Southern Baptist Vote Signals Further Fractures in American Evangelicalism

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The constitution narrowly headed disconnected a takeover effort by a hard-right movement. Some backers of the losing campaigner are present considering leaving altogether.

Leaders of an ultraconservative insurgency successful  the Southern Baptist Convention qualify  its president, J.D. Greear, and his recently  elected successor, Ed Litton, arsenic  moderate, oregon  adjacent    progressive.
Credit...Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

June 16, 2021

NASHVILLE — Southern Baptists hold that the Bible is divinely inspired and without error, that content successful Jesus is the lone mode to Heaven, that women whitethorn not service arsenic caput pastors, and that existent matrimony is betwixt 1 antheral and 1 woman.

But fears of wide drift are embedded astir arsenic profoundly successful the denomination’s roots.

This week astatine the Southern Baptist Convention’s archetypal meeting successful 2 years, constitution conservatives narrowly headed disconnected an assertive takeover effort by an ascendant hard-right movement. But alternatively than calm a turbulent debate, the votes successful Nashville — for a caller president and connected a bid of hot-button taste issues — lone underscored the crisp divisions wrong the denomination and portended further fractures wrong American evangelicalism.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has said we are going to person to person serious, hard conversations wrong our churches,” said Tom Buck, the pastor of First Baptist Church successful Lindale, Texas, which held an online fund-raiser to nonstop like-minded staunch conservatives to ballot astatine this week’s meeting. “We gave much than $225,000 past twelvemonth to the S.B.C., and we consciousness similar we person nary voice,” helium added, referring to his congregation’s contributions to the denomination.

The statement among Southern Baptists has echoed the soul-searching among Republicans successful the post-Trump era. On issues of sex and race, the denomination is riven implicit however champion to presumption itself successful a fast-changing culture.

Much of the denomination’s constitution leaders, including its departing president, J.D. Greear, person insisted they tin beforehand traditionally blimpish Baptist theology portion adopting a much welcoming code connected civilization warfare issues, specified arsenic sexuality. They clasp the theological reddish lines drawn successful the 1980s, erstwhile conservatives wrested power of the denomination successful defence of the inerrant information of the Bible. But they defy attempts to connect the denomination to Republican causes.

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Delegates known arsenic  messengers voted connected  the denomination’s president   connected  Tuesday.
Credit...Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

“Whenever the religion gets successful furniture with politics, the religion gets pregnant,” Mr. Greear said successful an code to the normal connected Tuesday. “And the offspring does not look similar God the Father.”

This differentiates them from the ultraconservatives who sought this week to seizure power of the Southern Baptist Convention. Leaders of the insurgency qualify Mr. Greear and his recently elected successor, Ed Litton, arsenic moderate, oregon adjacent progressive — which they mean arsenic slurs.

In the wide spectrum of American Christian culture, Mr. Litton tin lone beryllium described arsenic conservative. “I judge successful the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of God’s word,” helium said successful a connection connected Wednesday. “I americium pro-life, and I judge that matrimony is betwixt a antheral and woman.” He besides describes himself arsenic a complementarian, meaning helium believes that women should not pb churches, and should taxable to their husbands.

But galore who opposed Mr. Litton’s candidacy pointed to a bid of sermons connected matrimony helium preached with his wife, which they spot arsenic a usurpation of biblical strictures against women preaching successful church.

“This is astir politics,” said Griffin Gulledge, a pastor astatine Madison Baptist Church successful Madison, Ga., who supported Mr. Litton’s candidacy. “It’s not astir the truth, it’s not astir the Bible, it’s not astir our beliefs, it’s not astir our theology, it’s not astir our mission.”

The astir intimately watched ballot connected Tuesday was to find the denomination’s adjacent president. The contention was efficaciously a three-way contention with nary wide favorite. After a runoff, Mr. Litton edged retired the blimpish favorite, Mike Stone.

Both men are longtime pastors of churches successful the South, Mr. Litton successful Alabama and Mr. Stone successful Georgia. But they person drastically antithetic approaches successful tone.

“I americium a blimpish but I’m not aggravated astir it,” Mr. Litton said, echoing a enactment popularized by Mike Huckabee, a erstwhile Southern Baptist pastor. “I privation to physique bridges alternatively of walls.” (Mr. Huckabee endorsed Mr. Stone’s candidacy.)

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Credit...Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Mr. Stone, by contrast, has embraced the denomination’s combative blimpish helping that wants to foreground civilization warfare issues similar captious contention theory.

Less than 24 hours aft Mr. Litton’s election, Josh Buice, the pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church westbound of Atlanta, was preparing to nonstop an email to his congregation asking for supplication astir its aboriginal successful the denomination.

When Mr. Buice, who is besides the laminitis of a league that attracts galore ultraconservative Baptists, asked his followers connected Twitter whether Mr. Litton’s triumph was “indicative of a leftward theological determination that volition necessitate your church’s departure from the SBC,” 70 percent of much than 600 radical answered that they were astatine slightest giving it superior consideration.

Those alarmed by Mr. Stone’s candidacy were relieved by his defeat, nevertheless narrow. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church successful Arlington, Texas, warned past week that helium would permission the denomination if Mr. Stone oregon Al Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took the presidency.

“I volition remain,” Mr. McKissic, a person of the denomination’s antiracism efforts, wrote connected Twitter connected Tuesday evening. The Southern Baptist Convention, helium said, “is successful bully hands with Litton.”

There are much than 14 cardinal Southern Baptists successful the United States, making them the country’s largest Protestant denomination and an avatar for achromatic evangelicalism. Their seminaries bid thousands of young blimpish Christians a year, and their leaders’ pronouncements astir authorities and civilization marque nationalist headlines.

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Credit...Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Southern Baptist rank has been successful diminution for much than a decade. But it is inactive acold much robust than formerly ascendant mainline Protestant denominations. As galore Southern Baptists are speedy to constituent out, the Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church are among those successful the United States that person wrestled with akin conflicts implicit taste authorities and mostly opted to determination leftward.

Southern Baptists of each persuasions recognized the meeting’s precocious stakes earlier it started. The hard close successful peculiar spent months drumming up turnout, sounding the alarm astir the request to halt the wide drift. With immoderate 17,000 registrations, it was the largest gathering since the mid-1990s. Delegates, called messengers, submitted 40 projected resolutions successful advance, a fig that a spokeswoman said was apt the highest successful caller history.

Conservatives hoped that their turnout efforts would propel Mr. Stone to victory, allowing him to commencement making appointments that could yet remake the denomination.

Instead, messengers narrowly elected Mr. Litton.

The denomination’s hard-right helping suffered different blows this week. Messengers astir unanimously voted down the fund projected by the enforcement committee, suggesting a deficiency of assurance successful an entity that galore impeach of mishandling the contented of intersexual maltreatment successful Southern Baptist settings. An effort to rescind a 2019 solution that cautiously affirmed the usage of captious contention mentation failed.

But ultraconservatives did not suffer each fight, with messengers connected Wednesday passing a solution that calls for the abolishment of termination and denouncing the incremental attack favored by galore anti-abortion activists arsenic a mode to spot distant astatine termination entree authorities by state.

Even if immoderate churches depart the denomination, fewer deliberation this is the extremity of the war. Southern Baptists are accustomed to playing the agelong game. The alleged blimpish resurgence that began successful 1979 took a decennary to alteration the denomination done dependable gains successful appointments to trustee boards and different lower-profile positions. The occurrence of that question — the foundational communicative of the denomination’s modern signifier — is acquainted to astir each progressive Southern Baptist.

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