As goes Texas, we used to think, so goes the Southern Baptist Convention. The decade just now ended began with 1,000 churches leaving the old Baptist General Convention of Texas, to form a new, purportedly more theologically conservative convention of churches. Two groups clustered around the old BGCT: Texas Baptists Committed and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Ten lost years later, the SBC is now described as a declining denomination. Various mega-churches control the convention apparatus, but there is little evidence this is good for the convention or its institutions. Recruiting at the seminaries now centers around over seas connections, where potential students know nothing about the bloody wars of 1979 to 2010.
Why were these years lost, 2001 to 2010? There are actually more of us than ever if one takes into account the various bodies. We are just not "us" any more.
We have quite literally lost a generation to non-denominational bodies, the Bible Church movement and the Assemblies of God. Believe it or not, many of our most talented musical young people walked over to the Assemblies. A good number of moderate (and conservative) persons, cast into outer darkness by the convention's ultra-right shift and its manifest elitism on the state and national levels, decided to worship with the Episcopalians.
We lost a generation. The ones we lost are not coming back. It is ludicrous to think, for instance, in Texas, that yet another Savior-Executive Director, will come to restore the now defunct BGCT to some semblance of its lost prominence. In fact, the BGCT, cum-Texas Baptists Convention (unfortunate acronym) is well on its way to becoming the second tier state convention in its own state.
Why? We do not know how to say what is admirable any more. Once, we would have just said, "I belong to a Southern Baptist Church," and, for all its regional connotations and historical baggage, that would have been enough to say, "God-Honoring, Jesus Loving, Spirit Filled, Door Knocking, People Accepting, Tithe Giving, Missionary Sending, Clergy Educating, Independently Organized, Democratic Polity, Sacrificially Cooperative and, oh, yes, Bible Believing."
All those things we found admirable. We joined the societal shift to sound-byte politics, demonized our opposition, blamed the victims and purged our ranks.
Our ranks remain purged.
What will help?
There will be no remarriage. The divorce was long, bitter and rancorous. We divided everything, split up the children (who then chose to live with neither of us) and settled in a new place. Naturally, as with a dreadful divorce, both parties had to accept a lesser standard of living as reward for their failing.
What will help?
Survivors who would move on will have to decide on a definition of the admirable life. For the fundamental-conservatives, it will have to be something much more than "I affirm inerrancy as defined by the current but malleable credo of the national convention and its mega-church leadership." For the moderate-conservatives, it will have to be more than "We are not mean like the fundamentalist conservatives."
A new Savior-Executive Director will not help any more than the last two helped. The one led in zig-zag fashion, constantly starting, seldom continuing, never culmination. The latest one scarcely even started.
The churches are dying. The pastors are all mid-50's and beyond. We may all retire or die in a three years span during this coming decade. No one wants the job any more.
Where is there hope? Somehow, we will have to decide on an acceptable definition of what it means to be admirable. Then, we will have to hold up that example to the churches, make their pastors healthier and more accountable to some professional standard of conduct and stay the course.
I am trying, in this series, to look behind the verbiage, to say just what an admirable life is, lest we continue to have to choose between nihilism (nothingness) and fanatacism. We have wasted a decade.
We do not have another one to waste.
Opinions here are mine alone.