likely far surpasses mine. It’s not that I have felt like what I was saying was going to change anything but I still felt like somebody needed to say it and I knew that if I didn’t it wouldn’t get said.

But maybe it just doesn’t need to be said anymore.

Anyway, I’m not going to say it anymore.

The main reason, though, that this is the last thing I’ll ever write about Baptists is that life is short. I’m 52 years old now and I want to use my energy and my thoughts and my heart and my words wisely.

There are for me more important things about which I need to speak and to write.

I’m still a Baptist—kind of a Moderate Evangelical Progressive Pietistic Baptist, but a Baptist nonetheless—so no doubt my Baptist identity will still come out in my speaking and writing.

But so far as giving space in my life and in my thoughts and in my writing and in my speaking and in this blog to Baptist controversies and conflicts and developments—I am so very weary and I am so very finished.

As for me, I say, “Thanks be to God!”

As for those who may care, I say that I hope you understand.

3 comments:

Scott Rushing said...

Count me among the many who are sorry to read this post. Yet, I'm glad to have read your story, if that makes any sense, despite the fact that it leads to The Decision.

Despite the fact that I'm in doctoral studies in the Religion department of the largest Baptist university in the world, I somehow feel disconnected from the wider Baptist world. Your voice is one of those I count on to fill me in on what's going on.

One difference may be that of Texas Baptists vs. Georgia Baptists. The CBF churches here seem to have completely distanced themselves from the SBC churches.

Or maybe its a generational thing. When I discuss Baptist matters with my colleagues, we have given up any fighting with the SBC. We sit at a distance and mourn the fact that a church would be "dis-fellowshiped" because of its female pastor. But then again, I have come to expect nothing else than that. As you reference elsewhere, those walls that the SBC are building get taller and taller every year.

Anyway, if I understood you right, we will continue to read your wisdom on the gospel. For that I am thankful. And your witness to the gospel is probably more edifying reading than your reflections on Baptist politics anyway. :)

keith said...

It was painful to read your article. But I agree; it's time to move on.

foxofbama said...

Dr. Ruffin:

I hope you will make a few posts at SBC Voices in regard your three part essays on Inerrancy.
Wade Burleson has engaged the discussion there. I know it is hostile territory there, but preaching to mostly the choir has its disadvantages as well.
One tip, only insert one link a post there; otherwise you invite a monitoring thicket.

Do make a an effort to get your hands on Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind soon as you can.

And as a football fan, ESPN 30/30 The Best that Never Was is remarkable. Don't miss the repeat showing Weds 29, Dec at noon or Jan 2 at 2pm. Must see TV