The cover story in the current (Sept.) issue of Baptists Today explores the question of whether loyal-critic bloggers will bring reform to the Southern Baptist Convention. These unofficial leaders were widely credited for helping elect a non-establishment candidate for SBC president in 2006.
They have pointed out the raw power and personal excesses of some denominational leaders. They have called the convention to envision a future that requires new approaches to ministry while remaining theologically conservative.
However, between the time the news journal went to press and when it arrives in mailboxes this week, the influential web site SBCOutpost.com went into a tailspin.
Georgia pastor and blogger Marty Duren (above) started the popular site as a primary place for discussing denominational issues such as the continual narrowing of doctrinal parameters within Southern Baptist life.
When Duren decided to focus on missional church issues on a different site, a group of bloggers, led by Micah Fries, took over SBCOutpost. The group promised to build on Duren’s efforts and make it an even more significant place for addressing convention issues.
In their enthusiasm, the SBCOutpost gang sought the approval of some denominational leaders with whom they generally agree on the basic issue of stopping the ensmallment campaign of some SBC leaders whose favorite pastime is questioning the commitment of fellow Christians and adding new rules to keep from having to cooperate with anyone they can’t control.
Several of these less-condemning convention leaders — including SBC President Frank Page — offered their endorsements. Almost immediately, however, they began withdrawing those endorsements when hard-hitting blogger Ben Cole moved his expose’ of powerbroker Paige Patterson to the SBCOutpost site.
While some convention leaders — especially SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman and International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin — are privately at odds with Patterson, they could not be seen as being publicly supportive of a web site that is so openly critical of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president who wields convention-wide influence.
(Patterson made national news recently by starting an undergraduate degree program in homemaking at the Fort Worth school this fall amid criticism from Cole and others.)
Now the SBCOutpost site has lost momentum and focus. It tried to be something it cannot — an open discussion forum that respects diverse opinions, even honestly critical ones that challenge denominational leaders who are rarely questioned, AND an effort receiving the formal blessings of denominational executives they respect.
Reform — as Duren, Cole, Wade Burleson, and other change-oriented bloggers have discovered — requires tough skin, patience and persistence. It doesn’t come with institutional affirmation, especially from those charged with keeping the bureaucracy going.
Walker Knight is the founding editor of Baptists Today, that started in 1983 as SBC Today (not be confused with a new web site by that name that defends Patterson and other controlling personalities in the SBC). He once observed that the least risk-taking persons he ever knew were denominational executives.
He is right and it is understandable. They are measured by success — numbers, dollars. They are concerned with profits, not being prophets.
So if the best efforts at denominational reform are reflected in the recent activities at SBCOutpost, it will be easy to answer the question of whether bloggers will reshape the SBC. Apparently not.
(Print or online subscriptions are available at www.BaptistsToday.org or by calling toll-free 1-877-752-5658.)