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Southern Baptists- A History of Controversy

Southern Baptists in the News!

The Southern Baptist Convention has been steeped in controversy on many occasions over their lifetime. As a basically southern institution, they were embroiled both in external criticism and internal conflict during the Civil Rights movement. But the most serious controversy of the twentieth century was a struggle to control the resources and ideological direction of the convention.


[Source: A Quiet Revolution: A Chronicle of Beginnings of Reformation in The Southern Baptist Convention, by Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen; Founders Press: Cape Coral, Florida (2000)] Some recent events have analysts predicting that a formal breakup of the SBC is more imminent than previously thought. In 1997, a schism occurred in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the largest state convention affiliated with the SBC. The newly formed "Southern Baptists of Texas" is more conservative than the group they split from. In November of 1999 the Baptist General Convention of Texas implemented that husbands were to lead the family and wives to "submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."[Source: Article by Berta Delgado, page 35A in the Dallas Morning News, 17 November 1999.] Instead mutural submission...aka...equality for both sexes.

In February 2000, 30 pastors from conservative Baptist churches in Texas met at Prestonwood Baptist Church to discuss their continued affiliation with the older but more moderate Baptist General Convention of Texas, which had 2.7 million members at the time. They were concerned about the moderate stance of the state convention, and its moves toward becoming a separate denomination from the Southern Baptist Convention, but these pastors decided against leaving the Baptist General Convention of Texas as a group, preferring to leave the decision up to individual churches.

Rev. Clyde Glazener, president of the Texas convention and pastor at Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, told The Dallas Morning News:

"The truth is that, for some time now, a true Baptist could not support some of the agencies in SBC life. We're not interested in siphoning off a lot of funds from Texas to fund a Jerry Falwell-clone church."


In July 2000, the coordinator of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has predicted that changes in the Southern Baptist Convention's statement of faith will prompt as many as 5,000 churches to leave the SBC. Many observers consider CBF beliefs closer to traditional Baptist beliefs, while the SBC has become the primary inheritor of the American fundamentalist movement. (Source: Religion News Service/Los Angeles Times, 8 July 2000)



Sociologically speaking, Landmarkism was a process and struggle which helped Southern Baptists to gain identity separate from the Northern Baptists. One of the greatest arguments for Landmarks was the church should be autonomous because they viewed organization beyond the local churches as unbiblical. This caused many churches not to contribute to the cause of the SBC and today some of these same churches still have nothing to do with the SBC. By the 1830's tension began to mount between the Northern and Southern Baptists. Baptists in the South were embracing slavery because it was the core of their social and economic order. Baptists of the North were saying that God would not condone treating one race as superior to another while Southerners said that God intended for races to be separate. In around 1835, the Southern states began complaining that they weren't receiving money for mission work. In 1844 the issues of missionary work and slavery came to a peak. The Home Mission Society gave a statement saying that a person could not be a missionary and wish to keep his slaves as property. This caused the Home Mission Society to separate northern and southern divisions. As a result of this the Baptists in the south met in May of 1845 and organized the Southern Baptist Convention .

After Reconstruction of the South the Southern Baptists began to thrive. Dr. I. T. Tichenor became head of the Home Mission Board. He dedicated his efforts to make the Home Mission Board as Southern as possible. Tichenor strongly urged Baptists in the south to reject alliances with Northern Boards and Support Southern causes. At this time many Baptist churches in the south called themselves southern but they still had ties to northern boards and alliances. Tichenor rallied support for the South and in Fort Monroe, Virginia in 1894 the Northern and Southern Baptists agreed to a territorial arrangement, that established the states of the south as exclusive territory for the Southern Baptist Convention. Thus did the Southern Baptists end their struggle with the north and gained their own identity and their separateness from the Northern Baptists.


Southern Baptists believe in a heaven and hell. The only way to get into heaven is salvation through Jesus Christ. To achieve salvation one must confess their faith that God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of mankind. It is only through faith that Jesus died for mankind and that He is the one and only God that people gain entrance into heaven. People who fail to recognize God as the one and only are sentenced to eternity in hell.


The fundamentalists have pursued a number of tactical programs that continue to generate internal conflict and keep the SBC in high profile the broader culture. One very controversial decision the Southern Baptists was the decision to boycott the Walt Disney Company in 1997. They objected to Disney's so-called anti-family and anti- Christian direction. They objected to Disney giving benefits to same sex partners and for having "Gay Days", where gays could come to their theme parks and celebrate openly.


Another controversy arose in the late 1990s when the Southern Baptists, having selected to meet in Salt Lake City, angered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by pursuing an aggressive program of proselytization among Mormons before and during the convention.


Press Release Christian-Jewish Relations

ADL Outraged by Southern Baptist Statements Rooting Jewish Conversion Appeals in Theology New York, NY, September 28, 1999 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today was "offended and outraged" by a letter from the Rev. Paige Patterson, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, seeking to further validate the church’s recent prayer appeal to convert Jews despite a chorus of criticism.

"We are offended by your attempt to taint our High Holidays with prayer urging our community to convert," Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said in response to Rev. Patterson’s letter. "It was an act of theological arrogance that was followed by your arrogant response."

Mr. Foxman said Rev. Patterson and other Southern Baptist leaders have responded to the controversy by engaging in "theological confrontations" and arguments that essentially seek to avoid the issue of the prayer guide that has upset and offended so many in the Jewish religious and secular worlds.

"It is not in my spirit or the policy of the Anti-Defamation League to get into theological confrontations as was done in the Middle Ages," Mr. Foxman said. "We talk to other people of faith as equals, respecting the commitment of the other person of God and trying to avoid any prejudice that might hurt the relationship between Christians and Jews.

"Any prayer that invites us to abandon our faith is an attack on our integrity and commitment."

After publicly stating outrage over the prayer appeal earlier this month, the League made efforts to reach out to Southern Baptist leaders, calling on the church to put an end to the campaign in light of its offensive nature and the proximity of the High Holidays, the most sacred time in Jewish observance.

The letter from Rev. Patterson to ADL outlined evangelical Christian arguments for proselytization efforts among Jews. According to Foxman, "The letter expressed no remorse for the prayer appeal and contemptuously invited us to return the gesture and pray for them. Well, we say `No thanks.’ We will not engage in this kind of base spiritual narrowness, as the Southern Baptist leaders have done."

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.


Any Latter-day Saint dealing with "anti-Mormon" literature is bound sooner or later to run into the name of Dr. Walter Martin, a man who, perhaps more than any other, is cited as the final word on the subject of orthodox Christianity and the cults occording to the Southern Baptists and far right fundamental Protestants.

Facts concerning Walter Ralston Martin:

1. He is a a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

2. He is also sympathetic with the Charismatic movement.

Dr. Martin claims that no matter what your works may be, you will die in your sins if you do not believe that Jesus Christ is God.

If a faith group who calls it's said Christian or bibical but refuses to agree with Fundamental Protestants on the following..then they are tagged "CULTS"...aka they get out on the Southern Baptists %$#@ list:

1. Their church is the only true church ( Gee, does not the Fundamental Protestants make the same claim? They must also be a "cult.")

2. They deny the Trinity

3. They deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit; they consider the Holy Spirit to be an impersonal force (Hummm.I guess Star Wars is a "cult."

4. Hell does not exist as a place of eternal torment ( Guess all mainstream Protestants like Presbyterians and Methodists must be "cult," then)

5. They maintain an isolation from other Christian groups ( You mean how SB and fundamental Protestants seperate themselves from Mormons, JWs, Catholics, and Progressive Protestants because they consider them as "cults."????

Faith Christian themed Faith Groups which are tagged as cults by Walter Martin/ Southern Baptists:

1. Religious Science

2. Jehovah's Witnesses

3. Mormons

4. Seventh Day Adventists

5. Unity Church

6. The Worldwide Church of God (before its recent changes)

7. Bibical Non-trinitarians

8. Catholics

Cult" has lately become a word used to direct hatred and intolerance towards non-Fundamental Protestant Religions

Unfortunately, in the minds of many Christians, the various unrelated meanings of the word "cult" get blurred. These faith groups are assumed by many to be evil mind control or destructive cults. Once a neutral term, "Cult" has lately become a snarl word. It's often used to direct hatred and intolerance towards other religious organizations. The word is used with great effectiveness by the CCM; they direct the public's fear of destructive cults (like the People's Temple at Jonestown and the Branch Davidians at Waco) against faith groups that the CCM feels are not doctrinally pure.


