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There was a time — a long time — when much of my personal and professional identity was tied to being a Southern Baptist. Today I keep up with my former denominational home from a detached journalistic perspective only.

The truth is that the Southern Baptist Convention and I have been traveling in opposite directions for quite a while. I thought of that when catching up on the latest big SBC gathering in Orlando this week and while reading an unrelated (or not intentionally related) email from good Baptist historian and good friend Walter “Buddy” Shurden.

Buddy pointed to author and emergent church leader Brian McLaren’s explanation of why he left the Plymouth Brethren tradition in which he was raised. In his book, Finding Our Way Again, McLaren writes that “…as grateful as I am for my heritage, it lacked breathing room.”

While, like many others who continue to hold on to the basic Baptist principles of individual and congregational freedom and an emphasis on personal responsibilities for faith, I left the SBC (and the Georgia Baptist Convention which became equally controlled by Fundamentalists) to avoid spiritual suffocation.

There will be no going back. The SBC’s rigid (and wrong) stance against women as equal leaders and the constant actions against gay and lesbian persons (among many other reasons) make it an undesirable place to practice my own faith.

But I do think the SBC put in place two good leaders — Bryant Wright as SBC President and Frank Page as president of the SBC Executive Committee — who will make the convention no less conservative but perhaps less strident.

I hope so — for the sake of those who (whether aware of the great shift to fundamentalism or not) still call the SBC their denominational home and for all us other Baptists who get lumped in with them in the public eye.

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