SBC Leaders: Faced With a Denomination in Decline, Decide to Target Transgenderism

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SBC membership is in decline

This coming week, the SBC holds their annual meeting and things do not look good. The SBC is in trouble. Although some like to claim that the denomination has about 16 million adherents, most leaders admit that those numbers are far from accurate.  Here are some numbers as recently reported by LifeWay

The report by the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm, LifeWay Christian Resources, puts total membership in the Nashville-based SBC at 15.7 million. That's down from 15.9 million in 2012, a decrease of a little less than 1 percent.

Weekly church attendance decreased more than 2 percent last year, falling to 5.8 million as a weekly average for the year.

The report also notes a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of baptisms, falling to 310,368. Baptisms are an important measure for the denomination because of its strong commitment to evangelism.

Read those numbers carefully. The average attendance at weekly church services hovers at 5.8 million. The report also included this interesting fact that bodes poorly for the SBC.

Despite the membership decline, the total number of SBC-affiliated churches increased slightly in 2013 to 46,125.

So, it appears that, even with church acquisitions/plants, the numbers are still declining which makes this report even more bleak. Russell Moore's statement, included in the article, reflects the growing reality that the SBC is losing ground.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC's public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has said recently that Southern Baptists can no longer pretend to be the moral majority and should instead seek to be a "prophetic minority."

The number of actual SBC members is listed in the report as 15.7 million members. TWW bets that even LifeWay would admit that those numbers do not provide a true reflection of the SBC faithful. We wrote a post in 2010, dealing with this very issue.

When Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was interviewed by Trevin Wax a year ago, Dr. Akin expressed the following serious concern:

"On any given Sunday, we do not have 16 million Southern Baptists in worship. More likely, we have around 8 million present. And if you use as a criteria for “faithful church attender” someone who comes just once a month, we might have 10.5 to 11 million true Southern Baptists, not 16 million. You put all that in a pot and you can see that we have some serious issues." 

Behind closed doors, many SBC leaders will admit that the numbers are even lower, as low as 7-8 million members. If one looks at weekly church attendance, a good indicator of the "faithful" members, the numbers stand at 5.8 million. 

Here is another assessment of actual numbers.

In 2000, Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen wrote:

The Wall Street Journal reported in 1990 that, of the 14.9 million members of Southern Baptist churches (according to an official count), over 4.4 million are “non-resident members.” This means they are members with whom the church has lost touch. Another 3 million hadn’t attended church or donated to a church in the past year. That left about 7.4 million “active” members. However, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, even this is misleading, because included in this “active” figure are those members who only attended once a year at Easter or Christmas.

More recent numbers from Jim Ellif’s Founders Ministries article are even smaller:

Out of the Southern Baptist’s 16,287,494 members, only 6,024,289, or 37%, on average, show up for their church’s primary worship meeting (usually Sunday morning). This is according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (2004 statistics).

No need to belabor the point. That 16.1-million-member Southern Baptist Convention is as much of a myth as Bigfoot.

The numbers attending the SBC annual meeting have also precipitously declined, which could indicate that many of the current members don' t really have skin in the game.

Has the Conservative Resurgence/SBC Culture War contributed to this decline?

It is important to realize that Conservative Resurgence, along with the rise of the Neo-Calvinist movement within the SBC, was in full swing  over the past decade. This Conservative Resurgence focused on strict gender roles, emphasizing submission of women and the rolling back of the roles women can have in the church and even in Christian college settings. The Neo-Calvinist movement also focused on strict gender roles as well as authoritarian leadership and church discipline.

On Wednesday, TWW posted an article by Wade Burleson, who summed up the problems of the last decade.

If your organization is known more for the sins they're against and the message of God's judgment on unrepentant sinners, then right there is the reason why there are decreasing conversions.

