I can’t say I’ve ever heard the Rev. Greg Laurie preach, but the evangelist is certainly a heavyweight in some circles. Which is why I was surprised to hear he was moving from life in a charismatic denomination to the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise did a piece (which I found in the Orange County Register) on Laurie’s switcheroo nearly a month after Christianity Today reported on it. The writer of the Press-Enterprise piece might have done well to have googled Laurie’s name, as she would have found CT’s vastly better-reported piece.
As it was, this is what the newspaper reported on Monday:
Harvest Christian Fellowship will be joining the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant body with about 15 million members. The Rev. Greg Laurie, pastor and founder of the 15,000-member Harvest and its Harvest Crusades, announced the move in June.
Some theologians see this as Laurie’s official shift toward mainstream evangelicalism and worry that Riverside-based Harvest could be overshadowed by the denomination. Laurie has been seen as one of the biggest crusaders of Calvary Chapel, an association of evangelical Christian churches to which Harvest belongs. Calvary was born as a movement away from religious denominations.
But, in a statement, Laurie calls the new partnership an extension of the collaboration already taking place between Harvest and a network of evangelical churches that participate in the annual Harvest Crusades -- a Southern California Christian institution that’s drawn millions of people to stadiums and arenas around the world.
So far, so good -- although we could talk about whether the vague "evangelical" terms is the best way to describe the Calvary Chapel movement. Then:
Laurie, who has an office in Irvine, was not available for an interview last week, spokeswoman Laura McGowan said.
For Southern Baptist, which has been reported to be struggling with declining membership, this is a gain…
Yes, you read that right. It really did say, "For Southern Baptist" -- singular. Clearly something is missing there, in terms of grammar. Maybe, "For Southern Baptists" -- plural -- with the rest of the sentence tweaked to fit that change?
Anyway, then the Press-Enterprise team quoted a mission leader:
Ebert called it an example of what could be in store with Harvest’s new partnership. Laurie can help attract crowds, while Southern Baptist can provide resources to host such events, he said.
Come on now! It’s Southern Baptists, not "Southern Baptist." What copy editor was asleep over there? The weird error continues:
Southern Baptist and Harvest share many practices and beliefs in scripture, salvation, and evangelism, said Philip Clayton, professor of theology at Claremont School of Theology.
Any changes won’t be theological, he said.
Where Harvest and Southern Baptists differ is in their institutional structure, Clayton said.
Really now? But if you read the CT piece, it's clear that the changes are theological. I understand this reporter may not be a regular on the beat, but there’s a bunch of subtleties she missed on this one.
What’s also strange is that Laurie’s switch went unnoticed for so long among Southern California media. The Orange County Register ran a review of Laurie’s latest book on June 9. Laurie announced news of the switch on June 12, according to this Christian Post piece. That was, by the way, right when the Southern Baptist Convention was holding its annual meeting in Phoenix. And Laurie announced his changeover on his blog on June 13.
Some folks were definitely sleeping at the switch on this one.
I can’t say that anything I’ve read has really answered the question of why Laurie has gone Southern Baptist at this point. Do they need him? Does he need them? The answer to both seems to be “no.” So when the motives are that murky, there must be a deeper story there. Can the local media dig about and find out more?
Or do we need to wait for someone from the national media, who has better sources perhaps, to tell us the reason? Listen to Laurie's speech and he tells us that Harvest will be both a member of Calvary Chapel and the SBC. Huh? Has this been done elsewhere with any other Baptist congregation? There must be some SBC historians or scholars somewhere who can tell us plus there must have been a lot of negotiating before the big announcement. Inquiring minds wish to know details.
It's a shame there are so few active religion reporters in California these days. With a story like this, here’s where you need someone with boots on the ground to tell us what’s going on. Back in the day, there were more of us out there who could get to the truth. Today, with rare exceptions, experienced, trained religion-beat reporters do not exist.
If the Press-Enterprise, the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times added full-time religion reporters to their newsrooms -- and Southern California is one of the most religiously diverse places on the planet -- that would all change.
FIRST IMAGE: Screenshot from Harvest Christian Fellowship website.