Here to Stay: The Story of a Reluctant Baptist, Part Four
Posted by Wes Spears
I’m breaking pattern here. I said I was going to start with Anabaptist figures to attempt to explain my Baptist identity. However, that’s not where I decided I wanted to go next. So, here’s my post on the events of the past sixty or so years in Baptist Life in the United States.
Most of the problems with the Baptist Identity that I have are rooted in the events that have unfolded over the past fifty years. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the Southern Baptist saw a great deal of change. The nature of that change was methodical and calculated. It was the execution of a plan that was brilliantly thought out and startlingly well executed. It is a story that no one tells, because — by my estimation — everyone involved is too hurt, bitter, or ashamed to confront it publically.
There have been a few who have spoken out against what happened in the Southern Baptist Convention, however, and I am greatly in debt to the work of one such individual. Robison James worked on an account of the events in the Southern Baptist Convention for years, a work that went through three editions. The first was published before the events had actually concluded and the final work was published in 1999, shortly before the final blow in the fundamental shift in the SBC.
Hear now, simply a chronology of those events. I will not aim to skew the understanding of these events, but merely report the details. You can be the judge.
In 1961, some in the convention criticize Ralph Elliott (Professor of Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist) for a controversial book on Genesis. His book was recalled from Broadman Press (now LifeWay). Also in the 1960s, the Broadman Bible Commentary is published, only to have the first volume also withdrawn for its commentary on Genesis. A “Revised” edition is now in circulation and the original is difficult to find.
In 1967, Paige Patterson (a doctoral student at the time) met with Judge Paul Pressler (of Houston, Texas) in Café du Monde in New Orleans to discuss the state of the Southern Baptist Convention.
By 1974, the “Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship” has been formed and they identify the concept of “inerrancy” to be the fundamental issue at stake in the Southern Baptist Convention. The then current edition of the “Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists: Presenting their History, Doctrine, Polity, Life, Leadership, Organization, and Work” does not contain an entry or reference to such a doctrine.
In 1979, Patterson and Pressler lead a campaign in fifteen states to establish new leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Voters are bused to the convention and leave after voting Adrian Rogers into presidency of the convention on the first ballot, an unprecedented feat in convention life. Pressler and Patterson organize their faction from the skyboxes of the Summit, where the convention was held.
In 1980, Pressler announces his and Patterson’s plan to introduce new leadership to the convention. They planned to elect their candidates president each election until their candidates had the opportunity to appoint members of their faction in majority on each SBC board. He calls it “going for the jugular.”
In 1984, Patterson announces that his faction is taking down instances of what he calls “liberalism” in the convention. This is accomplished, he claims, by students in the seminaries recording professors’ lectures.
In 1985, a “Peace Committee” is formed to promote reconciliation in the convention.
- The Peace Committee recommends that hiring practices in the SBC and its agencies reflect “the most commonly held beliefs” of the denomination.
- Baptists leave the SBC to form the Southern Baptist Alliance. This organization becomes the separate body known as the Alliance of Baptists in 1992.
- The board of trustees at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has shifted to a majority of the Patterson-Pressler faction. They remove faculty from hiring practices and instruct the president to be the sole consultant on new hires. The president is told to use the Peace Committee’s resolution as a guideline. Randall Lolley, the current president, resigns in protest.
- The Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) begins use the Peace Committee’s resolution in its hiring practices.
- Richard Land is also put in charge of the new Christian Life Commission (now the Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission, still run by Richard Land).
In 1989, the new Christian Life Commission is tasked with most of the duties of the Baptist Joint Committee, which remains uncontrolled by the Patterson-Pressler faction.
- The Baptist Joint Committee has its budget reduced by 87%.
- The majority trustees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are now of the Patterson-Pressler faction. They give students permission to tape classes and Trustee Jerry Johnson accuses the current Southern president, Roy Honeycutt, and some of his faculty of heresy.
- Schools like Baylor and Furman ease their way out of Southern Baptist control.