Next time you feel tempted to clap and cheer at a convention for a thunderous message against 'homosexuals,' and 'transsexuals,' and other 'sexual sinners,' or a diatribe against alcohol and drug abuse, or a proclamation of God's judgment against our nation for the moral decay in Hollywood, or God's wrath on our culture due to the break-up of the traditional family, maybe you ought to sit on your hands.

In a recent article in The Daily Beast, Did the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence Fail? Mollie Worthen seems to question the legacy of the Conservative Resurgence.

So is this decline real? The short answer is yes—the social and intellectual authority of churches is a shadow of what it once was. That doesn’t mean that Jonathan Edwards wouldn’t recognize many of the challenges today’s evangelicals face. He, too, worried about how to keep teenagers from leaving church and succumbing to the temptations of the world, and how to persuade non-believers (in his case, the Indian tribes of New England) that Christianity was true. Effective evangelism has always required careful negotiation with the surrounding culture. Lottie Moon learned Chinese and ditched her Southern belle dresses for indigenous attire.

…When liberal mainline denominations began to shrink in the 1960s, conservative Southern Baptists and other evangelicals took this as proof that God had abandoned churches that adulterated his Word with Darwinism, progressive politics, and permissive sexual mores. 

…In a book called The Churching of America (1992) sociologists Rodney Stark and Roger Finke argued that in the American religious “free market,” the churches that grow are the strictest, most demanding churches, the ones that permit no “free riders,” require members to live in constant tension with the wider world and promise a big payoff for sticking to the one Truth.

By the 1990s they had driven most moderates out of the convention and enforced a regime of biblical inerrancy and traditional gender ideology—a worldview that, if Stark and Finke were correct, should have set the SBC on a path for boundless growth.

Except it hasn’t. 

…Poll numbers—rising numbers of “nones” who say they have no religious affiliation; slowly falling rates of church attendance—suggest that even if Americans continue to believe that life has a supernatural dimension, many may be drifting out of institutionalized worship

The rise of the nones

Interestingly, last year TWW wrote a post looking at the phenomenon of The Rise of the Nones as covered by Time Magazine. We were  startled when we received email after email, along with comments, which started with "I am one of the Nones." Even of more interest to us is that many of these so-called "nones" still believe in God but have lost interest in the evangelical church which has shown more interest in the culture wars than in the building of a loving church body. The SBC has lost faithful members who still believe. That is the tragedy of these numbers.

The Time piece highlighted a new book Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass link.
Here is a quote about the book from Amazon.

“Some contend that we're undergoing yet another evangelical revival; others suggest that Christian belief and practice is eroding entirely as traditional forms of faith are replaced by new ethical, and a religious, choices. But Bass argues compellingly that we are, instead, at a critical stage in a completely new spiritual awakening, a vast interreligious progression toward individual and cultural transformation, and a wholly new kind of post-religious faith.

According to TIME, Bass claims that the last decade has seen the scandal of the pedophile priests along with the increasing “entanglement” of faith and politics. She believes that this is driving people away from organized religion. This has led to what she terms a “participation crash”. Apparently even megachurches are seeing drop in participation.”

According to Bass, people are fleeing “fierce theological fights.” We believe that the following factors figure prominently on this trend. All of these received major play in the last two decades.

  • The rise of hardcore Neo-Calvinism (Calvinistas)
  • An increasingly rightward shift in the SBC
  • An emphasis on authoritarianism,
  • Strict complementarianism/patriarchy
  • Young earth creationism
  • Rigid eschatological “theories”
  • Disciplinary actions for silly reasons (a questioning spirit)
  • Political activism and church/political party alliances
  • Isolation within mega-churches
  • The rise of the prosperity gospel
  • Membership covenants and discipline contracts
  • Distrust of science

The culture is rejecting the message of the SBC

In a thoughtful post, Russell Moore seems to indicate that conservative Christians have lost support in the court of public opinion. 

Russell Moore, president of the SBC's public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has said recently that Southern Baptists can no longer pretend to be the moral majority and should instead seek to be a "prophetic minority."

In particular, he looks at the continuing lack of success in preventing the recognition of same sex marriage by the culture at large. This has been a goal of many of the SBC culture warriors.

As a matter of fact, the organizations closest to the ground know just how dark the hour is. The courts are hell-bent on redefining marriage, which is why state definitions of marriage, put in place by the citizens of those states, are being struck down. This isn’t happening simply in blue states but in the reddest of red states—Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and so on.

Is focusing on transgenderism or child sex abuse the way to draw people to the SBC?

It has been the position of TWW that, instead of constantly pointing fingers to those outside the ranks of the faith, we should clean up our own act. In particular, TWW has focused on the concerning issue of pedophilia and the evangelical church. The culture, as a whole, decries the sexual abuse of children as seen in the coverage of the Jerry Sandusky trial. It is an issue in which the SBC could lead.

Yet, it seems to us that this issue is downplayed by the leadership. Why is that? Could it be that some influential churches which lead the SBC have their own stories of poorly handled child sex abuse? Is it one of those "Don't talk about it because the spotlight might focus on our buddies" thing?

One has to wonder…

It appears the big issue to be presented at next week's SBC convention has to do with the issue of transgenderism!  

While the Convention ponders what to do regarding congregations that abandon biblical beliefs about sexuality, a Christian college professor and ethicist are requesting that the denomination also officially announce its opposition to “normalize” transgenderism.

Denny Burke of Boyce College and Andrew Walker, who serves as the director of policy studies for the Convention’s Ethics Religious Liberty Commission, have asked the Resolutions Committee to take a stand on the topic, which is now becoming a major issue in society.

“The public consequences of normalizing transgender are upon us,” Burk wrote in a blog post about the matter. “School systems across the country are beginning to allow boys who identify as transgender to make use of girls’ restrooms and locker rooms (see here and here). The state of New Jersey has made it illegal for licensed counselors to help a child embrace a gender identity that matches his sex.”

“Just last Friday, Medicare lifted its ban on sex reassignment surgeries,” he continued. “The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has at different times seen majority support in both houses of Congress and would make it illegal for employers to make personnel decisions based on gender identity—a measure that would restrict the religious liberty of Christian employers.”

This is not a joke. According to a UCLA study there are approximately 700,000 transgendered individuals in the United States.

An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay,or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.

Is the SBC losing the opportuntiy to become the leaders in fighting child sex abuse in the churches and the culture?

My guess is that few transgendered folks would be found in the pews of the declining SBC churches. They know they are not welcome. But, how many children and adults who have been victims of child sex abuse are found in our conservative SBC churches?

Let's take a look at one set of statistics. There are many stats out there but all of them show that child sex abuse is prevalent in the United Sates.

Studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, show that:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.

And many of these people are found in our church pews. Boz Tchividjian said 

The Christian mission field is a “magnet” for sexual abusers, Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor who investigates abuse said Thursday (Sept. 26) to a room of journalists.

While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, ”I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference, saying too many evangelicals had “sacrificed the souls” of young victims.

“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,” said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.

So, did the SBC see an opportunity to respond to the issue of child sex abuse and even garner some kudos from the surrounding culture for addressing this issue in a brave and forthright manner, decide to lead the way?

Nope.

At the close of this post, you will see a letter sent to the SBC leadership by the leaders of SNAP, along with our good friend Amy Smith, which was posted on her website here. They asked for some specific responses by the SBC, including the funding of a study which was approved by the Executive Committee to look at the development of a national SBC predator database. The also asked to speak to the Executive Committee to make them aware of the issues of child sex abuse in the SBC. (BTW-Amy is a long time member of an SBC church.)  

The answer, posted on Amy's blog,  was a resounding "not on your life, grasshopper." I guess the transgender issue was far too pressing. Here is an excerpt from her blog. 

Page says he has "great compassion" for "suffering victims." Where is the action to back that up?

