STRAIGHTENING A CROOKED PLUMB LINE
published in CBF News
for Texas Baptists Spring 1998
and first posted on the CBF website in February 1998
By Bruce Prescott, Ph.D.When used correctly, plumb lines are helpful tools for setting straight lines. Carpenters have used them for years to square wall panels and door frames. All you have to do to make a plumb line work is to put a weight at one end of a chalked string and suspend the weighted cord from a fixed point at the top of a wall or door. If the string is taut and the weight is free for gravity to bring it to rest, you can snap the string and the chalk mark that is left on the wall will be vertical and straight. If, however, the line is so loose that the weight lies on the ground and the lower end of the string is being held by a workmanís hand, the mark is sure to be slanted and crooked.
Shoddy workmanship is commonplace among those who donít understand how to use the tools of their trade. Unfortunately, it is also common practice in a newsletter called Plumbline produced by the "Southern Baptists of Texas." This newsletter is the mouthpiece for a new convention that is leading Baptist churches and associations to sever ties with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. A typical example of the quality of their workmanship is an anonymous article in the October 1997 issue that is entitled "The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship: Serious Questions for Serious Consideration."
The article begins with Paulís warning to watch out for "savage wolves" who "from your own number" will arise and "distort the truth." Then, in capitalized red letters, the authors "dare to identify" nine "false prophets," one AIDS ministry packet, and four groups loosely associated with CBF as examples of "falsehood" and "error" inspired by a "literal devil."
The article makes serious allegations. So serious that, if true, persons of genuine integrity might feel compelled to speak about them. No one with real integrity, however, would do so anonymously. Simple justice, credible journalism and trustworthy testimony require witnesses to face those they accuse of evil and error. Whenever God burdens people to speak for Him, he never fails to give them the courage to do so openly. Faceless "associations" are created to cloak the identities of deliberate propagandists who are shielding themselves from accountability for distorting the truth.
The Plumbline distributes propaganda and effective propaganda always does more than repeat big lies. It excels at falsely interpreting genuine facts. It is a fact that CBF was organized by "moderate" Baptists in 1991. It is true that the people named in the article have had some association with CBF. It is wrong to think that any one of them, or all of them together, speak for or are representative of CBF. It is also wrong to interpret CBFís openness to diversity as an endorsement of "theological liberalism." We simply do not believe that differences of opinion are symptoms of disease. We believe that freely and faithfully expressed heartfelt differences are symptomatic of spiritual health and vitality. Neither do we believe that open inquiry into matters of faith is a sign of unbelief. We believe that free dialogue about the process of learning to personally discern the voice of Godís Spirit is more valuable than parroting the voice of "theological uniformity." Trial and error has always been part of the process of individual spiritual growth and personal theological maturation. We share our trials and confess our errors with one another openly and think that healthier than pretending to be exempt from the human condition. We are weary of seeing humble confessions of our inability to inerrantly interpret scripture being twisted to mean that we reject the Bible. We are wearier still of having open admissions of our inability to speak with theological infallibility being interpreted to mean that we have no convictions.Learning to distinguish Godís voice from every other voice is a difficult task. It is every Christianís job, but many willing relinquish such responsibility when someone rushes to their ear presuming to interpret Godís voice for them. What the undiscerning never suspect, until itís too late, is that their interpreters have a hidden agenda. Propagandists always have a hidden agenda. Their agenda is secret because its objectives would be readily rejected if exposed to scrutiny. Diverting attention from their goals requires that propagandists name their enemies relentlessly, exaggerate their influence threateningly, and denounce their intentions indignantly.
Propagandists always speak in tones of moral indignation. That is how they lead the spiritually undiscerning to confuse the rhetoric of propaganda with the voice of God. The undiscerning usually listen with their hearts more than with their heads. All "born again" Christians answer the call to discipleship after the Spirit of God speaks within them and moves them. We have felt divine reverberations at the deepest level of our being. We are inclined to trust feelings that seem to resonate at that level. Propagandists counterfeit those reverberations.
They stir feelings with deep resonances. Some of the deepest resonances are associated with anger, fear, and prejudice. Propagandists deliberately intensifying such feelings to motivate people to act on their hidden agenda. Their agenda propounds moral intentions, but the good end they propound only serves to justify whatever vile means they use to achieve lesser objectives. That is why the Plumbline feels free to openly quote authors without concern for the context of their thought and expression, to willfully ignore the grounds for common cause that unite groups of divergent and opposing beliefs, and to deliberately misrepresent the purposes and intentions of CBF.
Accomplished propagandists are most proficient at impugning the character of their opposition. Challenging those with genuine integrity necessitates attributing unworthy motives to their acts of compassion and evil intentions to their good deeds. That is why the article in the Plumbline launches a blitzkrieg of rhetoric against homosexuals, incessantly vilifies people concerned to minister to them, and raises questions about an "AIDS Ministry" resource packet. The desire to fuel the irrational anger, fear, and prejudice that frequently leads to violence is obvious. Such intentions are unworthy of anyone professing to be saved by the grace of God.
All the tactics of propagandists are evident in the Plumbline. The workmen at the Plumbline are holding the lower end of the string while the weight lies on the ground. The crooked slant of their mark should be obvious to anyone who is not inclined to let the finger of a workman replace the weight of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
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