What do Norman Jameson, soon-to-be-former editor of the Biblical Recorder, and Juan Williams, recently fired analyst for NPR, have in common? They both learned that dissenting from the party line will, sooner or later, mean that you are out of a job.
What does it mean to dissent? To dissent is to disagree. However, if we say that someone is “dissenting,” it sounds much more ominous than to merely say that someone is disagreeing with us. Call it whatever you want, but dissenting voices — from Juan Williams to Norman Jameson — are being marginalized or silenced because those voices sometimes dare to speak out against the prevailing “wisdom” of the ruling establishment.
At the same time that Williams, a ten-year employee of National Public Radio, was fired because of his allegedly insensitive remarks about flying on a plane with Muslims, Norman Jameson, the three-year editor of North Carolina Baptists’ state newspaper, resigned under threat of defunding of the Biblical Recorder. A group of conservative pastors, led by Sandy Beck, charged that Jameson had been insensitive to the prevailing conservative mindset within the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Although no one asked him to resign, Jameson said his resignation was “not required, but necessary.”
As someone who is not a North Carolina Baptist, I will refrain from commenting on the merits of the charges leveled against Jameson. I will also not second-guess Norman Jameson’s decision to stand down and offer his resignation. Others have already offered their insightful analysis of this situation.
However, I believe that the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Jameson can be instructive to other Southern Baptists when wrestling with the issues of power and control within the Southern Baptist Convention and the various Baptist State Conventions. It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s nemesis, Newman, on the popular television sitcom, who once said:
“When you control the mail, you control information.”
There are apparently some Southern Baptists today who think like Newman. They believe that if they control the institutions of Baptist life, including the press, that they will control information. And, if they control the information, then dissent will be eliminated. There’s only one problem with that line of thinking. Such a heavy-handed approach will not only have the opposite effect, but will also result in unintended consequences.
Why would that be the case? Because the local church, like the local Baptist associations, each Baptist State Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention itself, is autonomous. That’s why North Carolina Baptists can do whatever they want with the Biblical Recorder, but that doesn’t affect my state’s Baptist New Mexican. Florida can recommend a 50-50 split of Cooperative Program funds, but New Mexico (or Louisiana) does not have to follow suit.
What are the unintended consequences that result from this heavy-handed approach of the ruling establishment? Instead of unity, we get dissension. Instead of coming together, we are being torn asunder. And all the while, those who voice any disagreement with the leadership are accused of sowing discord among the brethren. None of the ruling elites ever sees, much less believes, that anything that they do contributes to the disunity and discord.
I do not know what will happen among North Carolina Baptists after Jameson leaves office. But, my guess is that the way this whole issue with Jameson was handled, not only by Beck, but by the Biblical Recorder’s Board of Directors, will have consequences — both short-term and long-term — that no one would have ever imagined. And all those consequences will probably not be positive.
I do not know what will happen in the Southern Baptist Convention when some (or all) of the GCRTF recommendations are implemented. But, I believe that we are already seeing the unintended consequences that have resulted from the GCR process itself. And, not all of these consequences are positive.
As circumstances continue to change, I will continue to speak out on issues affecting the Southern Baptist Convention. I will add my voice to the other voices who have the freedom and courage to disagree with decisions that we believe will be detrimental to the mission and ministry of the SBC. I therefore reserve my right to dissent!