A group of seven individuals, tagged as “young” leaders in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) have written a letter in response to Cecil Sherman’s remarks at the CBF General Assembly held in Memphis last week.  While accepting author’s copies of his recently released autobiography, Sherman compared the struggle against SBC fundamentalists to the Holocaust, which apparently prompted the letter.

The link above is to an article in the Baptist Standard about the letter.  The full text of the letter isn’t included in the article.  The article carries selected quotes from the letter, and from Sherman. 

It doesn’t appear that Sherman was drawing an equal comparison between the moderate-fundamentalist struggle in the SBC and the Holocaust, but was simply using it as an example to point out why he feels that the past history of the struggle for control of the SBC from the losing side is important.  I don’t believe Sherman was equating the two events.  However, the comparison prompted a critical response.  You can get the general idea from the Standard article. 

I’m not going to get into a “who got hurt the most by the controversy” contest.  Suffice it to say that I got close enough to be wounded and scarred by “The Controversy” on several occasions going all the way back to the first attempt by trustees at Southwestern seminary to fire Dr. Dilday, an event which took place while I was a student there.  I know how hard it is to turn the other cheek when those who have slapped you the first time are not enemies, but brethren.  I have experienced the indescribable feeling of that knot in the pit of your stomach that you get when your job, and your livelihood, is threatened because of a position you have taken or a conviction that you hold.  I know what it is like to have to take an unplanned change on the path of your ministry calling in order to continue to provide a roof and three meals a day for your family. 

But, I am a Christian.  I have been called to vocational ministry.  And the fact of the matter is that none of those experiences entitles me to be bitter, or to hold a grudge, or to sit around and feel sorry for myself.  That’s what the world believes, and what the flesh thinks, but it is contrary to what the Lord says.  What I have discovered is that God is always faithful.  God came through at the very darkest moment of my life during the past decade and a half, and opened a door of opportunity so that I could focus on equipping the saints and advancing the kingdom.  Those are things that are much more important than ongoing bitterness and resentment over the loss of some sort of vague denominationalism. 

It appears that in both the SBC and in CBF, people are finally coming to the realization that the fighting, bickering and turf protecting has damaged our witness, clouded our testimony, and is counterproductive to advancing the cause of Christ.  It drains our energy and resources as well.  So why do we keep doing it?



About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

12 responses

  1. Ken Coffee says:

    I can’t begin to know the pain Sherman must have felt at being called every vile name you can think of by other Christians, but I find myself in agreement with these young leaders, none of whom I know. It is time to lay it down. The feet of our Lord might be a good place to lay it.

  2. Sam Swart says:

    I’m not sure which is more irritating in this episode, Sherman’s off-the-cuff remark or the self righteous response of the ‘young CBF supporters’ who felt the need to publicly dress down an old Baptist warrior.

    Well, actually I do know. The time for making peace may well be at hand, but if my fellow young CBF supporters think that process includes embarrassing our elder Baptists who years ago drew the line in the sand and then stood by to defend that line – then count me out.

  3. Lee says:

    Some of these elder Baptist “warriors” were insulated by being pastors of a rather unique set of congregations, in a different environment than the majority of small, rural churches that make up the bulk of the SBC, or of the suburban megachurches that had the resources and power to command the outcome of convention meetings where the decisions were made. They never really grasped the situation as it existed in the SBC, and as a result, once they “drew their line in the sand,” and began to fire back, (forgive the analogy 🙂 ) the guns were often pointed down, and they frequently shot themselves in the foot. That’s the category into which I put Sherman’s holocaust remark.

    But there is a reality here. CBF is in trouble. That unique group of grand, old churches from which leaders like Cecil Sherman and Ken Chafin came forward are for the most part, graying and declining. The budget has had to be rescued on several occasions by a few large gifts from wealthy donors, who are in limited supply. Several of the partner theological schools have had to take drastic measures in recent years to keep the doors open for a shrinking pool of students. With few exceptions, most of the others survive only by being attached to the life support of a larger college or university. Part of this is due to what I see as an identity crisis. And paying continuous homage to crusty old veterans of “The Controversy” contributes greatly to the impression that the only real identity CBF has is “not being the SBC.” That, along with continued foot shooting, like inviting John Killinger to teach several workshops where he can vent his Falwell paranoia and deny the divinity of Christ, is robbing the CBF of its future.

