Inerrancy of the Bible was a crystal-clear battle cry in the fundamentalist war launched in 1979 to take over the Southern Baptist Convention from the alleged “liberals,” but it has failed to rally the factious theological conservatives and to deliver the promised golden age of denominational growth.
Thirty years after the fundamentalists won the SBC presidency in an unexpected victory in Houston, the current SBC president has charged that the denomination is unhealthy and needs an overhaul. He has accused denominational executives of speaking down to churches and distrusting his own leadership and supporters.
Johnny Hunt said the denomination is “adrift” and needs to lose unnecessary “cargo.”
In a full-throated attack, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Danny Akin, indicted the SBC as “bloated and bureaucratic.”
Identifying himself as a reformer, Akin said his “great commission resurgence” movement “will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.”
His reformation plank also rebukes the SBC’s blind allegiance to the Republican Party, a loyalty that knotted the Baptist moral agenda to the Bush administration and implied that GOP stands for God’s Only Party.
“Our hope is not in Republicans or Democrats, Congress or Capitol Hill,” said Akin.
A year earlier, a former SBC president and retired head of the SBC’s publishing house, Jimmy Draper, voiced parallel concerns about the denomination’s health.
“I hate to say it, but we are not plateaued. We’re not even just declining. We’re in a free fall,” said Draper about the SBC.
“We need to admit that the problem with America today is not the government or the politicians,” he said. “It is not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain. It’s not the senators or representatives. The problem is not the educational system or the economy. It’s not the liberals or the abortionists. The problem lies with us.”
Neither warnings about the SBC’s demise nor efforts to refocus the largest Protestant denomination are new.
Following Bobby Welch’s presidential election in 2004, he launched a nationwide bus tour and mailed 70,000 campaign DVDs challenging Southern Baptists to baptize 1 million people in a year.
His baptism campaign failed, managing only 364,826 baptisms in 2006.
Denominational bad news doesn’t end with Welch’s unsuccessful crusade to ignite growth.
Southern Baptists reported 342,198 baptisms in 2008, the lowest number of baptisms since 1987. Overall SBC membership and Sunday school enrollment also dropped in 2008.
According to the Baptist worldview, baptism, Sunday school enrollment and membership are three key measurements of the denomination’s health. Health is almost exclusively a matter of numerical increase.
Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, a leading SBC blogger, candidly summed up the problem when he wrote, “I am becoming more and more convinced that we inerrantists have caused more problems than we have solved.”
Inerrancy was a war cry that poisoned the Baptist soil and contaminated the denomination with a negative agenda that positioned the SBC as being anti-Disney, anti-women, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-public schools and anti-Baptist World Alliance.
Like the behemoth General Motors, which was once too big to fail, the titanic SBC is taking on water, and its current leadership knows not what to do to salvage the ship.
The one thing they could do, one crystal-clear biblical teaching, is to repent. They could repent face-to-face to seminary professors slandered. They could repent for falsehoods against agency employees, bullying missionaries to sign creeds, belittling women, hatefulness toward Catholics and Jews, and lies about the Baptist World Alliance.
“Unless you repent you will…perish,” said Jesus.
Morally inerrant words ignored for too long by inerrantists.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.