The Southern Baptist Convention is meeting June 14-15 in Anaheim, California, the organization's first annual meeting since the database of ministers suspected of sexual abuse has been released.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist Convention but left it when the fundamentalist takeover happened.
Those who supported gay people, abortion and women as pastors or claimed that the Bible was not literally true were marked as the enemy. Those themes were brought into the arena of American politics.
Please don’t misunderstand: The local congregations I have been a member of have had wonderful people who encouraged me and cared for my grandparents and parents in their final days. Business meetings could get ugly, but in the end, the members of the church still cared for one another.
My first visit to the national meeting was when I was 17 — the 1982 meeting in New Orleans. My father and several others from our church attended opening night to hear the Rev. Billy Graham.
I went the next day because the convention had rented the Steamboat Natchez for a lunch cruise for the teen girls mission group. That evening, because I had earned a certain rank in the group, I was part of the convention’s evening session.
We wore long dresses and held balloons — each balloon represented a certain number of people reached by one of the mission boards.
After standing on the floor, we carried the balloons into the stands to hand out. I was second in line as we walked the Superdome’s stairs. When we stopped in position, a middle-aged man got into the face of the girl in front of me and started screaming about the waste of money and how we should have given that money to missions. It was probably $100 worth of balloons and helium.
I remember how ugly his face was, screwed up and red in anger. I remember how tiny the teen looked standing in front of him. I remember that no one stepped in and told the man to stop abusing a teenager. I still wish I had told the man to go away.
That was the early years of the conservative resurgence, as its supporters called it, or fundamentalist takeover, as the rest of us said.
Those roots continue to spread. In the 1980s, I attended Louisiana College, run by the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
One of the reasons the SBC fought so hard to not keep a list of sexual offenders is because it isn’t a top-down institution like the Roman Catholic Church. While churches band together and make up the SBC, each Baptist church is autonomous. The same is true for the regional and state groups. They don’t have to follow the directives of the national meeting.
But most of these boards take on characteristics of the national board’s trends. And while I was a student, the nastiness made itself known at Louisiana College.
I saw firsthand many disappointing actions, including a friend harassed because he was beginning to identify as gay.
Several professors eventually felt the need to file suit because of things happening in regard to their teaching. In the 1980s and 1990s, many people across the nation had jobs taken away as SBC institutions suddenly were forcing people to sign statements of belief, something very much against the teachings of Baptist life.
Those leaders of the conservative resurgence? Paul Pressler, a retired judge in Texas, is facing a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a teenage boy. Paige Patterson, who went on to become the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired for his mishandling of abuse claims and has had other actions questioned. Because of that, his plans for a posh retirement were revoked.
The 2023 SBC meeting will once again be in New Orleans. Let’s hope that in this meeting, the messengers (people voting in the national meeting) in 2022 will make it loud and clear that the churches will no longer put up with the messes these leaders created.
Sources: baptistmessage.com/sbc-2023-annual-meeting-may-move-to-new-orleans/, baptiststandard.com/news/texas/texas-supreme-court-allows-lawsuit-against-pressler-to-proceed/, sbcannualmeeting.net, tennessean.com/story/news/religion/2022/06/03/southwestern-baptist-theological-seminary-admitted-sex-offender-under-paige-patterson-tenure/7492609001/