Monday, June 15, 2015

Proud/Ashamed of the Southern Baptist Convention

The 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled for June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio. The business will be conducted by Ronnie Floyd, the SBC president whom I recently mentioned.

For many years it was a thrill to attend the SBC annual meetingsand can you believe that June and I even attended the 1957 annual meeting in Chicago on our honeymoon! And we were even called on stage to stand before everyone present as, not surprisingly, the most recently married couple there.
In 1963, I again attended the annual meeting. That year the convention met in Kansas City, and it was a significant one: the Baptist Faith and Message was revised for the first time since its original adoption in 1925. 
The BF&M was again changed slightly in 1998 and more at the 2000 annual meeting. The latter revision was the one that all SBC “employees” were required to sign, pledging “to work in agreement with and not contrary to” it. June and I were forced to retire as Southern Baptist missionaries because we could not in good conscience do that.
As a SB missionary on furlough (Stateside assignment), I attended four annual meetings, the last in 1992. I grew increasingly dissatisfied with them—not so much because I had changed, although I had to a certain degree (for the best, of course!), but mainly because the SBC was moving farther and farther to the religious and political right.
I gradually became ashamed of what I had previously been so proud of.
That right-wing movement and stance in the SBC has continued unabated in the last twenty years and will be clearly seen again at this week’s annual meeting in Columbus.
The “Convention sermon” this year will be given by Rev. Eddie Bumpers, pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. Over the years that church has experienced considerable growth, but it is, apparently (and not surprisingly), a very conservative church.
In addition to summer camps and Vacation Bible School, the only event Crossway BC has listed for this summer is a two-day Answers in Genesis conference in August. As some of you know, AiG interprets Genesis literally and, consequently, affirms “young earth” creationism: on their website they clearly state that the earth is “only a few thousand years old.”
Prior to the Convention sermon on that June 17 afternoon, which is scheduled in the closing hour of the annual meeting, there will be a 25-minute report and presentation by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, given by its president, Russell D. Moore.
Immediately following, there will be a special “SBC Presidential Panel” with president Floyd interviewing Moore, Southern Seminary president Al Mohler and others. The topic: “The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing our Churches.”
This discussion will take place as the Supreme Court is deciding this month whether to strike down same-sex marriage bans in 14 states, including the SBC meeting’s host state of Ohio. It seems as if those who planned this special panel discussion assume that those bans will be struck down.
The position of Moore and Mohler (as well as many other SBC leaders) on the same-sex marriage issue is quite clear: complete opposition. And presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is an ordained SB minister and was for six years president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, has recently joined many other conservative Christians threatening civil disobedience if the SCOTUS approves same-sex marriage.
Yes, I was once a proud member of the SBC and annual meeting attender. But, sadly, no more.


  1. I'm sorry, Leroy. Yes, the movement of the SBC over the last forty years has been a disappointment, but it's not a great surprise, really. I had to leave my initial Southern Baptist Church in 1967 because I was supportive of inter-racial marriage and higher criticism of the Bible. The Baptist congregation I joined got kicked out of the Missouri Baptist Convention over racial issues (too complicated a story for this post). When I entered a UCC seminary in 1971, I noted that the UCC was taking an unambivalent stand against the Vietnam War, and the SBC couldn't even pass a resolution stating that the war had moral ambiguities. And, remember, the SBC's origins were tied closely to the support of slavery. This post is not to praise the UCC, but to say that the SBC has never been a progressive denomination (unless, I guess, you view Prohibition as progressive :-), and once it split, with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship breaking off, it seems to have become fully right-wing reactionary.

    1. I understand what you are saying, Anton. But I studied higher criticism at Southern Seminary, and it was presented in a rather favorable light. And at Southern I was also introduced to Clarence Jordan, who had a Th.D., from Southern and who was a pacifist actively working for racial harmony and justice on Koinonia Farm in Georgia. Admittedly, SBs like Jordan were a small minority in the 1960s, but there were such Southern Baptists then and they were admired and their ideas/works praised by other Southern Baptists, such as some of my SBTS professors.

  2. It's also possible -- to echo the sentiments of Nietzsche -- that the SBC is a good example of what happens to your soul if you don't dance! :-D

  3. Thinking Friend Sue Wright, a long-time member of Second Baptist Church here in Liberty, writes,

    "Scary and sad we have to feel that way. I have to believe these leaders of the SBC don't really believe the archaic ideas they espouse. They just see those ideas as ones to impose for retaining their personal power. Thank goodness there are alternative groups of believers where loving open hearts can feel comfortable and in God's safe-keeping."

