The Memphis mega-church pastor whose 1979 election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention launched the “conservative resurgence” that transformed the nation’s largest Protestant denomination is stepping down from his pulpit.
Adrian Rogers announced Sunday night that he plans to retire after 32 years as pastor of the 28,000-member Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., next spring. The 73-year-old minister plans to remain in Memphis to teach as an adjunct professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and continue his worldwide radio and TV broadcast.
A search committee will be named to seek his successor, according to an announcement on the church Web site.
Rogers had heart surgery in March, but says he is expected to make a full recovery. He was scheduled to speak at this summer’s Southern Baptist Convention but canceled because his doctor had not released him to travel. He also had a mild heart attack in January 2002.
Rogers insisted, however, that health is not a factor in the decision. “I thank God for my recovery and growing vitality and hope for many good years ahead,” he said in a letter on the church Web site.
Rogers was a key player in the fundamentalist strategy to gain control of the SBC mapped out by Texans Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson. Conservatives mobilized marginalized and disenfranchised conservatives to travel to the annual convention en masse to vote for a like-minded president. The president, in turn, used his appointive powers to systematically replace moderates on boards of trustees with conservatives.
After winning the presidency in 1979, Rogers broke tradition by not seeking a second term. He then came back to win the office again in 1986 and 1987, making him the first president to serve three terms since bylaws were changed limiting the president to consecutive one-year terms.
In addition to being the conservative standard bearer, Rogers has been one of the movement’s most influential and quotable leaders.
In 1993 Rogers said Woman’s Missionary Union should be “hard-wired” into the SBC structure or lose key positions on denominational boards. By hard wiring, he meant permitting the SBC to elect WMU’s governing board, which since the auxiliary’s founding in 1888 has been composed of representatives chosen by state WMU organizations.
At the 1992 installation of Morris Chapman as president of the SBC Executive Committee, Rogers said: “I am convinced that as America goes, so goes the world. And I am convinced as Christians go, so goes America. And as evangelicals go, so go Christians. As Southern Baptists go, so go evangelicals. As (SBC) leadership goes, so go Southern Baptists…. We may be looking at the most important man on earth.”
Other memorable quotes include:
–“I well remember our dialogue concerning the importance of academic freedom in the educational processes of our seminaries and colleges. I vividly remember what Adrian Rogers, a leader of the takeover movement, said at the meeting. Of Southern Baptist seminary professors, he said they must teach, ‘Whatever they are told to teach. And if we tell them to teach that pickles have souls, then they must teach that pickles have souls!’ Those were his exact words. Everybody in the room heard them.” (Gene Garrison, former Oklahoma pastor, on MainstreamBaptists.org.)
–“Mr. President, I hope you will give up your secular humanism and return back to Christianity.” (Rogers to President Jimmy Carter, during a visit to the White House in 1979.)
–“Joyce and I have been married for many, many years, but the honey hasn’t gone out of the honeymoon in my marriage. I love cell phones. On my way home from the office I get her on the phone. I say this is Lovemobile No. 1 calling in. Sensitize your lips, I’m almost there.” (Rogers in sermon at 2003 SBC Pastors Conference.)
–“Adrian Rogers told us as often as he could he took the Bible literally. He illustrated by saying he believed the world was created in six 24-hour days. And he repeated this to make an impression upon us. In private (Jerry Vines was with us), I asked Rogers what he did with the slavery passages of the New Testament. Did he take them literally? He paused and said, ‘Well, I believe slavery is a much-maligned institution. If we had slavery today, we would not have this welfare mess.'” (Cecil Sherman in Walter Shurden’s The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC).
–“While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” (2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Rogers chaired the study committee that revised the 1963 doctrinal statement.)
–“We receive and affirm those doctrines revealed in the Bible, and we are unembarrassed to take our stand upon the solid rock of biblical authority.” (Rogers on the statement.)
–Rogers described former President Ronald Reagan as “a man of principle” unswayed by “political correctness” or polls. “In that sense, I think he was comparable to our current president [George W. Bush]. “I think the same mosquito may have bit them both.”
–“I believe that some of the basic convictions I have were first born in my heart from reading The Sword Of The Lord as a 19-year-old college student. Your books, your life and your convictions have been a strength and a testimony to me.” (Rogers in tribute to fundamentalist author, editor and pastor John R. Rice.)
–“Mr. President, it would be morally reprehensible for the United States to be ‘evenhanded’ between democratic Israel, a reliable friend and ally that shares our values, and the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure that refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist at all.” (Gary Bauer in letter to George W. Bush criticizing the president’s “roadmap for peace” in the Middle East. Other U.S. evangelical leaders signing Bauer’s letter included Presbyterian evangelist D. James Kennedy, Christian talk-radio magnate Marlin Maddoux and Southern Baptist leaders Richard Land, Ed McAteer, Jerry Falwell and Adrian Rogers.)
–“It is … to the great benefit of all mankind, Christian and non-Christian alike, to bring every society’s judicial and legal systems into as close an approximation to the laws and commandments of the Bible as its citizens will allow.” (A “Manifesto for the Christian Church” signed by Rogers in 1986.)
–“Women are built for having babies, not fighting battles. It’s insane to put a woman on the front line in war.” (2003 Pastors Conference.)
–“We, as a Peace Committee, have found that most Southern Baptists see ‘truth without any mixture of error for its matter,’ as meaning, for example, that (1) They believe in direct creation of mankind and therefore they believe Adam and Eve were real persons; (2) They believe the named authors did indeed write the biblical books attributed to them by those books; (3) They believe the miracles described in Scripture did indeed occur as supernatural events in history; (4) They believe that the historical narratives given by biblical authors are indeed accurate and reliable as given by those authors.
“We call upon Southern Baptist institutions to recognize the great number of Southern Baptists who believe this interpretation of our confessional statement and, in the future, to build their professional staffs and faculties from those who clearly reflect such dominant convictions and beliefs held by Southern Baptists at large.” (From report of SBC Peace Committee. Rogers was a member who strongly represented the conservative viewpoint.)
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.