A warning from Southern Baptist history to the rest of us
Baptist church plants are everywhere in my community, including Southern Baptists from the U.S. Often they are very cagey on their websites about their beliefs in regards to gender, sexual orientation, etc. I always tell people who ask me about these seemingly contemporary churches to a) ask a whole lot of questions and b)watch who is in leadership and what that says about the community. People often find they have invested their hearts and minds in a community only to discover that they are not seen as equally gifted and that they are not welcome in multiple roles. The realization can be very hurtful. Sadly the hurt may keep them from ever finding their way to a community of faith that will affirm them and their gifts and call on them in all aspects of the life of the church. On the other hand, I am seeing some movement in some of these evangelical communities to leave complementarianism, patriarchy and anti-gay sentiment behind and evolve into something different. I happily share with these folks the United Church of Canada's experience in this regard.
I've been seething about Russell Moore ever since his last appearance on Amanpour & Co. He made the cringe-inducing statement that he's been "working within the system/process for 50 years." Moore is 50 years old. Sorry, but I'm not buying that he was challenging the system as an infant, toddler or middle schooler. Just... sir, please!
And until he removes his signature from the Nashville Statement, he can't claim squat. As long as he's shoveling complementarianism, Moore is propping up the system that nurtures abusers. He's fortifying the scaffolding of male authority, which sent Baptist women home to men who tried to kill them.
The NS denounces homosexuality and transgenderism bc both undermine the theology of birthright male headship.
Moore should either come all the way into the light or stop whispering apologies from the shadows.
You may be interested to know that the young man in the middle of the photo of the Texas Baptist convention is now studying to become an Episcopal priest. He formerly served several SBC churches as minister of music.
Hi Diana, I lived and pastored through this mess. My then father-in-law led the SBC Christian Life Commission for over 30 years, a Texan with an ethics ThD from Southwestern, he wrote against racism in the Baptist church as a student in 1948 and was a staunch church-state separationist. He was one of the early targets for Pressler-Patterson. A strong pro-choice advocate, we walked past signs at SBC annual meetings saying he killed unborn Baptists. At the 1985 45,000 voting messengers convention, I was nearly physically beaten by Patterson's acolytes. Following completion of my PhD at Baylor where I wrote on the rise of the religious-political far right, I served a church in Houston for 8 years and would occasionally show up at one of Pressler's meetings with young Houston area pastors, which he did not appreciate. Pressler was active in the Council on National Policy which led to H.W. Bush in 1989 naming him to serve as head of the Office of Government Ethics. This position required Senate confirmation and as the FBI was doing a background check on him, some of his "scandal" began to emerge. It was enough to cause him to "graciously" turn down the offer so he could care for his family. As an appeals court judge, he would travel across the country spending five days a week organizing to "save" the convention from us liberals and moderates. By 1990, the fundamentalists controlled all the Boards of the seminaries and the agencies of the SBC and a number of us after the SBC meeting in New Orleans, decided we would meet in Atlanta to begin the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In 1995, I left ministry and went to work for the National Education Association in Washington, DC. I attended a meeting of faith groups and organizations like People for the American Way at the Social Concerns office of the UCC. I began reading their literature and knew I could find a new denominational home if I ever thought of returning to ministry. Your analysis of the pure misogyny of the fundamentalists' efforts at enshrining patriarchal hierarchy is absolutely accurate. SBC churches moved from congregational authority to unquestioned pastoral authority and only men could serve as pastors.
As always, well done. And it was not too many weeks ago that your Sunday Musing was Brian Mclaren's sermon. After reading both I keep coming back to the question of "What am I to do?" Are there specific, concrete steps that individuals can take? Do we need to gather in New Orleans and write a plan on a napkin? - Seriously -
Here are two serious, suggestions:
1- Stop calling fundamentalists "evangelicals." As Luther suggested - the theologian of the cross calls things by their proper name. An Evangelical is one who brings good news - not hierarchy that hurts.
2- Start planning the long game.
I attended Mercer in Macon 1971-1973 for pre-pharmacy. At that time the law school and the liberal arts school were in Macon, and the pharmacy school was in Atlanta. Oh my, since that time, so many schools of Mercer have come into existence. McAfee School of Theology has always been in Atlanta. The pharmacy school is still in Atlanta, but now there is a whole health sciences complex in Atlanta, and there is a medical school in Macon with other campuses around the state. Basically, the Atlanta campus has pharmacy, theology, physician assistants, nursing, and various other professional and masters programs. When I was a student at Mercer in Macon 50 (!!!) years ago, the Georgia Baptist Convention was attempting to kick Mercer out. They finally succeeded many years later, but Mercer's founders had thought this very thing through, and Mercer was able to "unaffiliate" with Ga Baptists without tearing up their whole administration. I must say that I am ever so grateful for what Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists did for me in the live of my husband and me--and in the lives of my children. It grieves me more than I can say to see what has happened to my "mother" church. But at the same time, I can say that I feel much more "free" in the Episcopal tradition. And--I have had wonderful connections with the Jewish Center here in Atlanta since 2018.
A chilling reminder of how quickly we can go down the rabbit hole - As a UCC member, I am grateful for the guidelines of our church. Thank you for this very informative piece.
Oh Diana, your favorite theology professor! That evil smile. Did he know where your sympathies might lie? It feels like a gotcha moment.
Thank you for this careful history. I lived through all of it though not with as much attention as my SBC feminist friends--until I heard Nancy Hastings Sehested speak in Charlotte at an EEWC.com meeting in 2006. She had been forced to give up pastoring her church, so she became a prison chaplain at a state maximum-security prison for 900 men. Much more appropriate place for a woman pastor, right?
"Benign patriarchy doesn't exist"--thank you for these words.
Thank you, Diana, for your insight into the SBC over the last 50 years. Also, realizing this “argument” affects all denominations. It is not only women and men affected, but LGBTQ+ folks as well.
As a Ordained Minister in the UCC, Past "Acting Pastor" in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Past "Certified Lay Speaker" in the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian "Ruling Elder" in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I found your essay to be both informing and disturbing.
Particularly disturbing is how your denomination has gone from proudly standing for separation of Church and State to being aligned with one political party.
Thanks Diana for being a thoughtful writer; this article also encourages men who have a disdain for a distorted Theology of Eve, a theology that supports coercive control to keep women and men in line ... a clear deliberate sidelining of the admonition to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
The church body into which I was born, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, took notes from the SBC following a schism in the mid-70s, and over time the fundamentalists won there too. The LCMS, once considered mainline Protestant, is now categorized evangelical Protestant. That says a lot.
I also watched these things happen more from afar... they have affected, like tentacles, other Evangelical denominations through their publications, books, and politics.
I am a former SBC pastor. I was in an SBC seminary from 1978-1981, when the war was raging. I was a fool to think that the Fs would win, but they did in the end. And, yes, I see the ugly that this movements success has brought about. Very sad.
This is a very insightful piece Diana and I am so grateful that you brought it to our attention. a considerable amount of what you address has relevance also for my own denomination - Catholicism - especially in some of the systemic and theological relevances. I so appreciate you taking the time putting this reflection together so 'cogently' as another reader has said below. Just to add gratitude also for last weekend's piece on Uvalde was also profound on a whole other level.
Grew up in the American Baptist tradition. Remembering my youth pastor warning us about the Moral Majority and how important is what to keep church and state separated.
Sadly, he seems to have left the tradition and joined a more conservative one in recent years. I have always valued the tradition I grew up in as it seemed to generally guard against compulsion...