This is an odd post to write after missing church due to a headache. The situation with the Southern Baptist Convention, and virtue signaling has been on my mind for some time, and why it’s doomed to failure needs to be looked at in depth.
Clergy, regardless of denomination, tends to look for problems in the pews instead of the pulpit, and while no human organization is perfect, there’s a grain of truth to this. This is particularly the case with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is a loose coalition of Baptist churches joined together to pool resources for missions. Each church tends to its own affairs, and calls or dismisses ministers at their discretion. And Baptist ministers can leave churches to go to another. That’s why disciplinary action within Baptist associations consists of voting out churches that stray too far from doctrine accepted by member congregations. This means there’s a wide range in any “brand” of Baptist, from the type of worship service to even minor doctrine (not touching on the core beliefs of Christianity or Baptist doctrine), and that, in turns, means the reasons for declining membership can be hard to pin down.
If you want to know what Baptists believe, a good resource is What Baptists Believe by Herschel H. Hobbs. You can find one here at Amazon. To find out what churches in a Baptist association believe, you can turn to their confessions of faith, such as the Baptist Faith and Message, which you can read here. For the discussion at hand, the Baptist Faith and Message is sufficient, and a short read. For bigotry against a denomination is based somewhat on what it believes.
This, I think is a large reason the Southern Baptist Convention is losing members. Right from the start, the Southern Baptist churches’ belief in scripture is going to set it at odds with those who take a looser view. In days past, the cry against the Southern Baptist Convention was the refusal to ordain women. Why? Because of the criteria of the ministry found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9. These days, the main outcry is Southern Baptist churches pointing out that the bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, declares homosexuality to be a sin. That doesn’t sit well with our post-Christian society, and there is pressure from the media and the government for churches to conform to the world.
There’s other points as well, such as salvation exclusively through Jesus Christ, which is a core belief of Christianity, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, with all that implies. Were the truth known, these are likely the main points of friction.
Couple this with a society that no longer places great emphasis on attending a house of worship, nor looks askance at those who do not participate in any form of worship, and we see there’s no longer a cultural imperative to belong to a church. I think it was C.S. Lewis who observed that the drop in attendance at college worship services when it was no longer mandatory was among those who weren’t inclined to attend in the first place. There’s a difference in attending because you want to and because it’s expected. Clergy have long known that just because someone attends doesn’t mean they believe.
This, of course, isn’t the entire reason. You can disagree with church doctrines, which apparently is why my family left the Quakers, when the local congregation took exception with them taking up arms during the Revolutionary War. Because every church is imperfect (even the first had problems distributing assistance), it’s possible to get so badly hurt that you withdraw from any church. Large church or small, it makes no difference. And because ministers aren’t perfect, either, people can get so wrapped up in following a preacher and not Jesus that they set themselves up for disappointment. That dates all the way back to the first years of the church, too.
Southern Baptist churches are not immune to these issues. All of this and more can and does impact membership.
Which brings us to virtue signaling. You can find a list of the Southern Baptist Convention resolutions here. You can find some virtue signaling through the 20th Century into our own, though it seems particularly heavy this year. The thing to note this that none of them address why people are leaving Southern Baptist churches.
A good example from this year is Resolution 7, on Christians displaying the Confederate Battle Flag. While some in the news have made much of why the Southern Baptist Convention split from the national over slavery (it was over funding missionaries who owned slaves; another reason was that the national convention sent fewer missionaries to the South), it’s not an issue behind declining membership. Ah, but repudiating the Confederate Battle Flag is trendy right now. Basically the Southern Baptist Convention wanted to wave and shout “Look at us; see how we’re doing the right thing?” All the while it drew attention to something most people weren’t aware of in the first place.
I can just about guarantee it added no members to the rolls. That it was so eager to climb onto the SJW bandwagon is probably going to cost it members, for it reeks of pandering to the world. It raises a question: Today it’s the Confederate Battle Flag. Tomorrow will it be on points of doctrine? Other denominations have gone down that path. And certainly there’s secularist pressure, from politicians to judges to the MSM.
What you don’t find is an effective effort to let people know why we can trust the bible and why we can only trust in Jesus for salvation. This is tragic, because these are precisely the points that secularlists hammer religion. Again referencing C.S. Lewis, he once stated it was hard to awake a sense of sin in modern man; how much harder if they are told the Word of God cannot be trusted and the church does nothing to counter it?
This is what the Southern Baptist Convention needs to be worried about, not virtue signaling. It’s the Gospel that convicts souls, not trying to curry the favor of the world.
One benefit of being a loose coalition is that it’s easy for churches to say “To your tents, o Israel,” and withhold contributions to state and national programs, or to leave outright. The latter is rare, but the Southern Baptist Convention came about through schism and there’s no reason for it not to happen again. Baptist conventions were founded on fulfilling the Great Commission, and unless the Southern Baptist Convention returns to its original focus of presenting the Gospel, and unless it begins addressing how we know we can trust the bible and that the Christian faith is true, it’s going to continue to lose members: those who see no strong reason to believe will drift away, and those who’re disgusted that the denomination has forgotten its first love will walk.