  4. Thanks, Sue, for your comments--and for permission to post them here on the blogsite.

    For those of you who may not know, Second Baptist Church was "kicked out" of the Missouri Baptist Convention many years ago (mainly over the issue of women in ministry) and has been the leading church of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in Missouri.

    This week the General Assembly of the nationwide CBF is being held in Dallas. The program is quite different from that of the SBC annual convention. But while the CBF is not strongly anti-homosexual as the SBC is, it is not officially accepting/affirming of gays/lesbians either.

  5. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson makes the following comments:

    "It's sad, Leroy. As someone who taught at Southern Seminary for thirty years or more, I share your dismay. The Southern Baptist Convention is no longer connected to the Baptist tradition."

    1. Dr. Hinson is one of the people who amazed and welcomed me by making room for me to explore the reaches of my Christian formation in a Southern Baptist Convention supporting Baptist congregation and then in educational institutions related to the SBC. If the new SBC had continued to provide that room for exploration I would still think of myself as a theologically liberal, ecumenical, interfaith inclined SBC follower of Jesus. A minority, but accepted in the larger fellowship because Baptists remembered times of being an unaccepted minority. The SBC no longer provides that room and I am no longer an SBC Baptist. I am sad because that institutional connection has been broken. I am hopeful because many people formed in SBC life chose to continue to explore by creating new institutions and connections. What I have missed terribly is Southern Seminary and the faculty who tried to help us learn how to explore and think for ourselves in a community of loving critique and supportive challenge.

  6. The SBC’s emphasis on fighting their culture war leads me to imagine an alternative version of the Bible where Daniel leads a movement to overturn the Babylonian dietary laws, where Paul finds no common ground with the Greeks on Mars Hill (and ends his his sermon with an emphasis on the Law rather than the person of Jesus), and where Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount focuses on the abomination of homosexuality and a literal interpretation of early Genesis.

    1. Thanks, Fred, for this powerful statement!

  7. Dr. Paul Simmons, who was a fellow Southern Baptist when we first met 60 years ago this fall when I started to Southwest Baptist College where he was a sophomore, posted the following comments on Facebook:

    "I share your sentiment of the shame I feel when the subject of 'Southern Baptist' comes up. These are not 'Baptists' of course, since they are Evangelicals from outside the history of the Baptist witness but with certain common interests, e.g. baptism by immersion, stress on emotion and being 'nice' (while being really hostile).

    "They also stress 'inerrancy' in spite of its placing them in a zone of moral obtuseness which means they go with racism, slavery, oppression of women, super patriotism, and an unthinking civil religion, and many others. They substitute a certain spirituality for solid moral thinking on such issues.

    "The 'spirituality' component is their commitment to a belief that is highly emotional but with no commitment to genuine Christian morality. It amounts to the claim that they are more spiritual than anyone else because they believe such nonsense about the Bible, which they reverence but do not bother to discern the truth of God."

  8. Thinking Friend Keith Herron, who is a former Southern Baptist and was once Moderator of the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but who now is the pastor of a UCC church in St. Louis, shares these meaty comments:

    "This is a good rendering – fair and not as hard a critique as it could be.

    "This is a tough story to tell without anger, pointless in many ways, but a story that’s damaging beyond description.

    "In my research at Garrett-Evangelical, I researched the cultural issues surrounding why the BF&M was amended. All was in light of my research question of whether SBC preaching (dominated by patriarchal theology by male pastors) caused women who had suffered abuse from a man (father, husband, other) and whether the theology and the person of the preacher caused these women to revisit the emotions surrounding their abuse. The history of the BF&M, particularly those in recent history, did not give much wiggle room on the issue of how men treat women as objects.

    "The cultural reasons for revision continue today as when they were made as Southern Baptists have strongly pronounced views on almost every important issue of our day. I’ve come to use the term 'sub-Christian thinking' when I consider their views. It all sounds vaguely Christian but it doesn’t rise to that level. Instead, it’s a paradigm of religious thinking but not particularly Christian.

    "It’s not altogether too different from what the male Republican candidates are saying. Sexism and patriarchal control are strongly held views among them as a group."

  9. Thinking Friend Michael Olmsted from Springfield, Mo., who is also a former Southern Baptist pastor and CBF leader, shares these substantial comments:

    "As one more survivor of the denominational war within the SBC, I found it impossible to remain within a group that touted it's fidelity to biblical truth while transforming its sound theological statement into an instrument of forced conformity and cleansing its leadership of anyone who did not bow down to the dictates of a self-appointed group.