Of course, religious movements may not be involved in mind control or life-threatening doomsday beliefs and still be somewhat dangerous to their membership. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses actively discourage blood transfusions among their membership; the Christian Science church encourages non-medical healing techniques; the Roman Catholic Church actively discourages some methods of birth control or health-related abortions. These policies have resulted in early deaths to a small minority of their members.

Non-Christian themed Faith Groups which are tagged "Cults," by Southern Baptists:

1. ALL Eastern Faiths & basically everyone who is NOT Protestant.

Most organizations in the CCM appear to work from within a Fundamental Protestant's belief system. Their prime goal is to expose and fight what they believe is heresy. Misinformation by organizations within the CCM has generated a climate of fear and intolerance towards many Christian groups whose only "crime" is to hold different interpretations of fundamental beliefs.


There is a sense of irony in all of the conflict since all Southern Baptists would be viewed as conservative by those outside the tradition. From the late 1970s forward, they came to veiw themselves as fundamentalists and moderates (those against the fundamentalists). Doctrinally they were not terribly different. But the moderates were vastly different in their social justice issues of equality.Dividing the two sides was also the issue of pastoral authority. The fundamentalists believed in a pattern of authority where a husband has authority over his wife and a pastor over his church. Due to this hierarchy fundamentalists saw it inappropriate for a woman to be ordained as a pastor. The moderates thought any believer should have a right to be an ordained pastor.

The two sides also tended to differ on various social and political issues as well. Fundamentalists were not supportive issues such as homosexuality, and the Equal Rights Amendment. The fundamentalists strongly believed in the issues they took a stand on and would fight diligently to see these issues implemented in the SBC. On the other side the moderates did not have anywhere close to a unanimous decision on any of these political or social issues.

The two sides differed dramatically on what they believed to be important about being a Baptist. The key for the fundamentalists was that they needed a way to get their views and ideas into the SBC, which was dominated by the moderate people who were leading the SBC in a direction, which they didn't want to go.

This controversy began to unfold within the Southern Baptist Convention during the late 1970's and continued to dominate the denomination's attention for the balance of the century.

As fundamentalists rapidly took control of the SBC they began making the necessary changes they deemed appropriate. In 1984, a resolution was passed at the convention in Kansas City, which excluded women from pastoral roles because the woman was first in the Edenic fall. By 1985, the fundamentalists had been appointing trustees for boards who were proven to be inerrantists to institute their policies. The fundamentalists were convinced that agencies were not being governed under biblical principals and they wanted the right people in office to ensure biblical principles would be applied. 24 .

For years and years the moderates continued to fight against the fundamentalists only to lose virtually every time on every issue. One can only be left to wonder how and why were the fundamentalists so successful in their endeavors to control the Southern Baptist Convention.


Despite the efforts of the moderates to combat the takeover by the fundamentalists they lost the battle for several reasons.The fundamentalists were simply more powerful and motivating speakers. They had the ability to move crowds and persuade huge churches to listen to what they had to say. It was partly this reason that allowed Pressler and Patterson to gather the large crowds of messengers necessary to help them elect presidents.

The inability of the moderates to gather support for their cause also contributed to a fundamentalist victory. The moderates could not gather enough support because only the older people who had dedicated their lives to the SBC were willing to take on the fight. Younger people simply were not willing to dedicate their lives to a fight with the fundamentalists. Still, a schism within the SBC is probably not likely. A major reason for this is the high degree of autonomy that each local congregation maintains. Ministers, and their congregations may disagree with the leadership direction of the SBC, but what happens at the national level has little, if any, affect them. Thus, if churches feel that the convention is irrelevant to them, there is little initiative to leave. In the late 1980's Nany Ammerman, the leading scholar of Southern Baptists conducted a study and concluded that most churches anticipated no changes at all in their church despite the fundamentalist takeover. If people today still feel that they and their church are autonomous from the national convention then a schism is very unlikely to occur.

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