Thursday, June 5, 2008
You won't find the word in your Webster's Dictionary, but you will find it in my new book, Witness to the Truth. You'll also find the word many times on this blog, "Louis Moore on Religion".
Yes, I coined the word. I have been using it for nearly 20 years now, ever since I first moved to Nashville, TN, almost 20 years ago to join the Southern Baptist bureaucracy. Some of my friends still laugh when I use MY word; other friends have started to pick it up.
That word is BAPTISTDOM. It's a compilation of the word Christendom and Baptist.
My definition of the word, however, is more akin to the word Curia. The word Curia refers to the bureaucracy of the Roman Catholic Church, centered at the Vatican in Rome. The Curia is notorious for its slippery, passive, courtly, overtly religious style.
Baptistdom is my label for the highly unusual Southern Baptist way of life we encountered in Nashville and later in Richmond. Baptistdom was like a peculiar and alien culture—something far, far different from "normal" life we had known in Houston and elsewhere. This wasn't because of Baptistdom's expressed faith in God nor because of its theological orientation so much as because of its unique small-town, Southern , bureaucratic, passive-aggressive style.
Over the years I realized how much Baptistdom was like the notorious Roman Catholic Curia. Both are bureaucracies with their own social codes, political agendas, and unusual way of conducting business. Gossip and behind-your-back, cutting remarks seemed to be written into Baptistdom's genetic code; people often joked that the walls of the SBC's Sunday School Board building (now LifeWay) at 127 9th Avenue North, Nashville, would physically fall down if gossip in that structure ceased. I would suspect these characteristics are also written into the genetic code of the Catholic Curia as well.
Baptistdom is much, much larger than most people, including most Southern Baptists, ever begin to fathom. Part of that naivete is because early Southern Baptists tried to thwart the development of a Curia-like Catholic bureaucracy by locating various denominational services strategically throughout the South. Thus, Nashville got the publishing operation and the top executive offices, Atlanta got the North American missionary operation, Richmond got the foreign-missionary operation, Dallas got the retirement-funds center, Birmingham got the Woman's Missionary Union, and Louisville, Fort Worth, Kansas City, New Orleans, Wake Forest, and (later) San Francisco each received one of the denomination's graduate schools in theology (called seminaries). Today, that diversity helps conceal the true size and wealth of Baptistdom. Diversifying to keep down a Curia-like bureaucracy worked fine until after World War II, when prosperity struck the SBC; its finances blossomed like its founding fathers never could have imagined. Suddenly each of these tiny entities grew large and wealthy. Today, Baptistdom is more like a corporate-minded Fortune 500 company than poor church people struggling to pay the rent.
The massive size of Baptistdom does not even begin to count the staff and receipts of more than 40,000 individual congregations throughout the country. Nor does it count the large state and associational staffs, nor the thousands employed by Southern Baptist-related colleges and university—and all of their budgets.
For more than a century, Southern Baptists have held to the myth that Roman Catholics are the large, bureaucratic denomination in America. When they finally look honestly into the mirror, Southern Baptists will discover that they—not the Roman Catholics—are truly America's big-bureaucracy denomination.
Please feel free to adopt and use my word: Baptistdom.