Yesterday I shared a story that appeared on the front page of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. It was an article about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary installing a series of custom stained glass images that “will immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Apparently the project was the dream of Dorothy Patterson, wife of the seminary’s president Paige Patterson.
“My dream was to portray the 20 year history of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Church”, said Dorothy Patterson.
You can follow this link to read the complete article: Stained-Glass Windows Honor Leaders of Fort Worth Seminary
My post simply stated “There’s just something about this that rubs me the wrong way. Am I alone?” and included a link to the article.
As it turns out, I am not alone. So far there are 55 comments from 42 different people. I will be the first to admit that this doesn’t fall under the category of “going viral”, but I was surprised at both the number of comments and the emotion behind many of them.
I am an infrequent blogger at best, but the response to the post made me want to better express my thoughts on the subject.
Let me begin by saying that I’m not against honoring men and women who’ve contributed to the kingdom. I think their stories need to be told, and their examples should be held up for future generations. In fact, looking through a few of the names and images of those in the project’s first stage, I am certain that those whom the Patterson’s are seeking to honor were (and are) men and women who genuinely love God and the church. There isn’t one name I don’t respect. In fact, many of them are pastors I have admired for years who have tremendous ministries, but I wonder – are they all deserving of stained glass?
Maybe plaques and portraits. But stained glass in a chapel?
Stained glass has been used throughout history to tell the stories of the giants of the faith and to beautifully illustrate the basics of theology for a largely illiterate audience. I admit that I may be elevating the medium of stained glass to a place it doesn’t deserve, but in my mind stained glass is a kind of sacred ground reserved for only a select few.
I’m not saying that a few of these individuals may not deserve to be immortalized in stained glass one day in the distant future, but for now it seems a bit premature to immortalize the major players in the conservative resurgence, especially when the wounds of that battle are still healing.
Taking it a little further, the whole project feels slightly self-serving and comes off as an attempt to engineer a legacy. In my thinking it is the role of future generations to look back and honor the contributions of their predecessors by immortalizing them in stone or glass. However, in this case, it seems like those who’ve made a contribution to the Conservative Resurgence are trying to secure their place in history (and some would say their version of history) while they still can. To be celebrated and immortalized is something you leave for history to do for you – not something you take upon yourself.
That being said, here is what I propose (as if anyone on The Hill cares)…
What if the seminary leveraged its tremendous research resources to unearth the stories of Southern Baptist pastors and missionaries who served and sacrificed anonymously for most of their lives? What if we could find some accounts of a pastor who served for 30 years in a small country church meeting the needs of a rural farming community? What if we could find an example of a missionary who went to a country to which she had never been and learned a language she did not speak, all so that she could love a people she had never met?
Over the next 50 years thousands of students will come to Southwestern to prepare for a life of ministry. Imagine them walking through the chapel past those faces etched in glass. In a culture that has become increasingly infatuated with the glow of celebrity, what better message can we convey to these students just starting their ministries than to tell the stories of the great men and women who faithfully served the Kingdom year after year without recognition, without applause, and without the promise of stained glass?
Am I being naive and idealistic? Probably. But if Dorothy can have a stained glass dream, so can I.