Ask a historian about the newest tensions in the Southern Baptist Convention, and you’ll hear words like theology, polity and methodology.
Dig a little deeper into those tensions, closer to the congregational level, and you’ll hear words like evangelism, missions and morality.
- Should there be an altar call after every service?
- Should the congregation be led by a dominant CEO-type pastor or a clergy-lay partnership?
- Should a presidential candidate’s party affiliation or political views trump flaws in his or her moral character?
Those are some of the pulpit-and-pew level tensions straining the faith, fellowship and funding in the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
Those tensions — racial, sectional, but mostly generational — have been forming for more than a decade, thanks in large part to the rise of social media and millennials, and will be on full display this week when the convention holds its annual meeting in Phoenix.
It was the first time that had happened since conservative, nondenominational Ronald Reagan faced moderate Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1980.
“Barack Obama didn’t divide us,” said Nathan A. Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, a Southern Baptist college in Jackson, Tenn.
“Donald Trump divided us. His personal behavior, his policy views, his temperament and character, his religious values, all were highly questionable.”
Some think Trump deserves a chance, Finn said. His policy views, especially on abortion, are close enough to those Southern Baptists hold. Plus, supporting Trump lets Southern Baptists keep their seat at the table.
But others believe they don’t need to be at the table, Finn said.
“Trump’s candidacy, and now his presidency, are causing us to consider whether we are just a chaplain for the Republican Party or do we have a prophetic role to play for both parties?” Finn said.
Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the public face of the network of churches, emerged as a consistent, vocal critic of Trump, even sparring with the candidate on Twitter. Moore issued postelection apologies for his approach, but not his positions.
Land, who is Moore’s predecessor and now the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, joined Trump’s evangelical advisory board and marveled at the access to the incoming administration.
Calls for unity rose postelection as did criticism of Moore’s posture toward Trump. Questions were raised about whether Moore’s job was at risk. Moore says it wasn’t and he has the support of his trustees.