Baptist conservatives should celebrate their heroes quickly


Artisans with the Don Young Glass Studio, Star-Telegram photo

According to a front page, above-the-fold, article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has launched a 12-year project that will see 69 heroes of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention celebrated in stained-glass.

This ambitious enterprise follows hard on the heels of a 20-minute documentary produced this year to consecrate the 20th anniversary of R. Albert Mohler’s role in the conservative takeover of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville Kentucky.

My initial reaction to all this eulogizing of faith heroes, most of whom are still with us, was distinctly negative. It seemed tacky and a bit presumptuous. Shouldn’t we wait for the verdict of history? Don’t we normally reserve stained-glass windows for genuine heroes of the faith who are acknowledged inside and outside the limited circle of our faith tradition?

I do recall seeing E. Y. Mullins, a Southern Seminary president who died in 1928, incorporated into a “great cloud of witnesses” set of stained-glass windows in Louisville’s Highland Baptist Church; but Mullins was celebrated worldwide as a Baptist Statesman, inside and outside his denomination, and appealed to conservative and moderates alike. Besides, I suspect a few decades separated his death and the creation of the window.


W.A. Criswell

On reflection, though, I think Paige Patterson and his Southwestern colleagues are making the right move at the right time. The concerted antics of men like Patterson, Bailey Smith, Adrian Rogers and W.A. Criswell may appear glorious, bold and compelling to the good people within the fundamentalist wing of Southern Baptist life. But to virtually anyone outside that particular tribe, the conservative resurgence looks like a ruthless power-play accomplished by manipulating fear and ignorance.

No one outside the tribe is going to celebrate these men, so they might as well celebrate themselves.

Moreover, Patterson, et al, were right to move quickly. The verdict of history will not be kind. It is hard to imagine Baptists fifty years hence remembering these folks or rejoicing in their strong-arm tactics. Folks like Joseph McCarthy and Theodore Bilbo (the race-baiting Mississippi Governor) had their day, but no one is building monuments to their memory.

At least, I hope not.

Alan Bean

Author's Website
About the Author
Alan is executive director of Friends of Justice, an organization that creates a powerful synergy between grassroots organizing, civil rights advocacy, the legal community, the mass media and ultimately the political establishment. Friends of Justice is committed to building a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration and mass deportation. Dr. Bean lectures frequently at universities, legal conferences, churches and community organizations on the issues of mass incarceration, drug policy and criminal justice reform. He has been quoted extensively in leading publications such as Newsweek, The Washington Post, USA Today, La Monde and The Chicago Tribune and CNN and his work with Friends of Justice been featured in the religious media outlets such as and the Associated Baptist Press. Dr. Bean is the author of "Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas," an insider account of the events surrounding the Tulia drug sting. He lives in Arlington, Texas with his wife Nancy, a special education counselor and is a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

Read more posts by

  • Ginklestinker

    Sour grapes, Alan ? Your snotty contempt for those who pinned your ears back at the time of the glorious revolution,some 25 years ago, will please only those who love to wallow in their pain and defeats. Sad sacks, like the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel !

  • Michael Poole

    Sometimes you just have to swallow. Remember the words of Maximus to Commodus: “The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end.”