Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Five (Continued)

   This is, please recall, a political memoir. I take it from memory, from perceptions recorded in journals from the time and continued conversations with pastors, staff, denominational workers and laymen from around the world. All will tell you they are sick of the politics.

   Politic, from the Latin polus, meaning "of the many," later characterized as "of the people," represents the right of the masses to create, coordinate and even criticize any central authority they collectively feel is worthy of their interest. On its higher level, the political is undeniably good. The creation of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, of the Baptist World Alliance, of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, even of the Southern  Baptist Convention, was political. Meetings were held, motives impugned, motions offered and mandates determined. Documents were drawn up and shouted down to be redrawn.

   Politics is action. Politics, of which the "gut" is "compromise." No one gets all they want, most get something they want, those who get none of what they want get a hearing, at least, and all gain strength from their surrender of strength to the other. In the end, we can do more together than we do separately. To convene a meeting is itself an agreement to share power at least for the length of the meeting(s). If participants can reach points of agreement around which to base joint action, the surrender of personal power continues beyond the meeting itself.

   Politics is the surrender of some personal prerogative (power) for the common good.

   How can two walk together except they be agreed? How can they walk together any other way? The wisdom of that bit of misquoted Scripture is folk wisdom. If we walk together it is because we can agree on some ultimate goal and come to some agreement on how to work toward that goal. We may carry different things in our pack along the way. We work hard to reach the agreed upon, so common, goal. The common goal is common because it is shared, not because it is routine. Some magnificent obsessions come into being as shared, common goals.

   Unfortunately, "politics" being of the people partakes of every feeble human fault. Greed, lust, corruption, hurbis, egomania and every other affliction of man from Adam to today factors in to the way we organize to do business. Amy Chua’s recent Days of Empire tracks great empires of history from Cyrus the Great to the coming Chinese domination of the 21st century. Her main contention is that empires form and rule by means of power but flourish by way of tolerance. The empire itself may be barbaric, capable of the greaterst cruelties against even its own people but its success historically comes from its adoption of the great artists, thinkers and workers of the conquered worlds.

   There was once a time in our convention life wherein persons who could barely tolerate one another in daily life met to agree on the few places where they could agree. They believed Jesus to be the Christ, missions to be required, evangelism to be the urgent push of baptist Christian life and the Bible to be the guidebook of life. They succeeded in putting personal feelings aside to share power for the greater good.

   Then came the years of the locust. Good intentions were eaten up by a horde of avaricious, competitive flying bugs, efficient in their consumption. Their competition left devastation behind them.

   Politics being competitive because people compete, some adversarial feelings result. Try to play touch football. The touch part lasts until someone touches someone else a little harder than necessary. The touchee responds competitively to the toucher and the game morphs into "Touch really hard" football.

   So, my point, such as it is, is that "politics" is always a part of what we do collectively. When we touch hard and get touched harder and touch back harder, well, you get the idea. I think, when we say, "I am sick of the politics," we may mean, "I am sick of the adversarial part of this."

    Notwithstanding our weariness, we have been touched and must touch back. Hard. Our hard reactive touch sparks another flurry from the opposition. No one knows how to call a truce so the game can go back to touch.

   Our guy at the top, our BGCT Executive Director, never knew how hard to touch. He was a competitive enough man but he never knew when to haul out the fly swatter or go to the weapons of mass destruction, vis a vis the opposition. He could strafe his staff or empower the incompetent by his "leadership by abandonment" but he never caught on to how he might handle the attacks of the SBTC or their fellow travelers.

   You should know, Charles had to try hard to be a an unobservant, careless leader. He just is not good at unkindness. He was often up to the task of dispassionate attack but he was always sorry afterward; genuinely rueful and apologetic. He had to work up to being a jerk. Once he got there, well, merciful heavens, he would preen, pout, give evidence of the massive self-pity and self-absorption worthy of a spoiled child.

  He was a good pastor from what I hear but politically he had the raw strategic skills of a Curly Howard. He was constantly outmaneuvered, manipulated by events and just generally not able to navigate an average day. In a crisis, he was often superb. Unfortunately, many of the crises were of his own making.

   He would call for a cease-fire in Texas. Then he would announce, publicly, he saw more friends in the elevator at the CBF meeting than he saw at the whole SBC annual meeting. Staff got to talk to people in the real world about that one so long we wished he had gotten stuck between floors with his friends.

   There are a few hundred other examples.

   If we are involved in a political struggle (and every struggle is political), we have to have a steady hand at the helm. To announce a truce, then attack, confounds allies, confuses neutrals and steels the opposition.

   We were good at talking, good at starting but not good at step two. Disaster was just around the corner.



2 thoughts on “Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Five (Continued)”

  1. When I went to work at the BGCT in 1983 politics was defined as, “poli”, meaning many; and “tics”, meaning blood sucking insects.

  2. I give you 5 literary points for using the word “hubris” correctly in a sentence.
    I have been criticized with using “big words” in my sermons at times. I try not to, I want to be understandable to my congregation. But, I don’t have many other times to educate people in the use of good words. For instance, one of my favorite words is, “Salvific.” I wish we could use that word more. 🙂

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