February 21, 2018

CBF, Colonialism, & Consistency

After my Word&Way column (Illuminating Fundamentalism) last week on responses by liberal Fundamentalists to a new hiring policy and procedure by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, there have many many reactions. While I've heard positive feedback from several pastors, there have been some liberal Baptists on social media who have argued that a liberal can't be a Fundamentalist or who disagreed with my claim that liberal Fundamentalists were engaging in colonialsm.

I stand by a definition of Fundamentalist that cuts across the ideological spectrum - and I am by no means the first to use the term this way. There are even Fundamentalist atheists who are as dogmatic, exclusionary, and hateful as the Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims they condemn (and there are plenty of atheists who are not Fundamentalists, just as there are with Christians and Muslims).

As for the issue of colonialism, a Baptist News Global column critiques my argument on that issue. Andrew Gardner, a doctoral candidate in American religious history at Florida State University, argues that it is actually CBF's position that is colonial. But there's a problem. His argument lacks internal consistency. 

Gardner correctly notes that colonialism deals with complex power dynamics. I studied postcolonial theories and writings in multiple doctoral classes, so I recognize that. Yet, his application of colonialism falls flat.

Statue of an American solider on San Juan Hill near Santiago de Cuba.

Arguing colonialism includes efforts to "pit two disenfranchised groups against one another" in order "to maintain a set power dynamic," Gardner claims that CBF is engaging in colonialism by pitting LGBTQ individuals against global Christians. His argument therefore presupposes that CBF seeks to keep global Christians in a disenfranchised position. If that's true, then it doesn't matter what CBF chose to do in terms of hiring LGBTQ individuals because CBF would still be a colonial force seeking to rule over global Christians.

That is, even if CBF had chosen to move to a full "welcoming and affirming" stance as Gardner wants, they would - by his own logic - still be engaging in colonialism because they would be seeking to disenfranchise global Christians and to pit them against another disenfranchised group. His labeling of CBF as colonialists for not allowing LGBTQ individuals to serve as missionaries is therefore disingenuous since they would still be colonialists even if they had chosen to hire LGBTQ individuals as missionaries.

Gardner's piece then gets even more problematic as he suggests CBF could've been less colonial by not listening to global Christians. He argues that instead of "[u]tilizing the beliefs and practices of global Christians," CBF should have announced it was "[i]mplementing this policy solely because it reflects the congregational opinions of churches within the CBF." Somehow, ignoring the voices of global Christians and instead just listening to member congregations in the U.S. would make the policy less colonial. Huh?

There are other problems with Gardner's column, like his claim that it "is disingenuous and factually untrue" to claim global Christians wouldn't partner with a "welcoming and affirming" body. He then lists three Baptist groups outside of the U.S. as if they are representative on this issue - yet there are over 200 non-U.S. Baptist bodies in the Baptist World Alliance. CBF leaders noted they listened to their 100 global partners and heard differently than what Gardner believes. This is not surprising. It matches what I've heard from global Baptists. The fact remains that the vast majority of global Baptist bodies - including nearly all of CBF's global partners - do not agree with Gardner. To dismiss their voices smacks of, well, colonialism.

In my travels, I have learned from global Baptists about some of the negative and continuing impacts of colonialism on them. I've seen and heard this in Cuba, Guatemala, South Africa, Turkey, and elsewhere. Liberal critics of CBF's new hiring decision shouldn't discount those perspectives. To do otherwise, is to act with an unbiblical sense of moral and intellectual superiority. 

That is colonialism. 

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