January 15, 2021

The SBC and the BWA: A case of abandoning ship too soon?

To hear the Southern Baptist Convention leadership tell it, the Baptist World Alliance had become intolerable. Taking nearly a million dollars a year from those dear Baptists who really wanted to support Lottie Moon and spending it on an America bashing, liberal seminary supporting, money wasting public relations outfit that no self-respecting SBC fundamentalist would identify with for money or biscuits. So in the 2004 SBC annual meeting, the SBC took its money and went home, leaving the Baptist World Alliance without a third of its budget and the largest chunk of its member churches.

Not everyone was pleased. Check out the Baptist General Convention of Texas’s BWA page. Seems that some feel the BWA is doing a lot of good for the church around the world and anyone interested in missions could find a way around any tight spots and stay supportive of an organization that gives Baptists a voice in places where those south Alabama accents aren’t recognized.

In fact, according to the theologian cited by the SBC in their objections against liberal theology in the BWA, the SBC gang is just plain lying….and he wrote and told them so, asking them to repent and come back into the worldwide fellowship of Baptists. (I have to say that reading this is distressing. It appears the SBC was looking for a fight and picked one.)

Plenty has been written about this decision, and given the mood and behavior of the SBC these days, is anyone really surprised? Still, I wonder if the SBC move makes as much sense as it seems to at first.

Probably less than 5% of Southern Baptists have any idea what the Baptist World Alliance is all about. Growing up in the SBC, I recall it being mentioned once a year for an offering, and occasionally coming up when they sponsored some sort of world Baptist Youth rally. Other than that, there was little or no exposure of the BWA in my corner of the SBC. I imagine that’s typical.

Still, it was the only connection I had to a world of Baptists larger than the SBC. I was told that most other Baptists were liberal or wrong. The BWA’s literature shows some of what the current SBC calls liberalism, but it also shows a healthy concern for things that matter to almost all Baptists: evangelism, church starts, missions, mercy ministries and education.

Looking at the BWA’s ministry page, it’s clear they don’t do all that much. Their budget is small. In fact, they seem to do so little, that the SBC’s cries of great harm to the witness of Bible-believing Baptists seems to be a bit of an overreaction. If the BWA harbors some liberals- and surely they do- and if the BWA has allowed some anti-U.S. rhetoric at some of its gatherings- and it would be safe to assume it has- it isn’t a recent development. I’m sure that European Baptists- the culprits- have been liberal and anti-American since the sixties or before.

Still, the BWA never comes off as anything less than warm-heartedly evangelical. Just for example, here’s part of their published response to the SBC decision. Ask yourself….”Do liberals talk like this? About these topics?”

With great joy we are pleased at an outstanding grant that will allow the BWA to assist member bodies even more in evangelizing the world in our generation! At the General Council meeting in Seoul, Korea this July 26-31, we will annonce a new program for the next quinquennium: “The World for Christ in our Generation!” We believe, with God’s grace and power that Baptists worldwide have a greater future before us than ever! We believe that the Holy Spirit is moving us towards unity and a new understanding of mission and evangelism! We believe that the Great Commission has been given to every believer, not only Western missionaries! We believe that the future of the Baptist World Alliance is as bright as the promises of God! We will daily pray for renewal and revival in our churches as we repent daily and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ, God and Savior, Redeemer and Comforter who shed his blood for our sins and is coming back again to gather his blessed community. We are forgetting what is behind and looking forward to that day when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and Christ!

Next question.

What the SBC has done in leaving the BWA is remove itself as an influence for orthodoxy and traditional conservatism at a time Christians around the world need our leadership. The BWA represents thousands of young churches and young pastors around the world who share the SBC’s values. Now they are left with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as their American friends and examples. Oh joy. Now Baptists all over the world will know how to be obsessed and bitter.

The SBC is supposed to know how to battle and win in the ideological and political battles with liberalism. But the SBC also has a tendency to say “We’d prefer to always do everything our way, as if we are the only Christians doing anything worthwhile.” That attitude was everywhere during the moderate reign at the SBC, and there were some signs that the IMB had repented, making me wonder what the IMB really thinks of this move. Now we’re seeing a newer version of the same sort of thinking. A denomination committed to church planting, missions and education quits the game because some loud and pushy liberals got too loud and pushy. It’s childish, but the SBC has become quite the bratty young strutter these last few years. And we all know about that.

