Posts Tagged Hinson

Revisiting ‘Battle for the Minds’ after nearly a quarter of a century


I have had much to ponder over the past few days as “Battle for the Minds” has been digitized and placed on YouTube. Given all that is transpiring in Southern Baptist life with reference to sexual abuse, it is timely for this documentary to be on the scene once again. It is not only a historical record of a tumultuous time at what many of us called “the mother seminary” in Louisville, Kentucky, but also serves as a cautionary tale about the ongoing misogyny within the Southern Baptist ecclesial tradition.

Former students and present detractors have responded to the video’s revival and its stark portrayal of what was at stake in “the Controversy,” as we called it then. As the social media engagement suggests, there are many who applaud the clear dissent to the Southern Baptist Convention powers that were circling. Others want to take up the conservative battle again, including some who have written to me to question whether or not I am a confessional Christian. I remain one, a thoroughgoing Trinitarian, even if I do not believe the inerrancy of Scripture or the relegation of women to secondary status are requisite. One writer questioned if you can follow Jesus without the pretext of inerrancy. Yes, young man, I think you can.

“We are now seeing some of the foul fruit of this exclusionary ecclesial vision.”

Filmed in the spring of 1995 shortly after I had been pushed out as a professor of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the documentary chronicled faculty and student response to the hostile takeover of a beloved theological school for the purpose of preserving a patriarchal vision of ministry and, more importantly, of God. We are now seeing some of the foul fruit of this exclusionary ecclesial vision, and the Southern Baptist diminishment of women is revealing the pernicious outcomes in damaged lives as male hegemony has persisted.

One of the things that struck me as I viewed “Battle” once again were the prophetic voices of colleagues Paul Simmons and Henlee Barnette (of blessed memory) who held forth the best theological ethics of the seminary’s tradition as they questioned the captivity of thought to the agenda of the religious right. They were prescient as they saw the impact of politics and religion too deeply entwined. It took courage for them to appear in the film, and they aptly sized up the implications of the kind of inculcation portended in the seismic shifts occurring then (and now).

One of the students in the film who was supportive of the new regime went so far as to say that one does not come to seminary to learn new things, but to have reinforced what one already believed. The seminary experience was intended to be an affirmation of grassroots theology, not an openness to the wider intellectual heritage of the church.

My experience as a student at Southern was just the opposite. I needed to hear the challenge to my narrow Landmark Baptist identity forged in Muskogee, Oklahoma. (I only discovered the heresy of the Landmarkist “Trail of Blood” theory while sitting in Glenn Hinson’s church history course.) I needed to hear of the common pre-Reformation heritage of the church. I needed to learn from theologians, historians, scripture scholars and ethicists how the faith tradition had developed and been passed on. Even more, I needed to witness the godly example of these faithful scholars who gave themselves in the classroom day by day and offered their gifts in the churches on weekends.

“God put me on the planet to love students and stir the theological pot.”

While many think of the damaged lives of faculty during the fundamentalist takeover of our beloved seminary, it was the students who bore the larger burden of sorting through what was going on. They saw faculty members they trusted pilloried; they saw a shifting landscape for the churches they might serve; and they saw abuse of power in how the board and president disposed of those who did not fit the new symbol system they were erecting. Surely a woman theologian did not fit into the iconography, as my life attests.

A Baptist diaspora followed the conquest of Southern. Faculty members populated established schools like Baylor and helped found new theological schools, most imbedded in universities. The charism of Southern continues as it is scattered throughout these new sites of ministry preparation. Often when the consortium of CBF-affiliated schools gathers, former faculty colleagues from Southern will gravitate toward one another. As Bill Leonard has remarked, “You kind of know who you shot the rapids with.” Truly!

I was very fortunate in that God preserved my vocation to form leaders for the church. Three days after I was terminated, I received a call from Central Baptist Theological Seminary to begin a conversation about planting my life in Kansas City. If that sounds like resurrection, it surely was — and is! God put me on the planet to love students and stir the theological pot.

For these ensuing years, I have served in a hospitable space among the American Baptists and alongside the CBF. I give thanks for this welcome, and I am grateful for the ways the wider Baptist identity continues to become more inclusive of its daughters.

“Dr. Molly Marshall was a favorite speaker in the Hamrick Lectures held at First Baptist Church in Charleston, SC. Her’s is a voice I always turn to for guidance.

Tags: , , ,

Hear What God Is Saying to the Church – Dr. Monty Knight

Glenn Hinson taught me how to read a book–any book–ethically (fairly). Did he teach you the same?Hinson said that for any book to be read ethically, it must be read in its own context, e.g. (speaking metaphorically) a love note is not a shopping list, nor a shopping list a love note.

At Circular, the ascription at the end of the scripture reading used to be, “Hear what God is saying to the Church.” Which, as you know, is partly true, since the Hebrew Bible (Jesus’ Bible) is Israel’s book, written and edited by, to, for, from and out of the life of ancient Israel. And again, as you know, both testaments (unless one is a Marcionite) are the Church’s book (anthological as they may be), the New Testament (the witness to faith of the first Christians) having been written, edited and canonized likewise by, to, for, from and out of the life of the Church between the first and fourth centuries C.E. When Susan Dunn or Bert Keller have preached in recent years, they have used as an ascription to the scripture reading, the UCC mantra: “Listen! God is still speaking.” Which (as I’ve just noted) is a less ambiguous ascription than “Hear what God is saying to the church.”

