COVID-19 Completes Liberal Takeover of Southern Baptist Convention
Crisis and upheaval have brought out the best in some (think of Ulysses Grant) and the worst in others (think of Vidkun Quisling). This holds true of Christian churches and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In previous columns, my colleagues and I have raised red flags about the SBC, including corruption and leftward drift. One sees this in executive leadership (see this about president J.D. Greear), in missions (see here and here), in the management of seminaries (see here), in the workings of the SBC's publishing company (see here and here), in its political advocacy (see here), in its gatherings (see here), and in funding ties (see here, here, and here).
We had a swampy SBC that was bad enough by March 1, 2020. But then came COVID, and it got even worse. Four ugly outcomes have brought the SBC's problems into clear focus.
Outcome 1: SBC puts petty feud over COVID relief or fairness
On March 9, 2020, Randy Adams said the SBC's North American Mission Board "informed me and our leadership at the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) ... that they will end our joint-funding agreement for evangelism and church planting, and will stop virtually all funding through the NWBC as of September 30, 2021[.]"
On March 7, 2020, CNBC News showed that Washington State had clocked 102 of the United States' 395 cases and 16 of the country's 19 deaths. Why would the SBC crush a regional Baptist network when it was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak?
The Northwest regional director, Randy Adams, had written three public posts (here, here, and here) exposing the Convention's shocking waste of cooperative funds. More urban and multicultural-minded church plants had cost a lot but failed to turn around the SBC's decline. Because of these barely solvent church plants, a large number of on-paper churches with only a handful of people in them had the privilege to send messengers to the annual meeting. Thus arose a massive voting bloc to stack elections in favor of the nepotistic elite that had funded the foundering church plants. This makes for a lethal cycle. In a doom loop, a self-perpetuating oligarchy drained the SBC's money and pushed it to the left, thereby driving away increasing numbers of conservatives.
Randy Adams's blog had pointed to this cancerous situation. More importantly, he had been nominated to run against Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler in the 2020 elections for SBC president. As Alan Atchison at Capstone Report pointed out, Mohler's protégés had gained control of the entire Convention by 2018. Regardless of his reputation as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, it was his coterie that had set the SBC on its doom loop. The election of 2020 was going to become a referendum on Albert Mohler's legacy.
SBC committees had rejected resolutions supporting ex-gay therapy and denouncing corrupt nepotism while approving an unpopular promotion of critical race theory and intersectionality. Anger still simmered over the 2018 defenestration of Paige Patterson, compounded by the obvious direction signaled by Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries' simultaneous decisions to fire me and hire feminist Karen Swallow Prior (see this essay).
The nomination of Randy Adams presented one of few possibilities for a conservative pushback against Al Mohler. But the SBC sent a loud and clear message: resisting the status quo would come at a serious cost.
Outcome #2: The SBC elite votes itself into power without a convention vote
Alan Atchison at Capstone Report tells us in a March 24, 2020, post that the SBC's leaders cited COVID concerns to cancel the entire annual meeting. Along with this came news that the executives leading the SBC voted unanimously not to reschedule the meeting or arrange for digital voting. They cited difficulties in scheduling and a constitutional clause that forbade long-distance elections. They voted unanimously to block any chance of new people being voted in — and to give themselves another year of power by fiat.
Atchison notes, "This cancellation also draws to the front a proposal made several times in the past and championed by one of this year's presidential candidates — Randy Adams. Adams has promoted online voting as a solution to encourage more grassroots participation. Naturally, SBC Elites have previously opposed this; however, perhaps this Pandemic could highlight the need to think outside the box[.]"
Given how much buzz there was about conservative protests against the ruling elite, this smelled cynical. Why not reschedule a meeting for two months later? Why not issue an emergency order for special distance election arrangements? Reformation Charlotte published a piece with the not-too-subtle title "SBC President and Officers Vote Unanimously to Keep Themselves in Power Another Year amid COVID-19."
Outcome #3: SBC chiefs take a strong stand against religious liberty
As quarantine orders intensified, a struggle brewed over religious liberty. The First Amendment presents an ironclad safeguard against government's banning of religious assemblies. Rules that forbid gatherings called to worship God violate both free exercise of religion and freedom of assembly. This is in addition to normal Christian concern for the long-lasting damage inflicted on people by a protracted lockdown resulting in joblessness, evictions, bankruptcies, loss of health insurance, and mental breakdowns.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Albert Mohler turned to the Washington Post to announce that they supported government enforcement of bans that violated the First Amendment. Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed Moore for a March 24, 2020 article: "He said he's concerned that some people seem to be talking about human lives as expendable, while others are talking about rationing health-care resources. Such ideas go against basic Christian tenets, and Americans must uphold the dignity of every human life."
Albert Mohler also wrote a Post column entitled "Mandatory social distancing is not a threat to religious liberty. It's essential to humanity." On the same day as Mohler's column, the Bezos-owned paper ran an editorial called "Foot-dragging GOP governors are imperiling the whole country."
