Last time we met up, I briefly mentioned that Ed Stetzer recently quit his gig with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and has moved on to a super-fundagelical indoctrination mill called Wheaton College. I’m not terribly surprised. With everything going on in Baptist-land lately, I’m just surprised he lasted this long. Lord Snow today turns his serene, leaf-green gaze toward Ed Stetzer’s job change.
A Broken Clock.
Ed Stetzer was the executive director of LifeWay Research for almost ten years, which means that he’s the guy who told Southern Baptists why they were bleeding people left and right. We’ve looked at his ridiculous, oblivious, reality-denying ideas for a while now–he’s definitely one of this blog’s favorite and most reliable lolcows. You can pretty much expect that anything he says or writes is going to be the polar opposite of reality at any given time.
As just one example, here’s something he posted last summer on his blog about how the SBC can recover its former dominance over American culture. The TL;DR is that Southern Baptists are failing because they aren’t making big enough pests of themselves yet. Seriously. That’s what he thinks will solve everything. His flocks need to get out there and sell harder at more people. He thinks he’s some prophet crying aloud in the wilderness–proclaiming himself “the Denominational Stats Guy,” even–because he tried to tell the SBC as far back as 2008 that they had a problem on their hands, smugly saying in that link that he totally told them so.
A broken clock is still correct twice a day, and nobody in Christianity gets brownie points for being able to look at a chart to notice that a denomination’s numbers are plunging into the abyss (though a lot of SBC bigwigs do lose a lot of House points for looking at those selfsame charts and coming away thinking everything was absolutely fine until just a few years ago). If that’s what he needs to feel good about himself when he looks at his hipster goatee in the mirror, that’s fine, but I’d be a lot more impressed if his takeaway was actually something constructive instead of do more of what we’ve been doing except more of it and harder.
With someone that befuddled at their research helm, it’s little wonder the SBC’s baptism drought (their term, not mine, but it’s awesome) has not only persisted but apparently accelerated over Ed Stetzer’s tenure.
Ed Stetzer’s New Mouse-Cage.
Ed Stetzer shared with Charisma Magazine (which you should consider maybe 1/2 step above World Nut Daily in terms of its general journalistic rigor and credibility) his reasons for leaving LifeWay and migrating over to Wheaton College. Specifically, he’s heading for a chair there that they just created: the Billy Graham Distinguished Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism. (What a mouthful!) He’s also being named Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton, where he’ll be serving both as chair of their Evangelism & Leadership Program in the Wheaton College Graduate School and as publisher of their missions magazine, blah blah blah, and lots of other evangelism stuff.
Wheaton College is ultra-mega-hardcore fundagelical. That’s the school where someone got pelted with an apple for the crime of simply suggesting that maybe Wheaton’s take-no-prisoners bigoted stance on gay people isn’t maybe the most loving tack that Christians could possibly take. It’s also where a male student got arrested in 2015 for filming female students in their bathroom, then posting the videos to a porn website (he also took upskirt pictures at his church–but remember, kids, that it’s transgender men you ought to worry about). Like quite a few other fundagelical groups and colleges, Wheaton’s faced its share of sexual crimes and scandals; last year the Justice Department ordered them to improve their response system in cases of campus sexual assaults or else.
Oh, and it’s also the school that took its time in cutting its close ties with the disgraced Republican politician Dennis Hastert, who stepped down from his position at Wheaton amid rumors of sexual molestation and formal charges of financial wrongdoing to cover up his sexual crimes.
The real miracle here is that any Christian family thinks highly enough of the school to send their precious children there, especially their daughters, if you ask me. But Wheaton’s a big huge name in fundagelical schools, and they’ve shouldered through their self-created storms pretty well.
The administrators at Wheaton clearly agree with Ed Stetzer about what has to happen for Christian churches to finally recover from their bleeding membership numbers.
If nothing else their newest acquisition will keep the administrators themselves from coming face-to-face with exactly why their churches keep hemorrhaging young people.
Speaking of “Do More And Harder.”
And what, one might ask, is Ed Stetzer going to do in his new position?
He’s going to try to revitalize Southern Baptists’ evangelism techniques so they can get out there and evangelize harder and more often at more people.
See, he’s totally convinced that The Big Problem Here is that fundagelicals aren’t culturally relevant anymore–that they’ve done such a great job of walling themselves off from the greater culture around themselves that now nobody outside the tribe wants to climb over that wall to join them.
That said, I really don’t think that the solution to the SBC’s problems is going to involve them learning new slang and lowering themselves to hang out with the cool kids around town, or whatever miracle tactic Ed Stetzer is selling these days. He’s totally sure that if missionaries can only learn how to be culturally relevant again, like space aliens learning to talk like humans so they can blend in, then everything will be totally great. Once again, his tribe’s message is perfect–so any problems the tribe is having must be due to how that message is being delivered!
Now, he’s not actually advising that Christians stop being so insular. He just wants them to be able to sell their product better.
But don’t worry, y’all. They’ve got this one covered. The President of Wheaton College said, unironically, “Ed Stetzer is a dynamic communicator and brilliant researcher who brings a genuine knowledge of the gospel and a deep understanding of contemporary culture to his new place of service.” He went on to say that he’s certain that his new hire will “help raise up a new generation of passionate, generous-hearted evangelists.”
I had to double-check to make sure he was talking about the same Ed Stetzer I’ve been reading about all these years–the one who knowingly and deliberately silenced the guy who was trying to tell him that LifeWay was publishing a totally fake “heavenly tourism” book. The one who predicted, falsely, that “400 church leaders” would be resigning the Sunday after the Ashley Madison hack. The one who constantly blames everyone under the sun for his tribe’s losses except their toxic message, hypocrisy, and broken social system.
And now he’s been hired to train new missionaries in the ways of the Sith–er, sorry, the Southern Baptists.
A Golden Parachute.
Heavens forfend I be needlessly crude or anything, but I’ve got to ask: what in the world do people have to do to be considered failures in fundagelicalism, with the obvious exception of getting caught with their dicks inside someone of the wrong gender?
Someone can be completely wrong about everything in Christianity, they can even be totally proven to be liars and con artists, they can commit any kind of crime you can imagine, but as long as they parrot the correct party lines and pander appropriately to the important people in the religion they’ll never be out of a job.
Ed Stetzer is a master of both of those strategies. Everything he writes plays well to fundagelicals. He tells them what they want to hear about non-Christians. He smoothes their ruffled feathers, tells them there is no need to change anything they’re doing at all, and encourages them to become more and more obnoxious because sooner or later that’ll start working wonderfully. He writes sermons that he and his readers pretend are aimed at the lukewarm CINOs (Christians in Name Only) that they like to pretend are infesting their precious TRUE CHRISTIAN™ churches because they can’t look away from all those brilliant, scintillating Jesus Auras.
He’s at Wheaton College, make no mistake, because some very deep-pocketed donors to that college like him and his style. He’s not there because of how much he’ll actually help the school’s students learn how to evangelize better. He’s there to teach students the party lines they’ll need to parrot in order to get and keep jobs within the religion, and to make his tribe’s leaders think that they’re doing something tangible and substantive to reverse their losses.
Unless he seriously changes course and starts making the suggestions that will actually work to contain his tribe’s massive churn rate, which I sincerely doubt he’s even capable of doing, this move is just more magical thinking from Christians–and it’s being made by a master of the art of magical thinking.
Well, gosh, y’all, I just don’t see any way for this move to possibly fail.
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