Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pivotal Moment -- Baptists Turn Green

by Ken Brown
Springfield, MO
     Returning home from a Sunday walk (June 27) with my 13-year old grandson at Wilson's Creek Battlefield, I went through my daily survey of internet news and stopped at the National Public Radio site (NPR).  The following headline caught my eye, An Evangelical Crusade To Go Green With God.  Reading about the recent action taken by the Southern Baptist Convention caused the Ozark Uncle to realize that one of his perceptions was about to change: the multi-year marriage between corporate America and the Christian community regarding the environment is on the rocks (or in this case, "in the sand").
Baptists Turn Green
     The topic of the NPR report was a mid-June resolution passed at the Orlando FL meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention calling on both the government and Southern Baptist congregations: "to act determinatively and with undeterred resolve to end this crisis ... to ensure full corporate accountability for damages, clean-up and restoration ... and to ensure that government and private industry are not again caught without planning for such possibilities." 
     Apparently a key player in the Convention's resolution was Dr. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist seminary dean and Louisville pastor. The NPR article quoted him as saying on his blog: "The Gulf spill has the potential to be a defining moment for evangelicals, he says, much like Roe v. Wade activated the evangelical anti-abortion movement."
Unholy Alliance Ends?
     Readers, remember that the Ozark Uncle tries to live through perceptions, not beliefs.  The following is only his perception and will change as more information is received.  He admits to few biases -- but one is against all types of large institutions whether they be profit, nonprofit, religious or governmental.  When faced with an internal crisis, the leaders of large institutions seem most likely to make decisions based on what is best for their entity, not the people it serves.
     Another Ozark Uncle perception is about the relationship of  mainstream Christian leaders and the business world.  Starting in the late 1980s and continuing all the way up to the recent BP drilling tragedy, the Ozark Uncle has sensed there existed an implicit, if not explicit, understanding between the Moral Majority leaders and the corporate world that the former will get its wish (outlawing abortion, for example) if those same religious leaders would support deregulation and lackadaisical oversight for the corporate world as it pursues its ongoing profit motives.
     Now, I'm not an environmentalist; however, I do lament that probably only one spring in my native Douglas County, MO now has drinkable water whereas 60 years ago it had hundreds.  But, from the Ozark Uncle's perspective, Christianity has been asked to believe that (a) global warming is a myth, or (b) if it isn't, human pollution isn't causing it.  
     I never could understand why my non-denominational Christian Bible study group at Glendale Christian Church here in Springfield, and their fellow Christians across America seemed to feel that this climate change issue was an argument on which they had to align with the polluters.  The only reason I could come up with was that a pact had been made in political back rooms that resulted in a tit-for-tat deal.  In the 1980s and 1990s, (as part of the strategy) Christian authors and pundits lined up to create the rationale for this odd marriage of issues.  One such author was Steve Farrar.
Around 2008, my Bible study group that I attended went through a multi-week discussion of the 2001 version of Steve Farrar's Standing Tall: How a Man Can Protect His Family.  (Farrar is pictured at the left).  One chapter in the book is devoted to the argument that God gave this planet to humans to use and abuse as they see fit.  His biblical support was Baal worship that got the Israelis in trouble in the old testament.  Apparently they worshiped the sun and earth.  
     As well, Farrar capitalized on continued Christian disdain for Al Gore, the environmentalist, and Bill Clinton; thus he was able to create an open and shut case--Christians need not be concerned with the environment.
      My comment to the study group was that had he written his book in 2008 (when we discussed the book), he might greatly alter that chapter.  Now, today, I suspect he's considering a total rewrite or perhaps omitting the chapter all together.
Public Face of Christianity 
     Jerry Falwell (deceased in 2007), Pat Robertson (still kicking but an incredibly loose cannon) and James Dobson (retired in 2010) were interviewed on major news channels on a regular basis in the 1990s and well into the 2000s.  They were the public face of the Moral Majority and Christianity for that matter.  
