On October 16, 2006, the Chicago Bears came back to defeat the Arizona Cardinals 24-23. The game was considered the “comeback of the year” because the Bears were trailing by 20 points at halftime.
What made the feat even greater is that the Bears set an NFL record. Their comeback occurred without them scoring a single offensive touchdown. As memorable as the game itself was, it’s remembered more today for then Cardinals head coach Dennis Green’s infamous rant in the postgame press conference. The most highlighted quote was and remains, “But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!”
I’ve thought a lot about that postgame rant lately. It’s come to mind because of the recent news of the Southern Baptist Convention ousting Saddleback Church, the largest church in the SBC, for having the temerity to appoint a woman as teaching pastor.
Shortly after the news broke, I got multiple emails from church members asking me if I had seen the news. Several other church members asked me about it in person. All of them were shocked that Saddleback, or “Rick Warren’s church,” as they called it, was kicked out of the SBC.
After expressing their dismay, they asked if I was as shocked as they were, and I told them no — that I was disappointed and saddened by the news, but I wasn’t surprised by it in the least. I asked one church member, a huge football fan, if he was familiar with Dennis Green’s infamous rant, and he was. So, I told him, “In the words of Dennis Green, the Southern Baptist Convention, ‘they are who we thought they were.’”
“You aren’t judging others when they tell you who they are and you take their word for it.”
Just to be clear here: I’m not judging the SBC. I simply believe them. You aren’t judging others when they tell you who they are and you take their word for it. And the truth is, the SBC has been telling everyone who they are for decades.
They don’t hide it, and they aren’t ashamed of it. They’ve shown us clearly who they are with regard to gender equality by their embrace of complementarianism and their rejection of women in positions of church leadership.
They’re quick to oust churches for appointing women to the role of pastor and slow to act on allegations of abuse. In fact, they were so quick to dismiss churches with women pastors that they even tried to kick out a church in Griffin, Ga., that isn’t and never has been Southern Baptist.
They were so slow to act on allegations of abuse that they actively tried to cover them up.
Tragically, none of this should surprise us, though. When you plant the seeds of misogyny and patriarchy, the fruits of abuse inevitably sprout up. And as Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Thus you will know them by their fruits.”
“When you plant the seeds of misogyny and patriarchy, the fruits of abuse inevitably sprout up.”
The SBC hasn’t just told us who they are with regard to gender roles, though. After decades of good work on racial reconciliation, they flushed all that down the drain so that they could condemn the law school concept and current conservative bogeyman, Critical Race Theory. In fact, shortly after a joint statement condemning Critical Race Theory was released by the six SBC seminary presidents in November 2020, two large majority Black megachurches left the SBC. They gave up trying.
When you’re planted in the toxic soil of racism (remember slavery was instrumental in the formation of the SBC), you inevitably produce poisonous fruit unless you do some beneath-the-surface soil work first. Furthermore, you end up rooting out good and holy fruits like equality, solidarity and gentleness.
For those of you who aren’t critical of the SBC, Dennis Green’s quote might be a bit much. I understand that. Might I commend a quote by Maya Angelou instead: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
“The SBC has been showing everyone who they are for decades now, and it is long past time for all of us to believe them.”
The SBC has been showing everyone who they are for decades now, and it is long past time for all of us to believe them.
For those who, like me, are critical, we need to remember the whole of Dennis Green’s quote and not just part of it. We can’t let them off the hook.
We can’t let them off the hook because toxic soil and poisonous fruit hurt the witness not just of Baptists but of all of Christ’s church.
We can’t let them off the hook because such soil and such fruit harm the very people that we’re called to serve.
The seeds of poisonous fruits have to be replaced with those that will grow the fruits of the Spirit. The toxic soil requires special, internal work so that it might become healthy. In short, the toxic soil requires repentance.
This isn’t because of our own judgment or pride. It isn’t to make us feel more enlightened or spiritually superior either. Rather, we can’t let them off the hook because that’s the only loving action that might lead to repentance.
Tragically, the SBC is “who we thought they were.” Even though many of us may be critical of them, even though we may be angered, heart-broken and reviled by their actions, even though they may avoid and ignore us, we can’t let them off the hook. Because in this case, that’s what love looks like. And short of divine intervention, it’s the only way for true repentance to occur.
Kristopher Aaron is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Bristol, Va. He is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology and Brite Divinity School. He is married to Clary Gardner Aaron, and they have two children.
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