Albert the Pious published a lengthy essay at his Web site this week which argues that, even as Christianity declines throughout the educated West, Baptists might shape the future of post-Christian thought. It’s an inherently aggrandizing piece, and tedious whistling past the graveyard, so I’m not encouraging anybody to go take a look; I want to draw attention to just one section.
Will Southern Baptists embrace an identity that is more theological than tribal? The older I get the more I recognize the value of the tribal inheritance I received as a young boy. This is why I phrased the question “more theological than tribal” rather than “theological instead of tribal.” In fact, I believe it is impossible to survive as a community of conviction without having a certain amount of tribal identity. But, as many young Southern Baptists now realize, tribal identity is not enough. Tribal identity alone will eventually give way to theological accommodation. Our identity must be more theological than tribal, and that requires a change in the logic of the Southern Baptist Convention, certainly a change from the logic employed during the middle and late decades of the twentieth century.
This is an astonishing passage. Mohler explicitly acknowledges that the Southern Baptists are more strongly shaped by ‘tribalism’ than theology. He goes on to say that the persistence of tribalism is necessary to the denomination’s survival.
And then he urges that Southern Baptists retain their tribalism but be more ‘theological,’ which seems to mean that he wants the folk in the pews to learn a thing or two about their religion. Recall that I hooted at Mohler when he was complaining that evangelicals were flocking to Trump, evidencing that they are a social, not theological, grouping.
Mohler and Moore are struggling to enforce a meaningless distinction, hewing to evangelicalism as a theological stance while sniffing piously at the doomed and dying culture in which it is embedded and from which it draws its strength — chiefly (though of course not exclusively) the racist, anti-intellectual, anti-modernity, misogynistic, south. I am not kidding y’all: That sweet old lady who hasn’t missed a Sunday since that glorious day she was saved 60-years ago once delivered picnic-baskets of sandwiches to the menfolk who stood at roadside and threw rocks at the civil rights marchers — and she doesn’t know bupkus about what’s in the Bible, or what ‘evangelical’ means theologically. What she knows is that the world is changing, that the culture of her community, even her church, is changing, and in a way that she doesn’t like — and that it’s all the fault of those uppity dark people who don’t even speak good American half the time, and those sluts who went to college, and those snooty smarty-pants perfessers, and those newspaper people, and those gay people who want to get married and adopt kids and be a family.
And Donald Trump, bless his heart, hates them all just as much as she …
I guarantee you: Southern Baptists are not going to get more theological. What is going to happen is that their hateful culture, their tribe, is going to grow more malice-eaten and subterranean.
And notice the not-too-subtle smack at the so-called Conservative Resurgence (in which Mohler was a willing participant).
Our identity must be more theological than tribal, and that requires a change in the logic of the Southern Baptist Convention, certainly a change from the logic employed during the middle and late decades of the twentieth century.
The 20-years long war within the denomination ran off all the smart and principled people, and left their seminaries with nobody but howling yahoos foursquare for that Old Time Religion (and rigidly-enforced employment contracts which demand that) — and now they’ve got a denomination which is a tribe that knows almost nothing about its religion.
Like nobody could have seen that coming. Enjoy the fruits of your labors, y’all.