How the Southern Baptist Convention rejected populist fundamentalism
“It is a pivotal moment. We decide as a people whether we are going to stay on target. Are we going to be distracted by politics? Or are we going to take seriously the gospel and the difference it makes, the transformational difference it makes in people’s lives?“
– Pastor Ed Litton, newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention
In the 1960s, William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk opposed the John Birch Society. There were many points of disagreement, but the main one was the Bircher’s rabid conspiracy theories which claimed that the civil rights movement and much of the US government were secretly in cahoots with communist opponents in the US.
The details of this story are messy and complicated. But the overall story is true: Conservatism as a movement has been saved, renewed and refocused for the next 30 years and Buckley’s rejection of the Birches and their ilk has been joined by the next three Republican presidents.
Over the past five years, people may have wondered if such a renewal could happen again. Could a populist insurgency against a traditional conservative institution still be defeated? And if yes, how ?
Now, last week in Nashville the Southern Baptists demonstrated that he is possible to defeat a well-organized populist-fundamentalist takeover. The lessons of this moment are worth studying.
Since 2015, populist insurgents have found it easy to take control of existing conservative institutions. The playbook is simple: accuse your opponents of colluding with the Left in an elite plot to destroy the Empty Fields. Whether or not these accusations can be substantiated is irrelevant. Once they are done, the debate is frozen to the point of accusation and the defendants are on the defensive, soon routed. Fear of accusation is often enough to get everyone to comply.
Last week a number of pastors and experts tried to inject such populism into America’s largest evangelical institution with the same approach. But they hit a wall. In selecting a new president for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Ed Litton, the lesser-known and most traditionally conservative evangelical candidate, defeated Mike Stone, the populist-fundamentalist candidate backed by the insurgent conservative Baptist network which had formed into a religio-political machine.
Additionally, a massive two-year push to make critical race theory the great enemy that Southern Baptists specifically must oppose everywhere has given way to a more positive statement on a biblical way to combat racism. called On Scripture Sufficiency for Race and Racial Reconciliation.
At almost all important points the populist-fundamentalist movement has been defeated.
So Why has the SBC not fallen into a more reactionary posture like almost all other conservative institutions have done in the past five years? And what can we learn from this resurgence of current conservatism?
The answer begins with the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention has been and is a biblically conservative evangelical denomination – and its adherents know it. The accusations of the populist-fundamentalist wing trying to take over did not capture the attention of the majority of convention delegates.
The SBC is deeply conservative theologically, morally and politically. Its leaders are conservative. Its churches, pastors, confession of faith, and ethical and moral positions are theologically conservative. When criticism was leveled by fundamentalist Baptists mirroring political criticism from the populist right that the SBC was not conservative enough, these accusations were, on the face of it, absurd.
When Russell Moore and various seminary teachers and pastors were accused of being “liberal,” the majority of Southern Baptists (especially those attending the convention) did not fall for the trap. The truth began to prevail.
BThe best example of how truth won out was the SBC’s resolution on scriptures and race. Since 2018, fundamentalist factions of the SBC have expressed concern that SBC seminaries and churches are infiltrated by warriors of social justice and critical race theory.
Lectures, blog posts, tweets and videos have alleged that the SBC leadership has been overtaken by “the left” and has allied with Marxists and critical race theorists to make the SBC “wake up” .
But in reality, the SBC has affirmed biblical racial reconciliation and biblical justice for decades. Our confession of faith demands it, as do many previous resolutions and motions over the years.
Instead of giving in to the pressure to condemn critical race theory as the major race issue, the Resolutions Committee, headed by Dr James Merritt, a pastor of a large church in Georgia, former president of SBC and respected statesman, decided to continue the SBC’s decades-long tradition of opposing racism and ungodly ideologies by affirming a biblical approach to race, racism, reconciliation and injustice.
The key here was that the SBC resisted the call for radicalism by digging deeper into its historical foundations, remembering the good work they started, and then doubling down.
FOur paragraphs in the final section of this year’s race resolution are worth taking a close look at because they show how to reject insurgent attacks by reaffirming an institution’s core values:
RESOLVED, that we reject any theory or worldview that views humanity’s primary problem as anything other than sin against God and the ultimate solution as anything other than redemption found only in Christ.
This shifts the discussion from reacting to political grievances about the CRT to a biblical worldview. The source of evil for all mankind comes when we assert our own will and our way on God and others. Sometimes this manifests itself in racism – and it has specifically been the case in America throughout our history. But Southern Baptists believe the problem runs deeper and can only be faced and redeemed by Jesus.
RESOLVED, We therefore reject any theory or worldview that denies that racism, oppression or discrimination is ultimately rooted in anything other than sin.
Here, the SBC explicitly links the scourge of racism to the deepest and most intractable problem humanity faces – a problem that is impossible to overcome or educate on its own. Racism, oppression and discrimination are reaffirmed here as fundamental spiritual issues arising from human sin. This does not mean that racism should not be approached structurally, but it does mean that we must understand these issues as part of the core of our human experience and, as such, understand that they cannot be addressed. by purely mechanistic approaches. .
RESOLVED, that, understanding that we live in a fallen world, we reaffirm the 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, which includes: âWe apologize to all Afro -Americans for tolerating and / or perpetuating systemic racism in our lifetime; and we sincerely repent of the racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27), âapplying this provision to each instance of racism.
In reaffirming a rejection of both individual and systemic racism, Southern Baptists agree with the contention that racism can be Following that personal, that it has developed in history and has shaped and worked through our structures and institutions, and that these past developments affect us to this day and may manifest in new ways.
The resolution reminds us of the great Dutch Reformed truth first formulated by Jodocus van Lodenstein in 1674 in Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, which says: “The Church is reformed and always [in need of] to be reformed according to the Word of God. This movement of constant repentance and awareness of how sin can affect the two the individual and the systems oblige us to constantly renew ourselves root of what we believe, who is the person and work of Jesus. We must constantly dig into the old truth and be reformed not in a moment or by a quest for power or importance, but by fidelity to truth, justice, mercy and humility.
RESOLVED, We affirm that our reconciliation in Christ gives us the opportunity and responsibility to pursue reconciliation with others so that we can display and share the hope of the gospel with the world.
Racial and ethnic justice and reconciliation are not additions or distractions to a Christian’s mission – they are essential parts of everything we do. Getting it right is the key to returning to our core values ââthat will shape and support us.
THELast week in Nashville, in the midst of a full-fledged populist-fundamentalist assault with the intention of gaining control, the Southern Baptists maintained their hard-fought and deep-rooted positions by acknowledging problems and failures, by standing by themselves. repentant, clearly opposing the false accusations leveled against them, and digging deep into their core values ââand ancient transcendent truths. They kept the ship afloat and moving forward by coming back to the Scriptures and agreeing to keep reforming, keep repenting – and keep receiving and giving grace.
Renew the center, save the whole. Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us about how good things can be kept.