     But news reports during the winter of 2007-08 suggested to me that Dr. Dobson might have been frustrated that Christians had been short changed in Washington.
Even earlier than that, I remember a National Public Radio interview with a leader of the Evangelicals whose name I cannot remember (perhaps Dr. Don Argue with the National Association of Evangelicals but I'm not sure).  The interviewee had at the time been visiting with Dr. Dobson and encouraging his Focus on the Family group to embrace environmental issues.  Reportedly, Dr. Dobson's reply was to the effect that the environmental issue, although compelling, would dilute his followers' efforts toward the single most important goal of all--that was to overturn Roe v. Wade.
     In early 2008, the Ozark Uncle was still watching the major cable news channels (a practice that was stopped over a year ago when he finally realized it was a waste of time and even counterproductive). Memorable during that period was a January 2008 interview of Dr. Dobson by a Fox News anchor.  
     This was early in the Presidential primary process and, at the time, the network's owner, Rupert Murdoch, was pushing Rudy Giuliani for President.  The anchor was apparently told by producers to try to get Dr. Dobson to say that he could support Giuliani.  After several attempts that bordered on the third degree, the anchor failed in that effort.  It was also at that time that I perceived Dr. Dobson was getting tired of the political arena and probably feeling frustrated at Christianity's attempt to legislate morality.
Who Becomes the Public Face?
     With Falwell and Dobson gone, the Ozark Uncle is wondering who will surface as the public face to address a new Christian view of environmental issues.  I'm not being sarcastic when I say: Why not Sarah Palin?  (The link would allow one to contribute to SarahPAC.  Does anyone have a better site? It's all I could find for her.).  
     Sincerely, I've become a great admirer of what Ms. Palin has accomplished.  Her 15 minutes of fame are going to put her into the history books.  The Ozark Uncle perceives that fundamentally (1) she's going to do what is best for her family first and foremost.  And (2) at the end of the day, Sarah P is a Christian first and a politician second.  
     Right now she's squeezing all she can out of the political arena.  It seems she's looking over her shoulder to see where the conservative crowd is headed and adjusting her direction accordingly in the hopes that she can stay in front.  At the right time, she could become the face of the Moral Majority, and have an incredible impact.  She gets my vote.  
    Can she tap dance around her Drill-Baby-Drill?  Sure!  Of course!  She can always use the Ozark Uncle's perception approach and just say new information was processed to change it.
Perspective Comes from Early Religious Experiences
     Is the Ozark Uncle a credible source to write about Christianity?  He's not a believer and therefore not a Christian.  But he loves Jesus and Christians.  His early religious experiences affected him in ways that can never be undone.  For example, this post on the relationship between mainstream religion and politics is heavily influenced by his early lessons learned at the Faith Baptist Church in Wichita, KS during the early 1960s.  Separation of religion and politics was preached there almost every Sunday.    
     Somewhere in a Wichita Kansas grave the Rev. Roy Davis, "Brother Roy" to his followers, is rolling over again and again about religion's meddling in politics during the past 30 years.  (Note--Brother Roy was a great influence on my life and hundreds if not thousands of others.  He loved Jesus, his family and his church including me.  But he represents the end of a religious era that is no longer mainstream and a theology that I ultimately rejected.  Please, if anything I say in my description below seems to demean him, it is in no way my intension).  
     Fifty years ago, the Ozark Uncle was an impressionable 15-year old in the front pews of Faith Baptist Church in Wichita.  The church called itself an independent one and what was preached from the pulpit was at the discretion of Brother Roy.  Sunday after Sunday, I heard Rev. Davis preach fire and brimstone.  "Focus on Jesus and nothing else" was his message.  But, he also preached that government and politicians were in essence "Caesar".  We, as Christians, should "...render unto Caesar" our tax dollars and avoid that whole arena while going about God's business.  
