By some accounts, the Southern Baptist Convention once again rejected its most extreme factions at this year’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California. But by any outward measure, the largest non-Catholic denomination in the country remains extremely conservative.
Defining the term “conservative” within the SBC is like defining who is a “conservative” in the Republican Party today. There are degrees of distinction that only make a difference to those who are part of the group.
Imagine a range of religious beliefs in America, from the most liberal on the left to the most conservative on the right. In this spectrum, all Southern Baptists today exist on the far right of the scale. But if you zoom in only on this section, otherwise invisible gaps become visible.
This is the case of the race for the presidency of the SBC this year, which finally ended in a second round between Tom Ascol and Bart Barber.
Ascol ran on a “change direction” platform, alleging that liberalism and awakening have seeped into the denomination. Ascol represents a strict doctrinal purity rooted in its Calvinist theology and belief in male leadership. He was a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump and was backed by the Conservative Baptist Network, a group highly critical of the current SBC leadership.
Despite intensive campaigning and the endorsement of a former high-profile SBC president, Ascol lost the presidential race by a 22-point gap to Barber. Ascol obtained 39% of the votes and Barber 61%.
Ascol’s nominator, Georgian pastor Mike Stone, was the Conservative Baptist Network candidate last year and also lost in a runoff. This year, every candidate backed by the Conservative Baptist Network lost. And Ascol lost by a bigger margin than Stone last year.
“The various votes at this year’s convention indicate confidence in the existing leadership philosophy that is solidly conservative but less strident than Ascol’s brand.”
But that doesn’t mean the SBC voted against conservatism. Barely. The various votes at this year’s convention indicate confidence in the existing leadership philosophy that is solidly conservative but less strident than Ascol’s brand.
The barber’s file
Consider Barber’s background and beliefs.
He was nominated for president by Matt Henslee, pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, NM, who said Barber is a man who can unite, build and “lead us through the battlefield of our disagreements, towards the common ground of our cooperation. so we can tell the world about the flat ground at the foot of the cross.
“Bart Barber embodies the very best of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. He has engaged faithfully and graciously on every level as a champion of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. A strong supporter of our seminaries, a trusted leader in his local association and state convention, and a passionate protector of religious liberty, a tireless defender of the unborn, relentless personal evangelist, a stalwart prayer warrior, and an outspoken advocate for survivors of sexual abuse.
On the most controversial issues of the day, however, Barber brings extremely conservative references. He strongly opposes abortion, believes the pastorate is for men only, advocates for an interpretation of religious liberty that privileges evangelicals, opposes critical race theory, and takes a strong stand against identity and LGBTQ inclusion.
By any outward standard, Barber looks like a typical white conservative evangelical.
Affirmation of conversion therapy
On the LGBTQ issue, Barber has written in favor of conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay men and lesbians.
“Barber wrote in favor of conversion therapy, the discredited practice of attempting to change the sexual orientation of gay men and lesbians.”
In a 2013 article on the SBC Voices website, Barber said he believed the most important issue for Christians was not same-sex marriage but the question “if reparative therapy…is a valid hope and a realistic goal for those who approach the problem of homosexuality”. from a Christian point of view.
Despite the closure of Exodus International, the most notable former gay ministry, Barber argued that “we Christians cannot give up restorative therapy.”
He wrote that “the concept of ‘ex-gay’ is explicitly scriptural” and that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 says it is possible for someone to be ‘ex-gay’. Also, “the concept of being ‘ex-gay’ is central to the gospel,” he said.
On this point, Barber aligns himself with the prevailing view of Southern Baptists, who strongly oppose LGBTQ identity and inclusion. A resolution passed by the messengers at this year’s annual meeting said, “We uphold the beauty of Christian sexual ethics in a world that promotes dangerous and dehumanizing ideologies such as those of the LGBTQ+ movement and other sexual perversions, including abuse, pedophile behavior and the use of pornography, which are fundamentally at odds with God’s purpose for human sexuality.
A week before the annual meeting, a BNG reporter contacted Barber to ask if his views on conversion therapy had changed. He replied, “I still believe that sex between two men or between two women is always a sin, that God provides a means of escape from every temptation to sin, that conversion to sin is a means of escape, that conversion is a true renewal of the spirit that is both momentary and continuous, that conversion involves a transformation of behavior, and that Christianity cannot be separated from Christian sexual ethics.
He added: “Anyone trying to ask for help to harness the power of conversion to leave homosexuality behind and embrace Christian sexual ethics should have the freedom to do so.
At this year’s meeting, several messengers expressed concern about the SBC’s affiliation with secular businesses that support LGBTQ inclusion, including Guidepost Solutions, the consultancy that conducted the sexual abuse investigation. , and Bradley, the law firm currently acting as external counsel to the SBC.
During the Wednesday morning session of the annual meeting, one of Bradley’s attorneys assigned to work with the SBC – who is individually a Southern Baptist – called on messengers to support her and others. in every SBC congregation who seek to be a witness in the secular world. companies where they work.
Race and Critical Race Theory
Where things still get a little fuzzy are the SBC’s conflicting positions on race. While the convention is officially registered as being for racial reconciliation and against the legacy of slavery, the Conservative Baptist Network has campaigned fiercely to oppose critical race theory and any effort to portray systemic racism.
This has been such a sore point that some black churches and pastors have quit the SBC in protest, while the far right continues to insist that critical race theory has infiltrated SBC seminaries as a what form of Marxism.
When the SBC first tackled critical race theory by name in 2019 – led by the most conservative faction – it took nearly a year before this academic legal theory became a catch-all boogeyman touted by Donald Trump and his allies in the 2020 presidential race.
“This is a point on which Ascol and Barber differ considerably.”
This is a point on which Ascol and Barber differ considerably. In an FAQ section on his church’s website, Barber takes a middle-of-the-road approach.
“No agreed-upon definition of CRT exists within the Southern Baptist Convention, nor do I anticipate it will emerge anytime soon,” he wrote. “A standard definition would be necessary to have a meaningful discussion of CRT, but developing one doesn’t seem to be a priority for some reason.”
Barber said he rejects the critical race theory, but he’s not sure everyone is talking about the same thing.
“If by opposing critical race theory you mean that any effort to foster greater multi-race inclusion in the Southern Baptist Convention or any effort to foster greater multi-race harmony in the Southern Baptist Convention is suspect, so we part ways on this point out.”
There are very few people within the SBC who affirm the classic critical race theory, he added before concluding: “Although critical race theory may be a pressing issue to address in your university local or through your favorite political party, it is far from an urgent issue to address in your church or in the Southern Baptist Convention.
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