  4. Sam Swart says:

    Perhaps all that’s true, I’m only suggesting we cut these Baptist elders some slack. A little respect is in order for these old cats who were fighting the righteous fight while most of us younger CBFers were home watching Loonie Toons. We can move forward without tossing these guys under the bus (as the kids like to say these days).

  5. Colby Evans says:

    This isn’t a surprise, or at least, it shouldn’t be to anyone who has been following trends in American Christianity over the last two decades. The younger generation of American Christians, certainly a small group, but quite tuned in to the foundational principles of Christian faith based in scripture, and very passionate in their commitment to Christ and His gospel, is basically post-denominational in its practice and expression of faith. They are not interested in promoting a system of prestige and rank in leadership, they want leaders whose example they can follow, not leaders who think their pedigree and position entitles them to leadership.

    They have seen the shallowness and pettiness of denominational politics, and have rejected it. They have seen that the arguments used to justify denominational division, the doctrinal “distinctives” so closely held are really just a facade, and a more a matter of one’s choice of rhetoric than of a genuine difference in conviction. They see most of those distinctives as tools of intentional division, to protect one denominational group’s “turf” from being invaded by another.

    They envision a day when being Christian will be the thing that matters.

  6. Tim Dahl says:


    I’ve posted the “Open Letter,” as well as my response to it on my blog. Let me know what you think when you get a chance.


  7. Chuck says:

    I grimace at the Killingers, Kimballs, and other CBF workshop invitees–about one a year–especially in light of the recent survey which says only about one in four “Christians” believe in the exclusivity of Christ to save.

    Last year, Morris Chapman predicted that the greatest challenge facing the American church in the next few years will be the persecution of those maintaining and proclaiming the exclusive claims of Christ–first from nominal members within the church, then from non-Christians outside the church.

  8. Nick Skipper says:

    After reading the Associated Baptist Press article Young CBFers, responding to Sherman, call for end to bitter anti-SBC rhetoric by Vicki Brown, I was disappointed that seven of our young and brightest would resort to such an underhanded tactic and lack of respect. I assume the report of the open letter is accurate and that being true, felt the need to respond as one on the sideline.

    It is interesting how some of our self-proclaimed “younger CBFers” have placed a spin on what Dr. Cecil Sherman said and (I feel) was trying to convey during his acceptance of the author’s copy and framed cover of his new book By My Own Reckoning. It began when Lex Horton, Executive Vice President of Smyth & Helwys came to the podium to present Dr. Cecil Sherman with a special gift and recognition for his new book. In the process of his introduction, Brother Lex made several references to Dr. Sherman’s life and the content of the book. Brother Horton did dwell on one chapter of Dr. Sherman’s life. It was in reference to events during a truly sad time in the history of Southern Baptist—the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
    I believe most in attendance recognized and understood what Brother Horton was talking about. Did he choose this topic on purpose to help sell the book? Was it planned or did it just come to mind? Was it a topic he thought many would be interested in or does he have such strong feelings and convictions about the issue that he felt compelled to mention it? I do not know!
    What I do know is that these where his remarks and not Dr. Sherman’s. What was said next must have been heard (or at least understood) differently by those who choose to label themselves as the “younger CBFers”. What I heard was an 80-year-old gentle giant in Baptist life apologize for commercializing his life story. It was an unnecessary apology. How wonderful a gift for people like Dr. Sherman to open up their life and expose it to us to help us and his family understand the man, his beliefs and the legacy he will leave behind, and to give us insight to his thoughts and the effect of decisions he made. All intended in some way to help us plot our own journeys.
    Dr. Sherman was very quick to point out that the events referenced by Brother Horton are just a piece of his life story and even then they are told from his own view point. I think Brother Sherman was trying to say this book is an autobiography of which the events Brother Horton addressed are only a small part. Indeed, once you have read his book you will find it has much more to offer.
    In addition, I feel Dr. Sherman felt it necessary under the circumstances to explain why the subject of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention is even a part of his book. So he used an analogy that to him and many of us made perfect sense.
    We understood that in addition to the loss of life, the Jews were forced to endure much more. Families and friends were separated and could no longer enjoy a kindred spirit. Old customs were no longer accepted and any attempt to continue or preserve them only brought additional hardship. Jobs, businesses, homes and institutions were stolen and handed over to the oppressive group. Logic and reason fell victim to a political agenda with a win-at-all-cost attitude. I could go on, but I believe with an open mind you can see there really are some parallelisms between the Holocaust and the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Was Dr. Sherman’s analogy misguided? Maybe so, if indeed, our “younger CBFers” didn’t get it. It wasn’t about the need to keep on fighting; rather it was about remembering how we (CBF) came to be—it’s about our heritage.
    More importantly for those who lived thought those dark years and fought the fight on many different levels, the issue is not to continue the fight. It is, however, to preserve the history so that we shall never forget to be persistently vigilant in our beliefs. We are saying don’t get so comfortable in CBF life to think it could never happen again.
    For years now many have chosen not to talk openly about the horrors of the Holocaust and have pushed the events of history to the back shelf. Now just a few generations later we are beginning to hear that it did not really happen. How long before history is rewritten and the future generations will not know the truth.