During a time when pastors were being arrested for holding church services, Kentucky police were reporting the license plate numbers of cars parked for drive-in church to public health authorities, and thugs were laying nails in church parking spaces, neither Mohler's nor Moore's sanguine support for suspending the First Amendment could be cast as helpful. As one Baptist preacher tweeted on April 10, 2020, "[r]eligious liberties are being violated right and left, and the bulk of what we're getting from [Moore] is a daily segment of the books Dr. Moore is reading in exile. Dr. Moore, you're still being paid to lead the Ethics and RELIGIOUS LIBERTY Commission, right?"
Both leaders followed up with bland and typically too-late statements asking governments not to take the lockdown orders too far. But the damage was already done with their declarations siding with Caesar against well meaning Baptists whom they had unfairly caricatured. The March 24 statement by Moore implied that Baptists who questioned severe lockdowns were simply unchristian and willing to let people die without a care. The April 3 column by Albert Mohler dismissed common worries about the First Amendment being overruled; despite his condescension, he was wrong, and the everyday Baptists decrying the state's emergency powers were right.
As Tom Littleton has pointed out, we must face the possibility that these disturbing compromises have something to do with billions of dollars in relief funding coming down the pipeline. Are they playing extra-nice with civil authorities to make sure not to endanger government money? And if they will compromise on something like Easter Sunday services, what will stop them from compromising on issues like LGBT?
Outcome #4: Baptist seminary blames COVID for mass firings and dissolution of archaeology and preaching programs
The most outrageous Baptist response to COVID came from Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This man owes his position as president to one thing: the previous president, Paige Patterson, was purged from office in a smear campaign. Accused of not taking abuse of women seriously, he was decapitated by the usual liberal rogues in a game of pop-goes-the-weasel: the Washington Post, Karen Swallow Prior, Beth Moore, Jonathan Merritt, and a host of former allies who acted like David's soldiers leaving Bathsheba's husband Uriah to die.
Greenway came into power in February 2019 clouded by suspicion. His main claim to competence was his experience as chairman of the board of Lifeway Publishing, which closed all 170 of its retail stores less than a month after Greenway was sworn in as president.
He came from Southern Baptist, working for Albert Mohler. Many feared a takeover of the seminary to get the wealthy Texas endowment into the hands of woker and more liberal Christians. Any prudent manager would see the dangers inherent in these public doubts and would proceed cautiously to build trust.
Instead, Greenway traipsed into Fort Worth as if everyone owed him more respect than they had paid to Paige Patterson. In brutal fashion, he fired around 25 professors in April 2019, claiming there were budget shortfalls. Then he hired a gaggle of new faculty from Southern Baptist Seminary, inflaming fears that the #MeToo campaign against Paige Patterson was a coup d'état to push the last conservatives out of the SBC. Greenway went on to fire me in what turned out to be a particularly nasty imbroglio, which revealed incredible dishonesty but also an intent to stifle orthodox voices on the LGBT issue.
Greenway really trampled all bounds of decency with COVID. He canceled classes for the rest of the semester — this was to be expected. But then Greenway sacked another round of faculty. As usual, the number and identity of fired professors remain shrouded in secrecy because people in the SBC are routinely threatened with career-ending retaliation if they reveal how badly leaders abuse them. Rumors have come down about twelve-plus professors leaving and dozens of staff being laid off.
Casting people out in the middle of a pandemic as the unemployment rate skyrockets toward 32%, Greenway's people issued two tone-deaf press releases. One rambled on about Dead Sea scrolls Paige Patterson had obtained years ago, to mention as an aside that Greenway was gutting the entire archaeology program and leaving its students in the lurch. He alluded to a COVID budget crisis to justify himself, though this does not square with his other press release on April 8, 2020. In the latter, the seminary announced that it had hired two new professors, developed several new undergraduate majors, and held a virtual meeting of the whole board of trustees in order to get authorization for Greenway to withdraw any funds he wanted from the endowment. (So you can have a virtual meeting, and why cancel the SBC annual?)
There's no dirty like SBC dirty
When I became a Southern Baptist in 2008, I joined a small Chinese church in Los Angeles. There I was led to Jesus Christ and pledged my heart to the Lord. Supported by a close-knit community of believers, I knew that the Holy Spirit was in our church gatherings.
Now, twelve years later, I struggle with a profound disgust. The deeper I moved into the Southern Baptist world, the more I saw how the left's contamination of culture was being repeated in the churches. COVID was a crisis but also an apocalypse in the literal Greek meaning, an uncovering. We can see who's really running the Southern Baptist Convention and where these people's loyalties lie. When Baptists come out of our lockdown, we have three choices: die with a denomination that is spiritually dead, leave the Convention for a holier walk with the Lord, or fight to clean our house.
Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at bobbylopez.me or on Twitter at @RLopezMission.