“We Have a Problem.”
This word of warning is coming from Houston instead of to Houston (as was the case in the famous alert from Apollo 13 in 1970). This time the signal is sent to the Southern Baptist Convention and therefore to the wider white Evangelical world for which it stands.
This prophetic word to Southern Baptists is coming from two of the most influential Christian leaders once affiliated with them.
Beth Moore is one. She announced this week that she is no longer a Southern Baptist. For decades, she has been the most influential female in the SBC as well as the most lucrative author published by their inhouse printer, now called Lifeway (that same Lifeway that in recent years closed all their stores and sold their headquarters building in downtown Nashville).
But no more.
She declared her disgust with, first, their support of the sexual predator Donald Trump, and then, their lackadaisical response to the #MeToo movement several years ago.
Last fall, as Trump was asserting the presidential election had been stolen from him, she Tweeted: “I do not believe these are days for mincing words. I’m 63 ½ years old, and I have never seen anything … I found more astonishingly seductive and dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian Nationalism is not of God. Move back from it.”
There was another voice of dissent from Houston several weeks ago, this one from the famous and influential pastor of the megachurch known as Church Without Walls, Dr. Ralph West.
He responded to the statement by SBC leaders that Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory are contrary to the gospel, the Bible, and Baptist doctrine. He said simply, “I’m out of here!” He withdrew from a SBC doctoral program and severed his affiliation.
The rebellion of Moore and West are the public responses of influential people to the failure of the SBC to address concerns of race and gender.
The white patriarchy of Southern Baptists is deeply rooted. It predates the Civil War and formed the ideological foundation for slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and current efforts to restrict access to the ballot. It is the core ideology of White Supremacy. This is why people and churches across the South have been fertile ground for Donald Trump. He endorsed their prejudices, and they believed his Big Lie.
But race and gender are not the only debilitating issues facing Southern Baptists today.
Popular SBC public theologian Russell Moore is on shaky ground with the preachers because he does not fall in lockstep with the Trumpism. He leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and his advocacy on certain issues of public policy have not been well received in the hinterlands. A recent and official report blamed him for significant decline in revenue.
Then there is the organization known as Conservative Baptist Network. They are calling out what they see as liberalism in the SBC institutions, running one of their leaders for president of the SBC, and threatening a repeat of the fundamentalist takeover of 1979-1993.
Calvinism is still at play. Just below the surface of civility is a long-festering resentment about the creeping dominance of Calvinistic theology in Southern Baptist institutions and agencies. Much of this stems from the Founders Ministries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and (non-SBC) pastor John MacArthur.
Perhaps the most serious and consequential dynamic shaking the foundations of the Southern Baptist Convention is the threatened rebellion of what they call the new state conventions (those outside of the Old South, like California and Pennsylvania-South Jersey) against the North American Mission Board (the old Home Mission Board). NAMB adopted a policy of by-passing these state organizations when funneling SBC mission money to projects in their geographic regions (while still urging SBC churches and conventions in the area to send their mission money to NAMB).
All of this drama comes in the midst of a decades-long downgrade in membership, cresting in 2019 when the Southern Baptist Convention registered the largest one-year decline in their history.
The message from Houston and a thousand other places is clear: you have a problem, Southern Baptists, a big problem, and if you don’t get your house in order the whole damn thing is going to burn to the ground.