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2.9 Segmentation And Religious Tribal Power Cycles

Until conservatives overran it in 1979, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was loath to mix church and state. It was also a fierce defender of the autonomy of congregations to develop their own take on scripture and operate and worship accordingly. Conservatives, however, chafed at what they saw as creeping liberalism in SBC seminaries, less than absolute belief in biblical “inerrancy,” and the failure of Southern Baptist leaders to buck the waning influence of religion upon public life-a trend they could trace as far back as 1962, when the Supreme Court disallowed state-sponsored prayer in public schools.

Known as the “SBC Conservative Resurgence,” conservative leaders used the “authority by authenticity” argument to challenge the tribe and take on power. They did this by forwarding “inerrancy” as a tribal code and a test of political authenticity. The basic crux of their authenticity argument was that conservatives were more authentic in their devotion to God because they, more than anyone, took God’s word most literally. Paige Patterson, one of the key architects of the reformation, recalled in his own telling of the story in 2004, “In the final analysis, we did not attempt a reformation movement because we thought it would succeed but because we sincerely believed that we were right about the inerrancy of the Bible.”

In 2007 the Episcopal Church had a similar power struggle between its own conservative and liberal wings (tribes) over the decision by the church’s General Convention to consecrate a bishop involved in an openly gay relationship. There’s also fierce opposition to the church’s position on the blessing of same-sex unions. The ruckus led about 10 percent of Episcopal dioceses in the U.S. to vote to split from the U.S. denomination and submit themselves to the authority of sympathetic foreign bishops in the larger and much more conservative worldwide Anglican Communion.

Likewise, the contest pitting Islamic fundamentalism against the Christian west has global implications that dwarf whatever happens in the SBC and the Episcopal Church. In this case, violence and literal warfare are the distinguishing factors and the survival of nations actually could be at stake. The immediate, presenting battles are between the U.S. and the western European parliamentary democracies on the one hand, and the alienated al-Qaeda, with its own claims of authority by authenticity.

A roiling Islamic proletariat has built up a storehouse of grievances that began with the founding of the state of Israel. Particularly bothersome were three factors: the stationing of American troops in the Middle East; a permissive and gender-neutral Western culture that fundamentalists feared was creeping into their countries; and especially, the devil’s bargain between the U.S. and seemingly corrupt, secularized dictators who exchanged oil for the military and economic aid that helped prop up those regimes. The validity or speciousness of these complaints is less important for divining trends than for looking at creative ways by which this extended crisis can be at least partially defused or resolved, as well as for assessing the impact of the “authority by authenticity” argument.

While they go virtually unnoticed by a fear-exploiting media, signs of a possible solution to the Islamic versus Christian issues are here now: first, a nascent awareness by some European nations that they need imaginative approaches to assimilate the segregated Islamic diaspora within their midst; second, a small but vocal chorus of brave Islamic women activists who insist that full equality for women is in sync with the Koran; and last, an unspoken developing consensus, even among Arab nations yet to recognize Israel, that Palestine must accommodate two nations-in Israel and the Palestinian territories-with complete sovereignty, ironclad security guarantees, and the internalization of Jerusalem. Armageddonists beware: Something reasonable may happen.

Back to Table Of Contents Next: 2.10 Who’s the Man?

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