I just received my copy of the Georgia Baptist Heritage Council’s final newsletter. The Baptist Heritage Council was the Mainstream Baptist organization in Georgia. I’m sorry to see the organization come to an end, but all good things do come to an end in this world.
One by one, formal Mainstream Baptist organizations have been shutting down as historic Baptist distinctives have lost their appeal to most Baptists in the South.
Principles that were forged while Baptists were an oppressed minority hold little attraction to Baptists who have never known a time when they were not the dominant cultural force within their region of the country.
Ever since the era of civil rights, unrelenting technological advances, shifting demographics and mounting religious and cultural diversity helped attune increasingly disoriented and insecure Southern Baptist ears to the siren song of authoritarian leadership.
Authoritarian Southern Baptists reacted aggressively to counteract an onslaught of what, to them, were unwelcome changes.
Prominent pastors concluded they could redirect social change if they could control their denomination. Evangelists shifted their message from saving souls to saving the culture. Revivals restructured from being spiritual movements and became political movements. Some pastors began assuming responsibility for leading their congregations to exercise dominion over all the civic and political life of their community and nation.
Other Southern Baptists noticed the dramatic changes taking place in their denomination and resisted it. The people in the Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia were among them. They organized to remind Baptists in the South of their historic commitment to liberty of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, congregational autonomy, and the separation of church and state.
The more they talked about these historic Baptist principles, however, the more many Southern Baptist pastors felt the need to consolidate their authority. They asserted their control by making both Jesus and the Holy Spirit subordinate to a dogma of biblical inerrancy and by elevating the dogma of pastoral authority above all other doctrines.
Today, 10 years after Southern Baptists traded their birthright for an authoritarian creed, a Baptist in the South who remembers what it was like to be a Baptist who is free in Christ is a dying breed.
Our children have never known a time when they had reason to be proud of the Baptist name.
The churches of mainline denominations are full of Baptists recovering from abusive, fundamentalist pastors.
Oblivious to the impact on their congregations that the influence of the new politicized Southern Baptist Convention has wrought on American domestic, foreign and economic policy since 1979, many African-American Baptists have been disinterested bystanders.
There’s little room for prophets in Baptist life anymore. Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians own the brand.
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, president of the Norman, Okla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and host of “Religious Talk” on KREF radio. He blogs at Mainstream Baptist.
Bruce Prescott, now retired, served as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists from 1998-2014.