Interestingly, the first definition caught my attention: “kept or keeping within reasonable or proper limits; not extreme, excessive, or intense.”
By this standard one would expect self-identified “moderates” to be, well, er, ah . . . “moderate.” Yet, in my somewhat careful reading of the writings of theological moderates over the past two years in a variety of blogs and message boards (at least the Baptist ones), it has been my observation that much of the time they are anything but “moderate.”
Rather than calmly measured rhetoric and argumentation, they often display the greatest passion and intensity. Yelling, name calling, ridicule, over-the-top sarcasm, proof-texting, ganging up, use of false and misleading “facts,” reluctance to apologize when proven wrong, legalistically adhering to the “rules” of the “board,” netiquette, etc., self-righteousness, and an odd combination of quixotic idealism and a dogged preference for whining victimhood characterize much of the electronic speech by the theological moderates I have been reading.
Why are the moderates so angry? What animates their “extreme, excessive, or intense” non-moderate moderation?
Recently a moderator active on a couple of the most popular “Baptist” forums took to answering the question, tongue firmly in cheek, when he commented on some of the fireworks over on another Baptist forum. He opined:
“I don't know why we don't get more angry fundamentalists, but my guess is that the tone here is much friendlier, even though we probably have more true fundamentalists and liberals posting here than at [the name of the other forum]. Moderates are just mean.”
Some years ago Andy Griffith recorded a comedy album featuring the bit “What it was was football.” In it he described a backwoods boy being dumped into the crush of humanity going to a college football game. Unable to understand the rules made for hilarious comedic turns. He finally concluded that the goal of the game was “to get from one end of the cow pasture to the other without getting knocked down or steppin’ in somethin’.”
In a similar vein, not having a Southern Baptist Convention background is a real liability when reading Baptist blogs and forums. The SBC “resurgence”/”takeover” has produced such polarities of opinion that just describing the history by either term virtually brands you as a partisan in the feud. And, much as with the mythic argument between the Hatfields and the McCoys, the SBC “conservatives”/”fundamentalists” and "liberals"/"moderates" (there you go again with the fighting terms!) have so much invested in the battle, that you can get yourself shot at by either faction simply by inadvertently trespassing on a conversation with a rich and factious cultural/ecclesiastical backstory unknown to you.
So, Andy Griffith style, here is my explanation of what is going on with the “moderates.” They appear to be mostly ex-fundamentalists who have evidently retained much of their famous anger. However, instead of being mad at the liberals and ready to relegate them to hell’s fire as the fundamentalists do, the moderates are just as ticked at the fundamentalists and can’t resist telling them to go to hell.
Much of my theological heritage during jr. and sr. high was shaped by a moderate congregation and theologically “progressive” Baptist pastors with all of the attendant frustrations and hypocrisies of mainline religion. Consequently, I have spent most of my adult years running to the right to find “Truth” (capital “T” please). My moderate friends mostly grew up in a fundamentalist culture with all of the attendant frustrations and hypocrisies of fundamentalism. They appear to be devoting themselves to a pell-mell rush to the left.
Interesting. Liberals are not very liberal in their refusal to be open to those to the right of them. Conservatives spend more time suffocating the truth than preserving it. And, moderates are the least “moderate” of the bunch. Maybe Andy Griffith could do a bit on Baptists?