December 22, 2008

The Decline of the Southern Baptists

For years leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, to which I belonged for much of my life, crowed about that the decline in membership of mainstream denominations like the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, blaming it on what they considered liberal theology.

Well, sometimes what goes around comes around. From the Washington Post:

Times are tough, even in the salvation market. After decades of growth, the nation's largest group of Protestants, the Southern Baptist Convention, is reporting losses (in church membership and recorded baptisms) for the third year in a row. Baptisms are at a 20-year low, a figure liable to put an eternity-conscious church into a severe depression.

The writer offers several reasons for this, but here's the one that I think really hits the mark:

The brand is less appealing. After 30 years of theo-political warfare within the denomination and the culture, which has included the merciless purging of evangelical moderates and even conservatives from all Southern Baptist school and agencies, not to mention strong public support for the Republican Party and Administration, the words "Southern Baptist" carry more negatives than positives. The largest and most prominent Southern Baptist congregation in America -- Rick Warren's Saddleback Church -- doesn't even use the word Baptist in its name.

There are some wonderfully devout Southern Baptist Christians who love the Lord and love people but are simply lacking the revelation about God's acceptance of GLBT people. The leadership of the SBC, however, seems to go of its way to put forth a public image of judgement and condemnation of anyone who deviates even slightly from the denomination's doctrine.

People are not inherently stuipd. Many of them will figure out what a load of crap their "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach is when the emphasis invariably falls on the hate part. Those who are truly seeking God are usually well acquainted with hate and don't need to get up early on a Sunday morning and drop some money in the collection plate to get more of it.

People are seeking love, therefore they are seeking the Lord who is love (1 John 4:8). When they find hate and judgement of man instead, they are likely to take their checkbooks and look elsewhere.

I did and have not regretted it. I learned doctrine and scripture in the Southern Baptist churches I belonged to, but I then met the Holy Spirit in an independent gay-affirming church.

When they change churches back from republican campaign headquarters to houses of worship, they might turn this trend around, and in the process maybe gain a better understanding of God's love and acceptence.

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