Page says:

I regret having a delayed response, but as I said, I wanted to think through this again [calling sex abuse victims “opportunistic”]. As I have done so, I have found there to be no new or different factors, and therefore, no better course to take than the one we have taken to address the terrible threat and harm of sexual abuse in church settings.

The SBC is squandering an opportunity to lead the way on an issue that people from all sides of the culture war can agree. They could become the "good guys" in the war against child sex abuse. Instead, they come across as a ho-hum group of leaders who are fixated on pointing the fingers to those outside instead of cleaning shop. 


The letter from SNAP to the SBC

Dr. Frank Page
President, Executive
Committee Southern Baptist Convention
901 Commerce Street
Nashville,TN 37203
FAX: 615.782.4820         

Dear Dr. Page: 

We make three requests: 

1. Seven years ago this month, you wrote a column (published in the Florida Baptist Witness) in which you described a support group for abuse survivors as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons motivated by personal gain.” As was noted in Ethics Daily at the time, the only group that was publicly speaking out about Baptist clergy sex abuse was SNAP, an organization whose members are, for the most part, people who were molested, sodomized and raped by clergy when they were children. So, by publicly castigating SNAP members as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons,” you effectively demonized and dismissed clergy sex abuse survivors. And you deterred others who were sexually violated as children from speaking up, exposing predators and protecting others.

We hope that, in these subsequent years, you have been able to reflect on your words and to realize the extraordinary harm in what you wrote. So, on this anniversary of your caustic rhetoric, we sincerely request a public apology. 

For many clergy sex abuse survivors, such a derisive put-down served only to magnify the harm. Indeed, shortly after your column made print, we heard from one clergy abuse survivor who said she could scarcely breathe upon seeing your words. That’s how hurtful those words were. And not only were your words extremely hurtful in causing additional pain to child rape victims, but they were also hurtful in terms of fostering a climate of hostility toward clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. Coming from such a high official in the largest Protestant denomination, your words set a terrible example for other church and denominational leaders. So again, we ask for your public apology – better late than never.

2. Since you are now president of the SBC Executive Committee, we ask you to fund and conduct the study that Southern Baptist messengers directed the Executive Committee to make by a near unanimous vote at the SBC annual meeting in 2007. That study was supposed to consider the development of a denominational database to help churches identify clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or who have personally confessed to conduct constituting abuse. Yet, though the Executive Committee produced a document rejecting the idea of a denominational database, that document did not carry the usual indicia of a legitimate study. Instead, it appeared to be little more than the write-up of a predetermined conclusion. Indeed, SBC spokesperson Roger Sing Oldham specifically told the Nashville Scene at the time that there had been no budget allocated for such a study. And where was the data for the study? What outside experts were consulted and what testimony or opinions did they offer? Where is there any transcript of any hearings conducted? Was there even an attempt made to gauge the extent of the problem? And what about any charts to provide comparison with the processes of other major faith groups for handling clergy abuse claims? In compliance with that near unanimous vote of the SBC’s delegates, we ask that you finally conduct a legitimate study and that you do so in a manner that is transparent for all to see. In this networked day and age, it is simply incredible to imagine that this powerful denomination cannot find a way to cooperatively use its denominational structures so as to keep accessible records on church-hopping clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. 

3. We ask that a representative of SNAP be allowed to speak at the next SBC annual meeting in June 2014 in Baltimore, or alternatively, to at least speak to the Executive Committee at its session immediately preceding the annual meeting. As president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, you have the power and influence to grant this request and thereby to nudge greater awareness and compassion for clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. 

In conclusion, rather than disparaging those who speak out about this terrible darkness within the SBC, and rather than dismissing those abuse survivors who seek better protections for church-kids, we urge you to provide strong leadership on this dreadful problem, to reach out with a voice of compassion to those who have endured such crimes within the SBC, and to finally conduct the study that was voted for in 2007.