    The “young CBFers” said “We do want to remember the past…want to give proper respect for the past, but don’t want to be defined by it.” They say that they “no longer wish for this conversation to have center stage nor be the focus of who we are and what we do,” I ask: How can a one minute, twenty-one second acceptance speech define them or CBF?

    They stated “We all have high respect for Cecil Sherman…but there are some of us who are ready to lay that [the pain of the SBC takeover] down and move forward,” and “We felt the need to say that out loud.”
    I submit that you cannot lay down something you have not picked up. I ask: How many of the seven lost a teaching position, a pastorate, a mission assignment or have been adversely affected in any way by the issue. The fact is, most of them have a job or position as a result of what has happened.
    Maybe the best way to show that high respect for Dr. Sherman and the many others who fought the fight, lost and went on to help create a new organization (CBF) is to cherish their stories, learn from them and protect the organization they will someday be handing over to you.
    I agree we should move forward and focus on the future, but we should do so remembering the past. You build a skyscraper from the ground up. You do not start on the fifth floor. Our foundation is our past!
    I do not understand what really prompted this open attack on Dr. Sherman and by proxy on CBF. If they really believed his remarks were hurtful or detrimental to CBF or even their personal endeavors, why not go to him in person. By issuing a public letter (rather than a private letter) calling for an end to bitter anti-SBC rhetoric, they are the ones guilty of bring the issue to center stage. They implied that Dr. Sherman made bitter anti-SBC rhetoric commits during the June 19 morning business session as if it was the focus of what he said. But they know this is not true.
    What really hurts is that these seven are good people with a lot of talent. Their desire to rush ahead and tackle the challenges that lie ahead are to be admired. Yet, at times they need to be reminded of lessons learned from the past. They must be willing to be still and listen to the voices of experience. Last and most important, they need to be respectful of others even in disagreement.

  9. Lee says:

    I really think that all of this needs to be put in perspective. The fight between Southern Baptist fundamentalists and moderates was a battle over control of the apparatus of a human institution created with a Christian purpose at heart. It was a battle over turf. Cecil Sherman and the other leaders of the moderate side of the battle were defending turf that they had claimed as their own through the years, and which they were sitting on and protecting by calling the shots with regard to who could be included in the limited and exclusive leadership circle, and who could be granted the favors of denominational jobs and influential appointments. Patterson, Pressler and the fundamentalists came along with a plan to bust up the aristocracy, and it succeeded largely because Sherman and other moderate leaders were never able to put their finger on the pulse of the majority.

    It was a battle of Christian vs. Christian over control of an institution, not a cause which advanced the cause of Christ. And while people on both sides were defending “principles,” I’m not sure this kind of battle is one which, from a Biblical and spiritual perspective, warrants the declaration of certain individuals as “heroes” and others as “martyrs.” Nor am I certain that participating as a leader in such a battle warrants rewarding the leaders on either side, either with the accolades of a group of mutual admirers or an autobiography.

    I’m also quite surprised that this letter, which I do not see as either presumptuous or disrespectful, has generated such a frumpy, belligerent response from those within a Baptist organization that has championed the freedom to engage in dissent, disagreement, and which celebrates a wide diversity of viewpoints. Not only is any perspective labelled as “fundamentalist” not tolerated, but apparently any criticism of the elite, venerated aristocracy is out as well. So much for dissent…

    Dr. Sherman was my pastor while I was in seminary, and he earned my respect, though I was not always in agreement with his actions during the Baptist war, or with some of the things he said, either from the pulpit or with regard to the “battle.” But I am not favorable to giving rewards to individuals for efforts to save some sort of denominational kingdom.

