It may not seem like much, but I see a glimmer of hope in the election of Ed Litton as the new President of the SBC (Southern BaptistConvention). Even though the victory was narrow (2%), it represented a defeat for the Hard Right, which many, myself included, see as an indicator of a change in the temperature of the political waters of this country.
Many of us, myself included, have been watching the SBC since the “conservative resurgence” of the 70s, which had a huge impact on other denominations as well as the politics of this country.
Indeed, there are direct parallels between what many called “the hostile takeover of the SBC” by Hard Right Conservatives and the attempted coup of the Mainline Protestant denominations – including The Episcopal Church – by the IRD (the Institute on Religion and Democracy) a political think tank aligned with far-right conservative political causes, and infused with cash from Howard Ahmanson, heir to the Home Savings and Loan fortune
Jim Naughton’s work, “Follow the Money” documents how the IRD and the AAC (American Anglican Council) along with other, similar organizations, worked in concert with Anglican bishops in Nigeria, Uganda, and Argentina, to attempt to split the U.S. Episcopal Church from the worldwide Anglican Communion.
So, yes, while the “culture wars” in The Episcopal Church are considered “over” as indicated by the growing numbers of women and LGBTQ people now in the House of Bishops, there are many social media platforms where Episcopalians gather to blow off steam which indicate that a surprising number of TEC members support the policies of the “Hard Right” of the administration previously in power.
And, one can always depend on The Living Church to publish breathlessly apoplectic articles about all-women slates for the election of bishops. Indeed, the reaction to the presentation of an all-female slate (two of whom were African-Americans) by the search committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh was promptly met by the nomination "from the floor" of two white, straight men.
I continue watch the SBC as an indicator of which pressure points White Evangelicals, who are ostensibly Very Concerned about “religious freedom” and “the separation of church and state”, place on their elected officials at local, state, congressional and federal levels.
There were two “hot” issues the SBC have been dealing with (stop me if you’ve heard this before): race and the role of women, specifically, the role of CRT (Critical Race Theory) and “woke” theologies,” as well as the reported sexual abuse of women by leaders in the SBC and the mishandling of the injustices suffered by those women.
Critical race theory, a framework used by academics to examine structural racism, appeared to be the biggest concern among the majority of Southern Baptists, some of whom wore red stickers on theirconvention badges that read “Stop CRT” and “Beat the Biden Baptists.”
The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN) which was established in 2020 by Mike Stone, the man defeated by Ed Litton, hosted its own gathering prior to the election at a nearby hotel featuring speakers who lamented the direction of the country and convention, including the state of public schools, how young people are leaving churches, and “woke” ideologies.
But, Litton is known for his work in racial reconciliation
and had been supported by leading Black members of the SBC, including Fred
Luter, the first and only Black pastor to serve as president of the SBC, who nominated
Litton for the position.
In the end, the convention adopted a resolution on race that did not address CRT specifically. Instead, it stated, “we reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic.”
Sounds positively Episcopalian, doesn’t it?
The SBC didn’t do as well with the issue of how they have
handled sexual abuse both in their churches and at the highest levels of
leadership. Because churches operate independently, they have struggled to know
how to prevent people who have been accused of abuse from moving to other
Southern Baptists voted to “prayerfully endeavor, before God, to eliminate allincidents of sex abuse and racial discrimination among our churches.” However, those survivors of sexual abuse who were present think a smaller group of hard-right Southern Baptist leaders have retained control of power in its Executive Committee, which runs the business of the convention. They believe the decisions made Tuesday might mean nothing for survivors if Southern Baptists don’t do more to change the committee’s leadership.
They may be right. Litton, who considers himself a complementarian which generally teaches the headship of men and the submission of women, said he thinks the current Baptist statement on faith is sufficient on women’s roles in the church. (Women are generally forbidden from the lead pastor role in SBC churches.)
Indeed, Saddleback Church, a prominent California congregation led by bestselling author Rick Warren, is, even as I’m writing this, under scrutiny by an SBC committee to examine whether the church cancontinue in fellowship with the SBC after Saddleback recently ordained threewomen pastors.
Someone needs to help these SBC boys make the connection
between the sexual abuse of power and the prohibition of women from the
councils and courts of power in the institutional church. I fear that’s going
to take a lot longer to achieve than the beginnings of racial reconciliation.
It has ever been thus since The Garden.
And then, there's this disturbing quote from the outgoing President of the SBC:
“Whenever the church gets in bed with politics, the church gets pregnant. And our offspring does not look like our Father in Heaven.” – J.D. Greear, Southern Baptist Convention President, June 15, 2021
The church as a shamed promiscuous woman. Hmm .. . . Where have we heard that before?
I have hope that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many
other people of color who have died senseless, violent deaths will provide an
avenue of redemption for the sin of racism and White Supremacy on which so many denominations of Christianity are built.
I see some of that beginning to happen in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Yes, it’s just a beginning. Yes, it's a fragile beginning at that. Yes, this might just place a slight pause on the White Supremacy movement which gained momentum these last four years. Yes, I’m hoping that this pause, no matter how long it lasts, will have an effect on some of the decisions made my those elected to positions of power.
Is there a relationship between the vote of the SBC to elect a man committed to reconciliation of race relations and the recent overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House (415-14) and the expected passage in the Senate of Juneteenth as a federal holiday?
I don't know. I'd like to think there is at least some relationship between the two.
As my dear friend, Mary Miller, who continues to inspire justice from her seat in heaven, used to say, “Sometimes, justice is where you find it.”
And, as Desmond Tutu once said, "I'm not an optimist. I am a prisoner of hope."