Turning Back the Page

May 30, 2007

For most of the last year I have been fairly impressed with Frank Page, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention who won by upsetting the establishment. He seemed to be putting forth a more positive image. For instance, shortly after his election he explained that he was a conservative but added, "I'm just not mad about it."

Thus, I was quite disappointed to see him lash out in a Baptist Press article at former President Jimmy Carter and the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, especially since many of his comments were simply inaccurate. For instance, he stated:

I will not be a part of any smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda that seeks to deny the greatest need in our world, that being that the lost be shown the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
What Page apparently missed was that there are conservative speakers and even Republican politicians. I have trouble believing that smart politicians like Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley would be a part of a "smokescreen" for a "leftwing liberal agenda." And I would not participate if that was what the Celebration was designed to be. Ironically, Page invoked the name of Al Gore, who will be one of the speakers, to justify the great work that the SBC has done. But if Gore supports the SBC's work then it must be just a "smokescreen" for a "leftwing liberal agenda." Or do charges of politics only apply to everyone else?

And I have no clue how he thinks this event denies that our world most needs to be shown Jesus. Maybe he is referring to inaccurate claims about Carter denying the gospel, which means he needs to read my column for Ethics Daily yesterday. The importance of sharing the gospel has always been one of the objectives for the Celebration. For instance, the Celebration website explains about those who first announced the Covenant:

They reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality.
Page also attempts to make this event an anti-SBC event, even though many of the organizations involved have never been part of the SBC and thus do not have a stake in the internal conflict of the past few decades. It seems quite arrogant for SBC leaders to assume that everything in Baptist life is about them. This is not an attempt to "take the microphone away" (as Page claimed), but rather an attempt to unite all Baptists--including Southern Baptists--together.

Other problems in the Baptist Press article include describing the Celebration as a "gathering of moderates and liberals." However, what that leaves out is that there are conservative Baptist organizations who are just as if not more conservative than the average Southern Baptist. Additionally, the piece is deceptive by what it does not include. It lists some of the groups involved that left the SBC in order to suggest that this is an anti-SBC effort. However, the article fails to mention that the leadership includes leaders from state conventions that are part of the SBC. Ironically, some of the great work of the SBC that Page mentioned in his comments are partly done by those state conventions.

I am not sure what motivated Page to take the offensive here, but it seems to be a sad turn back to leadership style of those he defeated. Maybe his election was not as big of a change as many thought. Or perhaps he is wanting to make sure he can win again next month. Regardless, it is sad that he has decided to become a mad conservative.

UPDATE [5-30-07]: Wade Burleson has a post on this and makes a couple of good additional observations. First, he notes that Page's comments as reported by the Baptist Press did not sound much like how Page normally does. Additionally, he notes that the title of the article changed from "Page Rebukes New Covenant" to "Page Responds to Carter" and thus wonders who wrote the first and who suggested the second.

UPDATE [5-31-07]: Robert Parham has an excellent column at Ethics Daily today that responds to Page's remarks. He offers three very good points as to why Page's comments are inaccurate.

UPDATE [5-31-07]: Ben Cole offers some excellent points as he notes the differences between Frank Page's full statement and the Baptist Press article.