The remarks made by Cecil Sherman, former CBF coordinator, at the General Assembly in Memphis have elicited response from two groups. First, there are those who feel that his use of the term Holocaust in referring to the “former unpleasantness” within the Southern Baptist Convention was an overstatement that offends our Jewish friends and diminishes their suffering under the Third Reich. Second, there are those who are tired of hearing about that “former unpleasantness” and want to move on. Whatever I say about Dr. Sherman's remarks will offend someone, but here goes.
I agree with my friend and fellow blogger Danny Chisholm that although “no one was injured or killed” in the SBC turmoil, people did suffer. I personally knew (and know) people who were emotionally hurt, psychologically damaged, and economically harmed as a result of this conflict. Because of them, a new generation of leaders can hope for something better. We have to honor and respect the sacrifice of our founders in some way. If it means giving them a few minutes on the platform from time to time, I can live with it.
On the other hand, I do not voluntarily choose to dwell on the past. As the CBF movement, we should be past the point of defining ourselves in relationship to some other group. I believe we have something valid and viable to offer the Kingdom, so we should be looking forward and not back. The people who concern me most are not elder statesmen like Cecil Sherman, but current leaders who seem to think that we must continue to scratch the scab off an old wound in an effort to justify our existence. If we are depending for the growth of the CBF movement on churches and individuals who are “comparison shopping” between SBC and CBF, we are heading for a fall. As someone said, “When the horse is dead, get off.” We should be more interested in those young leaders who are giving up on Baptists entirely and moving on to other faith communities (many of them non-denominational). How are going to provide vital, creative ministries in which they can be involved? How are we going to encourage them in the ministries that they have discovered on their own?
Should a letter have been sent to Cecil Sherman about his remarks? Yes. Should it have been a press release by CBF communications? No. I think that Matthew 18:15-17 provides a healthy pattern for dealing with conflict in an ecclesial setting. To the best of my knowledge, this pattern was not followed. If I am wrong, please correct me. And since I know everyone who signed the letter, they WILL feel free to let me know if I am wrong!
Max De Pree said that the first job of a leader is to name reality. The second job is to say “Thank you.” When Cecil Sherman was asked to lead the fledgling CBF movement, he defined reality in that time and place and called moderate Baptists to act. Reality is not the same in 2008 as it was in 1990. Our new leaders and developing leaders are wise to define the reality we find ourselves in today, but we can still say “Thank you.”