Dr. Gene Garrison's LETTERS FROM EXILE #2

March 30, 1999

Dear Colleague-in-Christ,

The response from my first letter has encouraged me to write another. The friends who actually mail these letters tell me they only have addresses for churches and not for individual pastors. In a sense, I regret this because in my own mind I am writing to pastors as personally as I possibly can.

I received numerous replies to my first "Letter from Exile" – and all but four of them were warm, positive, and encouraging (which I greatly appreciated). Two of them questioned my theology and my reason for sending the letter, and two of them were simply abrupt and unhappy. But…! In all of the other letters, I found a cordial spirit. Frankly, several expressed personal frustration and confusion about some of the same matters which continue to concern me about the "direction" of our Southern Baptist Convention.

I suppose the specific thing that prompts this second letter is an editorial in a recent edition of The Baptist Messenger in which Mark Coppenger, now President of Midwestern Seminary and one of the leaders in "the Conservative resurgence" writes of how glad he is to be a Southern Baptist because of our "unequivocal commitment to…" (and he lists these four things): (1) Biblical inerrancy; (2) the new Baptist Faith and Message article saying that wives should be submissive to their husbands; (3) the male pastorate; and (4) the rights of the unborn.

Surely, these are not the only things to which Southern Baptists are committed. But they have become the main things. And that is what continues to give Southern Baptists their new identity: as a narrow, negative, judgmental people. What I have been sensing now for 20 years is that if a person does not agree and accept every nuance of every pronouncement of SBC leadership in these four areas, that person has no place in the denomination.

For example: You tell me if I "belong" in the Southern Baptist Convention today?

I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, entirely authoritative and reliable in all matters related to faith and practice. I do not believe, however, that God tried to kill Moses (Exodus 4:24), or that Joshua won the battle with the Amorites because the sun literally stood still (Joshua 10:12-14), or that followers of Christ should demonstrate their faith by handling snakes (Mark 16:18). Do you?

I believe God’s ideal pattern for the family, as found through a consistent interpretation of the whole of Scripture, is for husbands and wives to possess a complete sense of equality, sharing decision-making responsibility with a spirit of mutual-dependency in the home. If I interpret the Ephesians verse (5:22) as setting forth God’s eternal intent for the family, then why would I not also apply the same principles to the whole passage and thus accept and defend slavery (6:5-9), as our forefathers did in 1845. Proof-texting can lead to serious inconsistencies.

I believe the scope and the limits of service in the Kingdom of God are determined by His Sovereignty, and not by cultural standards which have always tended to discriminate against women. In the male-dominated society of the first century, men were most prominent. However, even then, there were exceptions (Acts 21:9) and if most commentaries are right, according to Acts 2:17 more were intended to come.

But regardless of how I personally feel about this matter, if a local church, believing the Bible to be the inspired Word of God sincerely interprets the Bible to teach that women may serve as pastors; and if that church chooses to call a woman as pastor, what business is that of mine? As Southern Baptists, aren’t we committed to the autonomy of the local church?

I also believe in the rights of the unborn, and thus I affirm that abortion is evil. But I recognize there are often other evils involved which rob people of the luxury of making a choice simply between good-and-evil, and compel them instead to choose between the lesser of two evils. In my opinion, complexities and circumstances of specific situations must sometimes be considered.

Am I still a Southern Baptist? I really would appreciate hearing from you. Please know that I am not just trying to stir up trouble. Nor am I a "power broker." Although I have retired from pastoring, I am still genuinely, deeply concerned about the denomination which I once believed God was raising up to become His missionary instrument to the world. I see the convention now dominated by the J. Frank Norris/Jerry Falwell kind of Fundamentalism, alienating and isolating people instead of relating to them with redemptive love. Do you share any of this concern?

By the way, my call-in radio talk show on Sunday mornings is going unbelievably well! From 8:30-10:00 a.m. each Sunday, I am on a network of stations across the state (both AM and FM) with a toll free telephone number: 1-888-339-1049 (460-1049 for OKC area). I have been on the air now for 13 months, and I welcome calls on all sorts of "religious" topics (it’s called "Religious Talk on Sunday Morning").

Either by mail or by telephone some Sunday morning, I’d love to hear from you.

Cordially,

 

Gene Garrison

 

 

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