by Jacob Lupfer
With the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore this week (June 10-11), objective analysis of the SBC’s achievements and challenges is elusive.
Convention insiders see their world through particularly rose-colored glasses, preferring a version of their own history that is selective, if not outright revisionist. They have slick, high-tech public relations operations, but their Baptist Press lacks editorial independence. Dissent is discouraged and sometimes forbidden, and SBC communications read like self-congratulatory commercials.
Opponents fare no better in assessing Baptist life. The SBC has many detractors, including liberals, gays and ex-Baptists. These critics often exhibit a visceral loathing of the SBC, making analysis and even conversation impossible.
My experience with Southern Baptists falls between these extremes. Long sympathetic to the moderates who were systematically forced out of positions of leadership and influence a generation ago, I assumed the worst: SBC leaders must be anti-intellectual, homophobic and possibly even racist authoritarians who cared mostly about their own power.
Then I got to know some of them.
I found these gentlemen to be thoughtful, kind and good-humored pastors, teachers and advocates. Their ideological commitments stem from conviction, not from animus. There was indeed a great battle in the 1980s, and their side won. To the victors go the spoils, as they say.
A generation after the “Conservative Resurgence,” the SBC has capitalized on its remarkable unity. While there remains considerable variation in local congregations, the institutional SBC is as streamlined, efficient and focused as ever.
This is not to say there are no matters of controversy, but the nature and scope of disagreements make doctrinal and ideological cohesion — not infighting — hallmarks of today’s Southern Baptist Convention.
The best-known and most public debate concerns the doctrines of Reformed theology (Calvinism), which a growing number of the SBC’s most influential figures now embrace. SBC leaders are pleased that the convention is having a robust debate about the doctrines of salvation and not, like many other Protestant bodies, about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues. Some reports about the SBC’s shift in tone on the culture wars imply that a change in substance may also be afoot. But there is no evidence that the SBC is opening the door to accepting homosexuality.
Last month, a Southern Baptist congregation in California affirmed same-sex relationships. If and when state and national Baptist bodies move to expel that congregation, it will be a strong signal to other pastors and churches: Homosexuality is not up for debate.
SOURCE: Religion News Service