For various reasons, I've been in and out of the AU office recently, so I've been enjoying the latest developments in the Wiley Drake saga from afar via my home computer.
I always seem to miss Drake's diabolical assaults on AU. I was on vacation when Drake issued his first fatwa back in August. While staff members were dealing with his "imprecatory prayers" for their deaths, my family and I were enjoying stunning views at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Now the bombastic Southern Baptist pastor from California has attacked again – and this time, officials at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are taking notice – although not in a way we would have preferred.
The latest twist is an e-mail received from Will Hall, Vice President for News Services of the SBC Executive Committee and Executive Editor of Baptist Press. As we reported last week, Hall sent AU a blistering e-mail insisting that we are tarring the SBC by tying Drake to it. Drake's recent position as second vice president of the SBC, Hall insisted, was "honorary. " He has no "duties assigned relating to leadership of the Convention."
Joe Conn, my supervisor and one of the targets of the Wrath of Wiley, did a good job of responding to Hall. But since then, some additional information has come to light. It turns out Hall's claim that Drake's position is merely honorary is a crock.
Some friendly Baptists we know sent us some interesting information from the SBC's own governing documents. Article V of the denomination's Constitution states, "In case of death or disability of the president, the vice presidents shall automatically succeed to the office of president in the order of their election."
The SBC bylaws state, "[T]he president of the Convention, in consultation with the vice presidents, shall appoint, at least thirty (30) days before the annual session, a Credentials Committee to serve at the forthcoming sessions of the Convention."
Furthermore, Drake presided over part of the convention's proceedings last year. The minutes show him in charge on June 12, recognizing speakers and calling for reports.
So when he had this position, Drake was in a line of succession had there been deaths or incapacitations. He consulted with the president to make committee appointments. He could run the meeting if the president couldn't or chose not to. The position doesn't sound so powerless after all.
I did not know much about Southern Baptists before I came to work at Americans United in 1987. Although there are Southern Baptist churches in all 50 states, they are not common in the part of the country where I was born. What I did know about them – or thought I knew – was not positive. My reaction back in the early '80s was along the lines of, "Southern Baptist? You mean like Jerry Falwell?"
I have since learned much about the important role Baptists played in the development of the wall of separation between church and state and how a fundamentalist faction turned its back on that heritage. I've come to understand that many Baptists, Southern and otherwise, aren't at all like Falwell. I've also enjoyed working with the numerous Baptists who still support those traditional constitutional principles – religious freedom for all supported by a high church-state wall.
These Baptists are moderate, thoughtful and caring, and they are embarrassed by Drake's antics. They have condemned his actions.
Hall, on the other hand, is not a moderate. He's trying to distance the SBC from Drake because Drake exposes the extremism of the militant political fundamentalists who have seized control of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Hall wants to present the SBC as mainstream, and Drake rips off that faÃƒÂ§ade.
Here's a suggestion for Hall: If you really want to appear mainstream and moderate, condemn Drake's hateful words.
I won't hold my breath until that happens.