Wrapping up Southern Baptist annual meeting: Did we witness the return of the so-called 'moderates?'

So the most newsworthy Southern Baptist Convention in years is history.

Rather than try to analyze all the coverage -- even a fraction of it -- I'm going to offer up a tweetstorm of links and analysis. After all, your GetReligionistas have been all over the coverage of big SBC events for weeks. To catch up with recent events (and some history), click here, here, here and then here. For starters. And there's a podcast on the way, too.

But before today's tweetstorm begins, I want to nitpick a specific word choice by a respected Godbeat pro: Tom Gjelten of NPR.

In this headline, see if you can spot the word I'm talking about:

A veteran religion writer emailed me the link to that story with this comment: "I don't think moderate means what Tom thinks it means." I hope Gjelten sees this post and responds with a comment on what he thinks it means. I'd welcome that.

Here's how NPR used the term in the context of the story:

In general the meeting showed moderates within the denomination in ascendancy, particularly on immigration issues. Resolutions were passed that called for more acceptance of immigrants, criticized the separation of families at the border and urged more generous treatment of refugees.

The question: Are those pushing for immigration reform accurately characterized as "moderates" in the context of the history of conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention?

In a tweet, Matthew Soerens of World Relief disputed the "moderate" terminology but endorsed the piece's sentiment:

Those who have followed the Southern Baptist Convention for a long time know that many so-called "moderates" left the denomination decades ago, as "conservatives" gained solid control. This is how I used the terms in a 2004 Associated Press story about the 25th anniversary of pivotal 1979 SBC annual meeting:

HOUSTON — Back in 1979, the Rev. Jimmy Allen thought the highlight of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting would be a giant rally at the Astrodome featuring the Rev. Billy Graham.
Instead, Allen and other moderate leaders in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination were caught by surprise as conservatives who had attacked the denomination’s seminaries as “hotbeds of liberalism” flocked to the meeting.
There, they succeeded in electing a denominational president, the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Tennessee, who shared their view of biblical inerrancy – meaning that the Bible is without error in any way, including historical details.
Some thought the vote was just a momentary change in direction, but Rogers’ election turned out be a watershed moment for the denomination. The 16 million-member SBC shifted dramatically to the right – politically and theologically – and in the years that have followed, its conservative leaders have pushed hard against abortion rights, homosexuality and women pastors.

In other words, does the current debate over immigration reform (and partisan political rhetoric, as well) really involve Baptist conservatives and moderates? Or is this a case where various camps of SBC conservatives disagree on some issue, but are all still doctrinal (as opposed to political) conservatives? Clearly, the latter is true.

I would welcome insight -- and even opposing viewpoints -- from Baptists as well as other journalists who covered the meeting.

By the way, the full-time Godbeat pros among those in attendance in Dallas included Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (and the USA Today network), Julie Zauzmer of the Washington Post, Daniel Burke of CNN, Carla Hinton of The Oklahoman and Adelle Banks of Religion News Service (one of the few reporters who covered last year's SBC meeting in Phoenix in person). Who am I missing?

OK, I've said enough. I'll end with the promised tweetstorm, beginning with the one that most people think could signal a sea change at the top of the SBC leadership pyramid:

 

 

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