Breaking the Vocal Monopoly

March 15, 2008

A lot of controversy has erupted over the past week about "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change" that was released by the new Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. I reported on the document for Ethics Daily on Monday and followed-up on Wednesday. In a post on Monday, I noted that the Baptist Press was quick to attack the statement. Now, Will Hall, the SBC's vice president for news services, has critiqued the statement and its name. He argued in a WorldNetDaily article:

For the record, there has been no change in convention policy and despite the media blitz that suggests otherwise, there does not appear to be a groundswell of support for change. ... Jonathan Merritt does not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. Unfortunately, his use of 'Southern Baptist' in the title of his declaration misinforms the public and misrepresents the Southern Baptist Convention.
Apparently Hall does not understand that the Southern Baptist Convention does not have a monopoly on the term "Southern Baptist." Baptists are not a hierarchical tradition where the leadership sets official doctrines and can be assumed to speak for the whole body. Rather, it is a grassroots faith tradition where any individual or group can speak for themselves as one Southern Baptist perspective. Thus, any group of Southern Baptists actually has the right to claim the title "Southern Baptist." Such an organizational paradigm is likely troubling for Hall and other SBC leaders who want to control the message through the Baptist Press and other "official" proclamations.

Although I believe the new environmental document is actually quite weak and does not offer the prophetic challenge of the Evangelical Climate Initiative or Al Gore at the Celebration of New Baptist Covenant, I am glad those involved felt the freedom to publicly assert their beliefs. It is time that the propaganda of Hall and the Baptist Press is challenged. As I have noted on a number of occasions, Hall and the Baptist Press often offer inaccurate biased accounts (see here, here, here, and here). It would be tragic if they are allowed to be the only voice of and for Southern Baptists. Hopefully, more Southern Baptists will take advantage of their right as priests (which is part of the historic Baptist belief in the priesthood of the believer) to speak out on important issues and even take different positions than the SBC leadership.