Southern Baptists Divided over Politics, Race, LGBTQ policy

By David Crary
Southern Baptist Convention
The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Divisions over politics, race, sex abuse, and LGBTQ issues are roiling America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), ahead of a meeting of its executive committee this week.

On the agenda are two items reflecting those divisions: A recommendation that a church in Kennesaw, Georgia, be ousted from the SBC because it accepted LGBTQ people into church membership, contravening Southern Baptist doctrine; and a report by an executive committee task force criticizing the leader of the SBC’s public policy arm, the Rev. Russell Moore. Among the grievances against Moore: His outspoken criticism of Donald Trump during Trump’s 2016 election campaign and his presidency.

Jim Conrad, the pastor of Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, said he’s at peace with the likelihood that his church will be “disfellowshipped” by the executive committee during its meeting Monday and Tuesday.

But Conrad sees broader challenges for the SBC as its stances on various sensitive issues are questioned from inside and outside.

“The problem the SBC is facing right now is this: In order to work with them, you’ve got to be in lockstep agreement with them on every point. Nine out of 10 won’t get you by,” Conrad said. “That’s just a shame. They’re going to limit themselves in terms of who’s able to work them.”

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Some of the most volatile topics facing the SBC aren’t on the executive committee agenda but have fueled passionate blog posts and social media exchanges in recent weeks. Among the issues:

  • Some Black pastors have left the SBC and others are voicing their dismay over pronouncements by the SBC’s six seminary presidents — all of them white — restricting how the subject of systemic racism can be taught at their schools.
  • Several prominent SBC conservatives, citing church doctrine that bars women from being pastors, have questioned why the denomination’s North American Mission Board has supported a few churches where women hold titles such as children’s pastor and teaching pastor. The board says it seeks to persuade such churches to change those titles.
  • The leadership continues to draw criticism from victims of church-related sexual abuse over promises made in 2019 to combat that problem. Activists say inquiries related to sex abuse should be handled by independent experts, not by the SBC’s credentials committee.

Moore has been president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC, since 2013. Though staunchly conservative on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, he has gained an audience outside the SBC with his speeches and writings, including criticism of Trump, condemnation of Christian Nationalism and support for a more welcoming immigration policy.

Russell Moore
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix in 2017. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, Moore wrote on his blog, “This week we watched an insurrection of domestic terrorists, incited and fomented by the President of the United States.” If he were a member of Congress, Moore wrote, he would vote to remove Trump from office even if it cost him his seat.

The task force’s report on Moore doesn’t demand his ouster but urges him and other ERLC leaders to refrain from opposing specific candidates for political office and to limit their public comments to positions already established in SBC doctrine and resolutions.

The Rev. Mike Stone, the task force chairman, said the ERLC under Moore’s leadership has been a “significant source of division” jeopardizing contributions to the SBC from its 47,000 affiliated churches.

Moore, who has declined public comment on the report, is likely to retain his post, at least for the short term.

Conrad, however, expects his church to be ousted, based on a letter he received Feb. 8 from the credentials committee asserting that Towne View Baptist “is not in friendly cooperation” with the SBC.

Towne View began welcoming LGBTQ worshippers in October 2019 after a same-sex couple with three adopted children asked Conrad if they could attend, a decision he defends as the right thing to do.

“The alternative would have been to say, ‘We’re probably not ready for this,’ but I couldn’t do that,” said Conrad, pastor there since 1994.

Pastor Jim Conrad stands in the Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Ga., on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Angie Wang)

Conrad has the option of appealing an expulsion, but he’s making plans to affiliate at least temporarily with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which allows its churches to set their own policies regarding LGBTQ inclusion.

Conrad says about 30% of his congregation — which now numbers about 125 — left his church over the issue, forcing some budget cutbacks, including a pay cut for Conrad.

The most recent disfellowship of an SBC church occurred a year ago when the executive committee ousted Ranchland Heights Baptist Church of Midland, Texas, because it employed a registered sex offender as pastor.

In 2019 the SBC leadership pledged strong action on sex abuse after news reports that hundreds of clergy and staff had been accused of misconduct over the previous 20 years. But critics remain dissatisfied.

Susan Codone, a professor who directs the Center for Teaching & Learning at Mercer University, was at the SBC’s national meeting in 2109 and shared her story of being abused as a teenager by the youth minister and pastor at her Southern Baptist church in Alabama. She now says the SBC’s credentials committee has failed in its response to allegations of abuse by pastors and staff.

“The chair of the committee, Mike Lawson, told me he is often worried about angering pastors with potential decisions,” Codone said via email. “His reversal of victimhood is unacceptable since the committee members are not the victims of this bureaucracy — those filing the reports are the real victims.”

Lawson, in comments also relayed by email, said many SBC churches were implementing anti-abuse policies, including staff training and victim-support programs,

“We know that in some cases, despite our best intentions or desires, we are unable to uncover all the answers, heal the hurts of those who’ve suffered unspeakable harm, or restore the dignity taken by those in trusted positions,” he wrote.

*This article has been updated to state that Towne View is accepting the LGBT persons as members, not just attenders.

David CraryDavid Crary is a national writer for the Associated Press.




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15 thoughts on “Southern Baptists Divided over Politics, Race, LGBTQ policy”

  1. My question…the same sex couple with 3 adopted children…who asked to join the congregation…
    Those who denied them and left were wrong I believe.

    God is a God of TRANSFORMATION…

    I believe they will not remain the same as they are received in love, prayed for, and are shown the “love of Christ” and wise Biblical counsel rather than “the condemnation of man”-and as a result- the conviction of the Holy Spirit may come upon them…and that part of the congregation that left would have witnessed yet a TRANSFORMATION of lives to His Glory.

