Even the Holy Spirit Must Meet Southern Baptist Litmus Tests

About this time last year, some people were getting excited about the replacement of longtime Christian Right warhorse Ted Land by Russell Moore as chief spox for the Southern Baptist Convention on issues of morality and politics. I was skeptical, to put it mildly.

To those who still believe in some sort of irenic greening of the SBC, there’s some bad news (via Think Progress‘ Jack Jenkins):

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation’s largest protestant denomination, has kicked out a California church whose pastor embraces homosexuality, claiming that the minister and the church are not in “cooperation” with the SBC’s stance on LGBT issues.

On Tuesday, the SBC’s highest committee voted unanimously to “disfellowship” — or effectively break ties with — New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, California because it voted in May to become a “third way” church, or a congregation where members “agree to disagree” about homosexuality and not cast judgment on one another. The committee held that the church “does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church” under the SBC’s constitution, which outlaws congregations that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”

This is a fateful act to those of us raised in a Southern Baptist Church that valued congregational autonomy above almost everything else. Turns out the pastor of the church in question had a personal epiphany when his own son came out, and his congregation decided not to fire him over it while preserving their own right to disagree. This is the sort of informal accommodation that many, many churches have reached on this and other controversial issues. But it’s no longer acceptable within the SBC, with its new tradition of inquisitorial uniformity:

The church’s decision, which came weeks before the SBC’s annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, triggered a number of heated responses from prominent baptists such as Albert Mohler, the influential president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Mohler published a blog post in June blasting the church’s position and condemning homosexuality.

“There is no third way on this issue,” Mohler wrote. “A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not.”

So much for congregational autonomy and for tolerance–or for that matter, what used to be a core Baptist belief in the individual’s right to interpret Scripture as the Holy Spirit so guided.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.