What went wrong with the Southern Baptists? In one word, fear.
A February 9, 2019, Houston Chronicle article revealed 700 victims of Southern Baptist sexual abuse over 20 years. But, before the Houston Chroniclearticle, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) had already set the stage for being left out of the twenty-first century. Starting in 1979, the SBC began circling the wagons.
First, the fundamentalists gained control of the convention. Second, they pushed moderate- and liberal-minded Christians out, leaving no counterpoint to fundamentalist ideas. Third, they codified a male-only clergy. The environment defined their identity by who they excluded instead of God’s love or what Jesus offers humanity.
What were these fears?
Fear of Change
When theologians began deepening an understanding of who God is, new ideas bring about change. It can upset the apple cart. What one has always believed does not remain the same. Change comes with these new ideas. And, change can be frightening. This fear of change made some people desire for some imagined good old days.
Fear of New Ideas
One of these new ideas included honest questions about the biblical creation account. Did God create the world in seven 24-hour days? If so, how? What did it look like? Why did God confine God-self to seven 24-hour days? Is time (like a day) God’s idea or a human construct?
God created the world.
Answering these questions might lead to a new idea, like the following:
- No one was there to witness it.
- God could have created the world in any manner God wanted.
- The Genesis creation account is a theological story about God and the way the world came to be.
If someone is open to new ideas, then this creation story is not a threat. Fundamentalists did not have this comfort level with God’s ability to transcend our understanding. Their discomfort led them to reject new ideas.
Fear of Other People
What if we include women? People of color? Members of the LGBTQ community? By limiting the priesthood (ordained ministry, in Baptist parlance), the SBC did not have to wrestle with a fear of other people. Life could remain ordered—a white (usually) male leads the church and the home.
In other words…
Fears come in many forms. When Southern Baptists began letting fears drive their decision-making process, the stage was set for male dominance and oppressing female voices. Sexual abuse is one byproduct of letting fear, and not God, drive the ship.
God help the Southern Baptists. God help them reckon with their sins. God help all of us welcome everyone to the table and give each person an equal voice.