The Wartburg Watch posted last evening a catalog of explanations for the continued decline of the Southern Baptist Convention, drawing especial attention to the reluctance of some pastors to even identify their churches as Southern Baptist.
As someone who has been saying for years that the brand has gone bad — and deservedly so, for all of the other reason enumerated in the piece — I’ve got to laugh at the thought of church planters unwilling to even identify the denomination of the church they’re planting. A pastor who is embarrassed to even speak the name of his product is a pastor who doesn’t believe in his product and isn’t going to be able to sell his product.
The Southern Baptist’s reality claims are untrue, and I think no better of their ethical teachings; anybody who believes, for instance, that pleasing an invisible friend is more important than their wedding vows is a fool who isn’t actually married at all — yet that is exactly what every last Southern Baptist pastor in Christendom demands. So … fine: If they want to piss away their money planting churches they don’t even believe in, it hastens their decline and I’m all for it.
The Wartburg Watch overlooks an important aspect of the SBC’s decline, though. It’s true that most Southern Baptist pastors go to seminary, and that the denomination has some specific theological distinctives, but it also is true that most of the folk in the pews have only dipped into the Bible and probably can’t identify those distinctives. ‘Southern Baptist’ is a tribal, cultural, identity far more than it is a theological identity — and the rural southern culture in which it is embedded is dying. If the denomination can’t make headway with urban minorities — and that’s more unlikely than ever after this week’s brouhaha over the alt-right white nationalism resolution — it will inevitably, unavoidably fail.