  10. You have offered a thoroughly conservative interpretation of the Resurgence.

    Some of what you said is true. But from a historical point of view, the Controversy was much more complicated than simply a fight over institutions. Radical theological changes were made. And to suggest that moderates couldn’t hold on because they never got their finger on the pulse of the majority implies that the current leadership does have their finger on the majority’s pulse as Richard Land claims.

    That completely undercuts your usual argument that there are indeed differences between the average Southern Baptist and the leadership in Nashville (etc.).

    And you have overlooked the important fact that the fight between Southern Baptist fundamentalists and moderates was not limited to the Southern Baptist Convention. For all practical purposes that fight ended in 1991. Battles at the state convention level continued well through 2000. A dear friend of mine was fired in 2005 in order to complete the fundamentalist takeover at one Georgia Baptist college.

    These battles played out differently in each state. The reasons for the SBC Controversy can not be superimposed at the state level. What I watched and experienced in Georgia had little to do with institutions and everything to do with doctrinal and political conformity. Moderates were never in power. Eventually a cleansing took place and all those who dissented with the agenda of the state fundamentalist leadership were purged including those moderates who sat silently.

  11. Lee says:

    The SBC is nothing more or less than the annual meeting. That is where the decisions are made and the votes are taken. It is those who get there to vote that make up the body. It was the majority of that particular group that moderates failed to grasp, mainly messengers from small, rural congregations who watched Charles Stanley and Adrian Rogers on television, or from the megachurches who were part of that culture. I still hold to the belief that the leadership of the SBC today is not representative of the majority of Baptists in the pews of the churches, though from a doctrinal perspective, it is those on the fringes that present the greatest contrast. But most Southern Baptists seem to have concluded that, in terms of who runs the agencies and institutions, the doctrinal differences represented by those now in charge are not significant enough to warrant the effort required to make a change.

    I never thought Cecil Sherman was that far off the doctrinal track among Southern Baptists. Maybe he was, but in the three years I was a member of the church he pastored, he never ventured there in his preaching. Nor did most of the others who eventually wound up forming CBF. They got in trouble because the system they had created inside the SBC leadership prior to 1979 was arrogantly exclusive and elitist, and it was set up to grant favors to friends and school-tie buddies by giving them professorships and agency positions. Some of the “friends” had drifted too far to the left theologically, but the small, elitist group of moderates who held the reins of power continued to protect them under the guise of a “broad tent” of cooperation, vague mumblings about “historic Baptist principles” and a lot of dialogue for the purpose of creating an image that action was taking place when it wasn’t. In removing the hands that gripped the reins of power, the fundamentalists resorted to amputation. That was an unnecessary extreme, too.

    I would say that if what has happened in both the SBC and the state conventions constituted “radical” theological change, the response from the churches would have been much more significant. I once thought that the continued fundamentalist dominance of the SBC, and the moves to control the states, would result in all sorts of conflict and resistance, but that never materialized. Moderate leadership of state conventions was also aristocratic, elitist and exclusive. In that regard, little has changed. One group of power broker good ole boys has simply been replaced by another. It’s all in the PR. Moderate leadership of the BGCT, for example, in ignoring and trying to sweep scandal under the carpet, has weakened their ability to hold on to the leadership. The current new administration is moving heaven and earth to straighten things out, and to undo some of the damage, the Southwestern exibit at the convention being one of several signs of that.

  12. First, folks are stubborn. They don’t like change. Second, many Southern Baptists that I know don’t follow nor do they care to follow the happenings of the SBC. They are disinterested. Third, most folks in the pews probably couldn’t define important but basic theologicla concepts if asked. On the deity and resurrection, most would respond if those simple concepts were challenged. But a move from congregation-led to pastor-led or confessionalism to creedalism would not phase those in the pews. To Baptists, changes in the distinctives that have defined us for nearly 400 years should be considered radical! I just think the old grandma’s in the pews are content with Lottie and Annie and want to continue to do their own thing – regardless of what the fundamentalist leadership says and does.

    Good-ole boy clubs will eventually die and fade out. There is no room for such bloated bureaucracies in the 21st century. Leaders of those conventions (BGCT) will become more inclusive especially to the younger generation or they will cease to exist in the way that they do now down the road. Time will tell. All in all, I don’t see much right now that gets me excited about the BGCT. I don’t know any young Baptists who are enthusiastic about the BGCT (We do like the CLC though). Even if I wanted to be an involved “young leader,” I’m not sure the doors would be open to this Georgian who has made a home in Texas.