The chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is in the process of becoming a spectacle of nepotism, cronyism and ostentatious self-importance. This is the 12 year project of the wife of one of the leaders of the conservative take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is her "dream" to memorialize dozens of SBC conservative faction leaders in stained glass in the chapel Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary. Dorothy Patterson, wife of current seminary President and erstwhile conservative insurgent, Paige Patterson, was recently featured in a front page story about her project in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.
Next year, the Pattersons will be among the first to be immortalized in a stained glass window together.
Baptist writer Alan Bean thinks all this is premature, at best. Bean writes:
My initial reaction to all this eulogizing of faith heroes, most of whom are still with us, was distinctly negative. It seemed tacky and a bit presumptuous. Shouldn’t we wait for the verdict of history? Don’t we normally reserve stained-glass windows for genuine heroes of the faith who are acknowledged inside and outside the limited circle of our faith tradition?
The concerted antics of men like Patterson, Bailey Smith, Adrian Rogers and W.A. Criswell may appear glorious, bold and compelling to the good people within the fundamentalist wing of Southern Baptist life. But to virtually anyone outside that particular tribe, the conservative resurgence looks like a ruthless power-play accomplished by manipulating fear and ignorance.Indeed, Bruce Prescott who opposed the takeover, wrote a multipart series at Talk to Action which may help history reach the verdict that Bean predicts. Prescott presented excerpts from the transcript of an eye-opening radio interview between theocratic strategist Gary North and SBC takeover architect, Paul Pressler. Prescott noted that despite denials, it is clear that "the goal of influencing secular politics was one of the primary motives for the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC."
No one outside the tribe is going to celebrate these men, so they might as well celebrate themselves.
Moreover, Patterson, et al, were right to move quickly. The verdict of history will not be kind. It is hard to imagine Baptists fifty years hence remembering these folks or rejoicing in their strong-arm tactics.
As Prescott reports, the SBC immediately passed resolutions opposing abortion and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Gary North saw the takeover campaign as a model for how to take over other institutions that might be vulnerable.
There is much more that could be and has been written about the consequences of the fundamentalist takeover of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. But I don't want to add anything here except to note the forthcoming portraits of vanity in stained glass that will forever illustrate the stories of journalists and historians who come to see the ruling cliques of the modern SBC in ways not unlike those of Alan Bean and Bruce Prescott.