     A few years earlier, Jesus had lifted Brother Roy from the fires of hell after many years of alcohol and sinful living.  I have to smile...while he was saved from hell, he drove his car like a bat out of one.  He bragged in the pulpit about how, when stopped for speeding, he would slip his large worn Bible on the dashboard, and make sure the officer knew he was a Baptist minister.  According to him, it worked every time.
     A church budget did not exist at Faith Baptist because such a document presumed a future, and God could come back at any moment.  Although a teenager but yet a male, I was welcome at the monthly "Men's Business Meeting."  The middle aged Boeing airplane worker sitting next to me stood up one night and suggested having a budget.  To this day, I can feel the heat that descended on him from the leader of the meeting, Brother Roy.  The meeting didn't end until he preached a sermon right then and there.
     With regard to other churches, Brother Roy preached that Southern Baptists were lukewarm at best and all Church of Christ members wanted to do was argue.  I honestly don't remember the issues of abortion, homosexuality or the environment being discussed in Brother Roy's sermons.  His message was simple--trust in God, keep one's personal house in order, and stay on the straight and narrow path.  
     John Carradine, the actor, is pictured at left.  Having no picture of Brother Roy, the Ozark Uncle is substituting John's because of their similarities -- tall, thin almost emaciated bodies and deep bass voices.  Unfortunately, Rev. Roy had neither the refined nor educated speech that John possessed.  So readers, try to imagine a drawling Oklahoma farm boy voice with John Carradine's body--I know, it's not easy.
     Rev. Davis had a sunken chest and raspy cough from years of cigarettes, a bad habit that may still have haunted him then--but I'm not sure.  He struggled with saliva control and had to wipe his sleeve across his mouth several times each service.  He was dynamic and his stage presence was memorable.  
     Brother Roy preached "spare the rod and spoil the child," and I always had a sense of dread (no doubt false) for his children as the family loaded in the car after services.  But, from what little I've learned since, his PKs (preachers' kids) turned out fine and remained faithful.   My perception is that Ks don't do that unless they see their P practicing what he preaches.
     My split with Rev. Davis and Faith Baptist Church came in 1963 at the age of 18.  I chose to attend a state college, now called Emporia (KS) State University.  Brother Roy wanted me to head off to Baptist Bible College right here in Springfield, a place that had graduated a young and relatively unknown Jerry Falwell not too many years earlier.
     I can still remember our embrace after services on an autumn Kansas Sunday in 1963 before heading up the road to Emporia.  Brother Roy's sunken chest and his tall frame seemed to loom over me at the door as he repeated again to me "...that state college up there will make you lose the faith, boy."  I assured him I would be steadfast--but he was right.  Although continuing on to attend various religious institutions--Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Christian, Church of Christ-- for another thirty years, my tenure with Rev. Brother Roy Davis and Faith Baptist Church of Wichita was almost over.
     1964 marked the last year I attended one of Brother Roy's services.  Along with me was a little Missouri Bootheel gal named Joy Neal I had met in ESU's William Allen White Library during my first semester there (we would later marry and we just had our 45th wedding anniversary last month--read our story the Ozark Uncle's web site).  
     Joy had insisted I attend her Church of Christ which, compared to the lively Baptist services, hardly seemed like a religious experience at all.  But my interest in Joy had grown to the point where she was brought to Wichita to meet my mother and brother.  Included was a free ticket for her to attend one of Brother Roy's services.
     Little is remembered about the Sunday service that day except my constant dread of our inevitable exit past Brother Roy at the back door after the invitation.  When that dreaded time came, I braced up and thought I did a fairly good job of introducing them to each other.  
      And almost immediately, Brother Roy, with his biggest and best good-humored smile, asked this young lady: "...and where do you go to church?"  My heart sank.  His smile didn't change when he got her unabashed reply--only because I think it was kind of paralyzed on his face.  The exact subsequent dialog between the two now escapes me, but a definite hint of contention came forth from both parties with the young lady neither flinching nor bat an eye.
    A lame attempt at levity on my part gave me enough of an edge in the conversation to drag her on out the door.  But before they were out of sight of each other, I imagined Brother Roy sending her brain waves that said "Bring that boy back!" and her return message in ESP code was "He's mine now...ha.ha.ha.ha.HA!"
Change is the Only Constant
      The few consistent readers of this blog--The Brown Perspective--know that if there is any message here at all, it is to encourage one to be open-minded on all issues.  Leaving the Baptist church for the Church of Christ changed a lot of my perceptions about worship, the Bible and its interpretation.  Also discovered was the fact that Churches of Christ think that all Baptists want to do it argue!
      The Ozark Uncle left the Church of Christ in both mind and spirit many years before his body left the fellowship.  Almost 20 years ago, he went through that excruciating "Peter thing" by denying Christ publicly.  To this day, I remember keeping count and looking up toward the skies on the third denial.
      Today, I enjoy observing Christianity both from within the church buildings and through discussions with Christians.  For example, a visit to the 8,000 seat mega-church, James River Assembly of God, is a sight to behold--Pastor John Lindell has a delivery and a message that leaves me misty-eyed every time I visit--an outpouring that makes the members think I want to go to the altar, and they begin nudging me that way which creates an awkward moment.
     Christianity has and is changing so much, and I wish change weren't so stressful on many Christians.  Once, my friend and Bible scholar, Dr. Charles Hedrick, very eloquently wrote in the Springfield News-Leader how God may never change but our definition of God changes as the human race changes.  He got some hate mail over that one.  
      This post is all about a major change in subject matter that may start being preached from pulpits all over the land--protection of the environment.  The Ozark Uncle's uneducated guess (or perhaps false hope) is that Christianity's embrace of green energy will lead to corporate entities recognizing business opportunities in the field thereby creating jobs.  Anyway life will go on but constantly changing and that is one thing the Ozark Uncle really believes.  
       But will Christianity ever get Roe v. Wade overturned?  And will Creationism become mainstream?  Well, the Ozark Uncle has his radar out looking for signs and will post his perspective here.  
       Thanks for reading to the end.


  1. Wow, I admire your open and honest thoughts on this issue

  2. Who would have ever thought we'd see "green baptists!" It's such a step in the right direction. The Church being in bed with corporate America is one of the craziest notions ever. How in the !%## does anyone read scripture and come up with THAT idea! (Sorry, Ken, I can't be open-minded on that one. lol) And on a sad note, how many "Brother Roys" in the world have wrecked lives with their "good" intentions? Ken, because you have been given the gift of open-mindedness and the ability to see different sides of an issue, you are very gracious toward him, and have emerged from that background on solid footing, but others who have grown up in that environment have not been so fortunate, and I struggle to make sense of his approach...the approach that is being practiced in so many churches still today. At any rate, back to that first thought, I don't really consider myself an environmentalist either, not a very devout one any way, but I find this new thinking by the SBC to be very refreshing and encouraging. The whole notion of plowing through life with no thought of sustainability or our negative impact on the world our children and grandchildren will inherit also does not seem very biblical....

  3. Thanks - I did enjoy it. As an Arkansan now, I have the privilege of owning (well, at least borrowing for a while) a beautiful, spring-fed creek and river in the ozark mts. and the idea that the gas drilling is going to destroy it makes me sick. I long ago (1962 at K-State) left the church, body and soul. As a youngster I tried, but the incongruities became obvious lies and I quit. It's hard to raise 2 daughters in the Ozark mts. to be aetheists, but it's like Johnny Cash naming his son "Sue" and I hope they have the strength of character to be independent thinkers (which I think they are). It is refreshing to see the christian community turn green. I watch here how they abuse the land, foul their drinking water, and can't figure out where their head is at. My good friend and ex-catholic simply tells me that most are sheep following their leaders. I suspect the leaders are properly paid for leading their flocks into the path of destruction! Thanks again for the info.