Baptists In Wonderland: Current Ethical Issues For Southern Baptists -- By: Bobby E. Adams

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 01:2 (Spring 1984)
Article: Baptists In Wonderland: Current Ethical Issues For Southern Baptists
Author: Bobby E. Adams


Baptists In Wonderland:
Current Ethical Issues For Southern Baptists

Bobby E. Adams

Professor of Christian Ethics
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

The past focuses on the future through the prism of the present. Our Baptist past cannot be ignored if we are to understand who we are today and if we intend to have a future that is consonant with our past. My first purpose is to help us understand from the standpoint of ethics both who we are and how we are doing as Baptists. My second purpose is to help us examine some current issues and alternatives that will influence (not determine) who we may become.

Who We Are

A retrospective and a prospective gaze reveals a startling paradox. As we look into the past, decisions that our forefathers made have a curiously deterministic cast; we can scarcely envision their having done other than they did. Yet as we peer into our future, we are perplexed by the myriad choices that we believe we can make. Will it be so that a generation from now our Baptist children and grandchildren, then the decision-makers in future Baptist institutions and churches, will look back on us in the same way that we look back on our predecessors? They probably will.

Past actions and indeed the consequences of those actions likely were not so determined then as they appear now. Our freedom to decide and act and to control the consequences of our decisions may not be as real as we want to believe. What if Helwys and Smyth had made no contact with those folks in the Low Countries? What if the Indians in what is now Rhode Island had not been willing to negotiate a settlement with Roger Williams? What if Leland and Madison had not been able to strike a deal? What if slaveowners had been able to secure missionary appointments before 1845? What if the newly-formed Southern Baptist Convention had formed societies instead of creating boards? What if Rauschenbusch had remained in Kentucky? What if Lottie Moon had married her sweetheart? What if W.A. Criswell had remained in Muskogee and Ted Adams had not gone to Richmond? What if—the consequences of these few suppositions are staggering. We can scarcely imagine any other course of events—for them. Yet our futures frighten us with possibilities.

Could we have been other than who we are? Very likely. Who are we? A curious blending of both the consequences of past actions and the determination that strong actions by others will not determine us. We came into being fiercely determined that actions by others could not preordain our

inclusion or exclusion in the family of God, and that such actions by others must be repudiated by acting for ourselves under God...

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