A leader in the moderate resistance to fundamentalist influence in the closing decades of the 20th century says he sees troubling similarities between today’s political climate and the era now commonly referred to as the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.
David Currie, who led the moderate political and educational group Texas Baptists Committed more than 20 years before stepping aside in 2009, said in a weekend radio interview that the conservative strategy was based on “untruth” — such as one leader’s repeated charge “that some of our Southern Baptist seminaries did not have a single professor that believed the Bible was the word of God” — to inflame grassroots Baptists to rebel against the status quo.
“The strategy was untruth. The strategy was attack and it was to mislead people,” Currie told former Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy Dec. 10 on the “State of Belief” weekly radio program.
Currie said the conservative strategy took advantage of a form of denominational governance that entitled small and marginally involved churches to the same maximum number of voting messengers as congregations that were much larger and more deeply invested.
“It allowed the uneducated people to fall for this kind of strategy, show up at the convention and follow the leadership that was there,” Currie said. “I hate to say it, but you see it repeating itself in national politics right now — truth, followed by people who don’t know any better, calling for change that isn’t even needed.”
Currie said his first exposure to the “fundamentalist takeover” came when he worked for the Christian Life Commission — the SBC’s moral concerns agency now known as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — with the 1979 election of Memphis mega-church pastor Adrian Rogers as convention president.
“We began to see it right then, and a few of us quickly recognized this was not just a pendulum swing, this was something extremely serious,” Currie said.
Currie said fundamentalism — whether Christian, Islamic or whatever — “is always my way or the highway.”
“It’s always, ‘If you don’t agree with me, you don’t believe the Bible; you don’t believe the truth.’ It’s a completely closed system for freedom of thought and for freedom of expression that is different in any form of fashion,” he said.
“Once this started permeating the Southern Baptist Convention it was clear to see where it was headed,” Currie said. “If they could get control of our seminaries that control what is taught, there would be no more education as you and I would define it. It would become indoctrination, and they were successful in doing it.”
Currie said the moderate response was slow to organize. “I didn’t really get involved until 1988, and folks were late to recognize it. Of course now the Southern Baptist seminaries are places that traditional Baptists should not attend.”
Currie said he learned early on that fundamentalism is “a totally different way of looking at the world,” one that “just doesn’t allow any diversity, any freedom of thought.”
“Especially here in Texas, we realized that when you’re dealing with fundamentalism, there isn’t a middle ground,” he said. “Our nature — the way you and I think and operate — is let’s sit down and reason together.”
“I realized that with the fundamentalist movement if you had a body of water 100 feet long and you built a bridge 99 feet, they wouldn’t let you build that last foot,” Currie said. “There was never room for compromise. You had to defeat them in what they were doing.”
“Now, you had to do it with more character and integrity, so what I ended up doing in Texas is leading the effort to strategically deal with getting the messengers to the convention to defeat fundamentalists,” Currie related. “I had a public organization that people could join called Texas Baptists Committed. I found individuals even in fundamentalist churches and in somewhat conservative churches that really believed in the First Amendment and really believed in allowing the professors in our colleges to teach and encourage people to think.”
“So we actually had to have a political campaign to get people to the convention and defeat them, and we successfully did that in Texas,” Currie said. “So that’s why I’m somewhat disappointed now in some things happening here, but that’s a different story.”
Currie said he tried to spread the Baptists Committed message into the Southeast, but the moderate leadership in those states “kept thinking they could fight this quietly and behind the scenes, which you really can’t do.” Currie said that strategy succeeded only in Virginia and to a degree in North Carolina.
“The organized effort to resist this kind evil, as I call it, never really materialized in other states to the level that it did in Texas,” Currie said. “Part of it is they needed to have someone full time doing it, like we had here, that was committed to it.”
Currie said he carried his philosophy “that any lie had to be answered” to confront attacks on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the early 1990s. “They would attack the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and even though Baptists Committed was something different, I answered every lie, publicly and in writing and in speaking and other ways,” Currie said. “I think you have to do that. You just simply can’t leave lies unanswered, or people will believe them.”