Thursday, June 23, 2011

God, Southern Baptists & Gannett

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I’ve been reading a little about last week’s annual convention of the Southern Baptist Convention, held in Phoenix, mostly because Ben Alley --- the young Iowa man from Marshalltown (left) who recently was awarded a $40,000 Eychaner Foundation scholarship --- was there as part of an LGBT contingent that participated in an historic meeting with the Rev. Bryant Wright, SBC president.

Historic because the Baptists didn’t call the cops and have the queers dragged out of the convention center, but actually invited them in for a visit. The talk wasn’t productive, but at least no one was yelling.

The SBC, with 16 million members the second largest religious denomination in the United States (Roman Catholics are first), dates from 1845. Its founders split from northern Baptists so they could keep their slaves --- and their religion --- with a clear conscience. It was all very biblical, classic situational interpretation of the holy writ.

Those guys who wrote the Bible, inspired or not, took slavery for granted --- you’ll find nothing there condemning it. So on the one hand, southern Baptist literalists were justified.

On the other hand, if they’d focused on what that guy Jesus said, although he didn’t mention slavery specifically, they’d have freed ‘em right then and there and maybe spared us that awful war.

The big difficulty with Biblical literalism is that you dig yourself into awful deep holes sometimes.

The official apology came 150 years later --- in 1995 --- some years after the SBC had an official change of heart --- and mind --- regarding which Bible verses to take seriously.

Anyhow, representatives of LGBT advocacy groups gathered in Phoenix alongside the Baptists to suggest that it might be smart not to wait 150 years to apologize to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks for some of the hurtful things the good old boys in the pulpits, pews and amen corners have said and done. Get it over with and do it now, they suggested.

Alley was involved because his father, a Southern Baptist preacher on the staff of First Baptist Church in Marshalltown a couple of years ago, kicked him out because he was gay, then headed home to Tennessee without him.

Wright allowed that Ben’s dad had been a little harsh, but no apology was forthcoming. As if anyone expected one.


More interesting than the meeting, however, were comments from the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leading denominational apologist, who suggested that Southern Baptists need to repent of a “form of homophobia.” That’s pretty edgy for a Southern Baptist.

Here’s a portion of an Associated Baptist Press account of Mohler’s comments:

“… Mohler responded during his report to the Southern Baptist Convention to a question from Peter Lumpkins, a Southern Baptist blogger, about whether comments attributed to him in a March 24 Christian Science Monitor article were accurate.

“Writer Jonathan Merritt, a Southern Baptist minister and well-known social critic, quoted Mohler as saying ‘We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia,’ and ‘We’ve used the choice language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.’

Mohler was quick to say that the 200 articles he’d written on gay issues proved he hadn’t gone soft on queers, but added that “the reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue.”

He then covered his ass:

“Evangelicals, thankfully, have failed to take the liberal trajectory of lying about homosexuality and its sinfulness,” Mohler said. “We know that the Bible clearly declares – not only in isolated verses but in the totality of its comprehensive presentation – the fact that homosexuality not only is not God’s best for us, as some try to say, but it is sin.”

And then went all edgy again:

“But we as evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with this issue,” he continued. “We have told not the truth, but we have told about half the truth. We’ve told the biblical truth, and that’s important, but we haven’t applied it in the biblical way.”

“We have said to people that homosexuality is just a choice,” Mohler said. “It’s clear that it’s more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful, but it does mean it’s not something people can just turn on and turn off. We are not a gospel people unless we understand that only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality.”

It’s tempting to put words into Mohler’s mouth and add, “only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a Southern Baptist any hope of release from homophobia.” Obviously, he wouldn’t say that, however.

But it’s fascinating. He’s getting dangerously close to implying that being gay is not a choice made primarily to aggravate Southern Baptists.

And a Southern Baptist can under no circumstance even imply that or his ass will hit the grass --- and soon. I’d guess Mohler is experiencing a change of heart --- and wonder how long he’ll last.

The interesting thing about biblical interpretation, literalist or otherwise, is that it rarely has much to do with what the Bible says or doesn’t; everything to do with the personal baggage we bring to it and what we want it to say. And that’s as true for a Southern Baptist as it is for an Episcopalian.


Gannett, owner of The Des Moines Register, has sliced into that once-great (now second-tier sliding into third) newspaper’s operation again, cutting 13 staffers, most of them from the newsroom.

Included were John Gaps III, veteran award-winning photographer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jane Schorer Meisner. I believe 700 jobs were cut corporation-wide.

You understand why Gannett and others have to keep doing this --- news is a luxury newspapers are discovering they really can’t afford any more. It’s too expensive to hire qualified people to cover it.

Too darned inconvenient to come up with the few thousand dollars it takes to care for and feed a reporter, photographer or editor when you’ve got all those needy CEOs out there.

Gannett, for example, upped the salary of its chief, Craig Dubow (left), from $4.7 million in 2009 to $9.4 million in 2010 --- and paid him a $1.75 million bonus on top of that for cutting costs (firing staffers farther down the food chain).

You gotta love it.

No comments: