Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As Southern Baptist Churches Lose Members, President of Southern Baptist Seminary Chides Anthony Weiner to Find Christ

One of the increasingly tired tropes found on many Catholic websites, when the right-wing brethren taunt their progressive brothers and sisters, is that membership in conservative churches remains robust, while it's falling in churches that cave in to liberalism.  

Unfortunately, the data aren't bearing this taunt out.  A few weeks ago, results of a several-year study of membership among Southern Baptists, who are among the most reliably conservative religious groups in the U.S., were released by a group commissioned to study this issue, LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville.  The information released is not encouraging.

In 2010, baptisms in Southern Baptist churches fell to their lowest point in 60 years.  Sixty years ago, Southern Baptists were seeing one baptism for every 19 church members.  In 2010, the figure was one baptism for every 28 48 members.*  Baptisms have declined in Southern Baptist churches in 8 out of the last 10 years.  

As Jaweed Kaleem notes in the HuffPo report about this to which I've just linked, these statistics become even more meaningful--and should be even more alarming to Southern Baptists--because the theology of Baptists requires that one choose baptism as one grows up.  This is not a choice made on one's behalf soon after birth, as in many other Christian communions.

As I've noted in a number of postings here in the past year, Robert Putnam and David Campbell's important 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us provides solid evidence that a significant exodus of young people from American churches is underway now, and is likely to accelerate.  The single factor that Putnam and Campbell find most young people citing for their choice to distance themselves from churches?  The politicization of the churches, and, in particular, the decision of many churches to become vehicles for conservative politics.

Above all, the decision of churches to become vehicles for conservative anti-gay politics is turning off many American young people, Putnam and Campbell find.

If the Southern Baptists want to reverse the exodus occurring in their churches today, it seems they'd be well-advised to take a look at Putnam and Campbell's work and to reconsider the decision they made some years ago to become a virtual arm of the Republican party and its conservative politics.  What Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is doing right now is hardly likely to prove a step in the right direction, if the church wants to attract new members among younger Americans.

Mohler's response to the Anthony Weiner situation?  As a Jew, Weiner needs to find Christ and repent.  Mohler's unsolicited advice to the congressman is about as sensitive--and as gospel-grounded--as the pompous declaration of Rev. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, back in 1979 (as the SBC began taking its right-wing turn) that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

The persistent anti-Semitism of some conservative American Christians, and the persistent attacks on gay and lesbian human beings: these aren't proving to be the future of Christianity in the U.S.  If the conservative churches want, that is, to have a future . . . .

*I've corrected the posting because I typed the 2010 ratio wrong.  It's one baptism in 2010 to ever 48 members.

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