Christianity’s Growth Problem Isn’t Politics, It’s Our Failure To Have And Evangelize Children By Joy Pullmann for The Federalist
Like just about every other Western Christian body, as well as the United States, the SBC is left to squabble over shrinking slices of a dwindling pie.
The New York Times put out a lengthy preview of the Southern Baptist Convention’s top controversies heading into their annual meeting this week in Nashville, Tenn. Members of the nation’s largest evangelical denomination are weighing the future of their religious body amid numerous theological controversies.
The way the SBC goes will significantly influence Christianity in the United States, which has since the nation’s inception been Protestant-dominated. As the Times notes, “About a third of the country’s evangelical Christians are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.” The SBC is therefore a big deal for anyone interested in American religion.
The convention’s 2021 meeting theme reflects one constant in evangelicalism and even tucked into its name: “We are Great Commission Baptists,” proclaims a logo for the event. “The Great Commission” refers to the biblical passage at the end of the book of Matthew. Christ leaves his disciples with this charge:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This mic drop comprises the final words of that gospel. Christians thus consider them central to our religious identity and mission. Yet — at least if you go by The New York Times’ story — it seems some Southern Baptists, like many evangelicals, have misinterpreted Christ’s words in such a way as to harm their own religious body, as well as the faith of the people entrusted to their pastors’ care.
Decline Stems From No Babies, Not Being Too Trumpy
The Times reports that one of the SBC’s concerns is “15-year decline” in members, both through potential theological schisms intertwined with politics, such as critical race theory, and through an aging and thus declining membership.
Southern Baptist leaders have been trying to win younger and more diverse members. But while younger evangelicals are still conservative, studies show they are more racially diverse, more likely to support rights for LGBT people and immigrants, and less supportive of Mr. Trump and his politics.
Ed Litton, an Alabama pastor running for SBC president, says evangelicals’ close association with the Republican Party risks alienating people they should be winning over, including the very demographics the SBC needs to attract to start growing again: young people and people of color.
While the Times makes much of contrasting the SBC’s political conservatism with its forecast of demographically decisive American leftism, it doesn’t note that the SBC’s decline is directly related to following broader American culture, instead of Christian beliefs, on a keystone of institutional vibrancy: fertility.