The youngest statewide affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention just turned 20.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, formed in 1998 by churches opposed to moderate leadership of the SBC-affiliated Baptist General Convention of Texas, celebrated the milestone at the group’s recent annual meeting in Houston.
“Good and godly men and women paid the price to follow the guiding principle of being loyal to the inerrant Word of God,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said in a tribute to the 26 men and women who launched the breakaway group with 120 churches in November 1998.
In 2017 the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention reported 2,622 churches with a combined membership of 1.1 million. That compares to 4,236 churches and 2 million members in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, still the largest of 42 state and regional organizations making up the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.
Conservatives gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979 and over the course of the next decade replaced moderate and progressive members on denominational boards and committees with those loyal to the “conservative resurgence.”
The faction rallied around the argument that the Bible ought to be considered “inerrant” – literally true in matters including history and science. Moderates, meanwhile, emphasized the Bible’s religious message while accommodating rather than rejecting insights from modern science.
Moderates running the Baptist General Convention of Texas resisted what they regarded a fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and took steps to distance themselves from SBC leadership by reallocating money away from the national body toward ministries more closely controlled by the BGCT.
Frustrated by what they viewed as disloyalty to the SBC and other matters such as the teaching of evolution at BGCT-affiliated Baylor University and refusal of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission to take up the mantle of the anti-abortion movement and other causes embraced by the Religious Right, conservatives decided to chart their own path.
In 2000 the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention endorsed revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message – the SBC’s official statement of doctrine – including the belief that God does not call women to serve as pastor of a local church.
Richards said through the years the SBTC has sought to keep a broad yet defined umbrella of fellowship through the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
“There is a lot of latitude on many issues but it is clearly definitive on some,” Richards said in comments quoted by the Southern Baptist Texan. “Don’t be fooled by other groups that tell you there is no difference between them and the SBTC. When another group wants legitimacy without adopting our faith statement, beware.”
Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, enumerated differences between the two groups including, “There are no liberal churches within the SBTC’s fellowship.”
“Simply, the founders of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were convicted of the truth of the Bible — that everything the Bible says is true in the plain sense in which it’s meant — and that this foundational conviction was worth separating over for the integrity of Southern Baptists’ cooperation in the gospel,” Ledbetter editorialized Nov. 13.
“There will continue to be two Southern Baptist state conventions so long as the two groups disagree over the nature of the Bible, and by extension, its author,” Ledbetter said.