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Bill Moyers’ critical remarks of SBC draw leaders’ challenge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Journalist Bill Moyers called Southern Baptist Convention leadership “theological Stalinists” and charged the leaders have exploited “an unsuspecting laity’s” reverence for the Bible. Four SBC leaders vigorously challenged his remarks.
Moyers, best known for his TV specials on the Public Broadcasting System, made his remarks at an Oct. 4 banquet honoring James Dunn, retired head of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Appearing at the banquet and also making critical remarks about the SBC was President Bill Clinton, who said “if anything further was needed to confirm James’ [Dunn’s] apostate status with the [Southern] Baptists, my presence here ought to do the job.” Their remarks appeared in an Oct. 6 Associated Baptist Press story.
SBC President and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman, LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. challenged the accuracy and wisdom of the remarks by the two speakers.
Saying the “good-natured humor of President Clinton and James Dunn” is greatly needed in our world today, even when conservatives are the object of the fun, Patterson said, however, “Bill Moyers’ shrill, inaccurate and desperate attempts to paint conservative Bible-believing Christians in the Southern Baptist Convention as ‘theological Stalinists’ is entirely typical of his behavior. Moyers’ position has always been if the facts are not in your favor and you cannot adequately interpret them within your framework, then slander the witness.”
“It is tragic that Bill Moyers has chosen to use demeaning comparisons and caricatures to attack the conservative leadership of the SBC,” Draper told Baptist Press. “His use of descriptive terms such as ‘theological Stalinists,’ ‘denominational politburo,’ ‘brilliant, if heretical strategy’ and his misguided claim that conservatives took advantage ‘of an unsuspecting laity’s belief in the authority of the Bible’ is not only bad reporting, it is not biblical Christianity. His strongly pejorative attack upon conservative believers in the SBC is neither honest nor appropriate.”
Draper said the priesthood of all believers, the autonomy of the local church and the interpretation of Scripture has never been an issue in “these past 20 years and Moyers knows it.” Draper charged that Moyers has never, “to my knowledge,” sat down with one of the conservative leaders “to get firsthand information, but continues to attribute distortions and ridicule in his pronouncements. Surely basic integrity would lead him to want to know the truth of his claims.”
Moyers also compared James Dunn’s battles against conservatives in the SBC with Baptists in colonial America who were jailed or whipped for defending their faith.
Moyers applauded Dunn for opposing the conservative resurgence in the SBC, which he charged was part of a larger political effort to promote an agenda of state-sanctioned religion.
“Exploiting an unsuspecting laity’s reverence for the Bible,” Moyers said the conservative group replaced priesthood of the believer with pastors who preached only the interpretation sanctioned by a “cabal” calling the shots, according to the ABP article.
Saying Dunn saw the implications immediately, Moyers said, “When he spoke out, they tried to silence him. When he would not be silenced, they tried to fire him.”
Chapman said Moyers’ “attempt to scandalize conservative Southern Baptists reveals far more about the condition of his heart and of his faith than it does about those Southern Baptists he disparages. Any sense of judgment and good will he demonstrated earlier in his journalistic career have obviously been overwhelmed by his abhorrence of and bitterness toward biblical conservatives. His own departure from historic evangelical Christianity seems to be the catalyst for the deep hatred he holds for those who retain their confidence in the teaching of Scripture.
“We should certainly pray for Bill Moyers,” Chapman said.
Mohler said Moyers, as a journalist, has “specialized in New Age interests, producing television series on myth-master Joseph Campbell and a widely viewed series on the book of Genesis. No friend of orthodox Christian doctrine, Moyers explained to his audience that ‘God works in the wedges, through the cracks, across the fault lines of schism until conformity and orthodoxy no longer hold the mind hostage to habit or the spirit captive.’
“Anyone who observes Bill Moyers at work is painfully aware that biblical orthodoxy is, in his mind, an intellectual fetter from which the Christian church should be liberated. When it comes to this former Baptist, we can be thankful for the ‘former,'” Mohler said.
Clinton also criticized a prayer guide distributed recently by the SBC International Mission Board urging Southern Baptists to pray for Jewish people and for what, he said, was Southern Baptists’ opposition to gun control.
The three-hour banquet, attended by about 275 people, was held at a hotel in Arlington, Va. The Baptist Joint Committee is a Washington-based religious liberty lobbying agency composed of eight Baptist denominations. It was formerly supported by the SBC which grew critical of some of its positions and especially some statements made by Dunn, and consequently the convention defunded the organization in the mid-90s. Dunn is now teaching in a new divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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  • Herb Hollinger