Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I met Dr. Carl Kell for the first time at the initial National Convocation of Mainstream Baptists in Charlotte, N.C. in 2002. He coauthored, and was selling his new book, In the Name of the Father: The Rhetoric of the New Southern Baptist Convention. I purchased a copy and quickly devoured it. It's a great book.

On Feb. 25-26, I attended the 5th NMB Convocation in Richmond, VA. Dr. Kell was selling another of his books, Exiled : Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War. The book contains the personal accounts of 29 Southern Baptists, many of them very prominent, who were exiled as the fundamentalists affected the Takeover that began in 1979.

The stories of Exiled are compassionate summaries of the anguish and anger felt by the larger community of sincere, honest, and committed Southern Baptist victims of the "holy war." At the same time, these writ­ers reflect the strength and power of their faith as they struggled against the leadership of the Convention. To their credit, they not only survived, but now flourish in their exilic journey.

I personally know several of those who wrote of their exile experiences. I wept as I read some of the stories because they reflect my own experience of being exiled from the Southern Baptist Convention. I was particularly touched by the account written by Dr. Paul Simmons. He spoke of many friends who were exiled, but silently refrained from telling their stories. Determined to tell his story, Simmons wrote:

My voice was not for sale no matter the pressures from trustees, Con­vention leaders, or administrators. The image that haunted me was the tragic story of Maeyken Wens during the Inquisition. As Will Campbell tells the story, this Anabaptist mother of nine insisted on her right to preach and teach in spite of the threat of the Inquisition leaders to silence her. Finally, found guilty of heresy and insubordination, she was condemned to die at the pyre. On the way to the execution, her tongue was screwed to the top of her mouth in order to keep her from speaking.

That screw in the tongue has been a vivid mental image regarding efforts by Convention leaders to silence their opposition in Southern Baptist circles. Some accepted the screw without much resistance. Some emerged early on as strong voices against the fundamentalists, then fell silent and publicly withdrew from the fray under pressure. Some sold their birthright for a lucrative severance package or the promise of promo­tions within the denomination. But the price of "success" was either that of not telling what was known about the unethical practices that were so commonplace in the fundamentalist juggernaut, or never being able to re­veal what was known even after going into exile. The screw in the tongue was a severe test of integrity. Few things were sadder than reading the state­ments of leaders forced out who could only mouth platitudes and defer to "the will of God" while admitting they could not be telling the inside or behind-the-scenes story. They went silently into the night, their tongues screwed securely in place.
The fundamentalist juggernaut was relentless in its effort rid the denomination of people whom they believed to be "liberal." How many times have I heard a fundamentalist declare that "those liberals don't believe the Bible?" Fundamentalism in religion is evil. Fundamentalism among Southern Baptists is evil. Fundamentalists would rather fight their perceived enemies than love them. About the fundamentalists, Simmons wrote:

To be sure, the fundamentalist movement took no prisoners. It was a fierce, no-holds-barred assault against the moderates in the Convention. They had the temperament for a fight to the finish, while moderates had no taste for the excesses involved in any political battle worth winning. Fundamentalists fought with the ferocity of a medieval crusader. They are "true believers" as described so well in the classic by Eric Hoffer. They are intransigent, dogmatic, aggressive, domineering, controlling, and ide­ological. They are also motivated by fear-fear their goals will not be real­ized, fear their faith will falter, fear homosexuals will ruin the family, and that pluralism will dominate the country.
Southern Baptists who experienced being exiled from the denomination will certainly identify with the stories in Dr. Kell's fine book. Fundamentalists, if they dare to read the book, should have their consciences seared with guilt. All of the exiles in this book are now my heroes of the faith. I will not allow my tongue to be screwed to the top of my mouth. I intend to resist fundamentalism with all my strength. Thank you, Dr. Kell, for writing this book. Thank you for helping to expose the evils of fundamentalism in Southern Baptist life...