Three somewhat recent events clarify the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.
First, the departure of Beth Moore for the Anglican Church.
I could reference the old “canary in the mine analogy,” which while effective, left a dead canary. Beth left before that.
However, having read several of her books, her passion for biblically grounded teaching found a foothold with many conservative pastors – most of whom read her books but never admitted doing so or quoted from her.
Second, the rehabilitation of Johnny Hunt, the former SBC megachurch pastor whose sexual assault in 2010 surfaced when the Guidepost Solution report on SBC sexual abuse was made public.
After years of denials, Hunt owned up to what he had done, with some qualifications, and fled into the company of a few of his friends to be “rehabilitated” and returned to ministry.
Making his return to the spotlight on January 15, 2023, as the guest preacher at a friend’s church, Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, Hunt sounded more defiant than humbled, claiming that he had endured “false allegations.” Hunt has also filed suit against the SBC for defamation.
Why this is troubling is that Hunt was one of the old guard who fought against the Guidepost Solutions investigation into sexual abuse in the SBC.
His quick return to ministry reflects a perspective that at least some SBC pastors have not taken the report seriously or done little more than play defense in the face of the allegations contained in the report.
Third, the ejection of Saddleback Community Church from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its recent experience of ordaining three women as “pastors” and the calling of the new pastor succeeding Rick Warren. The new pastor’s wife was brought to Saddleback as a teaching pastor.
Interestingly, the new pastor of Saddleback, Andy Wood, and his wife Stacy, were leading Echo Church in the San Francisco area, moving it from a church start to a 3,000-member congregation with several multi-site locations. Echo Church has been affiliated with the SBC whose Executive Committee just voted to disfellowship Saddleback.
Several reasons come to mind for this most recent action. Saddleback under the leadership of Rick Warren was never a politically connected SBC church. Rather, it has been historically centered and focused on building fellowships of support and encouragement.
To that end, Saddleback hosted a “pastor’s conference” that helped pastors ground themselves in vision, ministry and evangelism. For that reason, Warren touched the lives and ministries of many pastors in SBC life and beyond.
When the motion came to the floor last year to oust Saddleback, Warren spoke passionately about being a “uniter or divider.” The convention voted down the motion.
As the Southern Baptist Convention has drifted into more extreme fundamentalism, its leaders have chosen to opt for some kind of “purity” over effectiveness in sharing the gospel. As a result, the “tent” is chronically shrinking.
So, the war on women serving within the church and being identified for the actual work they do is an affront to some men who define whom God can use. As a result, they refuse to acknowledge women as gifted for the calling of pastor, preacher, teacher, counselor and the myriad of responsibilities they undertake every day in local churches.
The irony and hypocrisy of all of this is the willingness to “allow and commission” women to do the work of missionaries without any real reservations. Many missionary couples and single female missionaries have been sent around the world to “preach the gospel.”
Apparently, sending these women overseas to work with “others” was not perceived as a threat to the American white male Southern Baptist pastorate.
Southern Baptist’s statement that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” is a very limited interpretation of the Bible. Therein is the problem, and it is the ongoing problem within fundamentalism.
This is how it has gone in the SBC over the past four decades. Someone moves into a position of leadership in Southern Baptist life, giving that person great sway in how Scripture should be interpreted.
In 2000, the fundamentalists who had taken over the Southern Baptist Convention “revised” the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963 to include a more decisive, divisive section on several topics, including the roles women were allowed to hold in SBC churches.
Women were kicked to the corner unless they stayed within the narrow parameters of their “stations” of service. So, women were trusted in leadership as long as they were “assistants,” “ministers” or “assistant ministers.”
Fundamentalism is a creaking, old, withering ship in a sea of change. In order to keep the ship afloat, more and more folks have to be jettisoned, more and more lines drawn, and more and more narrow views embraced.