Friday, September 5, 2008

Baptists vet songs but not ministers

All things bright and beautiful,
All things great and small,
All things wise and wonderful;
Our Father made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings;
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

When you see those words, do you sing along in your head? I do. It’s almost impossible not to.

“All Things Bright and Beautiful” is a song that’s been in my head for as far back as I can remember.

As a child, I sang it in countless Sunday School circles. I remember how much I liked the line about “tiny wings.” I would picture pretty birds, and then in my heart, I would say “thank-you” to God. It was the pure, unfettered gratitude of a child.

“All Things Bright and Beautiful” was a song that, in childhood, brought me closer to God. I loved the song, and I loved the feeling of God’s presence that was so often there with me when I sang it.

So I was heartbroken today to learn that Southern Baptist leaders have decided to jettison “All Things Bright and Beautiful” from the Baptist Hymnal.

According to the Nashville press release, “a committee made up of theologians and musician/theologians was compiled to look at every hymn and make certain the theology was trustworthy.”

“All Things Bright and Beautiful” didn’t meet their standards. The committee didn’t consider it to be one of the “most theologically sound songs” So they deleted it.

I’m having a hard time understanding why this pains me so much. After all, why should I give a hoot about the Baptist Hymnal? I never go to church.

Yet, it does pain me. Perhaps it is simply the power of music that it affects us in ways outside our understanding.

Of course I realize that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” may not have been a favorite hymn for most of you. But even if you don’t care about this particular hymn, there are still some questions that are raised by this whole vetting of the songs business.

If Southern Baptist leaders can vet the suitability of music for the hymnal, why can’t they vet the suitability of ministers for the pulpit?

If Southern Baptist leaders can compile a committee of expert "musician/theologians" to assess every hymn, why can’t they compile a committee of sexual abuse experts to assess every abuse allegation against a minister?

If Southern Baptist leaders care so much about which songs carry the Baptist “brand” in the hymnal, why don’t they care just as much about which ministers carry the Baptist “brand” in the pulpit?

Even with the new hymnal, any Baptist church could still get the music for “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and could still choose to sing it. The committee’s assessment of the song, and its deletion from the hymnal, doesn’t intrude on the autonomy of individual churches.

Similarly, if a committee assessed a clergy abuse report and determined it was a credible accusation, that assessment wouldn’t intrude on the autonomy of individual churches. It would instead provide churches with the resource of objective, expert assessments.

And isn’t a hymnal, in essence, a sort of database of songs? If Southern Baptist leaders can provide for churches a database of the “most theologically sound” songs, why can’t they provide a database of ministers who have been credibly accused of molesting kids?

A database provides information; it doesn’t impose authority.

From the appearance of things, Southern Baptist leaders are more concerned with protecting children against a song like “All Things Bright and Beautiful” than they are with protecting children against ministers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

They vet the soundness of songs, but not the safety of ministers.

15 comments:

Renae C said...

Yet I bet "Onward Christian Soldiers" is still in there:

Onward Christian Soldiers
Marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus going on before
From vict'ry unto vict'ry his army shall he lead
'Til every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed

And they use this theology to declare war on those who stand for social justice and truth - declaring them the enemies and invoking the cross of Christ as a talisman for victory - never caring how many souls they destroy along the way. They decry fundamentalism around the world, yet are blind to their own fundamentalism that does just as much damage.

It's just crazy making.

And Christa - your comparison of these two ideas is great - it certainly highlights the doublespeak.

John said...

Christa,
Give these "theologians" some credit. They at least wanted people to sing the truth because when it comes to the present day values of the SBC all things are not "Sweet and Beautiful"! I can think of other "old standards" that no longer apply as well. Such a sad day!

Mojoey said...

It makes you want to cry. Where is the value if removing a beautiful song when so much else is wrong? I don't get it.

Phyllis Gregory said...

I'm sorry, but being "most theologically sound" is a pile of crap. You can be theologically sound (in your mind maybe) and still be a pedophile, a child abuser, a wife beater. THis is just one more way to make a group of people think they are CORRECT, RIGHT, and BIBLICAL.

It means nothing except to show that the SBC is a bunch of empty vessels that somewhere along the way forgot what Christ-like really means.

Christa Brown said...

Renae: You're right - "Onward Christian Soldiers" is still in the hymnal. Here's the list of song titles for the new "most theologically sound" Baptist hymnal.

oc said...

