Thursday, March 11, 2021

Trouble in the Southern Baptist Convention

Beth Moore, a prominent Bible teacher who has since the early 1980s has been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, has announced that she is leaving that denomination and no longer writing for its publisher. This is big news, and it's certainly no snap decision on her part. She's put up with a lot over the years. Her departure comes amid turmoil in the denomination over race relations and lgtbq+ inclusion, and following a lot of very negative exposure in the press over how churches and ministries in the organization have sheltered child predators. 

Growing up in a troubled home where she suffered sexual abuse, Moore found sanctuary in local Baptist church. In the aforementioned RNS article she stated that "[m]y local church, growing up, saved my life...[s]o many times, my home was my unsafe place. My church was my safe place." In the mid-1990s her first book was published by Lifeway, the SBC publishing house. With her recent announcement we've also learned that while her many books will continue to be distributed by Lifeway, they will no longer be responsible for publishing them, and they also won't be managing her live events going forward. 

To be clear, she hasn't necessarily departed from the faith tradition generally. "I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists,” Moore reportedly said. At this early stage even this is apparently in some doubt, though. Moore and her husband are visiting a new church 'not tied as closely to the SBC,' which leads me to believe that it must have some connection. At the same time, she's evidently considered Lutheran and Presbyterian churches. 

What I don't see happening is her departing from evangelicalism entirely, at least not in the near-term. She remains firmly pro-life, and has given every indication that she remains at home within the evangelical framework. Whether that ever changes isn't particularly relevant, in my view. She has shown the courage that many in the evangelical world have failed to exhibit in the Trump years. She spoke up about his misogyny and acts of sexual harassment, and the while male establishment came down hard on her.

During the “Truth Matters Conference,” held Oct. 16-18 at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he is pastor, MacArthur and other panelists were asked to give their gut reactions to one- or two-word phrases. 
Asked to respond to the phrase “Beth Moore,” the name of a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher, MacArthur replied, “Go home.” 
Sounds of laughter and applause could be heard in response during a recording of the session, which was posted online. 
MacArthur — a leading proponent of Reformed theology and of complementarianism, the idea that women and men have different roles to play in the church and in society — was apparently responding to a controversy this past summer when Moore noted on Twitter that she spoke at a megachurch on a Sunday morning.

Her tweet led to accusations that Moore was undermining Southern Baptist teaching, which bars women from holding the office of pastor in churches.

John MacArthur's Calvinist theology would be more at home in the Presbyterian Church in America or the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, but instead of taking his shabby bill of goods to either denomination or one similar, he's spent decades disseminating it in the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has largely soaked it up, as it's in line with the ideology that led to the conservative takeover of the denomination that began in 1979. Based on his own words and behavior, MacArthur appears to be a bigoted sexist, the sort that would have been perfectly at home in the 1950s or 1850s.

Dealing with the hate of angry old white men in her denomination was wearing on her, when she came across this passage, as translated in the English Standard Version:

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”(Galatians 2:14)

Moore says that the words 'not in step with the truth of the gospel' stuck with her, and essentially she realized that the Trump-loving ways of SBC leadership were aptly described by the phrase. 

As I mentioned above, this is only the most recent of the troubles to roll over the SBC. In 2019 the Houston Chronicle did a full expose in 6 parts on the sexual abuse prevalent within the denomination. More recently efforts to confront racism in the denomination, which split from the northern Baptists in 1845 in order to endorse and maintain the enslavement of human beings, have been met with an ugly backlash. Consider this from December 2020, reported by Religion News Service:

The last we knew, the Southern Baptist Convention was trying to lay the ghost of its pro-slavery beginnings. It had repented of that original sin, included a condemnation of racism in the 2000 revision of its “Faith and Message,” sought to bump up Black membership and, in 2012, even chose the Rev. Fred Luter, a New Orleans pastor, to be its first Black president.

So we were somewhat surprised when, a few days after Thanksgiving, the presidents of its six seminaries celebrated the 20th anniversary of the revision by declaring that “affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message.” When a number of prominent Black SBC pastors — four and counting — thereupon announced their departure from the denomination, we were not at all surprised.

Those old white guys really love feeling superior to others, whether they be people of color, women, or anyone who isn't also Southern Baptist. They are making it as clear as possible that the Southern Baptist Convention is only for people who look like them, and for those willing to submit to their superiority. 

Then there's the matter of ltbtq+ exclusion. There's no way that the heteronormative white Southern Baptist patriarchy is going to accept that sort of diversity, and they have plenty of Bible verses to back them up in their willfully ignorant hate. And so, it should come as no surprise that affirming Baptist congregations are being expelled.


A church in St. Matthews was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on Tuesday due to policies deemed too inclusive of LGBTQ people.

During a meeting in Nashville, the SBC's executive committee voted to oust St. Matthews Baptist Church and Towne View Baptist Church, in Kennesaw, Georgia, for "affirmation of homosexuality," said Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a member of the convention's executive committee, in a tweet

St. Matthews Baptist was among more than 12 churches that lost their affiliation with the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2018 because they made financial contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had recently lifted a ban on hiring LGBTQ employees.

The Southern Baptist Convention has long been an exception to the numeric decline of denominations in the United States, but just last summer it came to light that the denomination suffered a 2% drop in membership in one year. That might seem smaller than it really is, and I truly believe it's just the beginning. For many years the SBC and other evangelical denominations benefited from gaining the conservative members that the mainline Protestant churches were shedding, and I rather suspect that well has very nearly run dry. With the terrible reputation they are creating for themselves, I only see the pace of their decline accelerating in years to come. 

Will Beth Moore's departure make a difference in this regard? Maybe, but then again maybe not. As one woman said to the Washington Post:

“Most women are focused on raising their kiddos, and they love their local church. They may not realize their church affiliates with the SBC,” she said. “It’s an encouragement to me to see someone stand for their convictions, but I’m not going to leave my own church for it.” 

The mothers she describes might stick around, but I doubt their kids will after they head off to college.