Southern Baptists are meeting in convention in Indianapolis this week. You may have read about it, which is a good thing. Unlike a few months ago, when the United Methodist Church held its convention in Ft. Worth and received very little national coverage, we're already seeing some major mainstream coverage of the two-day convention. Religion reporter Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal had his piece picked up by USA TODAY. Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Salmon had something in Sunday's paper, noting that one of the things that will be discussed is the 40,000-person drop in membership last year.
Still the nation's largest Protestant denomination, there are 16.27 million Southern Baptists in the country. SBC leaders are pushing an initiative to reverse the decline:
The initiative is one of several issues that 9,500 church "messengers," as convention attendees are called, will tackle at the two-day meeting in Indianapolis. Among other issues: choosing a replacement for Page, a popular president who served for two years and cannot run for reelection. They also will vote on a controversial policy that bars missionaries from speaking in tongues, even in private.
The meeting comes, insiders and outsiders say, as the denomination is adrift after major battles in the 1970s and 1980s, when traditionalists defeated modernists in a struggle for control of the denomination. The "controversy," as Southern Baptists call those battles, raged over such issues as biblical inerrancy, temperance, homosexuality, abortion and the role of women in the church. It culminated in 2000 with revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination's statement of belief, that barred women from serving as pastors and called for wives to "submit graciously" to the leadership of their husbands.
The story quotes people with various thoughts about the initiative but it was this paragraph that caught my attention:
In recent years, young conservative ministers and seminary students, who helped elect Page, have used blogs to rush into the debate on the denomination's future, raising questions about its tight leadership structure, the status of women and its ban on alcohol for fear that the church is becoming too fundamentalist.
I am pretty darn sure that this is the first time in mainstream media history that a "conservative" group was set against "fundamentalists." The way many in mainstream media throw the latter term around, you'd think the two words are synonymous.
I just wanted to highlight this momentous occasion.