David Clohessy
Executive Director, SNAP
314-966-9790
SNAPclohessy@aol.com 

Amy Smith
SNAP leader Texas
281-748-4050
watchkeepamy@gmail.com

Lydia's Corner: Ezekiel 47:1-48:35 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 Psalm 119:49-64 Proverbs 28:12-13

Comments

SBC Leaders: Faced With a Denomination in Decline, Decide to Target Transgenderism — 414 Comments

  1. Ken wrote:

    When I say for both homosexuality and transgenderism a man is trying to be something he is not namely a woman, I have in mind the text in Lev 18 ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’. Doesn’t this define what is wrong?

    You’re going to need to explain how you make the leap from saying that Leviticus 18:22 describes a particular sort of intercourse to claiming that it states that gay men want to be women. The former is a legitimate interpretation of the verse; the latter … well, it requires supporting documentation, because the conclusion simply does not follow from the stated premises.

  2. @ Josh:
    Exactly.

    Also, I wonder why we happily wear clothing made of mixed fibers, eat shellfish and ignore most all of the rest of the commands in Leviticus, but make so much of this single sentence, which doesn’t even state what sexul act(s) is being referred to?

    I wonder if this commandment is related to not abusing others, as it wasn’t uncommon for men in the ancient world to use slaves (of all ages) and male prisoners of war for sex – in the latter case, as deliberate sexual assault/humiliation. Rape and other kinds of sexual abuse are inherently rooted in the rapist/abuser using sex as a way to show that they have power over their victims. Hmm…

  3. @ Ken: I’ve got a reply to Josh’s latest that is in moderation. It has more than a little to do w/this comment of yours.

    I wonder why you think that gay men want to be women? As Josh said, that’s quite a leap, and isnt consonant w/the reality of masculine gay men’s lives and experience. I don’t know if you have or have had any gay friends, but you might be surprised at how many regular guy-type men are gay/bi. (Likewise for many lesbians/bi women whom most men “read” as feminine straight gals.) There are many stereotypes, but reality – in terms of personality as well as orientation – is far more complex than that.

  4. @ numo:
    While I generally take a “Side B” aka “the actions are wrong though the feelings are not” approach for the sake of argument when discussing this topic here at TWW, I’ve wondered some similar things. I feel that the points raised by the side in favor of monogamous lesbian and gay relationships are often dismissed too quickly by those opposed to such relationships.

    Concerning your second point, I can only say that I evidently do an effective job of passing as straight; no one has ever suspected that I’m, well, not (though, strictly speaking, I should only claim that they’ve never vocalized such suspicions and I’ve never been the subject of rumors). When I try to be deliberately campy, it comes off as a parody of a stereotypical gay person rather than a genuine characteristic. And I’m certainly not the only one in this situation. So the “gay men want to be women” trope is getting old, never mind that it’s completely wrong, though – as we’ve seen – that certainly doesn’t stop misinformed people from using it.

  5. @ Ken:

    But when the word homosexuality is used, in my thinking it conjures up the idea of men having sex with men (MSM), whereas the orientation aspect is same-sex attraction (SSA). The former is sinful, a wrong use of sex like any other form of immorality, but for the latter you could argue exactly how much culpability for this lies with the person experiencing it. It’s why this kind of discussion needs to be had. Whilst I would not dismiss science in this area, science is always subject to revision, whereas the bible is not.

    I humbly submit that I doubt you would be arguing any kind of culpability for someone with OSA (opposite-sex attraction – not sure if that’s a real term but hey, I just coined it! 😀 ), just for having OSA. You would be telling them how not to let it spiral out of control into lust, but not that they were somehow culpable for being attracted to the opposite sex. Frankly, that’s just a double standard, esp. if we discover via science that it’s nothing more than a wiring difference in the same part of the brain, or something similar.

