This just in: Southern Baptists are officially calling off the culture war.
At least that’s what Jonathan Merritt says in a piece for The Atlantic:
“The generational shift happening in the SBC has thrust the group into the middle of an identity crisis,” says Barry Hankins, chair of the department of history at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History. “The younger generation thinks differently than the old guard Christian right about culture and politics, and they are demanding change.”
To help kick-start this change, North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear was elected as the denomination’s president, officially the youngest in the last 37 years:
In a campaign video, Greear called for “a new culture and a new posture in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Greear has promised to lead the denomination down a different path, which, he has said, must include efforts both to repent of a “failure to listen to and honor women and racial minorities” and “to include them in proportionate measures in top leadership roles.” If the meeting in Dallas is any indication, his vision is resonating with a large number of the next wave of Baptist leaders.
All of that is a good start. Merritt noted an increase of people of color at the group’s annual convention, both on and off the stage. The Southern Baptists are also considering a person of color to serve as CEO of the denomination’s Executive Committee.
Still, the SBC’s stance on women leaves much to be desired. They haven’t renounced their strict complementarian beliefs that a woman must “submit” to her husband and ought to be discouraged from working outside the home, especially if she’s a mother. The SBC also supported former president Paige Patterson‘s cushy, albeit early, retirement, despite his standing by comments made to an abused woman that she should fix her destructive marriage with prayer.
A recent panel hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the denomination’s public policy branch, discussed the #MeToo movement and the possibility of electing a woman, such as author Beth Moore, to be the denomination’s president, but this too has issues. The presidency is primarily symbolic, but even electing a woman wouldn’t necessarily mean there’s a change in the beliefs underlying the group’s patriarchal culture.
That may not last forever, though. The SBC authorities are slow to enact changes, but there are waves of dissension happening within its audience:
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the convention this year, which may seem like the same old song to outsiders. But there was widespread resistance to Pence’s participation. A motion to disinvite the vice president was proposed and debated, but was ultimately voted down. During his address, which hit some notes more typical of a campaign speech, a few Southern Baptists left the room out of protest. Others criticized the move to reporters or spoke out on Twitter. The newly elected Greear tweeted that the invitation “sent a terribly mixed signal” and reminded his fellow Baptists that “commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
“Mixed signals” is an apt descriptor for the SBC movement right now. It will be interesting to see how this intention to change plays out. Don’t get too excited. Southern Baptists have a long history of dragging their feet on the path to a progressive, inclusive society. Time will certainly tell — but I’m not holding my breath.
And just in case I sound pessimistic, let me remind you that Greear signed the Nashville Statement — that was the document released less than a year ago rejecting the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and denying the very existence of transgender people. Yet Greear, Merritt says, is supposed to “lead the denomination down a different path”?
Greear also appeared at an ERLC convention a few years ago where he said “homosexual people” had been cured at his church. He urged attendees to denounce homosexuality and compared the public perception of being anti-gay to being against slavery in the Civil War South.
If that wasn’t enough, Greear said if a same-sex couple with a child asked him for advice, he would urge them to get a divorce instead of staying married. That’s what God would want, apparently, even if the couple was perfectly happy and the child would suffer as a result of their separation.
If Greear is in fact serious about giving his denomination a makeover, he should start with a retraction for his own participation in maintaining its regressive image.
(Screenshot via YouTube)