Like cottage cheese in the refrigerator, intellectual movements have a shelf life. They are born with promise and hope and often die in odious calamities.
Evidence of the end of the movement often is mistaken for something else. Observers blame infighting, when the real problem is the inability of the movement to address new realities. Observers blame loss of zeal, when the problem is intellectual exhaustion of the movement.
The “conservative resurgence” of the Southern Baptist Convention began in 1979, and by 1990 the denomination was fully under the control of SBC conservatives. For at least 25 years, leaders of this movement have led the SBC without serious opposition.
“Liberals” are long gone. “Moderates” are long gone as well. Fealty to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is the unquestioned norm among SBC leaders, seminary presidents, professors, missionaries, and entity heads.
If the conservative resurgence’s leaders believed getting rid of liberals and moderates would lead to church growth, they clearly were mistaken. The best that can be said of the SBC’s current condition is that it is shrinking more slowly than the mainline traditions. The SBC is now a denomination in decline, and its leaders are offering solutions mainly of the “more of the same but harder” variety.
Now, the SBC is clearly at a crossroads. The denomination is in numerical decline and has been so since 2006. Add to that the current sexual abuse controversy that is not going away, while the Executive Committee has openly flouted the will of SBC annual meeting messengers.
There is a pattern here. It is not just that multiple controversies have harmed the convention. It is that the “conservative resurgence” is past its shelf life. It is an intellectually spent movement with no real answers for the issues of the present. Because investing further in this intellectually spent movement is unhelpful, a change is necessary.
“The current leaders of the SBC have demonstrably failed and need to be replaced.”
The current crises require new leadership. The current leaders of the SBC have demonstrably failed and need to be replaced. To quote Dick Cheney, “The wheel has turned, and it is time. It is time for them to go.”
The Executive Committee is the arm of the SBC responsible for managing the day-to-day affairs of the SBC while when the convention is not in session. Unfortunately, the Executive Committee has become a rogue entity doing actual harm to the SBC.
A few months ago, correspondence emerged between Russell Moore, then president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and J.D. Greear, then president of the SBC, demonstrating the inner workings of the Executive Committee. Among other offenses, rank bullying was revealed. Leadership and members of the Executive Committee, shocked and appalled by a conference on sexual abuse, threatened Moore. Their goal, it seemed, was to keep a cloud over Moore in an attempt to silence him and anyone who would speak the truth about sexual abuse.
This is not the behavior of people engaged in the mission of God. It is power politics and a tell-tale sign of a spent movement. It is time for them to go.
“When the Executive Committee should have reacted with shock and outrage about sexual abuse, it instead has treated survivors with contempt.”
When the Executive Committee should have reacted with shock and outrage about sexual abuse, it instead has treated survivors with contempt. One such survivor was referred to as a “whore” by an Executive Committee member. Another survivor was referred to as “Potiphar’s wife.” The Executive Committee even allowed a report to stand in Baptist Press, an entity overseen by the Executive Committee, insinuating that a survivor, Jennifer Lyell, was in an inappropriate relationship with a pastor. Lyell, who was a vice president at Lifeway at the time, was abused, not caught in an adulterous affair.
To make matters worse, Mike Stone, who is the immediate past chairman of the Executive Committee, had a confrontation with a survivor at the SBC annual meeting who recounted the following conversation, “He said I’m doing more harm than good to the SBC, and I’m not doing right by the survivors, and he said the Southern Baptist Convention is bigger than my problems.” While the content of their conversation cannot be independently verified, it was witnessed by several people, and the fact that there was a conversation that left a survivor in tears is not in dispute. The Executive Committee has treated survivors with contempt on multiple occasions, and that is not in serous dispute either. It is time. It is time for them to go.
The classic mistake institutions make when facing crises is to protect the institution and not the innocent. Ronnie Floyd, Executive Committee president, has done just this. On top of the institutional foot dragging to prevent a transparent investigation, Floyd has demonstrated that the survivors of sexual abuse are not his first priority.
“Concern for the image of the SBC and not for the survivors was Floyd’s focus at the time.”
In a released audio recording of a meeting with other denominational offices, he said his concern was not what survivors might say, but to, “preserve the base.” Further, Floyd wondered why abuse survivors were not restricted in what they could say at an SBC conference. Concern for the image of the SBC and not for the survivors was Floyd’s focus at the time. With recent actions of the Executive Committee under Floyd’s leadership it appears to remain the case. It is time. It is time for them to go.
One of the typical tactics of spent ideological movements is to create enemies. In a shocking display of intellectual bankruptcy, some within the SBC have found a new enemy: Albert Mohler. Mohler has been president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1993 and was an important voice the creation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. His loyalty to the denomination never has been questioned. Suddenly, however, some in the SBC are describing Mohler as a “moderate.”
Consider Mohler’s theological commitments. He believes in inerrancy, believes women should not be allowed to preach, has no women on the theology faculty at the seminary he leads and is an outspoken critic of secularism. Calling Mohler a “moderate” is like calling Jesse Helms a “progressive.” Those who would say it immediately lose all credibility on the subject. Credibility, however, is not relevant here.
“Having an enemy to denounce is what flailing leaders need.”
Having an enemy to denounce is what flailing leaders need. The conservative resurgence’s leaders are now feeding on themselves. The time has come. It is time for them to go.
The Executive Committee has struggled to follow the will of the convention messengers regarding the Sexual Abuse Task Force. The committee was instructed by messengers to fund an independent investigation and waive attorney-client privilege for that investigation. It took three meetings and shaming by every SBC seminary president and many pastors and denominational leaders for the committee finally to agree to what had been asked.
Amid this impasse, Floyd wrote an article about going forward together while offering no solutions on how to get there. The final vote to follow the will of the messengers happened with no leadership from him. He and the Executive Committee have forfeited all trust from SBC members and churches. It is time for them to go.
Layne Wallace serves as senior pastor of Rosemary Baptist Church, Roanoke Rapids, N.C., and is author of Karl Barth’s Concept of Nothingness: A Critical Evaluation and Loving God in the Darkness, an upcoming release by Smyth and Helwys.
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