Book Review: HARDBALL RELIGION: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism
THE BOOK: Hardball Religion .. Feeling the Fury of
THE AUTHOR: Rev. Wade Burleson, Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, OK
THE PUBLISHER: Smyth & Helwys, Macon, GA
In "Hardball Religion", Wade Burleson recounts the story of his involvement in, and how he was treated as a member of, the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board; treated by those in positions of authority on the Board, as well as by fellow Trustees. His original differences with the Board concerned the "narrowing of parameters" for qualification as an IMB Missionary, and all the ramifications Burleson sees as flowing therefrom (i.e.: requiring re-baptizing of candidates whose baptism met their SBC churches' standards, but not the IMB's new standard, which Burleson sees as an infringement on the local churches' autonomy).
The format of the book is the simple telling of his story, from the run-up to his appointment to the IMB BoT, through to the time following his censure and resignation. And, it is interspersed with observations as to other symptoms of, and the effects, in human terms, of the restrictive changes made by those in leadership positions of the institutions involved.
One of those inclusions is the trail of events which, taken together, speak of an organized effort to oust IMB President Jerry Rankin; another is the concerted efforts to get rid of women in positions which some people, in positions of power, want to fill with men.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS:
CREDIBILITY: This, frankly, may be a hindrance to some folks who read this book. Those who oppose the "Landmark characteristics" of the new guidelines of the IMB, or who differ with the opinions of those identified as "B.I" people, will tend to agree with the story in toto; others will probably disagree with Burleson's more subjective observations, such as the motivations or intentions of those opposing his efforts, and what those people are trying to accomplish.
As for me, I find his story credible. I say that for more than one reason. EXAMPLE: In Chapter 18, Burleson recounts his presentation of a particular motion at the Annual Convention in Greensboro, NC. His motion called for an ad hoc committee of the SBC itself (not just the IMB) to investigate certain practices at the IMB, and their BoT, including (among other things) practices in appointing trustees hand-picked to alter the directions of the involved organization. The Committee on the Order of Business simply referred his motion to the IMB, to investigate and report back next year (I said at the time, that was like asking the class bully if he's bullying people). As I recall, someone moved that Wade's motion be acted on by the convention as a whole, so it was scheduled for discussion in the evening session.
By way of explanation, it's necessary to include herein the fact that I spoke to that motion. I told the convention that the allegations (narrowing parameters, "stacking" boards, etc) were so serious that, if the SBC itself didn't address them, and do it now, that we're apt to come back a year later and find that the Holy Spirit had departed (much as He did King Saul, who went right on being King, since he'd "learned how"). I said Burlesons's allegations were such that, if they were true, there was a BIG problem, and if NOT, there was still a BIG problem!
The motion to bring it back out for a vote failed, and that was that.
After the meeting, my wife Peggy and I went to the Convention Hotel; as we were approaching the door, someone shouted "Hey ... isn't he the guy that spoke up for Wade?" That was, in fact, IMB Trustee Bill Sutton, a pastor from McAllen, TX, prominently mentioned in the book. I told him yes, I'd addressed the motion, and he proceeded to lambaste Burleson in a manner I thought reprehensible for any Christian, let alone a pastor!. And he divulged factual, behind-closed-doors information that he never should have said to a stranger from Alabama.
During the encounter (Peg had fled inside the hotel, to pray), Burleson walked up behind Sutton. Although I'm sure he'd heard some of what Sutton had said, Burleson was completely friendly and irenic, putting his arm around Sutton and saying "We're going to get through this, brother..". Unfortunately, Sutton did not return the friendliness, that I could see, and in fact continued his attacks after Burleson had gone on into the hotel.
That's necessary to explain, as it validates, for me, Burleson's statements about Sutton's actions (Sutton had even verified to me, what Burleson reports Sutton said to him in the hallway). And Burleson's demeanor in that personal encounter also leads me to believe that Burleson actually did conduct himself in a gracious courteous manner in dissenting, which he claims to have done.
My thoughts are also supported by what I have seen and heard, from many of the friends I've made in the SBC, since my first involvement in 2006, at Greensboro.
BOTTOM LINE: For me, the book is credible. Hence, the allegations are believable.
READABILITY: It was an enjoyable read, almost like Burleson sitting there telling a story. I think readers will find it interesting, if only from the standpoint that surprising and outrageous behaviors .. especially for a bunch of religious folks .. seem to keep cropping up every few pages.
I AGREE WITH BURLESON'S PREMISE .. about the narrowing of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. As a Baptist who holds to the doctrinal system described as "Calvinistic", and one who also has what's described as a "Prayer Language", efforts to achieve "extra-BFM" uniformity are objectionable to me. Burleson's ideas on principled dissent also seem correct and appropriate, to me. And I've personally talked to people whose lives have been affected, not to say devastated, by the trends and actions Burleson decries.
IS THE BATTLE WORTH FIGHTING? Not mine to say. One of the cornerstones of my Calvinistic leanings is that I'm not responsible to bring about the results of my efforts: that's up to God. I'm not supposed to teach or witness based upon my estimation of whether those around me will learn or get saved. So I cannot deny the appropriateness of Burleson's actions, as described in the book. His seems a noble battle in these matters.
HAS HIS ADDRESSING THESE ISSUES HAD AN EFFECT? This one's easy. Peg and I and another blogger were sitting at a restaurant at Riverwalk in San Antonio. during the 2007 SBC Convention. We were approached by two young people who called me by name; they'd recognized my picture from my blog, and had read it, as well as seen my comments on Burleson's blog. They were IMB missionaries, and said they wanted to thank us for what were were doing .. that we were, in our blogging, helping their cause!
DO I THINK THE REFORMS HE SEEMS TO SEEK .. THE GOALS HE SEEMS TO PRESS TOWARD .. WILL HAPPEN? No, I don't think so. And for my reasons, consider some of what I see as some of his "money quotes".
- Page 19: "Sadly, many times the majority simply doesn't care about the integrity of its leaders".
- Page 57: "The Southern Baptist Convention needs and demands transparency, the free flow of information, the ability to dissent, and cooperation in the midst of differences on tertiary issues".
- Page 69: "I still cannot understand why the average Southern Baptist, not to mention pastors and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are all remaining silent as they watch a small nucleus of Southern Baptists rotate from one trustee board to another -- all placed there by an oligarchy of Southern Baptist leaders led by Paige Patterson."
- Page 77: "If we're not careful, we are going to lose a younger generation of pastors that are disillusioned with the SBC because all they see is the continuing narrowing of the parameters of fellowship within our convention".
The younger generation? I don't think I have the time to count the ones who have checked out.
So who's left to care? Read the book, and get acquainted with a few.
Including a too-lonely pastor from Enid, OK.
NOTE:"HARDBALL RELIGION; Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism" by Wade Burleson is now available for purchase: you can order a copy direct from Smyth & Helwys HERE.