Iâ€™ve been asked several times why I describe myself as a â€œrecovering Baptist.â€ If you’re a recovering alcoholic that means that youâ€™ve given up alcohol because itâ€™s not been very helpful to you. In fact, itâ€™s been very destructive. That description fits my experience as a Baptist. I could get all technical and say that Iâ€™m a small â€œbâ€ Baptist via McClendon, but Iâ€™ll be less theological and more personal (though Iâ€™m not really sure those are separate enterprises.).
Many of you may know that when I was about five or six years old, my family was â€œchurchedâ€ or kicked out of a Baptist Church in East Texas because my dad stopped working for a munitions company only to start working at a brewery. Since alcohol is sinful, the pastor and deacons took my family off the church roll. I was a cradle roll baby which meant that before I even attended a Baptist church, I was enrolled. Oh wellâ€¦
Since we attended less conservative Baptist churches from then on, I was exposed to a less judgmental form of Baptist life. I did experience the oppressive pharisaical form of Baptist life when I was enrolled in a Baptist school in Memphis. It wasnâ€™t too bad until High School, where the â€œSuper Christiansâ€ were the popular kids and looked down on those of us who werenâ€™t rich and good-looking and able to appear squeaky-clean.
This didnâ€™t bother me too much because I learned early on that High School is meaningless and if thatâ€™s the high-point of your life youâ€™re pretty pathetic. College was great! I attended a small private Catholic college and the brothers and other professors were really caring and interesting. I thrived there. It was wonderful to find persons who were committed Christians that werenâ€™t complete jerks! Through the introduction of Catholic Social Teaching I learned that I was to make a difference in the world. As a Baptist, the only context for that understanding of life meant that I should become either a missionary or a pastor. That was so unfortunate. I spent a lot of wasted time feeling guilty.
After college I began to find my life as a business owner unfulfilled. I went to Seminary. I was so darn excited. I had sold my house, given away my dog, and moved my wife and kids 400 miles from the grandparents. What a wonderful time, living in a whole neighborhood surrounded by Baptist ministers!
Needless to say, I soon became a bit disappointed. However, I decided the best way to be a Baptist was to get a PhD, and teach Baptists how to follow Jesus without being jerks! During my PhD program I had the privilege of teaching at the seminary. I thought I had experienced narrow-minded fundamentalism in high school, but that wasnâ€™t even close to the level of hatred I felt at the seminary. I met some of my best friends at the seminary and a few who still teach there are great friends, but the oppression there was stifling.
It seems that once again, I was on the outside looking in. I was labeled a â€œLiberal,â€ which is actually very funny, and the person I worked hard for for four years didnâ€™t have the fortitude to go to bat for me. Once again I found myself at a Catholic institution. My colleagues not only respected me, but they embraced and valued my differences.
I still attend a Baptist church. But I do so knowing that if I really opened up and shared what I truly believe that I would be rejected there too. Sometimes I visit the seminary. I see friends there and former students that appreciate my ministry there. It sometimes makes me feel blessed. But other times, I feel like the lepers in the Old Testament. I feel like I should be yelling, â€œUnclean, unclean!â€ so that no one will be corrupted by my sinfulness.
Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m a recovering Baptist. I wanted so much to fit in and make a difference. I just canâ€™t. I’m grateful for the blessings that I have. I only wish I could feel embraced by the tradition I grew up in.