on dissent
6/29/2006 11:32:00 PM
If anyone has been paying attention to the latest happenings in the SBC, it is no secret that there is a growing movement of dissent, particularly among younger pastors and leaders on the SBC. Without going into much detail, these leaders feel that the SBC is not fulfilling it's purpose to the fullest. It you want to know more, check out the "Memphis Declaration" and blogs linked to that site.

Before I delve off into dissent, I like to start with a working definition and a framework of what qualifies dissent. The word has a pretty specific in meaning - it means to disagree with the majority or establishment in existence, and in the case of church, it generally is with the doctrines and practices. We talked about doctrine and practice in the last post, so there is no need to really discuss that at great lengths. Instead, there are three observations I'd like to make about dissent. First, dissent isn't dissent unless it is made known. I may disagree in my mind with a doctrine, but I do nothing to change it or present my case, then I am assenting by omission. This is altogether to common, and most people don't like to rock the boat for fear of rejection, chastisement, or whatever reason. Second, although dissent does rock the boat, it doesn't have to be vociferocious. A dissenter doesn't have to be a big mouth, but can disagree in a quiet, and even humble spirit. This kind of dissent is generally accepted more than those who shout on the corners and the streets. People can disagree in good spirit. Third, dissent is not always the opposite opinion, and may be in partial favor and disagree on some of the particulars. Fundamentalism generally has two options: agree wholly or don't. All those who don't agree are the "liberals" and seen as the "enemy" of the church. Such polarity is dangerous, and leads to isolationism and other things.

A good read is the proposed resolution to the SBC written by Ben Cole. Although the resolution never went before a vote, it was sent to the resolution committee and at a high level addresses historically how Baptists in particular have dissented.

To me, the value of dissent gives it purpose, so I will address the two simultaneously. The main contention of the following is that the majority isn't always right. Often the voice of one who is willing to dissent is all it takes for those who are not saying anything to dissent, such as in Martin Luther's case. Off of this stems three observations. First, Denominationalism or "towing the denominational line" for the sake of the denomination is dangerous. Just because the denomination says something doesn't make it right. It is often more politically or socially expedient to tow the line than it is to speak one's mind, but this will lead to further entrenchment of denominations and will bolster the power of those who control the denomination. The Anglican Church was one such denomination, and the Baptists were an outgrowth of it. Second, a purpose and value of dissent is to keep the church and denomination from becoming authoritarian. We hold to the Word of God as the source of authority. If man is allowed to keep on, the word of God will become subjugated to this. The Bible is the Word of God, but left to one or a few men's interpretation, can be twisted to say things it doesn't say. Third, dissent keeps the church from slipping into liberalism or fundamentalism. We have to disagree in order to maintain the delicate balance between the two.

When expressing dissent, the dissenter should first dissent publicly. Disagreeing privately, as established earlier isn't dissent. Publicly doesn't necessarily mean out in the open for everyone to know. I personally have dissented with some actions my church was taking, but I first went to the leadership of the church and spoke with them about it. After discussing things with them, they helped me understand why they were doing things. I gained their respect and they had mine, although I may have stilled disagreed with them. Second, dissenters should disagree in writing. Writing things down gives a record of the thoughts, and forces the dissenter to think through his reasons for dissent, and it gives the opposing party something to go from to build a rebuttal. This helps maintain integrity on both sides. Third, the dissenter should disagree with congeniality. Lambasting the opposing party with slanderous words or foul languages polarizes the factions even more the dissenter becomes more than a dissenter at that point. Congeniality gives the opposing party to say everything against the dissenter's arguments, but nothing about how they presented themselves. The establishment should respond in much the same way as the dissenter. They should address the issue personally, in writing, and with congeniality.

One thing that both parties should avoid is coming to the table with a closed mind. The purpose of disagreement and discussion is to seek a win-win situation or understanding if no consensus can be reached. This last year, I attended the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, and one thing that kind of rubbed me wrong was how some of the people who presented questions to Dembski and Ruse asked the questions. Many would ask the questions with preconceived notions about their opponents and would ask questions as such. If their mind is already made up, then are they really asking a question? It seems to me that they want to tell somebody they are wrong rather than seek understanding. This is contrary to the point of the forum, which is to educate and seek understanding, not to tear down those who disagree with us.

If dissent is squelched, then soul conscience will be diminished and would undermine one of the things that the SBC has upheld for 162 years.

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