It would be a proverbial understatement to say that the death of Cecil the Lion at the hands of hunters touched something in hearts and imaginations around the world. The mark of a skilled theologian or apologist is the ability to take nearly any subject and try to view the topic through the lens of a Christian perspective.
The Baptist Press of the Southern Baptist Convention attempted to do this in regards to Cecil the Lion in an article titled “Lion’s Death Occasions Defense Of Legal Hunting” by that news service’s chief correspondent David Roach. Overall the examination of the topic was quite balanced.
On the one hand, the article recognized that the Bible allows for hunting in that man in this dispensation has permission to use the animals with which we share the world for our benefit and enjoyment. However, the article also pointed out that this activity must be undertaken only with a sense of solemnity and responsibility.
The really discerning theologian goes beyond what is plainly said to shine light on that which might not be noticed so easily.
Accompanying the text is a photo of former Southern Baptist Convention president and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson. The caption reads, “Paige Patterson and his son Armour killed a roam antelope during a hunt in Zambia.”
Patterson was interviewed to provide a great deal of the article’s theological context. Of his analysis, one really can’t find much fault.
However, it really should be pointed out that the variety of antelope depicted in the accompanying photograph aren’t known for a territory that overlaps geographically with the ecclesiastical stronghold of the Southern Baptist Convention in, well, the American South. That would mean that, in order to get within rifle range of such a creature, Paige Patterson would be required to travel a considerable distance.
There is nothing inherently wrong or morally alarming about travel. It is, in fact, one of the great blessings of the contemporary era that people can travel in a matter of hours distances that in decades or centuries past would have taken days, weeks, or even months.
However, the question must be asked. With what funds did the Pattersons travel to Zambia where they recreationally killed one of God’s creatures? Did these funds come out of their own pockets or were these collected under the banner of some grandiose missionary outreach effort for the purposes of reaching the lost in the forsaken corners of the Third World?
Concern over this is sparked in part over the way in which conservative Evangelicals such as Southern and Independent Fundamentalist Baptists raise funds to conduct missionary outreach. No longer is the spiel formulate, “Look at those poor savages languishing in squalor. If you could spare a little, we might be able to increase their quality of life and also try to convince them that they need Jesus rather than their heathen witchdoctor to keep them out of Hell.”
Now, the missionary bordering on the fanatical blows into your church and drums up support for their overseas expedition by laying a guilt trip on the pewfillers as to how wretched the American culture and way of life is because the Land of the Free is not characterized by these Third World deprivations. By the time that the presentation is concluded, the donations are not collected so much to better the lives of the less fortunate but rather as some kind of penance for you having committed the sin of having been born in the United States. It is almost as if you are expected to thank these foreigners for accepting your money rather than the foreigners thanking you for your willingness to give.
Even if Paige Patterson is as clean as the wind-driven snow in terms of how the funds were obtained to finance this hunting safari, the issue is not settled. For to Patterson the professional religionist, your money that you earn is not yours to do with as you please within the parameters of morality even after you tithe or slip a little into the collection plate.
Rather, much of what you have is to be at the ready disposal of your ecclesiastical betters. Patterson has insinuated as such in a number of epistolary appeals.
One of these letters is titled “Ten Things That We Owe Dr. David Platt.” These are essentially ten disturbingly cultish pledges Dr. Patterson believes Southern Baptists are obligated to undertake in relation to the denomination’s International Missions Board President David Platt.
Propositions seven and eight are particularly relevant in regard to this issue at hand.
Number seven reads, “Willingness to do whatever Platt asks that is not contrary to our deeply held convictions and within our power.” Principle number eight spells this out in more detail as it reads, “Willingness to make sacrifices in order to extend the kingdom of our Lord…and if the gospel is to go to the people of the world, without question Southern Baptists who believe in the world mission enterprise must be prepared for even more sacrifices.”
So whereas you are expected to flagellate yourself over and over in your mind as to whether or not you really need that day trip to the beach this year, Paige Patterson and his son expended the resources necessary to fly themselves to Africa. For despite such near messianic fervor lavished upon David Platt, it is doubtful that even his most enthusiastic supporters are able to walk on water.
Those conditioned to blithely accept nearly anything done by those anointed to these ecclesiastical offices will respond that Patterson might have been among the deprived heathen as part of some grand missionary undertaking. Surely such a servant of God has earned the right to relax in a manner of his own choosing.
In an open letter addressed to Southern Baptists regarding this topic to which Patterson is a signatory, it is written, “Revivalist and church historian Lewis Drummond once asked whether we would be willing to see our country brought to its knees financially if that is what it takes for revival to come to America. This may be that day.”
What such religious leaders are saying is that they hope to see you starving in the streets in the hopes that such suffering will break your will and bring you into compliance with the ecclesiastical elites. Don’t worry though. Such prominent fat cats will not only always eat well but will continue to enjoy the privileges you are obligated to deny yourself such as opulent vacations such as oh, I don’t really know, perhaps HUNTING SAFARIS TO AFRICA.
It is doubtful anyone in the upper echelons of the Southern Baptist Convention eats from discount grocery chains. In fact, at one time Russell Moore penned an article sneering down his nose at those frequenting such retailers as a way to stretch their nutrition dollar. One must ask is he as critical of those that do not so much hunt as way to provide subsistence for their families but rather as an excuse trot halfway around the globe for mere pleasure?
Paige Patterson is to be commended for his balanced yet eloquent consideration of the moral complexities surrounding the hunting issue. Let us hope that the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention would be less pushy in those areas of life where the explicit oracles of God do not necessarily say as much as these theologians would lead those under their teaching to believe.
By Frederick Meekins