There is No ‘Creeping Liberalism’ in the Southern Baptist Convention

by Ryan P. Burge, Eastern Illinois University

I woke up this morning to read about the creation of the “Conservative Baptist Network” which is a loose coalition of concerned Southern Baptists who believe that their denomination has moved away from it’s true identity. Put succinctly, they think that the SBC has become too liberal.

They specifically point to the reluctance of some Southern Baptists to allow Vice President Mike Pence to speak at the Annual Convention in 2019 alongside some discussion about critical race theory and intersectionality being taught in Southern Baptist seminaries. This article from the Christian Post gives some more detail.

I am not here to discuss the theology of conservative Protestant Christianity. But I can bring a lot of data to the table. If one is looking for creeping liberalism among devout Southern Baptists, it’s hard to find.

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First, data from the General Social Survey indicates that the share of weekly attending Southern Baptists who are biblical literalists has never been higher than it is right now. Over three quarters of the most faithful SBC attendees believe that the Bible is literally true. That’s up ten points since 2000.

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From 1988 to 2018, the share of Americans who believe that same-sex marriage should be legal jumped from 12% to 66% since 1988. The share of Southern Baptists you think that homosexual sex is wrong has stayed remarkably high. Today, just 37.1% of all Americans think that homosexual sex is wrong, for Southern Baptists it’s 86%. So, okay, I will concede the point. That level of aversion has dropped from over 95% in the 1980’s. But it’s still fifty points higher than the national average.

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What about politics? Clearly, the SBC has never been Republican than it is right now. In 1984, just 30% of all Southern Baptists identified as Republicans. That has doubled, and now three in five Southern Baptists align themselves with the GOP.

By almost any measure, the SBC is as conservative now as it’s ever been. It’s also shrinking in size. It’s always interesting to me that when denominations see some decline, people arrive at two entirely different solutions to reverse that trend. Some want to make the tent bigger, allowing a greater diversity of thought and political orientations. While others want to circle the wagons and aim for ideological purity. It would appear that the Conservative Baptist Network clearly falls in the second camp.

Ryan P. Burge teaches at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. He can be contacted via Twitter or his personal website. The syntax for this post can be found here.

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University. Pastor at ABCUSA. I study American politics and religion.

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