Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago I started blogging this political memoir. The two and half years since I left denominational service have waited only on the title for the memoir to see light, though I could not have told you so. I would prefer to say I waited out of respect, or concern for the convention’s position or because a published (Ok, screened) memoir is not the usual baptist thing but, in fact, I waited only for a title.
I knew I wanted to explain to Texas baptist Christians what went so very terribly wrong with their convention apparatus. Separation advocacy (of which I was an early proponent and a late apologist) led to Civil War in the late 90’s. The emergency status lasted for years and lingers to this day.
In a kind of national emergency the best people rise to the occassion early but return to private life as soon as possible. The second tier of civil servants bob to the surface then, as office seekers. If the nation/organization/convention is fortunate the office ennobles the man/woman (think Harry S. Truman), or the system can defend itself (Watergate) or outside forces converge to make the office holder less powerful, perhaps even irrelevant (Britain, the Suez Canal and Anthony Eden).
None of this happened for us. There was no real system to defend itself. The office seeker worked a plan to get to office but had no plan to govern. Outside entities with competing agendas overwhelmed the staff, itself beset with chronic financial, morale and talent issues.
I knew I wanted to explain my five year nightmare to myself. As a preacher I think best on my feet (old time preacher) and as a writer I think best when my fingers are in motion. I sat down to write about the Church as Sacred Monster, the movement from naif to sentimentalist. I managed to explain some of this to myself.
Along the way, I reasoned, I would lose some friends. One or two wanted to be cheerleaders for the convention; mindlessly calling us to "move on." We can move on but there is nothing in recent events to indicate we will.
The liberal gradualists among us still say, "Just wait. We are working on it." The reactionary forces blame the victim and call for a return to "the way things were." The self-proclaimed progressives invest too much in the war emotionally, financially and spiritually to move on or let go so we can move.
The result? Our state convention trends downward, like the national convention, even if one believes its own statistics, which I do not.
What can we do? I have tried to suggest a number of things in the memoir but, since I do not tell anyone how to put this book on that shelf, I will be accused of being long on steam and short on soap. We will go along with contrived programs, configured annual conventions, to alienate friends, embolden opponents and disgust neutrals, until we lose all three.
I wanted to say what we might do because there are no more musts. A must is an imperative; imperatives are the stuff of the missionary not the muddler. In the absence of a clear mission the finger is wetted and put to the wind. We follow but the wind soon shifts.
The existence of a set of imperatives, even one imperative, would give us cause-effect determinism, so we continue, more desparately, to look for musts. If we do this thing we know to do, the reasoning goes, we know that this will happen and all will be well. A clear mission is itself an imperative. We have none.
I assumed the poseurs would appear. You can tell a poseur by the facility of the cliche they bring to you. Appeal to past glories, anguished cries about fallen leaders, rolled eyes and the sadly shaken head mark the poseur.
There is little time left to smile for the camera.
In the next few days, I will suggest some of the things we might do, again. I hold out no hope we will do them or even consider our position thoughtfully. I simply need to say our service is interrupted,the connection is down and the noise on the line annoys.