Church Executive: Working for the Baptists can be trying

The following is an interview with Louis Moore that was published in Church Executive's February issue.

Veteran religion journalist Louis Moore writes frankly about life in “Baptistdom” denominational offices — and remains unshaken in his faith. by: Ronald E. Keener

Ever pick up a book that you just couldn’t put down until you read to the last page? Witness to the Truth by Louis Moore is just such a book — and the “plot” is the Southern Baptist Convention as observed by one who worked in the denominational structure.

Moore subtitles it “lessons learned by a veteran journalist through four decades of watching the church.” He wrote the religion news in the Houston Chronicle for years, then went on to Nashville to work in units of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest — if declining — Protestant denomination.

Moore is disarmingly frank and pulls few punches. He names names and cites specifics. There’s a Watergate-esque meeting in a darkened room because of the level of fear in the church’s offices. By the end, he says, “I could trust absolutely no one.”

Today he is president of Hannibal Books, a small publisher in Garland, TX, and enjoying life more than ever. Church Executive posed some questions with him:

For non-Baptists, Baptist politics and theology are probably a mystery. What is the short version about the liberals, moderates and conservatives?

Like all denominations, Southern Baptists have never been lock-step and uniform in all things. Their differences reflect the varying geographic, economic, social and political perspectives of the people among them.

While SBC churches often try to reject the notion, their theology is influenced by these other factors. Moderates were in many ways the heirs of the rising affluence and higher education levels among Southern Baptists. Their rise to power was consummated by the early 1960s. These leaders and the churches from which they arose wanted so much to shake off the American stereotype of Southern Baptists as poor, ignorant, lower-class, uneducated though well-meaning church folks.

With their new social status as middle-class and affluent, Moderate leaders sometimes tried to discard some of the theological positions and peculiarities that made their denomination what it had been — rock-bottom conservative and biblically fixated. The Conservatives (a.k.a., the fundamentalists) rose up in rebellion against the dominant Moderate leadership in 1979. The seeds for the rebellion date back almost a decade, but 1979 is often cited as the beginning of the movement.

The Conservatives rallied around the battle cry of inerrancy, or restoration of a belief in an “inerrant” Bible that is the sole authority for faith and life. They built a coalition that gathered in others not so passionate about theology but who had been alienated by the Moderate establishment, which had taken on an almost elitist tone. At first the two groups battled at what appeared to be a 52-48 percent ratio, with the Conservatives eking out slim majorities. With persistence personified, the Conservatives eventually triumphed and within a decade began taking charge of the SBC’s massive bureaucracy.

Read the rest of the interview
here, and then continued here.

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