- The editors of Baptist Press are fired by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee for reporting on these kind of events.
- Meetings of Baptists who will eventually form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship take place in Atlanta.
- Southern Baptist Theological Seminary makes inerrancy a litmus test for faculty.
- Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) president Lloyd Elder is forced to resign.
- The Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) defunds a European seminary because of its theological perspective.
- The Baptist Joint Committee is abolished in favor of the Christian Life Commission.
- The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is formed.
- Paige Patterson becomes president of Southeastern Seminary.
- Keith Parks resigns as president of the Foreign Missions Board in protest. He joins the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as missions director.
- Roy Honeycutt steps down as president of Southern Seminary at the trustees’ orders. Albert Mohler, a convert to the Patterson-Pressler faction, is named the new president.
- The Southern Baptist Convention decides to stop supporting the Baptist Joint Committee because it does not advocate public prayer in schools and religious school vouchers.
- Members of President Bill Clinton’s church are refused seating at the annual meeting.
- Southern Baptist seminaries are no longer allowed to host booths at Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meetings by order of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Molly Marshall, now president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, is forced to resign from Southern Seminary.
- The Southern Baptist Convention begins to refuse funds given by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for supporting missionaries.
- The Executive Committee requests that ties with the Cooperative Baptists be formerly severed.
- Diana Garland is fired as head of the Carver School of Social Work at Southern Seminary by Albert Mohler. The president of the Foreign Missions Board sends a letter to pastors and Women’s Missionary Union directors asking them to pray that the Women’s Missionary Unions stop working with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
- A trustee compares the Women’s Missionary Union’s work with the Cooperative Baptists with adultery.
- The Carver School of Social Work disappears from Southern Seminary.
- The librarian at Southern Seminary is fired for a letter written to the convention president.
- New Orleans Seminary chooses to withdraw invitations to teach to adjunct faculty who work with the Cooperative Baptists.
By 1998, there has been 70% turnover of faculty at Southern Seminary in seven years.
In 1998, Paige Patterson is elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, 31 years after his meeting with Pressler in New Orleans.
In 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message is redrafted under the strong influence of Albert Mohler.
In 2005, the Baptist Joint Committee becomes the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, no longer connected to the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Baptist Universities like Baylor, Furman, Belmont, and Samford are still not under the control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Organizations like the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Alliance of Baptists, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship do not accept the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.
- The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is also still active among Baptist Universities and in Washington, D.C.
- Not all state conventions were compliant or are compliant today with the Executive Committee’s request to stop working with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which continues to fund missions and other Baptist efforts across the world.
Those are the facts, and they remain central in my personal struggle with my Baptist heritage. How can I inherit a tradition that has undergone such trouble? How can I address these wounds? How can wrongs be righted? Where do we go from here?
These are questions I haven’t answered yet. If you feel like you have some, leave a comment or send me an email. This is a story that needs telling, so spread the word.
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out.”
Isaiah 1:16-18a, NRSV
About Wes SpearsWes Spears is a student of religion currently enrolled at Samford University. Read more: http://reluctantbaptist.com/about-the-author/.
Posted on 19 February 2011, in Church, Current Events, Uncategorized and tagged "Going for the Jugular", 1963, 2000, Adrian Rogers, Albert Mohler, Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Faith and Message, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baptist Identity, Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Baptist Life, Baptist Press, Baptists, Baylor University, Belmont University, Bill Clinton, Broadman Press, Carver School of Social Work, Christian Life Commission, Controversy, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Diana Garland, Furman University, Home Mission Board, Inerrancy, Jerry Johnson, Keith Parks, Liberalism, LifeWay, Lloyd Elder, Molly Marshall, North American Mission Board, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Peace Committee, Ralph Elliott, Randall Lolley, Richard Land, Robison James, Roy Honeycutt, Samford University, SBC, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Alliance, Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention Committee, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptists, State Conventions, Takeover, United States, Women's Missionary Union. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.