Jan Nunley on the failure of the Moderate response within the SBC

Current Affairs

Thanks to Jan Nunley who pointed me to a piece she wrote almost a decade ago as a commentary on the tactics within the SBC as it was moved rightward to a much more conservative stance during the 70’s and 80’s.

What I personally find very interesting is the critique of the way the moderates failed in their response:

Link: Lambeth Reflections by The Rev. Jan Nunley.

Leonard also details why the Southern Baptist moderates lost. First, he says, “the so-called moderate coalition was virtually no coalition at all. Its members lacked consensus and direction, particularly in the first five

Second, most moderates “misread the times and the future. Many promoted the old methods for dealing with denominational controversy: let the controversy run its course. Do not confront or antagonize the opposition publicly. Bring opponents into the denominational bureaucracy and there they would be pacified and ultimately give up their ideological quest.” Leonard warns that in this way, moderates lost valuable time in confronting both the methods and the ideology of fundamentalists.

Third, many moderates tried to avoid the theological and concentrate on the political issues. They never formulated a theological response to the fundamentalists, which kept them on the theological defensive and effectively ceded the “high ground” to fundamentalism, while the moderates appeared to lack convictions.

Fourth, moderates “often promoted the programmatic and corporate identity of the denomination, thereby contributing to the impersonal, bureaucratic image that the fundamentalists exploited” with their populist rhetoric.

Fifth, “a significant number of people sympathetic to the moderate cause refused to get involved. . . Some did not agree with the fundamentalist political agenda but were reluctant to oppose it lest they be branded as liberal. Many believed that the convention would self-correct before the fundamentalists went too far.” By that time, of course, it was far too late. Perhaps Leonard’s most damning characterization of Southern Baptist moderates is that they were “in a sense the Democratic party of the Southern Baptist Convention. They were a coalition of diverse subgroups unable to agree on a common vision for the denomination or evoke the focused ideological intensity that characterized the fundamentalist camp.”

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. JOHN 2007 says

    Five or maybe six of the seven points Nunley makes about the SBC fundamentalists hold true of the revisionists, as much as they do of the reasserters, to use current terminology, in our denomination. I found the article shallow. Amazingly so. A form, really, of making the charge of a ‘vast right wing conspiracy.’ She is even pretty sure that ECUSA members who object to our liberal drift in sexual ethics may actually be consorting with some of these fundamentalist Baptists! Give me a break. Yeah, we’re calling Falwell and Robertson and the like all the time.

  2. I don’t know that I’d dispute your point about the revisionists John.
    Certainly churches and denominations are getting increasingly political and increasingly politicized.
    My point, as a self-described moderate, was directed more at the ways the moderates recognized too late that the fractures were fissures that couldn’t be papered over…
    Unless you mean that the moderates are really revisionists?

  3. If not VRWC says

    >A form, really, of making the charge of a >’vast right wing conspiracy.’
    Would you prefer “tiny but very loud right wing conspiracy”?

  4. The LCMS is another example of this phenomenon. Many excellent but liberal to moderate scholars were forced out of that tradition in the 1980s and the tradition took a turn more conservative (not the same thing as confessional) than it had been to that point.

  5. SBCSurvivor says

    Jerry Falwell has long associated himself with ‘Bible-believing, independent, local church-oriented, Baptist fundamentalism’ and changed affiliations from the more traditional Baptist Bible Fellowship International to the mainly conservative Southern Baptist Convention only recently. Pat Robertson is a Southern Baptist and was active as an ordained minister with that denomination for many years, but holds to a Charismatic theology not traditionally common among Southern Baptists.
    Neither man was active in the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. The leaders of the takeover included Judge Paul Pressler of Houston and the Rev. Paige Patterson of Dallas. For a timeline, see http://www.mchorse.com/sbcchronology.htm.

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