(from the Web site of Associated Baptist Press, March 28, 2011)
by David Gushee
Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University
What is the proper relationship between conviction and freedom? By "conviction," I simply mean clear theological and ethical beliefs and the willingness to communicate such beliefs just as clearly, one goal of such communication being to persuade others to share those beliefs. By "freedom," I mean a commitment to valuing and respecting personal liberty, especially liberty of religious conscience.
My experience of conservative Baptists in the South has been that conviction is very highly valued. Those considered leaders are often elevated to their status because of their perceived clarity of conviction and their willingness to communicate such convictions resolutely and passionately. To be called "convictional" in that sector of the Baptist world is a high compliment.
The potential downside of being "convictional" is obvious, of course. Clarity of conviction can easily shade over into intolerance of other convictions, loss of nuance, and an apparent unwillingness to ever consider modifying one's convictions on the basis of new evidence. Often, though not always, such "convictional" leaders tend to focus little on the freedom of other Christians to believe differently and, at least on debatable matters, still be found pleasing in the sight of God.
My experience of the moderate Baptist world has, in general, been that the freedom/conviction polarity is reversed. Freedom is highly valued. Everyone bends over backward to respect personal liberty and freedom of conscience. This is elevated as among the highest of Christian values.
It is harder to find resolute and passionate expression of clear convictions on this side of the Baptist fence, other than perhaps the expression of a commitment to individual liberty of conscience.
Example 1: Talking with a member of a moderate Baptist church struggling to meet its budget, I asked what the pastor taught about the responsibilities of members . . .
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