Twenty-five years ago fundamentalists vociferously contended that unnamed “liberals” at Southern Baptist Convention seminaries were leading the denomination on a slippery slope that would undermine our effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel.
As moderates tried to focus the SBC on Bold Mission Thrust with the goal of evangelizing the globe by the year 2000, fundamentalists organized what they called a “conservative resurgence.”
Now, 26 years after a surge of “conservatism” began breeching the levees of evangelical moderation at a SBC convention meeting in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New Orleans, the toxicity of the fundamentalist flood waters that swept over the SBC are being clearly documented.
First, the good reputation that Southern Baptists once had in many American communities has been destroyed. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Southern Baptists have always been suspect in the northern states. That is a residue of the denomination’s shameful failures in regard to slavery.
In most southern states, however, Southern Baptist churches in 1979 were still the most influential and widely respected churches in the community. Today Southern Baptist churches are undoubtedly more influential politically, but they are increasingly loathed and derided by most Christians and nearly all of the unchurched in their communities.
Many Southern Baptist churches are disguising their denominational identity and removing Baptist from their name. Even denominational organizations like the Baptist Book Stores and the Annuity Board are disguising their denominational ties under names like LifeWay and GuideStone.
They are responding to the reality that every year, fewer and fewer Americans are willing to identify themselves as Southern Baptists. There is little doubt that more people were willing to identify themselves as Southern Baptists when moderates were in leadership.
Second, the outreach of Baptist churches since the fundamentalists took over the SBC has been “anemic.”
Southern Baptists have failed to keep up with the growth in the population of the country. Over the last decade, the largest increase in the religious preference of Americans is under the category of “no religious preference.”
Underneath their claims that it would have been worse were it not for the “resurgence” is the indisputable fact that the “harvest of souls” that takeover leaders predicted the SBC would reap under their leadership has proven to be woefully barren.
Third, the number of Baptist young people who responded to the call to full-time ministry has dropped precipitously. In 1979 Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth had around 5,000 students. Today it claims to have around 2,000 students. Those figures alone are enough to tell this story.
There is no denying the fact that Baptist young people responded more readily to the call to full-time ministry when moderates were in leadership.
Fourth, the Cooperative Program–by which Southern Baptists pooled their resources to more effectively do the work of missions, education and evangelism–is dying.
Bob Allen’s article at EthicsDaily.com effectively surveys the downward sloping ground that fundamentalist leaders are finally admitting is keeping their finances slipping behind.
There is no denying the fact that the Cooperative Program was a lot healthier under moderate Baptist leadership.
The sad truth is that resurgence of fundamentalism in the SBC is as toxic as the flood waters that Hurricane Katrina left on the streets of New Orleans.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. This column appeared previously on his Weblog.