Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics downplayed expectations that election of a dark-horse presidential candidate and declining to consider a resolution calling for a strategy to exit public school signals the Southern Baptist Convention is moderating Friday on public radio.
“Dr. Page’s election will not change the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention at all,” Parham said in an interview on “To the Point,” a daily hour-long news program produced by KCRW radio in Santa Monica, Calif., and co-produced and distributed nationwide by Public Radio International.
Warren Olney, the program’s host and executive producer, asked Parham what the newly elected SBC president meant by his comment: “I’m an inerrantist…. I’m just not mad about it.”
“Frank Page is trying to affirm his roots as part of the fundamentalist movement as well as to posture a different perspective: a kinder, gentler position,” Parham said.
“Southern Baptist fundamentalists have been known for 25 years as the anti-everything party–anti-public education, anti-women, anti-Disney,” Parham explained. “That anti-everything perspective has produced significant concern, and the Southern Baptist leaders in some quarters would like to change the nature of that public perception of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.”
Parham also predicted the convention’s growing antipathy for public education isn’t going to change. While the SBC resolutions committee declined to report a proposed resolution calling for an exit from public schools, the Nashville-based BaptistCenter for Ethics issued a pastoral letter in support for public education, signed by some 250 Baptist ministers
“We believe public schools deserve our support for the common good they do for the American people and our way of democracy,” Parham said. “We reject the notion that public schools are somehow adversarial to faith. We think it’s inappropriate and harmful to continually demonize public schools, as the Southern Baptist fundamentalists have.”
Parham said he is not aware of the new SBC president’s position on public schools, but he was nominated to the office by a pastor whose church sponsors a private Christian academy. “Most of the Southern Baptist Convention leaders either homeschool their children or sent their children to Christian academies,” he said.
Despite the resolution committee’s decision not to bring an exit-strategy resolution to the floor, Parham said the issue isn’t going away.
“The issue has a lot of electricity in it,” Parham said. “The convention accepted a motion that will study the issue. Motions tend to have more power than resolutions in terms of generating institutional change.”
Parham said he also does not expect the Southern Baptist Convention to change its position on women. Several years ago, he said, the convention adopted a statement saying women are subservient to their husbands.
“They wanted June Cleaver to be the biblical model of motherhood,” Parham said. “The woman’s role is to be the homemaker. The husband, the father, the man’s role is to be the breadwinner.”
Asked how Page’s election might change the SBC’s attitude toward women, Parham said: “The convention will not move one hair away from that position. The Baptist Center for Ethics favors full equality for women. We favor the ordination of women as deacons and ministers of Baptist churches.”
Parham said Southern Baptist fundamentalists are hardwired to the right wing of the Republican Party. “Several years ago one of their leaders said he wanted a wedding ring from the Republican Party,” he said. “He wanted the Religious Right to consummate its relationship with the Republican Party.”
But he said he isn’t sure whether current statistical decline is connected as much to the denomination’s political ties as its “lost sense of inclusiveness and willingness to be accepting and embracing of differences related to ethnicity and theological perspectives.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Click here to listen to a Webcast of the program. Robert Parham’s interview is in the last 15 minutes of the hour-long program.