"Seattle--Chinese Southern Baptist Cross" by Joe Mabel / CC BY-SA 3.0

Are the Southern Baptists, America’s Largest Evangelical Denomination, About to Get Even More Conservative?

Mar 10, 2020

By Chrissy Stroop

There is perhaps no easier way to illustrate the history and present realities of white evangelicals’ pluralism problem than by turning to the Southern Baptist Convention. These days, the range of acceptable political opinion among white Southern Baptists ranges approximately from very right-wing to ultra right-wing. But even as the SBC struggles to come up with an effective response to numerous cases of abuse and coverups that have come to light in recent years, some of the prominent ultra-right-wingers are clamoring to suppress the merely very right-wingers, whom they disdain for being “too liberal” and blame for declining finances in the SBC’s central structures.

The primary target of the ultras’ ire is Russell Moore, head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a body that was formed on the foundations of the older Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (with which the SBC cut all ties in 1991) and the Christian Life Commission. The ERLC’s founding was part of the culmination of the SBC’s so-called “conservative resurgence,” a purge of liberals from SBC leadership and institutions that dominated SBC life in the 1980s and 1990s. The hostile takeover was led by men like Paul Pressler, who stands credibly accused of molesting boys over decades, and Paige Patterson, who was disgraced in 2018 when audio surfaced of him counseling an abused wife to stay with her husband and to try to change him through prayer.

As Boston University Professor emerita Nancy Ammerman and the SBC moved in divergent ideological directions in the 1980s, she became a scholar of the denomination she grew up in. As a young sociologist, Ammerman sought to understand the processes that fuel a denominational split, and her efforts yielded critical documentation of how the “conservative resurgence” played out.

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