Patterson's defense of sermon censorship contradicts his own actions, critics say

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    http://www.abpnews.com/www/1338.article

    Patterson's defense of sermon censorship contradicts his own actions, critics say
    By Robert Marus and Greg Warner
    Published: September 1, 2006

    ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) -- Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's largest seminary, censored a recent chapel sermon by a seminary trustee because it criticized a "sister" SBC institution. Yet in 2003 Patterson himself circulated a lengthy report by one of his professors that criticized the same agency.

    Dwight McKissic, a graduate and newly appointed trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered the Aug. 29 morning chapel sermon at the Fort Worth school, where Patterson is president. McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in nearby Arlington, criticized a controversial policy guideline of the International Mission Board that bans the appointment of missionaries who practice speaking in a "private prayer language."

    With Patterson seated onstage with him, McKissic recounted how, as a Southwestern student in 1981, he had an experience of speaking in a "private prayer language" that he believes was evidence of the Holy Spirit helping him communicate with God.

    McKissic, one of Southern Baptists' most prominent African-American leaders, said he has continued to have such experiences, which many theologians say is a private version of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues.

    After the service, in a break from stated practice, Patterson ordered that a recording of McKissic's sermon not be placed on Southwestern's website. Later in the day, school officials released a statement saying they made the decision because McKissic had criticized actions by a sister SBC institution and because seminary leaders "reserve the right not to disseminate openly views which we fear may be harmful to the churches."

    But three years ago, Patterson -- then president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina -- distributed a "white paper" by Southeastern professor Keith Eitel that criticized the IMB and its president, Jerry Rankin, on a number of mission practices. Eitel's report and Patterson's cover letter, which was written on seminary letterhead, were sent by Patterson to all IMB trustees.

    Rankin has been the target of criticism from some of his own trustees, in part because he has acknowledged using a private prayer language. According to Rankin's defenders, a group of trustees is committed to forcing the long-time president out.

    In an open letter Aug. 30, McKissic, said he respects the seminary's decision to remove the sermon but regrets it nonetheless. He also implied Patterson endorsed tongues-speaking generally.

    McKissic said while Patterson's rationale for banning the sermon is "fair and affirming of all parties involved," he nevertheless believes it is "inconsistent with views attributed to you, views you’ve written, and [the views of] other outstanding Baptist scholars, theologians, and preachers."

    Southwestern Seminary officials, contacted for comment on McKissic's letter, did not respond. They did, however, make recordings of the sermon available for purchase directly from the seminary.

    Meanwhile, Southern Baptist bloggers said Patterson's reason for removing McKissic's sermon -- because it was critical of another agency -- was hypocritical.

    "If SWBTS is governed by such a principle, which would indeed be a good one, then why did Dr. Patterson, as president of SEBTS, circulate to the IMB board of trustees Dr. Keith Eitel's now infamous white paper called, Vision Assessment?" wrote Oklahoma pastor Art Rogers, who runs the 12 Witnesses blog (twelvewitnesses.blogspot.com).

    "You may recall…that this paper undermines Dr. Rankin and the overall vision of the IMB as it currently stands," Rogers said. "Talk about a violation of this policy!"

    Rogers said McKissic's sermon had "set off the political equivalent of a nuclear device" in Southern Baptist life.

    McKissic said the IMB's "public policy" on private prayer language warrants public discussion, which was the purpose of his sermon.

    He added the policy guideline "is in direct contradiction to what many noted Baptist scholars and preachers believe about the practice of a private prayer language. My statement was designed to cause the students to critically think about whether or not the IMB policy lines up with Scripture, not to criticize the IMB."

    He continued: "Because I said nothing during my message that contradicted the Bible or the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message [the SBC's doctrinal statement], I fail to see how my comments are viewed as outside of the Baptist mainstream. I do believe that banning the free distribution of my message on the school website is a form of unnecessary censorship that is most unusual considering the fact, again, that many Baptist scholars and leaders…have expressed views similar to mine."

    McKissic cited Baptist preachers and theologians -- evangelist Billy Graham, IMB president Rankin, and current SBC president Frank Page -- as defending the practice.

    He also offered further criticism of the IMB decision to ban new missionaries who practice a private prayer language. That ban has proven controversial within the denomination.

    Although Southwestern's faculty and trustees may reject private prayer language, McKissis wrote, "the leading evangelical African-American churches in America, including black Southern Baptists, would affirm the practice of a private prayer language by those who are so gifted by the Holy Spirit," McKissic said. "They would certainly not invoke a policy denying freedom of a gifted person to practice a private prayer language."

    McKissic, a new Southwestern trustee, has served as president of the pastors' conference of the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He has also been at the forefront of efforts, on both state and national levels, to pass laws banning gay marriage.

    In an Aug. 29 interview with Associated Baptist Press, McKissic said he didn't know his sermon would cause such a stir, and he didn't believe Patterson had a problem with him or his view of tongues. "He has not in any way indicated that he has issues with what I have to say," he said.

    He noted that he had lunch with Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, following the chapel service. "I love Dr. Patterson, Dr. Patterson loves me, we had rich fellowship today," he said. "If they had a problem with it [the sermon], they didn't utter it to me at all.
     

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