Lest you think I refer to a new sect of strange Baptists, let me define what I mean by Pavlovian Baptists. Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, in the early part of the last century, demonstrated that dogs could be made to salivate by ringing a bell. He did this by ringing a bell each time a dog tasted food. The dog would then salivate when the bell was rung, even in the absence of food. The process is known as classic conditioning.

Southern Baptists have been conditioned to give to the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings. I played my part in this conditioning. I taught the churches I served that the only way a Southern Baptist could participate in missions was through those channels. I discouraged any effort to support any mission that wasn’t a part of the system. I urged pride in the percentage and amount given by our local church and was aided by denominational publicity that touted cooperative giving percentages. We succeeded well.

I had no problem in seeking to condition our people to give in that fashion. There were a few areas where I did not agree completely with the Southern Baptist Convention, but I was confident in the convention’s inclusive leadership, diversity of opinions, open and free debate of issues and the overall direction of the missions programs for which we existed.

The scene has changed. The convention is now controlled by a small number of Fundamentalists who are kept in power by those who still attend the annual meeting (only 8,600 messengers this year). They have systematically excluded from leadership, boards, commissions and committees all who will not follow their interpretations of Scripture. They have taken the convention in a direction with which many are uncomfortable.

When I talk to someone who disagrees with the insistence that everyone sign the new SBC creed;
…or who disagrees with the relegation of women to inferior status in the church and the home;
…or disagrees with the mission board’s abandonment of schools, hospitals, agricultural development and other compassionate ministries (door openers) on the field;
…or who disagrees with the convention’s effort to do away with the separation of church and state;
…or who disagrees with the SBC pulling out of the Baptist World Alliance;
I will ask them if they support these changes financially.

The truth is, most who disagree with the direction of the convention in one or more areas still faithfully support it with their money. They have been conditioned well: The only way you can do missions is through the Cooperative Program, even though you may disagree with the current direction of the missions supported by the Cooperative Program.

Perhaps some are simply loathe to “rock the boat” in their local church by questioning absolute loyalty to the program. Many are content to ignore the larger body of Baptists or where their mission money goes as long as they are comfortable in their church or find their needs met there.

There are signs of new independence, however. I read of increasing numbers of SBC churches and individuals that are stepping forward to support the Baptist World Alliance in spite of the SBC action. I expect more and more thinking Baptists will begin to put their money where their convictions are.

Mel Deason is executive director of Alabama Mainstream Baptists. This column is from the group’s September newsletter and is used here with permission.

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