Some conservatives within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) think the denomination is slipping to the left. They point to things like the acceptance of critical race theory (CRT) as a tool to understand racism; the constant apologies for sins of more than a century ago; and flirting with cultural "wokeness" among some in leadership.
On Tuesday night in Anaheim, California, the SBC elected Bart Barber as its new president. Southern Baptist pastor and biblical apologist Dr. Alex McFarland says that was one loss for the conservatives among many this week.
"Under all the people that won offices of any consequence, wokeness will simply further embed itself over the next couple of years," he predicts.
And while McFarland firmly believes the vast majority of Southern Baptist laity – as well as the majority of pastors – are Bible-believing, Christian conservatives, he says drastic changes aren't likely to surface right away. Why? The SBC president, he points out, has the job of appointing key people to Southern Baptist committees and task forces which act as a sort of rudder to the denomination.
"Enthusiasm for the SBC is tepid at best," McFarland contineus. "The leadership of many of the agencies [and] seminaries are more concerned with being in conformity to the culture then in conformity to scripture."
McFarland is pessimistic about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. "It is ego and politics and posturing that has rendered the SBC all but irrelevant. It's not dead, but now it's terminal," he laments.
ERLC lives to battle on
One issue that came up in Anaheim was what to do with a controversial committee in the denomination: The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. In fact, a motion was introduced to abolish the ERLC, which is the public policy arm of the SBC.
According to its mission statement, the ERLC engages the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaks to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing. But it has attracted its share of detractors over the last several years. A messenger from Houston stepped to the microphone and argued for the ERLC's dissolution:
Messenger: "People use the ERLC as a platform for political ambitions. One former president sought to use the SBC merely as an instrument of the GOP. Another used the ERLC to build a national media platform that he then used to demean our denomination after he left in a loud fashion."
That last reference was to Dr. Russell Moore, who critics say pushed the denomination to the left and was vocal with his criticisms of President Donald Trump. Moore left his ERLC post in June 2021 to become an editor at Christianity Today.
Dr. Richard Land was president of the ERLC from 1988-2013, preceding Moore's tenure, and is now executive editor of The Christian Post. Land told the messengers that this is exactly the wrong time to kill the Commission, with the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade and the abortion battle coming to individual states.
"I cannot imagine a more damaging moment for the Southern Baptist Convention to defund the ERLC," Land offered.
In the end, the motion failed – so the ERLC lives on.