A Progressive Theo-Political Blog Bringing You The Best and Worst of Baptist Life.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bill Leonard's Message for Southern Baptists and Moderates

A recent article in the St. Louis Dispatch profiled troublemaking Missouri Baptist layman, Roger Moran. Recently, according to the article, Moran declared that the Missouri Baptist Convention is on the "brink of civil war."

In years past, Moran targeted true "moderate" Baptists with his guilt-by-association tactics. Now, he's after a so-called "new generation of moderates" within Southern Baptist life who are part of the Emerging Church Movement. Moran has described the emerging church as "one of the most dangerous and deceptive movements to infiltrate the ranks of Southern Baptist life."

Without a doubt, Moran has escalated his war against "moderates" or in this case, non-fundamentalists. However, what stuck out most about this article was a quote from Dr. Bill Leonard, the Dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School....

"The Southern Baptist Convention is growing increasingly terrified that they've spent all this time recreating the denomination in this (conservative) image, and now nobody cares," he said. "Young seminarians are challenging them on issues and saying, 'Your vision of reality is not ours.'"
Let's be honest, Leonard's statement is completely true for Southern Baptist fundamentalists and partially true for moderates.

Like in Southern Baptist life, moderate leaders are greying. Nonetheless, the "old guard" in moderate Baptist life is genuinely reaching out to the younger generation. This is quite apparent when one attends worship services and break-out sessions as the annual CBF General Assembly. Last summer, a break-out session was even held on the Emergent Church.

But moderate leaders are undoubtedly concerned about the future of Baptist life. From my experience, many seminarians who attend schools partnered with the CBF are infected with the disease of apathy. These seminarians are apathetic towards the CBF structure. They don't really care that "blood" was shed in the SBC Controversy. Some are enamored with all things emergent but could care less about their Baptist Heritage.

And that my friends is unfortunate - very very very unfortunate.

Will the next generation of moderate leaders be authentically Baptist or just nominally Baptist?

Will we remember the contributions of James Dunn, Foy Valentine, and Cecil Sherman?

Or will our Baptist heroes be forgotten?

Leonard's quote is definitely relevant for moderates and fundamentalists alike....

HT: Wade Burleson: Fellow Southern Baptists Are Not The Enemy

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Anonymous Nathan Finn said...


Well said. Having at different times been in classroom contexts dominated by students who would consider themselves to be part of both broad camps, there is no doubt that the apathy knows no boundaries. What's interesting is that both conservative and moderate Baptist seminaries make Baptist history and identity a priority in the curriculum, yet this is clearly to the chagrin of many students. Some of this may be due to weariness over Baptist battles, but let's be honest--most students don't even know there were Baptist battles until they get in college or seminary. So while this may account for some of the apathy, I think a whole lot of it can be chalked up to the general distrust of denominations and other "institutions" by the younger generations. At least that's my guess.


5:52 AM

Anonymous Lee said...

Come on. We've seen this coming for years now. When I was in seminary, back in 87-89, there were professors who saw this coming. I sat in adult education classes where a professor showed us the enrollment analysis produced by what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board, showing steep declines in enrollment and membership of people under 55, a drop off in weekly participation in spite of a fractional increase in membership, and I remember Dr. Lucien Coleman saying that gerontology would be big in Southern Baptist ministry beginning in the mid 1990's. Well, here we are.

I think part of the problem has been a leadership that continues to hang on to positions of power well into their 70's, not opening up places of service for younger people, and in so doing, the churches they pastor and institutions they serve become geared toward an older population. The young people, in smaller and smaller numbers, come out of the seminary with little interest in serving stale churches that are still singing "When We All Get to Heaven" to an off key piano and organ in stiff, row by row sanctuaries that look like they walked off the set of "The Andy Griffith Show."

What you have in Roger Moran is an old style leader who is intoxicated with the power he has been given as a result of his years of sucking up to the leaders of the conservative resurgence. Anything new is a threat to his power. Shoot, younger conservatives don't know who he is, and most of them couldn't care less. This is a move to preserve power, not advance the kingdom. It's the kind of thing Southern Baptists have more or less been caught up in ever since the convention was formed. It's Dixieland social culture come to life in the official state church of the Deep South. One's breeding, family connections, school-ties and Baptist pedigree are far more important in leadership circles than one's genuine ability to do a job well. The Acts 29 church group doesn't recognize the SBC as a heirarchial power, and the young leaders of emergent churches don't see any relevance in a denomination that places such high esteem on electing officers and self-appointed power brokers building their own kingdom out of churches.

The SBC, and most other denominational structures, are dinosaurs. In the next decade, they will either have to experience deep change, along with the vast majority of their churches, or they will experience slow death. With 80% of SBC churches plateaued or declining as we speak, the process is already well along its way. Roger Moran may be Missouri's "most powerful" Baptist today, but that's quickly becoming irrelevant. I'm sure that's what's caused his most recent temper tantrum. He sees the emergent church as a threat. I see it as an opportunity that, if Southern Baptists will embrace it, will likely guarantee somewhat of a future, and if they reject it, will result in the rapid decline of the denomination into irrelevance.

9:01 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Nathan's right about apathy. There's a societal trend towards non-denominationalism that much of the older generation just doesn't understand. That said, as you point out, there are definitely people in CBF life who are concerned about making sure the next generation of moderate Baptists understand what they went through.

A concern I have is that most of the emphasis on the younger generation is on the seminaries and young ministers. Clearly it's important to educate them, but they won't have jobs unless there's a younger laity who are equally concerned and informed. I was fortunate last summer to be invited to participate in a session of several young adults led by Walter Shurden to discuss the four freedoms, but this is one of the only times I've seen anyone reach out to younger lay leaders. Current and other official CBF efforts to reach out to the younger groups are almost entirely aimed at young ministers.

6:40 PM


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