Skip to main content

Notebook Religion

Down South

(Heather Pendergraft)

Religion

Down South

Southern Baptists convene amid declining overall numbers

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held its annual meeting in Houston in June, and although the assembly did not witness any of the spectacular controversies that have marked previous SBC meetings, it nevertheless confronted some hotly debated topics.

The meeting’s most anticipated issue concerned the SBC and the Boy Scouts. Some had predicted that the SBC would endorse a full-fledged boycott of the Scouts for the group’s recent decision to admit openly gay boys as members. But the actual resolution stopped short of a boycott, expressing “opposition to and disappointment in the decision” and calling for the removal of Boy Scouts executive leaders who supported the change.

SBC representatives (called “messengers”) also passed a resolution exhorting member congregations about their “legal and moral responsibility to report any child abuse to authorities.” Its sponsor, Peter Lumpkins, crafted the statement in response to a lawsuit alleging abuse cover-ups by leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), including its founder, C.J. Mahaney. A judge dismissed the case against SGM pastors in May, citing statute of limitation requirements. Mahaney stepped down as president of SGM in April. Prominent Baptist leaders Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church expressed their individual support for Mahaney in a public statement in May.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for victims of clergy abuse, scoffed at the SBC abuse resolution, calling it a “virtually worthless ‘feel good’ public relations move that basically protects no one.”

Messengers re-elected New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, the SBC’s first African-American president, without opposition. But the convention saw a change of leadership at the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), from retiring president Richard Land to 41-year-old Russell Moore, formerly dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Some observers regard Moore as a theologically conservative but less combative leader than those of the older generation of Southern Baptist stalwarts, especially those who led the “Conservative Resurgence” of the 1980s and ’90s, which put the convention and its seminaries firmly under traditionalist control. Moore argues that Southern Baptists can adopt a congenial approach while defending the gospel and essential principles such as religious liberty. “I don’t think gentleness is capitulation,” he says.

Moore signaled that he plans a more autonomous stance for the ERLC, which he insists is not a political action committee. “We are instead fiercely independent, prophetically near, and we exist to equip free churches in a free state to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Moore says.

Even though the SBC remains the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, a specter of decline hung over the meeting. The Annual Church Profile (ACP), released shortly before the meeting by the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources, painted a picture of Southern Baptist churches in slow yet protracted deterioration. There were a few bright spots, such as growth in the number of SBC-affiliated congregations, but “most of the ACP metrics declined in 2012 including membership, average attendance, baptisms and total giving,” the report concluded.

The 5.5 percent yearly drop in reported baptisms is particularly worrisome, as it brings the total number to just under 315,000 people baptized, the lowest total since 1948. Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, calls that number “heartbreaking.”

Comments

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    You're right.  The SBC is not unique and finding a church living up to the Word is a challenge these days.  I may have found two in our community.  Will have to spend more time exploring these two. 

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    I don't know what denomination or group doesn't have to live with that statistic.    Young adults may attend non-traditional churches more as long as they have "their kind" of music, but I've talked to these young adults and they aren't equipped with the Truth either.  In fact, they are cool with everything as long as you don't talk about some parts of the Bible.  But when Jesus' sayings or Paul's teachings get tough to claim, they bail.  At least that's been my experience.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    And over 80% of their youth fall away from the church when they reach majority.  The youth and their parents are poorly equipped with Truth within the church.  How can they be ambassadors for Christ outside the church walls?

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    Maybe it's easier in the south to pretend it's 1973.  I think I understand you now Richard.  You see the churches as being irrelevant because they have conformed and don't stand out as proclaimers of truth about current culture. 

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    Good questions, Socialworker.The two SBC churches in my community that I am familiar with offer no warnings to parents for sending their children to government schools for brainwashing into cultural Marxism.  There are no warnings/efforts to steer congregants away from damaging media.  The Pastors job of overseer is extremely weak.In order for a congregation to be relevant for God's truths within a culture that congregation can not conform to the culture's mores.  To be irrelevant, then, means that the congregants are conforming to the cultural mores.   A prime example is sacrificing Christian kids to the government's brainwashing. Both churches remain totally apathetic to the implementation of Common Core as they have remained apathetic to the destructive education system for the past 30 years with very little effort to instill a Christian worldview with those kids and virtually no effort for apologetics. 

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Sawgunner
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    Let's not forget the Baptist men who show up to rebuild after hurricanes, levy breaks etc.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Sawgunner
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    A quiet inwardly focused holiness huddle up will never bring on the persecution the world stands ready to pour down onto Christians. I do not know if all SBC affiliated churches are irrelevant. That is too broad a generalization. At our church in Columbia we have Divorce Care, Divorce Care for Kids! and the church regularly supports Pregnancy Resource Centers. I have stood outside a grocery store to collect dry food stuffs for Harvest of Hope. However, I have always been amazed at SBC church men who show cute videos of squeaky clean collegiate youngsters "ministering" to poor black kids... not here in our hometown but down in Haiti. The jet fuel costs alone could have helped at least one poor family.I know folks will tell you they have far less constraints put on them by dirt poor 3rd world govts than they face here in the states from a variety of govt agencies and critics.

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    How can you say that a church is irrelevant within the culture (another word for world) but is conformed to the world?

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    Those of you that agree, explain how SBC churches you have come into contact with are comforming to the world.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    Conformity to the world is an ongoing problem in every church I have ever been in.  We must guard against it constantly.  Now that the world is taking a more militant stance toward Christianity we will need to really stand strong.  Not a good time to be a lukewarm follower. I need more of God.   

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 05:10 pm

    The decline of membership is unfortunate.  I walked away the other month as I found the church to be too inward focused and basically irrelevant within the culture.  They, for the most part, are conformed to the world.