Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention declared spiritual warfare on me.
What “spiritual warfare” means, or exactly what it is expected to achieve, remains unclear — apparently even to those who are declaring it.
Winston Taylor of Atlanta’s Gospel Fellowship Church says he’s fine with gays and lesbians receiving legal benefits, but disagrees “when they want to bring it into the church.” But how many gay couples do you imagine are clamoring to have their ceremony at the Gospel Fellowship Church?
Ronnie Floyd, the convention president, received “thunderous applause” when he declared, “I will not officiate over any same-sex unions.” But how many times has he been asked to do so?
For those of us outside the clutches of the SBC, all this chest-thumping and podium-pounding smacks of desperation. Despite its status as the second-largest faith in America, the Southern Baptists are a religion in decline. Church membership peaked in 2005; since then, more than a million members have deserted the church — 200,000 of them between 2013 and 2014. New baptisms have decreased for seven of the last eight years. Membership in 70% of SBC churches has plateaued or declined.
One understands, then, why church leaders (whose livelihood depends on growing the ranks of the faithful) might have a vested interest in fabricating a new enemy from newspaper headlines and pretending to declare war against me. But I think most people these days will see this kind of puffery — opposing what the Convention has always opposed, and refusing to do what no one is asking the Convention to do — for the theater it is.
One would have more faith in the Southern Baptist Convention’s declarations of God’s will if they hadn’t gotten it so wrong in the past.
It wasn’t so long ago that Southern Baptists were citing Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…”), Colossians 3:22 (“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it not only when their eye is upon you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”), and 1 Peter 2:18 (“Slaves, submit to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”) as proof that “the right of owning slaves is clearly established by Holy Scriptures” and that “the institution of slavery is a blessing to both master and slave” (Richard Furman, 1823).
In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for confusing its own bigotry with the Will of God.
How many more years will pass before the Convention realizes it made the same mistake twice?