January 28, 2012
Some Thoughts from Southern Baptist Country
For the past few days I’ve been hanging out with hundreds of Southern Baptists and I have to say that I like these guys. (And I use “guys” because they only have guys in pastoral ministry.). I sure appreciated their passion for God’s Word. It's great to see people actually carry their Bibles into worship services and then keep them open during sermons. (And most of the Bibles look really old and beat up—like they’ve actually been read and reread for decades.) I love their passion for evangelism. I love the way people nod their heads and talk back during sermons. Where else can you hear “Amen,” and “Preach it,” and “That’s right,” and “Yes!” sprinkled throughout a message? I mean, these folks actually know how to listen to a sermon! In some ways, I think Southern Baptists do their part to keey this country from plunging over the edge.
Having said all of that, I honestly have to say that I couldn't join the SBC. For me it feels like becoming a Greek Orthodox Christian: parts of it intrigue me but there are too many theological differences (like the complete absence of women in leadership for one) and then the cultural barriers are also huge. You know, I love Souvlaki and Gyros and Mediterranean cruises but I’m just not Greek. In a similar way, I also love SEC football (go Georgia Dawgs!), year-round warm weather, and sweet tea but the inculturation process would take a while.
I realize that Americans move around a lot these days, but I'd still argue that there are some key regional differences in this country--just as I discovered that Long Island has cultural distinctives that differ from the culture of my home state of Minnesota. For one thing, a lot of people in Jacksonville, unlike former New Yorkers like me, are actually nice. Really nice. But even if I lived in the South for a decade I’d probably still feel a bit like a displaced Midwesterner.
So here’s a friendly suggestion from a long time Midwest guy: consider changing your name. Keep the "Baptist” part but drop the “Southern” part. I know it’s a big hassle switching all the letterhead, but I think it will be worth it. For starters, we need more "Southern Baptists" in our neighborhoods in the Midwest or the Northeast. (Although I wouldn’t recommend sending too many lifelong southerners to plant churches in places like Newark, Boston, or Long Island--unless you train them like you'd train someone going to Bangladesh or Tanzania.) I’m not sure where the name-changing discussion is at these days, but as just one lifelong northerner, I hope you start the discussion again sometime soon.