Baptist state conventions meet — but who cares?

‘Tis the season for Baptist state conventions to meet to approve budgets, elect leaders and draw lines. I’ve not done extensive research into attendance figures, but there seem to be (in most cases) smaller numbers showing up at such events.
In Missouri, where the more-moderate Baptists encountered the “Unwelcome” mat years ago, the much smaller crowd of ultraconservatives stayed in conflict. This year, the hard-core conservatives defeated the harder-core conservatives who have had the reins since tossing out the moderates.
Of course, state conventions are not on the brink of extinction. However, they may be reflective of a larger decline in denominationalism.
The bottom line is that a lot of people who used to go to state conventions — and care about what happens — don’t anymore. For some, like me, the parameters of participation have narrowed so much that I not only feel excluded but am often embarrassed as a Baptist by the narrow-minded expressions and actions often coming out of such meetings.
Like the larger Southern Baptist Convention, many of these state groups have an ongoing effort to tighten the circle of participation.In response, a growing number of those who don’t feel welcome stay at home.
Then you can add in those of a very conservative nature who simply consider such bureaucratic dinosaurs to be less relevant to the kinds of ministry they are doing.
State conventions can and often do become internally focused. The emphasis seems to shift from cooperative ministry to preserving the institution and keeping the pool of participation doctrinally pure.
For example, when is the last time a gathered state convention spent serious time wrestling with how to minister to the changing pluralism within their state or other great ministry opportunities?
No, the focus is generally on how to keep out perceived heretics or anyone else who resists control. And, of course, to rally support for funding the institutional machine in the name of missions and ministry.
But where is the real focus — inward or outward?
Arkansas Baptists affirmed their Landmark tendencies that claim only Baptists can do authentic baptisms. Florida Baptists want to assure no agency trustee ever has wine with dinner. North Carolina Baptists aren’t going to fund those uppity WMU women who won’t work under the state convention’s control.
The new Baptist concept of “unity” seems to be rooted in a continual reduction in participation until everyone in the room — regardless of the small number — is in full agreement or at least in compliance with the convention’s power brokers.
Year in and year out, Baptist-related schools are looking for escape routes from this kind of narrowing mentality that inhibits their mission of Christian education.
Does this suggest that Baptist state conventions support no worthy ministries or have no future? No, but it sure looks like an inward focus and an ever-narrowing circle of participation can create an environment where a lot of those who used to participate and care no longer do so.

6 Comments

  1. And the folks in Georgia passed a resolution stating their opposition to blogging! (Let me know if you see the text somewhere – I want to read it!)

  2. JP: I think it matters because among other things Oran Smith, who heads the Family Values group of South Carolina and is author of the Rise of Baptist Republicanism is speaking at Furman next week or spoke yesterday.
    It matters cause a lot of churches, some of whom I name in reply to Musings from Maytown (easily googled) blog in Alabama and carbon copied across state conventions are disturbed about what happenned to WMU in North Carolina and what has happeenned earlier to BWA, but continue to give sacrificially to COOP Program which funds Karl Rove and Richard Land’s designs on the world.
    I would be interested to know what churches in North Carolina are now on the Baps Today group plan and which sign up under the new Cartledge initiative; specifically Snyder Memorial.
    I hopeyou are otherwise well, can make the time to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on the big screen; and generally Have a Warm and
    Blessed Thanksgiving.

    SFox

  3. I stumbled onto your blog and respect your opinion, but I’m not sure it’s really a fair apraisal. I’m a NC Baptist and very proud of it. And I was at the convention this past week. And when you sit and listen to all the ministry being done… everything from planting churches to rebuilding homes in Gulfport, Mississippi… the focus is clearly outward. The issues that the press like to half-way report on to give a negative outlook, really are deeper than meets the eye.

  4. I would tend to agree with you Johnny. It is getting pretty sad for conventions to pass 10 resolutions on alcohol and the Baptist Faith & Message compliance year after year after year.

    I recently moved to MO and the Save our convention folks prevailed. I don’t see any difference. OUr church was one that got the unwelcome mat. It’s good not to be involved.

  5. Travis-Certainly there are cooperative mission and ministry tasks being done through state conventions. Which I admitted in the blog.
    And a number of Baptists, like you, prefer being a part of a group within well-secured, ever-shrinking borders.
    But, as a result of such narrowing, a lot of people who used to go and care about state conventions, don’t now.
    The press is not to blame. Reporters don’t make up the silly resolutions passed year after year.
    With all the pressing issues facing us today, it is refreshing to know (thank, Laura, for the reminder) that Georgia Baptists oppose “destructive” blogging.
    What fundamentalists ultimately oppose is any loss of control over the flow of information.
    It is not an issue of misinformation that concerns them, but that bloggers ARE telling the truth about things they want to keep from those who pay the bills.
    The GBC resolution on blogging is particularly laughable in that it states opposition to blogging when it is “used to cause division and disharmony among members our Southern Baptist family.”
    This from the folks whose favorite hobby over the last 20+ years has been creating division and disharmony. That’s why they are moving from convention halls to churches for future meetings.
    But we all need to understand that when they blast “liberals,” Democrats, Muslims, women preachers, Wade Burleson and anyone different from them, they are being faithful. But if anyone criticizes them, that person is being unchristlike and creating disharmony.
    And that’s why a lot of folks who used to care, don’t anymore.

  6. Dr. Pierce:
    This is just too sweet; Wade Burleson quoting Charles Marsh for his November 14 blog.
    I hope you and Cartledge can join Wade and take up the Marsh cause early next year in Baps Today with a sterling interview cause my experience with some Some NC progressives is a finding of deliberate and obstinate ignorance when it comes to Marsh and his insight about dissent, Bonhoeffer, and the legacy of Francis Schaeffer.
    Also be encouraged I have brought your latest comment on State Conventions to the attention of Roger Willmore, President of the Alabama Baptist State Convention replying to a comment he made in John Killian’s blog.
    But here is Burleson’s sweet dissent and recognition of Marsh.
    Burleson is reading Noll and now Marsh. Somebody bring him to the attention of the Snyder Memorial Pastor Search Committee:

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007
    Quote of the Day

    “I am struck by the absence of resistance, dissent, and critical judgment in the moral repertoire of contemporary evangelicals. These disciplines – and let us call them disciplines – are rarely intoned in our sermons, publications, and seminaries, and when they are, they are most commonly regarded as manifestations of pride. Evangelicals are quick to admonish unity when there is a whiff of disagreement in the air. Dissent must be quashed for the sake of harmonious ideals, which we consider spiritual virtues. But perhaps the situation only masks our swift retreat from the costs of discipleship, fueled by an inferiority complex, which plagues us … We are failing to raise up a generation of Christian critics at a time when dissent should be a vital part of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.”

    Charles Marsh, Wayward Christian Soldiers, Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007, 191-92. (Thanks to Matt for pointing this quote out).

    posted by Wade Burleson | Wednesday, November 14, 2007 | 24 comments links to this post

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