A large number of conservatives entered the 2022 SBC annual meeting with high hopes to change the course of the nation’s largest protestant denomination. Tom Ascol, a pastor and ministry leader with solid conservative credentials who battled for the SBC presidency was rejected in favor of a left-of-center institutionalist in Bart Barber, who garnered 60% of the vote in a run-off with Ascol. For the conservative camp in the SBC, the defeat confirms that the denomination is on an increasingly liberal trajectory.
The 2021 race between conservative Mike Stone and leftist Ed Litton resulted in a 52% to 48% loss for conservatives. As more conservative churches make the decision to pull the plug on SBC affiliation, this deficit is certain to increase on an annual basis. The SBC Presidency is not the sole defining factor in whether conservatives have influence in the SBC, but virtually all of the other conservative candidates, including Voddie Baucham lost their 2022 election contests.
A Tale of Two Messengers
The state of the convention could best be described by the different ways in which Ed Litton treated Rick Warren and Tom Buck, as both came to the microphone to make statements against their opponents. Tom Buck was afforded three and a half minutes to speak but was continually interrupted by Litton several times, as Buck sought to make a point about how victims can’t trust the SBC establishment to not politicize their situation. In contrast, Litton rolled out the red carpet for Rick Warren and gave him six uninterrupted self-aggrandizing minutes to criticize his opponents on the grounds that he considers the ordination of female “pastors” to be a secondary issue. These different treatments of a conservative pastor and a leftist pastor illustrate the way that SBC conservatives will be treated in the future, as they become an increasingly small minority in the convention.
A Leftward Trajectory
Aside from the election of candidates, the SBC has taken increasingly pragmatic positions, as it follows a leftist trajectory. Institutionalists in the convention, like newly elected SBC President Bart Barber claim to be conservatives, but their conservative claims are made purely on the basis of not embracing overtly leftist ideology in the world. Everyone knows that Southern Baptists who openly embrace Side A homosexuality are a tiny closeted minority in the convention, but how many embrace a Side B position and how many years will it take for the downgrade to progress from an acceptance of unbiblical same-sex attraction identity to an acceptance of overt homosexuality?
In the same way, openly pro-abortion Southern Baptists are unicorns in today’s convention, but pragmatic incrementalists are a dime a dozen. With Southern Baptists uniting with Catholics and non-Christians in national right-to-life organizations, how will the integrity of the Gospel be maintained as the goal line is shifted from the total abolition of abortion to “uniting to make abortion unnecessary”, as the ERLC has proposed? The leftist policy items that can be stuffed into the trojan horse of “making abortion unnecessary” are endless.
If every issue with the exception of the Gospel is considered secondary and no longer an issue to be taken into consideration by the credentialing committee, as Rick Warren insinuated, what is the purpose of the credentialing committee? Such a position would open the door to accepting churches that deviate from Baptist theology in significant ways. Can Joel Osteen join fellowship with the SBC if he says that he loves Jesus? Can prosperity preachers and wild charismatics like Kenneth Copeland join the SBC as long as their church uses the sinner’s prayer? Is a paedobaptist Southern Baptist Church in the cards, if secondary issues are irrelevant in the future?
The SBC is done as a conservative, Bible-believing institution. You can put a fork in it. By this, I mean that the leftward momentum is so great that the only thing that will stop the downgrade is a direct intervention from God. Does this mean that individual SBC churches or missionaries will not make an impact in the world? Of course not. However, the general state of the convention and its entities is in steady decline. Pragmatism, institutionalism, wokeism, and leftism are on the rise; while conservatism, sufficiency of scripture, and local church autonomy are being increasingly marginalized.
Hope for the Future
As the hymn writer Edward Mote stated in his famous hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” The foundation of the local church is not a para-church organization like the SBC, but rather the righteousness of Christ and his atoning blood. Institutions will rise and fall, but the local church will remain strong. Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Our savior promises to protect the church, but he makes no such promises for organizations like the SBC.
As David Morrill frequently reminds us, “Jesus didn’t die for the SBC.”