WASHINGTON (ABP)—One classic joke about Baptists is that wherever two or three are gathered, there are four opinions among them.
The same can be said of bloggers, and Baptists seem to have taken to blogs with particular gusto, on both the institutional and individual levels. But as a democratically governed and notoriously fractious bunch, blogging Baptists also seem to have put a new virtual twist on the time-honored tradition of contentious business meetings.
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For instance, the recent highly publicized spat over homosexuality, pastoral leadership and other issues at a Texas Baptist church made headlines in local and national media outlets after a handful of members wrote about it in their personal blogs.
Two years ago, reform-minded bloggers in the Southern Baptist Convention helped an outsider candidate get elected president of the denomination for the first time in more than a decade. But their critiques of the denomination’s entrenched power structure earned them the enmity of some of their fellow conservative SBC supporters, who have denounced bloggers like Wade Burleson and Benjamin Cole with the ugliest accusation possible in modern-day Southern Baptist life—calling them “liberals.”
Are Baptists prone to virtual fighting, and, if so, why? Prominent bloggers said that the rancorousness associated with many Baptist blogs may simply be a reflection of the rancorousness of Baptist life in general. And such contentiousness, while aired more prominently when sent to millions of homes via the Internet, isn’t inherently evil.
“Historically, we Baptists have been dissenters,” said Aaron Weaver, a graduate student at Baylor University who operates the the Big Daddy Weave blog. “The blog is merely a new medium … Baptists use to dissent when dissent is necessary. In some ways, blogs are a form of congregationalism.”
But in an age where megachurch pastors have a strong hand in their congregations’ decision-making and where an entrenched and well-funded bureaucracy holds tight political control over the Southern Baptist Convention, such congregationalism is less common, according to bloggers.
“The blog medium has tapped into the growing sense that congregational polity is an increasingly rare commodity among Baptists,” said Cole, an associate pastor at an Oklahoma church.
Two years ago, Cole’s now-inactive Baptist Blogger site helped contribute to the election of Frank Page as SBC president. He currently is a regular contributor to the SBC Outpost blog.
Outlet for frustration
“The frustration that the disenfranchised and unempowered have sensed on account of the new Baptist magisterium has given rise to their advent in the blogosphere,” he said.
And heretofore powerless bloggers can produce results that dissenting groups couldn’t have expected in Baptist life just a few years ago, in the pre-blog era. That, he said, is because “bureaucracies on both the local-church and denominational levels are too big and too slow to counter the speed with which dissident bloggers have articulated their ideas and ad-vanced their causes.”
“The format of the blogosphere disallows coercion tactics that have been employed in the past by dictatorial church leaders,” he said. “The blog medium serves as a safe haven for those who feel that public dissent is their only option.”
Both Cole and Weaver agreed blogs can lend themselves to nastiness. But, they warned, don’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water.
The medium is neutral
“Blogs are not inherently bad,” Weaver said. “Negative and destructive blogs are a reflection of the blogger—not the blogosphere. I suppose anonymity can lead to people being dishonest. But if honesty is an issue, it is an issue of character and not the medium of blogging itself.”
Cole and other SBC bloggers have been criticized by their fellow conservatives for using blogs to reveal less-than-flattering information about prominent SBC leaders. But Baptist blogging’s critics are overlooking the whole of Baptist history, he said.
“Quite frankly, those who lament the ‘unhealthy’ and ‘un-Christian’ character of blogging must have been ridiculously blind or purposefully naïve for the last 400 years of Baptist bickering,” he said. “That some of the current SBC leadership weep and wail over blogging, and gather round like huddled martyrs, and yet they were the selfsame provocateurs of the fundamentalist juggernaut would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.”
Cole concluded: “Would Christ blog about the malfeasance run amok in Baptist life? Probably not. Neither would he sit quietly and cover the backsides of the worst denominational offenders, as some of our convention trustees seem content to do.”