In recent years, the ascription has been changed (by whom?) to “Hear the wisdom in the words.” Which is, of course, likely so, since there is apparently, if not obviously valuable, important wisdom in the Bible. Most precisely, as you know, in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, commonly referred to as “wisdom literature.” Which Bert Keller once termed “ancient psychology.”  Except there is also considerable wisdom in many other literary sources. Which raises the question (in this case, for “wisdom” purposes), what’s the difference between the Bible and The Brothers Karamazov or To Kill a Mockingbird, or the poetry of a Hopkins or an Eliot? Not unlike Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, much of Dr. Seuss or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, most readers would likely consider such works notably “wise” as well.

So why is the explicit reading of scripture so central to Christian worship, both in the Church of the New Testament and across Christian history? How is Bible reading in church any different from observing communion and baptism? Most people bathe, or at least wash a part of their bodies daily, and bread and wine are sacred gifts anywhere (at least for discerning Christians). What then is the significance of the context in which these rituals are observed?

Some years ago, I was invited to preach at the Unitarian Church, here in Charleston. (I say “church” in the sociological, rather than in the I Corinthians 12 theological sense.) In agreeing, I explained to the woman inviting me that I was a Christian minister and that I would like to take a text from the Bible and preach a sermon from that portion of scripture. I asked her if that was OK, or if she merely wanted me to give a speech or lecture on mental health or some other social or political subject (as I have so often presented to the Rotary Club, or some similar civic organization).

To which she replied, “Oh, that would be wonderful! We haven’t heard the Bible read here in our church in years.”


Tags: , , ,

Thank You Is Not Enough for These Mind Benders

For the last several months I have kept the focus of this blog on Christian Civility, Christian Communication and Christian Ethics. I have asked so many thought provoking men and women whom I respect to help me. The John A. Hamrick Lectures which enriched our lives so deeply are no more. Carol and I have been unable to attend The Chautauqua Institution in New York State in the past couple of years where we have been so inspired by the speakers; therefore, I decided to create my own Chautauqua and to share it. How blessed I am that these people are a part of my life.

How could I have had a better start than with renowned Bible scholar and theologian Glenn Hinson? Glenn lectured at the Hamrick Lectureship. He was followed by a young dynamic Children’s Minister, Emory Hiott. Emory represents the future of the church. Next came my long term friend and mentor, Dr. Monty Knight. Rev. Dr. John Johnson, a friend from Furman University days and an Episcopal priest rounded out the first month.

August started with Thomas Crowl, a retired Judge, and author of, In His Service, a book of devotionals. Rev. Maria Swearengin, was the assistant chaplain at Furman University.  She is now a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Rev. Dr. Molly, Marshall, president of Central Baptist Seminary, and Rev. George Rossi followed through. George is a counselor at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Marshall spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectures.

Rev Stephanie McLeskey is the chaplain at Mars Hill University. Sarah Pinson is active in food health in the Charleston area and is an active member of Circular Congregation Church. Dr. Douglas Hunter at the time was the Director of the Whitfield Christian Life Center at Charleston Southern University.  Robert Darden is a professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University. Penn State University Press published his two volume history of protest songs and spirituals, Nothing but Love in God’s Waters. Rev. Paul Stouffer is a retired missionary and was a classmate at Mars Hill University.

Linda Wertheimer is the author of, Faith Ed. It is an absolutely splendid work. Kris Wood is the organizer for the Christian Writer’s Conferences at Green Lake, Wisconsin, Dr. Bill Leonard is a global speaker and professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School. Bill also spoke at the Hamrick Lectures and at the Lenten Lectures at Mepkin Abbey. Fredrick Schmidt is a professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Rev. Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Fellowship Baptist Church in Canton, Georgia and a frequent contributor to Rev. Brian Skar is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Minot, North Dakota. We met at the Green Lake Christian Writer’s Conference. Rev. Dr. Linda Bridges is part of the Spotlight International Education Group and a former faculty member at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She and I first met at the Chautauqua Institution. Rev. Deborah Meister is the former Rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. Rev. Julia Rusling is a priest associate at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Dunwoody, GA.

Dr. Mark Labberton is the president of Fuller Evangelical Theological Seminary and Dr. Richard Mauw is President Emeritus. Dr. Mauw contributed a chapter to my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. His book, Uncommon Decency, is a masterpiece. If you have not read it, go out and get it. While you are at it get his book, Praying at Burger King.

RChristina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. She is a wife, mother and writer. Dr. Eric Barreta is a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Rev. Dr. Shawnethea Monroe is the minister at Plymouth Church, United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She has two posts back to back. My friend, Rev. George Rossi, is also back with an excellent discussion of physical, mental and spiritual health. Retired Judge Thomas Crowl is back to help us start the New Year.

What a tremendous blessing this has been. These contributions Merritt reading again and again. Thank you all.

Tags: , , ,