Check out the fascinating case of Jonathan Merritt, a young centrist evangelical who became an environmentalist at a Southern Baptist seminary. Even though he was the son of a SBC power broker, Merritt was subjected to the coercion of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, which is the public policy arm of the SBC.
Some things never change. Back in the 1970s, progressive evangelicals were the targets of a newly energized religious right. Bill Bright promised “to pray the wrath of God” down on Senator Mark Hatfield. For more on that story, check out John Turner’s terrific book on Campus Crusade.
Here’s a taste of Merritt’s story:
ERLC leaders prodded me to abandon the efforts, luring me with soft bribes and hard threats. They told me if I turned the project over to them, they would rewrite it. In return, they would pay for the public release and open up doors for speaking engagements. When I rejected the offer, they said they were obligated to contact signatories and dismantle the effort themselves. With the precision of a five-star political machine, ERLC leaders began locating signatories and trying to convince them to remove their names. Falsehoods circulated about my “hidden agendas” and “political ties.” Emails sent with the cadence of machine gun fire became impossible to contain.
At the time, I was a second year seminary student, unaware of the power and determination of the establishment. I never expected and wasn’t equipped to combat the hornets from the nest I’d accidentally kicked. The breaking point came late one night when I was studying for exams. I received a call from one of my favorite professors, someone I admire. He informed me that ERLC leadership was offering me one last chance to turn over the initiative. If I decided to move forward, the full force of their opposition would fall on me. This included telling “the truth” about my effort to denominational leaders, many whom I considered heroes. I was given 24 hours to consider their offer and decide.