    "With the clear words of Jesus and the overwhelming power of grace so clear in the Bible, one wonders why some people build their foundation of beliefs on judging others and a picture of God as harsh and distant. Jesus said that if we see him we have seen the Father. Is it more Christ-like to condemn those who are lost in darkness or reach out to them with the gospel.

    "We now know that homosexuality is not a chosen or learned orientation, but the result of genetics. Can we not understand that all of us must be honest as we pray: 'God be merciful to me, a sinner'?"

  10. Thinking Friend Joe Barbour, who is a retired Southern Baptist missionary as I am, sent the following comments and gave me permission to post them here:

    "I appreciate your blog today. I have mixed feelings for what has taken place in the SBC since 1978. It certainly is not the same as it was 67 years ago when I began preaching. We then had a 'middle of the road' theology and it was 'live and let live'; I do not have to agree with you to love you, I take you how I find you and we are friends.

    "Since the takeover by those far right folk, the convention has become a creedal group and not a biblical group. I still am pretty close to the middle as I was when I began those many years ago.
    Like many others of the missionary force we were a part of, I did not like the creedal statement signing but determined that men did not call us and so we are bound to a call from God and would put up with some things we did not like to stay where we were convinced God had put us. We were not there by the time they had this thing going, so we did not have to sign anything.

    And though I do not like the way they have done some things and have tried to make us all carbon copies, I have seen a missionary force that has remained firm in their commitment to get the gospel to as many as possible in the best way we can. Of that missionary force I am proud. Of much of the rest I am ashamed. But I stay with what God has called me to do and be and pray that God will tear down those walls which have been erected by some who think they know better than God what He wants.

    "I am proud that we are seeing multiple hundreds turning to Christ daily in our world, and in spite of what I do not like I see us as a viable force proclaiming the good news of God’s redeeming grace."

  11. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard shares these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your comments about the SBC.

    "I agree that it is sad that the SBC has drifted off to the right, along with some other denominations. On the other hand, there are those who believe that some 'mainstream' denominations have drifted off to the left, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of which I am still a member. I am rather proud of the ELCA for some of its stances, but it has been losing members, a process recently accelerated by its position on gays in the ministry.

    "I did read recently that some SBC leaders are concerned that the SBC will shrink by 50 percent in the next 30 years. The trend for most churches is not currently favorable."

  12. My path into and out of the SBC went somewhat crosswise to the entries above. I am not SBC born and raised, but I did marry an SBC preacher's daughter, and after a decade attending her old college church (Second, Liberty Missouri), we were invited to teach kindergarten Sunday school, since our children by then were moving through the preschool department. The name Loreta Moore may explain this to some of you. Well, the minister of education was rather excited to have a nonmember teaching, which resulted in intense discussions on the subject. I joined a few months later, in March 1987, with the understanding that I was joining Second, and not committing to any great compliance with the SBC.

    The pastor asked me if there was any other activity I was interested in at church, and I confessed some interest in an ad hoc committee, the Denominational Study Committee. I was quickly added to its membership, and during the years I served on it and its successor, the Denominational Relations Committee, I came to realize I may have been the only lay person to volunteer for it. What I lived through on that committee was a stream of pain and anguish, of anger and sorrow, that went on for years and years. I was a stranger in a strange land, and frequently that was strangely useful. I could be mindful of wounds without being disabled by the pain. Eventually the church decided we had done enough, and the committee was disbanded, leaving Second with a $100-a-year toe in the SBC, and its future in the CBF.

    My enthusiasm for CBF fell when it backed away from policy neutrality to state it would not fund groups that were open and affirming of homosexuals. It is an organization of good men and women, and generally trying to do the right thing, but it still could remind me of my initial trepidation joining Second, of whether I would be the last liberal to ever join an SBC church. Personally, I would have rather we had gone with another group our former pastor, Bill Link, had help found, what is now know as the Alliance of Baptists.

