A Half-Buried Body: Southern Baptists in the News
Marion D. Aldridge
Southern Baptists are making headlines again in secular newspapers, as they did thirty years ago. It’s as if hunters in the woods stumbled upon a shallow grave and discovered a half-buried corpse most people had forgotten about.
Many of us who grew up as Southern Baptists are like children of a kidnapped mother who went missing long ago. We grieved then. Now, decades later, we get a phone call and are told, “They found her body.”
All the old emotional and spiritual wounds feel as fresh as when she was abducted. We thought those memories, injuries, and abrasions had healed, but apparently not. We grieve again.
During the 1970s and 80s, Southern Baptists pulled themselves out of the mainstream of Protestant Christian life. Southern Baptists were theologically conservative, but not inflexible. There was relative autonomy at the church and the individual level. The umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was not restrictive enough for the legalists who staged a successful coup. They wanted everyone who did not fit their narrow doctrinal whims removed from any leadership role. They got their wish.
The details of the abduction are available in old newspapers. The consequences were real and destructive, beginning a downward spiral. Church buildings in the Deep South that once seated a thousand on Sunday mornings now hold fifty—on a good weekend!
Men and women, laity and clergy, left the Southern Baptist Convention by the hundreds of thousands. They became Methodists and Presbyterians. Tragically, some left church altogether.
The harsh fundamentalist doctrines of the new SBC regarding the limited role of women in church and society have discouraged millions of young women from having any interest in the Christian faith and church life.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was formed as a safety net for former Southern Baptist churches and individuals, providing a home where the traditional Baptist principle of religious liberty is still valued. CBF is now my spiritual home.
Suddenly, with the emergence of the “Me, too” movement, with women finding their voices and expressing their experiences, insights, and opinions, Southern Baptists are in the news again. Scandals, ranging from embarrassing to malicious, have put Baptists on the front page and the evening news. The corpse was exposed. The most prominent recent New York Times headline concerns the firing of a Southern Baptist seminary president. For decades, he was simply doing what powerful men do when their moral compass fails. He believes a battered woman’s role is no different than that of all women. She must be submissive and subordinate. His advice: “Go home, be quiet, and support your husband.”
It was predictable that an organization built by creed and conviction on male dominance and the silencing of women would run into problems. When powerful men are not accountable to anyone, women and children will be bullied. Consider the abuses within the Roman Catholic hierarchy, followed by cover up after cover up. Why would anyone be surprised if this pattern repeated itself in the Southern Baptist Convention?
The Southern Baptist Convention that I knew was kidnapped, killed, and lost forever. We grieved then and grieve now when extraordinary misbehavior surfaces again… and again… and again. I mourn for the women who have been demeaned, demoralized, disenfranchised, and demonized, even when they are the victims of assault.
These shameful acts slaughter the souls and spirits of girls and women. They are being brought to light. I’m grateful, nowadays, to be involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a faith community that emphasizes justice, grace, and love.
In the Christian faith a primary hope is that, after death, there comes a resurrection.