Baptists are doing a lot of harm in today’s society, emergent church leader Brian McLaren said in a podcast posted recently on a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship blog.
“I feel that the role of Baptists — not Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but other Baptists — in doing harm to our nation and world is so great,” said McLaren, an author and public theologian who gave the keynote address at last year’s CBF General Assembly in Atlanta.
“I really feel well-meaning, sincere people who are deeply committed to the term ‘Baptist’ are often at the forefront of being careless about the environment,” McLaren said. “They are often at the forefront of being hateful towards Muslims. They are often at the forefront of promoting — unconsciously very often — white supremacy and continuing harm being done to racial minorities. We don’t even need to mention the harm being done to LGBTQ persons.”
“The fact that there’s a group of Baptists like CBF who are grappling with that history and trying to chart a better way forward is deeply encouraging to me, and I just think it’s way more important than the average CBF pastor or youth worker or church planter realizes,” he said.
McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian, said the word “southern” in the Southern Baptist Convention “carries way more weight than most people realize.”
“To most white people on the inside, it’s all good, but to those of us who are on the outside, we see in that word ‘southern’ a perpetuation of an awful lot of ugly patterns from America’s history,” he said.
“I think one of our great challenges in the Christian religion at large is for Christianity to grow up, to be a world religion,” he said, “meaning not just an American religion and certainly not just a southern or rural American religion, but a religion that grapples with all the challenges of our interconnected world.”
McLaren said splits in Christian denominations over LGBT equality and the #MeToo movement spotlighting sexual harassment of women share a common theme.
“In my mind, the underlying issue is actually patriarchy,” he said. “We could talk about white Christian supremacy, but at the core of this is white, Christian, patriarchal supremacy. It’s a way of organizing life around powerful men.”
McLaren said those ideas are “deeply embedded” in Western culture, and for many people go back all the way to “the Iron Age cultures in the Middle East from which the Scriptures arise.”
“A whole lot of people are wondering, can the Christian religion extract itself from patriarchy, or is belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so inherently patriarchal that Christians actually believe in a patriarchal universe?” he said.
McLaren said he believes the Christian faith is undergoing an identity crisis more profound than the Reformation 500 years ago.
“Watching the success of Donald Trump win over especially white people, and especially white Christians and especially white evangelical and Baptist Christians, in my opinion this is a pivotal moment,” he said.
Despite all that, McLaren said he is glad CBF is keeping ‘Baptist’ in its name.
“I know that in some ways CBF wants to keep their connections with SBC folks as close as possible, because they want to be there as a bridge when a lot of these folks need a little more breathing room, which is really good,” he said.