Southern Baptist Elites May Be Woke, But Southern Baptists Are Not

Southern Baptist Elites May Be Woke, But Southern Baptists Are Not

The last time such a serious moral and theological divide separated Southern Baptist churches, a massive and successful 10-year campaign to retake the convention was launched.
Mark DeVine
By

“India is the most religious country in the world, Sweden is the most secular country in the world, and America is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes.” The late dean of American sociologists of religion Peter Berger would have trouble defending his most famous observation today, but his aphorism eerily reflects current conditions within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The overwhelmingly un-woke, Donald Trump-supporting, 14 million conservative Southern Baptists find the SBC institutions they fund controlled by social-justice warrior elites.

In Nashville last week, Pastor Ed Litton, the most woke of four candidates, won election as president of the SBC in a 52 percent to 48 percent second-ballot runoff victory over un-woke Georgia pastor Mike Stone. With fewer than 12 percent of the some 50,000 Southern Baptist churches present, the election results cannot and do not represent the views held by rank-and-file members of SBC-affiliated churches.

Unwarranted Trust Keeps Conservatives Home

Why didn’t conservative Baptists show up to elect Stone? Partly because they don’t fear the SBC. The SBC exercises no authority over any Southern Baptist congregation. Each church is utterly autonomous. They own their property, adopt their own doctrinal standards, and send as much or little of their money to the SBC as they choose.

Southern Baptists trust their leaders and assume those who run the SBC seminaries, mission-sending agencies, and other institutions share their theological convictions and moral vision. Usually, that’s true. But not now.

Travel, lodging, and time are costly, so trusting conservatives stay home. Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, an SBC entity used Southern Baptist monies to motivate and subsidize Litton voters — a potentially explosive breach of the default trust of ordinary Baptists.

Only one presidential candidate in Nashville boasted name recognition and long-familiarity with voters — Albert Mohler, president of the denomination’s flagship seminary. The other three candidates were utter unknowns. So why did Mohler only garner 23 percent of the vote on the first ballot?

Since the rise of Trump, Mohler has attempted to play on both sides of the woke fence. He ignored, canceled, and fired un-woke voices within Baptist ranks. He has said whites must listen to blacks but continues to ignore the voices of the un-woke best-selling Baptist authors and experts on race Carol Swain and Voddie Baucham.

Mohler flip-flopped on Trump, hired and promoted professors and an administrator who promote critical race theory (CRT), then issued a statement against CRT while continuing to affirm the central CRT dogma of systemic racism. 1 Corinthians 14:8 asks, “If the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” In Mohler’s case, only 23 percent.

Hesitancy and Thuggery in Nashville

When asked by filmmaker Judd Saul what they thought of CRT, Baptist voters responded with hair-trigger clarity: “We hate it.” Asked who they planned to vote for, responses came hesitant and varied: “We don’t know,” and “We’re torn between Mohler and Litton” or “between Stone and Mohler.”

The emerging post-election voter profile is of a convention mostly well-informed about and opposed to CRT but unsure about candidates not named Mohler. Left to choose between two unknowns in the runoff, few voters recognized Litton as the woke establishment choice and Stone as the un-woke stalwart.

From the podium, outgoing president J.D. Greear and Resolutions Committee Chairman James Merritt both tried to embarrass Baptists who dared to raise concerns about CRT. Both suggested these voters were afraid of persons of color when no such fears had been expressed.

Greear and Merritt revealed their own fears as each expressed some version of Merritt’s emotional, voice-cracking warning and plea that “the world is watching.” They know corporate media and cultural revolutionaries will judge a rejection of CRT as racist — and the threat of that charge is their greatest fear.

Say Their Names

Elites who run the convention work hard to hide how woke they are from the Trump-voting, CRT-resistant pew-sitters who pay the bills. SBC operatives conjure a mirage of theological and social conservatism by canceling black Baptists who refuse to genuflect before the contemporary social justice movement and platforming those who serve their virtue-signaling agenda.

Once a darling of the SBC elites, the white power brokers canceled Baucham when he refused to adopt the far-left narrative about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Baucham traces the history of white-guilt posturing at work in the SBC in his hot-off-the-presses best-seller “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe.”

Award-winning black Southern Baptist author and expert on white supremacy Swain does not exist for the white elites who run things because, like Baucham, her views don’t serve their virtue-signaling needs. When Swain tried to address the convention in Nashville according to proper protocols, the woke Baptist machine thwarted her:

Shortly before woke former Southern Baptist Beth Moore bolted from the denomination, former SBC ethicist Russell Moore (no relation) said, “An SBC that doesn’t have a place for Beth Moore has no place for a lot of us.” Isn’t it about time we heard an SBC leader say, “A denomination that has no place for Voddie Baucham and Carol Swain has no place for a lot of us”? As ordinary Southern Baptists learn of the shenanigans their paid leaders use to silence the voices of Baucham and Swain, the BLM mantra seems appropriate: “Say their names.”

Buyers’ Remorse?

With the election of Litton as president, attempts to hide the leftward lurch of establishment elites may prove impossible. Litton pooh-poohs the dangers of CRT in one breath then affirms as obvious the dangers of systemic racism with the next. Litton team-preaches with his wife in a denomination whose confessional standards forbid the ordination of women as pastors.

Just days after the convention, a video appeared in which Litton asks, “Did you know that the Bible never gives the categorization of homosexual and heterosexual?” then insists that sexual sin is only “whispered” in the Bible. Another video surfaced on June 24 that depicts Litton delivering a sermon at his church virtually identical to one preached by Greear. Two days later, Litton admitted the original sermon was Greear’s and that he should have given attribution.

During a convention Q&A, a messenger revealed the website at Litton’s church contains the language of “partialism,” an obscure doctrinal heresy incompatible with orthodox Christianity as affirmed by the global church — Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — since the fifth century AD. Hours after the convention exchange, the heretical language was scrubbed from the website.

Will a Sleeping Conservative Baptist Giant Awake?

The last time such a serious moral and theological divide separated Southern Baptist churches from the SBC, a massive and successful 10-year campaign (1979-1989) to wrest control of the SBC from liberals was launched. The Conservative Baptist Network and Founders Ministries are committed to a conservative re-taking of the SBC.

On June 25, entrepreneur Rod Martin — co-founder of PayPal and un-woke member of the SBC executive committee — made it crystal clear the 85-plus percent of Southern Baptists who voted for Trump are not woke and will not want the $30 billion in SBC assets that belong to them deployed for woke causes.

In contrast to Berger’s aphorism, the elites of the Southern Baptist Convention do not rule Southern Baptist churches. But they do run the institutions and enjoy the handsome salaries paid for rank-and-file Baptists.

As trusting, instinctual conservatives, it’s not easy to rouse the Southern Baptist masses to activism that targets the SBC. But if history is any guide, once provoked, those Baptists may just trigger the beginning of the end of woke leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mark DeVine is a pastor, former missionary in Bangkok, Thailand, and a theology professor in Alabama. He is the author of "Bonhoeffer Speaks Today" and "