Editorial: Denomination will adapt, find newness

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 05:59 PM

For the first time in three decades, members of what once was one of the most influential religious groups do not know how their leader voted in the presidential race.

It is the same group — established in 1845 to defend slavery — that didn’t elect its first black president until last year. A president of color got into the White House four years earlier.

That voting booth decision for Rev. Fred Luter Jr., the outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was a decision on Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Romney is Mormon, a religion many Southern Baptists don’t consider to be Christian; Obama is a liberal Christian, the opposite of how Southern Baptists have been aligned for years.

Democrats probably got a lot of Southern Baptist votes. How ironic?

The days of tens of thousands at SBC conventions are long gone. In Houston today, where the SBC wraps up its annual meeting, the largest Protestant denomination finds itself with less power in politics, growing diversity in membership, and increasing questions to answer about its identity.

Government is intruding. Liberal views are expanding. Both are happening rapidly.

A decade ago, Southern Baptists were passing amendments against gay marriage. Now they’ve got no control as states approve gay marriage amendments, the Boy Scouts — with many troops sponsored by SBC churches — accept gay members and two key membership splits from the 1990s shape the future.

Just as Southern Baptists never reconciled with the American Baptist Convention, we doubt the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will rejoin Southern Baptists. Nor do we expect the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to come back together.

Diversity is swelling into the SBC. Time will continue to soften the wounds. Our culture isn’t going to feel the effect of Baptists as heavy-handed as 30 years ago, but we do think their impact can be meaningful.

Leaders of all Baptists are emerging who were not even born when the dust-ups began. To them, the division is a part of the history lesson, not a pulsing motivator when gathered in mass.

Newness is ahead for Southern Baptists. It will be reflected in the faces of its membership, its chosen battles and its path in sustainability.