A two-party system seems to be emerging in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The question is whether the two parties will be divided over Calvinism or a different issue — when/where to stop drawing doctrinal lines.
Both issues have emerged in the SBC in recent years.
The announcement this week that Frank Cox (in photo) will be nominated for SBC president in June brings the divisions into greater light.
Cox, a suburban Atlanta pastor and captain of the Georgia Baptist Convention ship since the fundamentalist takeover, will oppose Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, the most highly identified Calvinist in the SBC.
(Sure, a couple of other candidates will be nominated but attract little attention.)
Cox will be nominated by Alabama evangelist Junior Hill. If you want to find the Baptists most opposed to Calvinism, talk with the evangelists.
But the division into a two-party system is not completely clear.
Calvinism was not the emotionally debated issue at the 2007 SBC meeting in San Antonio. It was whether the narrow doctrinal statement, 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, was narrow enough.
A motion affirming the sufficiency of the statement passed by majority vote. But that has not stopped the SBC International Mission Board from imposing other doctrinal restrictions on missionaries.
Some SBC agency heads (including Mohler) described the Southern Baptist faith statement as a minimalist document for determining acceptable doctrine.
Some of this might be clarified if and when Cox makes a statement about whether or not he — like current SBC President Frank Page — thinks it is unwise to keep narrowing the doctrinal parameters for participation in the Convention.
(Anyone with the slightest knowledge knows, however, that the nature of fundamentalism is to continue tightening the circle of participation. Suspicion once reserved for those on the other side is turned on those once considered within the fold.)
Some say the contested election simply signifies a mild disagreement over whether an agency head should serve as SBC president. But Cox formerly served as vice president during seminary president Paige Patterson’s second term as SBC president.
In his nominating speech, former SBC President James Merritt gave Cox’s full support of Patterson as a top credential. So apparently, the conflict of interest issue is not a big deal to Cox.
Recent research suggests the non-Calvinist candidate would have an edge if that becomes the primary issue of identification for the candidates. That is, unless a whole bunch of young Southern Seminary grads and students show up in Indianapolis this summer. (Younger SBC pastors are much more likely to consider themselves to be Calvinists compared to the larger SBC population.)
So it looks like two debated issues, that have become flash points within Southern Baptist life, are headed for the big meeting this summer. It will be interesting to see which one shows up during the presidential election.
In the usual fashion, these real issues will not be presented openly in nomination speeches. Reality is generally masked by a bunch of spiritual code words.
For some of us, these latest squabbles are only mildly interesting, at best. The SBC got way to narrow for us a long, long time ago.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.