    Those who left, missed an opportunity to see God at WORK.

    1. Or, that situation could just further the normalization of sin in the church. So, let’s welcome and accept sin and hope for the best. That’s a bit naïve don’t you think?

      This is why the church is so screwed up today.

      1. It’s a slippery slope: Do you disfellowship those who confess to having an abortion (which is murder)? How about those caught fornicating (unfortunately, the numbers of church members having sex out of wedlock is baffling)? Or gossiping and slandering others? Or *gasp* DARING to vote for a Democrat?
        There are so many complexities around disfellowshipping (which I do believe is Biblical): the selective outrage over certain sins; the hypocrisy of many doing the disfellowshipping; whether or not the church allows people to demonstrate repentance – or even agreement on what repentance looks like.

    2. Looks like someone needs to re-read 1 Corinthians 5. You can’t bring a sin into a church that is being proudly and impenitently practiced and accept the practitioners as members of the church. That’s not how churches work. That’s not how Jesus did things – He didn’t tolerate sin, and insisted that the sinners that He interacted with repent. It is unbiblical to have Christian fellowship with such people who refuse to repent. The existence of the SBC is also unbiblical, by the way. You won’t find anything like that in the Bible.

      1. That’s because Christianity was new at the time, with very few practitioners: not almost 2,000 years old, with over 2 billion!

        In any case, Paul’s letters make it clear that some of the different fellowships he oversaw knew of one another.

    3. There is no guarantee that the Towne View same-sex couple’s lives would have undergone deep change, as a result of a kind reception by the brethren.

      Presumably the couple applied to join the church on the basis of being accepted exactly as it was: not on the basis of seeking conversion to heterosexuality!

      As the two individuals were clearly accepted fully as they stood : wherein lay the incentive for any transformation?

      On the contrary, it is far more likely that they have continued in their ways, normalising SSM adoption within that fellowship.

      A Holy Spirit-led transformation in this couple’s lives would have brought the pseudo-marriage to an end, and required the re-distribution of the children between the former partners – because He (The Holy Spirit) is incapable of validating what the Bible clearly teaches is a breach of the moral law.

      Believe me, the people who left the church honoured Him by their actions – no matter how intolerant that may look to some outsiders.

      The minister was wrong to bring this family into his fellowship – and he is paying the price for his actions now. He scattered his established flock, for the sake of controversial incomers.

      Since when has that been a wise course of action? He will have to answer to Lord Jesus for what he has done.

      Flock-scattering does not go down well with the Lord, who regards the individuals who do it as hired hands (see John 10).

  2. Do we really stop and ask ourselves what Jesus would tell us to do? Do we scour the Scriptures for insight? Do we pray for discernment? And if we did all these things, would the church be in the state it’s in today? How often do we make the Bible say what WE want it to say? How often do we listen to the world and not the Savior? Each of us needs to decide because even though we belong to a church body, we still must answer individually to the Lord when we leave this world. The church doesn’t save us. Preachers don’t save us. Good works don’t save us. Not breaking any commandments does not save us (if that were even possible!). Jesus saves us. I am not telling anyone to choose any side….I am saying, to decide what is right, only Jesus can give you that answer. Seek Him!

  3. Can this really be considered a division in SBC? Seems more like a small fraction of fringe churches and/or infiltrators who don’t actually believe what SBC believes and are just trying to cause trouble and force variant beliefs on a large denomination.

    There are so many lies about race, many of which are actually racist themselves, that have swept across our society. The church should not be compromising with them and I commend SBC for not bowing their knee to these false teachings like so many Christian leaders and churches are doing.

    1. Which teachings are these?

      And how do you know that they are false? Upon what criteria are you – as a person – equipped to judge their truth or falsehood?

      Your post lacks important information.

  4. The writer conveniently left out that the actual conflict was over accepting the “couple” as members, which implies that they are gay and yet true believers. Had it been simply a question of attending the church it would or should be an entirely different matter. In order for sinners of any kind to hear the Gospel and be saved they need contact with it in some context, and if they attend a Bible believing church with t high view of God’s word that’s exactly what they should here and need to hear, just like the rest of us. Our church would welcome LGBTQ people to attend our church, but to be members their profession would involve not living in open unrepentant sin, which being practicing gays would be, and therefore we could not accept such a person as a member, just as we would not accept an adulterer or any other kind of practicing sinner.

    1. Uwe,

      “Just because Julie Roys puts an article on her web site, it doesn’t mean the writer of such article is a believer and trustworthy of what they are writing about.”

      Relax. I don’t see Julie telling us to pick a side. She’s just reporting on the news in this case. When Julie writes that churches must accept proud practicing gays as members, then we can talk.

    2. I have never understood which sins keep you from joining a church and who decides which sins are bad enough to keep you out. I don’t understand this judgment. Are all of the church members sinless? What happens if you happen to sin while being a church member, are you kicked out? Or, do you have to confess every sin to the church so someone can decide whether you are still worthy of membership? I am not gay, but I do sin in either thought or deed everyday. I am but a filthy rag. Even though I love the Lord, I do not please him every second of my life. I pray that I continue to understand and follow His ways more completely daily. I am not a member of a church. I can’t even walk into a church, because of the heinous sins of pastoral leaders.

  5. Perhaps not just “speaking out in opposition to a political leader.” How about not endorsing political leaders. I don’t understand why followers of Jesus need to endorse a political leader. Yes, speak out on Biblical truth that affects culture. However, I don’t find anywhere in Scripture any principle that suggests we should endorse a political leader.

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