The SBC knew that the BWA needed their money, so I think there were opportunities to be persuasive. Why not withdraw funds every year the BWA catered to the far left, and increase funds when they support conservatives and traditionalists? Why not stay in the BWA and speak out eloquently against the liberalism in European churches and seminaries? Why not stay and promote the cause of most Eastern European Baptists, who love the Bible and the Gospel, and aren’t afraid to speak out? Asia and Africa contain thousands of churches that would have identified with the values of the SBC. It seems an act of short-sightedness to abandon future influence because of present frustrations.

The two charges that are most bizarre: Anti-capitalism and letting in the CBF. Does the cause of Christ’s church really rise or fall with what anyone says about capitalism and the U.S.? I mean, good grief, that critique is just as likely to come from Bible thumpers as rank liberals. And letting in the CBF? Say what you want about the CBF’s lack of integrity on memebership matters and overall boorish lack of tact, and I’ll agree. But the CBF is a gnat, and there is no reason to do anything but smile and nod as they blather on and on. They don’t matter. If the CBF is the measurement of when the SBC will walk out, then just declare the rest of non-Pentecostal Christianity apostate and let’s move on.

The price of fellowship is higher than the SBC is willing to pay. Apparently the price of a cup of coffee at Joe’s is higher than that price. It’s a shame.

Of course, the current SBC isn’t known for long-term vision. It’s easy to read a bit of Lahaye dispensationalism into the idea of breaking off relationships with everyone who isn’t echoing Jerry Falwell. It’s like “things are getting kind of “End Times” around here. We need to leave.” No, maybe you needed to stay and play the role of the big dog growling, not the kid talking his ball and going home. Ever hear of “If Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” The SBC should have stayed and been unhappy. Too many Christians around the world needed us to act like grownups for a change.

Instead, the SBC said they would rather have the cash. The BWA probably wasn’t the most efficient use of precious money, and the typical church treasurer would probably call it all a waste. But now the planet’s most regionally defined denomination is right back looking like a bunch of yahoos who don’t know or care about anyone further north than Richmond, Virginia. It will save us coffee money, and we won’t have to listen to liberals say irritating things, but I have a feeling a lot of missionaries and national Christians wish we could find another way to signal our discontent.

I truly don’t know what to think of the SBC anymore. The leaders have become so cocksure of themselves, and have driven all reasonable opposition from the field, that I can only imagine what awaits around the corner for their next performance.


  1. ***What the SBC has done in leaving the BWA is remove itself as an influence for orthodoxy and traditional conservatism at a time Christians around the world need our leadership.***

    In the last, oh 200 years, has there been any Protestant organization that became more orthodox and conservative by remaining within a liberal association?

    ***No, maybe you needed to stay and play the role of the big dog growling, not the kid talking his ball and going home. Ever hear of “If Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?”***

    But why force the BWA to become more conservative against their will? If they would not choose to do so on their own, why should the 600 lb. gorrilla use its power to crush dissent?

  2. I lived through the conservative resurgence in the SBC. It was staying with the convention that allowed the resurgence. I’ve never guessed the leaders of the SBC to be easy quitters.

    And once I read the accounts of the SBC actions for myself, I am utterly convinced that the SBC was not being exposed to anything of the lethal liberalism that exists today, but instead to typical third world protestantism, that is largely uninterested in fundamentalism and feels no need to take America into special exception.

  3. “To hear the Southern Baptist Convention leadership tell it, the Baptist World Alliance was the latest incarnation of evil itself.”

    Quotes, please.

    From all I’ve read, the SBC’ers have been as charitable as possible about this split — it is critics of the SBC throwing out words like evil and heresy and division, etc.
    This was not a knee-jerk reaction. The SBC has been hashing out their differences with the BWA for years, and they’ve been working diligently with the BWA to resolve what can be resolved. Ultimately, they decided this move was the best one to make, and I think we ought to grant them that liberty and trust their good faith.

    It seems most like a matter of stewardship to me. Contrary to what your post insinuates, the SBC didn’t just do this so they can have more money, they did this partially because they felt like the money their congregations provide could be invested better. If the BWA no longer supports the theology or values they once did, theology and values the SBC still holds, it only make sense that the SBC not give money to an organization whose values are drifting from the majority of their congregations’.

    I am unaware of any uncivil talk about the BWA on the part of the SBC. Instead, I’m constantly encountering it coming from supporters of the BWA who will jump on anything the SBC does as evidence of its bigotry or narrow-mindedness, etc. It’s the SBC who is being divisive; it is those within the BWA who have left behind some of the values they used to share in common with the churches of the SBC.

    If the SBC believes their money can better impact the world for the kingdom by a different investment, we ought to afford them charity in that move.

    (And no, I’m not a Southern Baptist.)