    Like I said before, the logical outcome of someone being culpable for their own SSA is reparative therapy. But we pretty much know that that rarely works, even when people desperately want to change for religious reasons, so what do we make of that? They’re just not trying hard enough? They were lying to the therapist? Either way, you’re just going to end up dumping a heaping pile of blame on the head of someone who already feels terrible about themselves, because they found out they can’t change something that’s supposedly incompatible with them being acceptable to God. See also this page from Warren Throckmorton, a Christian psych prof who was involved a video project about ex-gays but now believes “durable change in basic attractions is very infrequent.” (There are more thorough statements from Throckmorton about this, but I don’t have them on hand at the moment and my computer is having problems right now loading basic webpages.) And even for those rare cases where reparative therapy does appear to work, how do we know those people weren’t bisexual to begin with?

    As for the Bible not being subject to revision, I will note that the Bible only talks about MSM and lust, not SSA. So really there’s nothing to revise, because the Bible is silent on the topic.

    Add it to Deut 22:5, the spirit of which to me reappears in 1 Cor 11 regarding hair length, and it is quite clear that God does not want M and F to become blurred.

    You do realize that Deuteronomy 22:5 runs straight back to the intersex conditions I talked about earlier, in multiple ways. The most obvious one is, what is a person of ambiguous sex supposed to wear, since their biology has already blurred male and female? If they pick the wrong option, they’re an abomination according to Deuteronomy 22:5, so according to your own logic you can’t just dismiss this, since that puts it on a level with the gay sex verse you quoted.

    As for hair length, you may want to look into the cultural background of that verse in particular. I think I mentioned upthread that many Biblical scholars (including Christians) believe that Paul’s argument from nature there, actually stems from ancient views about women’s hair being a kind of sex organ that drew the man’s sperm up into their bodies through ducts. Obviously none of that is true, so let’s just say I’m skeptical that this constitutes some kind of timeless binding command about gender-appropriate hair length. Would you be upset if your daughter chopped her hair short or your son grew it out long?

    Transgenderism may not exactly be immorality, but is still unhealthy, and to me 1 Cor 6 covers this kind of behaviour if you think of the older version of ‘effeminate’ as being those who wear soft clothing or in some other way are too girlie (for want of a better term).

    What constitutes too girly, and can you justify your standard without basing it on a cultural stereotype? Case in point, the men’s clothing alluded to in Deuteronomy 22:5 (and some Middle Eastern clothing even today), would be considered “effeminate” in the West because it was almost certainly some kind of skirt. And as for soft clothing, pretty much all modern clothing would have felt soft to the ancients so make of that what you will. 😉

    for next time would humbly and in a spirit of brotherly love suggest I Hester and II Hester

    Well, Hester is just the Latin form of Esther so technically I already have my own book of the Bible. 😉

  6. @ Josh: I was in favor of Side B at one time, but I honestly don’t see how/why monogamous relationships should be off the board for gay people. The many churches that demand lifelong celibacy would likely be aghast at the notion that *straight* people might or ought to do the same.

    Focusing solely on sexual practices is so cruel – it undermines the humanity of all lgbtq people, and conveniently provides a way for people to ignore the very human need for love and building a life w/another person. What right does anyone have to deny that to others? I am just amazed at how people demand something from others (no matter who they are) that they would never in a million years think of doing in their own lives.

    And it’s SO exhausting to see culture war types bring up one target after another. The plain truth is that every group of people seems to want another group to be “less than” so that they can kick them around. I wish that wasn’t in human nature, but…

  7. @ Josh:

    There’s also the problem (as we’ve also seen on this thread) that gay relationships get conflated with gay promiscuity, even though we can all see the difference between monogamous straight relationships and straight promiscuity. Which is funny, because all the Side A people I’ve read, gay or straight, have all explicitly stated that promiscuity is wrong in a Biblical sexual ethic.

  8. @ numo: err, make that “bath house.”

    I like the idea of a “bat house,” because it sounds like a good premise for a cartoon… 😉