Long ago, a leader in the “moderate” wing of the Southern Baptists used an interesting image as he described how the national convention carried out it’s work.
The Southern Baptist Convention, he told me, really wasn’t a “denomination” in the same sense as United Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans are part of national denominations. Southern Baptists — including those on the doctrinal left on a few issues — really do believe in the autonomy of the local church.
Then there are the ties that bind at the regional level, in Southern Baptist “associations.” Then there are the state conventions (in a few cases, there are more than one — as is the case in Texas Baptist life— because of doctrinal differences). Then, finally, there is the national Southern Baptist Convention that meets once a year to do its business, including selecting boards for the giant agencies and programs built on donations to the Cooperative Program.
Note that word “cooperative.” Hear the Baptist, congregational, “free church” sound of that?
In the end, this Baptist moderate said, the whole SBC idea is like a hummingbird. On paper, it should not be able to fly — but it does.
This is the subject at the heart of this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) about sexual abuse in America’s largest non-Catholic flock. Why can’t the SBC just create a national institution of some kind to ordain clergy, or approve and register ordinations done by churches, and then force local churches to hire and fire clergy and staff with the mandatory guidance of this national agency?
This new institution would then be responsible for tracking and shutting down clergy accused of sexual abuse. Somehow. It would warn churches about predators , if there is legal reason to do so. Somehow.