    I was born across the river, one of the Saints in Zion. What I learned growing up in the tiny RLDS denomination in Independence, in the shadow of the much larger LDS church, helped me prepare for days with the CBF growing in the shadow of the SBC. When I was twelve, God called me out into the wilderness where years later I met and married the daughter of band of pilgrims, leaving Goshen and looking for their own Zion. What a strange and wonderful journey it has been, and still remains. My thanks remain with the minister of education, Connie Stinson, and pastor, George "Dub" Steincross, who invited me to join Second upon my confession of faith and prior baptism. As I walked the aisle that day, I laid upon the altar the heavy burden of Joseph Smith and the golden plates. As I joined on my statement of faith and prior baptism, I refused the equally heavy burden of Reverend Criswell and the original autographs. The 19th century was so long over. I was ready for the late 20th century. Now I seek God's way through the 21st century. God loves LGBT people. God even loves straight people. God loves brown, black, red, yellow and even white people. God loves women, children, and even men. God loves poor, middle class, and even rich people. God loves us, even when we get our theology tied in the craziest of knots. However, sooner or later God is going to untie those knots, and some of the most tight ones are going to hurt a lot when the get untied. Whether the spirit of God is gently moving on the face of the waters, or roaring like a mighty wind, God is moving forward.

    1. Thanks, Craig, for your elegant statement; I especially liked your concluding 6+ lines.

  13. An interesting view of the dynamics of denominationalism and predilection of the Western Church toward schism rather than unity. Actually one finds it across Christendom, but in a more pronounced way in the West. My heart yearns for the unity of the Church which I observed in localized region back in the mid-70's - the various "churches" decided to present one gospel message, pray together, and support one another through the trials of the world. Initiated by a charismatic Roman Catholic priest from France, the group included Southern Baptists, Swiss Baptists, Dutch Baptists, Danish Baptists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, German Lutherans, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Presbyterians, Nasranis, and a few other groups. That was probably the beginning of the end of my Southern Baptistism, and the beginning of my trek/ sojourn toward the traditional (Catholic/Orthodox) Church. Sorting through the divisive Americanism of the Church here, often leads me to ponder the questions "What is the Church?, and What is authentic Christianity?" Can Christ have one Bride, or will he have to be a poligamist?

    The observation of God's love, and Christ's love commandments is interesting - I don't see much of it anywhere in American Christendom. The Southern Baptists are in good company with the rest.

    God save me from my cynicism.

    1. I see a lot of Christian unity/cooperation and a lot of living out of Christ's commandments among those churches/denominations who are fulling supportive of the equality of people regardless of race, color, gender, or sexual orientation.

      This year I preached four Sundays in a UCC church and spoke twice at a Disciples of Christ church, and I felt rapport and a sense of shared community in those churches just as I do in my own church. And the churches affiliated with the WCC around the world would mostly be much the same, I think.

      It is mainly Southern Baptist and other conservative/fundamentalist churches that seem to lack the breadth of love and acceptance that befits the Gospel of Christ.

  14. Here is an article about SBC president Floyd and yesterday's annual meeting:

  15. I am a proud member of the SBC. Bro Floyd's message was wonderful! The issue of homosexuality is settled in God's word and it is logical. This will divide "Christians" and it is time to draw a line in the sand. While we may not all agree on every issue, there does come a time when God will seperate true believer from non-believers. True Believers believe that Jesus dies for our sins and accept His sacrifice for forgiveness of sin.

    For the other issues, I take the Bible literally. God is a great God and He knows best. I would rather take His word literally than to dismiss it all saying God is wrong. When I get to heaven He can tell me if I took it too literal. But that is far better than dismissing and saying God's word is wrong. That takes alot of arrogance to say that. Enjoyed your site.

  16. LKS I just read another post of your about homosexuality. I AM SHOCKED that your were a SBC Missionary. The Bible and common sense is very clear about this issue. Did you not learn anything from reading about SODOM. Reading about what they wanted to do to the angels is sickening! In the NT Jesus clearly talked about marriage between 1 man and 1 woman. The Apostle Paul was very clear about homosexuality. I know everyone on this site gives you good positive feedback, but I cannot do that. The reason the SBC changed is because we were financing missionaries with beliefs like yours. I know some will say this is a negative comments or even hateful, but that is not true. A rebuke may sound that way. I am only only sad about your belief. BUT you are entitled to whatever you believe and you will answer to God for whatever belief. But that does not mean the SBC has to financially support you to spread your belief. (as a missionary) Join a group that supports what you believe. With all that is happening it is time to take a stand! I honestly wish you the best. I only disagree with you.

  17. I just found your blog tonight and it looks interesting. I attend an SBC church in Hawaii, and I'd describe it as moderately conservative.

  18. Matthew 17
    [4] Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
    [5] While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
    [6] And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
    [7] And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
    [8] And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
    [9] And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

    Revelation 16
    [19] And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
    [20] And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.



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