“All Things Bright and Beautiful” didn’t meet their standards."


And neither do I meet their standards.

And I'm starting to understand it all and I'm beginning to be pleased about that very fact.

So guess what? They no longer meet MY standards.

oc said...

Phyllis Gregory,

Amen to your post, my sister!
Up front and unvarnished. It is what it is, and you said it like it is! I don't think it could be described better!

oc.

Anonymous said...

I was doing research on, "The Bad Sheperd"
http://stopbaptistpredators.blogspot.com/2008/04/bad-shepherd.html
and I came across this.

http://www.carboncourts.com/weekcal6.htm

Looks like some sort of action is going to be taken on Oct.15th .

Just wanted to put this out there incase anyone has been following this case.

God Bless

Jeri said...

You asked a simple question: How can the SBC vet a song but not a minister?

Well, it's far easier to blame a song or hymnal for being wrong than it is to blame one of your own for being a corrupt, lustful, perverted son of the devil. Censuring a minister means that somehow, somewhere, your own system is flawed.

Christa Brown said...

Yes... "far easier to blame a song" than to blame "one of your own." As you say, Jeri, it would mean that their "own system is flawed," and this would mean that they would need to look at themselves rather than looking only at the flaws of others. And I think they lack the courage and will to look within.

Lin said...

"I'm sorry, but being "most theologically sound" is a pile of crap. You can be theologically sound (in your mind maybe) and still be a pedophile, a child abuser, a wife beater. THis is just one more way to make a group of people think they are CORRECT, RIGHT, and BIBLICAL."

Boy does this ever hit the nail on the head! This is so true and I am seeing it everywhere. Think of poor Dr. Klouda whose life was ripped apart because Patterson wanted to be 'theologically sound' and not allow a woman to teach Hebrew. He had to SIN to be theologically sound. Think of all the victims who are told to quit being bitter and be more forgiving while the abuser violates scripture by going to another church to teach. These guys have to SIN to be theologically sound...since they are making up their own religion anyway.

"It means nothing except to show that the SBC is a bunch of empty vessels that somewhere along the way forgot what Christ-like really means."

Unfortuantly, they trained a whole generation of pastors to think the same way. They have no love and care nothing for the least of these. They only know power and authority. What they have been taught.

Phyllis Gregory said...

"Unfortunately, they trained a whole generation of pastors to think the same way. They have no love and care nothing for the least of these. They only know power and authority. What they have been taught." This is so true and so sad. It's what I grew up with in Oklahoma and what I have seen in Memphis in so many churches. It is the power and authority that comes with "being pastor" that keeps these "men of their own god" going -- they get so caught up in their own self-serving egos that nothing else is important. How many lose the respect of the ones who mean the most to them, their own families, because they become so obsessed with the greatness they think they have acquired.

"They have no love and care nothing for the least of these" is the saddest thing of all. We go to church to be loved and nurtured and cared for unconditionally. When we don't get that, but instead we are abused by the very one(s) we wanted to trust, our lives are changed dramatically; and many times our faith is forever shattered.

Christa Brown said...

"...and many times our faith is forever shattered."

And whatever tiny pieces of faith may have been left are then finally ground into the dust by watching the continuing do-nothing / care-not-at-all attitude of Baptist leaders. It's an attitude that constantly tells us that we are nothing more than collateral damage in their unrelenting battle for power and authority (a battle that they so devilishly miscast as their mission to propogate the faith).

gmommy said...

God isn't corrupt....the Baptists are.
At least there is evidence that the Presbyterians are dealing with sexual abuse by ministers as the sin and crime that it is.
In N. Carolina where a minister molested a youth..... elders turned him into the authorities and he was fired. One year ago he was allowed to participate in communion again....not rehired to the ministry.
I don't know what the Baptists were like prior tp the CR but they have lost their brains and hearts in my life time.

Christa Brown said...

I agree that Presbyterians have done a lot in setting an example for how faith communities can compassionately and responsibly deal with clergy sex abuse. They've been in the vanguard on this issue. Baptist leaders could learn a lot if they would seek advice from Presbyterian leaders such as Jim Evinger, who was part of Presbyterians' first independent abuse review panel.

For those of you wondering... No, I'm not Presbyterian. And I know they aren't perfect. But they have made great strides in addressing clergy abuse, and Baptists could learn a lot from them.