A private gathering of 150 unnamed religious activists tried to throw the South Carolina evangelical vote to Santorum. That gathering was held at the ranch of a Southern Baptist Convention conservative takeover heavyweight – retired Texas Judge Paul Pressler. As Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy said on the Jan. 21 broadcast, it had all the hallmarks of Pressler’s manipulations of the SBC:
The eventual victors touted the movement as the “conservative resurgence” and claim that it rescued the nation’s second-largest faith group from liberalism and decline. Gaddy, who was active in SBC leadership until the 1980s, said he called it “political fundamentalism,” which he defined as “a manipulation of theological issues and church loyalty to advance purposes latched on to interests in politics, money and power.”
The politics of religion still prevailed in South Carolina, albeit without being bent to Pressler’s will by handing the primary to Rick Santorum.
Mark Silk found that the evangelicals instead chose Catholic Newt Gingrich as their alternative to Mormon Mitt Romney:
The Mormon Gap killed Mitt Romney. Defined as the percentage-point difference between the evangelical and the non-evangelical vote for a given Mormon candidate in a Republican primary, it turned out to be 16 points; i.e. Romney won 38 percent of non-evangelicals but only 22 percent of evangelicals. By contrast, Newt Gingrich won 44 percent of evangelicals, as opposed to only 33 percent of non-evangelicals.
New York University Professor Jay Rosen parses Republican views as reality vs reality-denial. Similarly, an irrational anti-Mormon religious reflex may be seen as having had a determining effect in South Carolina. It may do so again in Florida.
Ten police officers went to the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in Greece on Tuesday to arrest the, Father Ephraim as though he were “a gangster,” raged The Voice of Russian. But as Angeliki Koutantou and Harry Papachristou of Reuters explain:
The abbot of one of Greece’s richest and most powerful monasteries went to jail on Wednesday awaiting trial for hoodwinking the government in a high-profile land swap deal six years ago. Cypriot-born Efraim, 56, chief of the Vatopedi Monastery at the monastic community of Mount Athos, is accused of inciting officials to commit acts of fraud, perjury and money-laundering, a charge that can fetch him a jail term of several years.
The government is said to have lost tens of millions of euros in a series of land swaps with Vatopedi, a monastery with many prominent fans in Greece and abroad including Britain’s Prince Charles, who is a frequent visitor. Exposure of the scandal precipitated the fall of the country’s then conservative government in 2009.
It is obvious that the most visible religious institutions — from the Vatican, to Mount Athos, to the Southern Baptist Convention — are enormous bureaucracies virtually swimming in cash. Their relative immunity from taxation and the normal rules of fiscal oversight are troubling. But this case is especially jarring for the contrast it draws out between the grinding poverty of the Greek people under their new program of enforced austerity and the immeasurable wealth of the Orthodox Church. The same contrast will be drawn out in coming months in Rome, and I dare say in the U.S. as well.
The very public arrest of Catholic priests in Belgium or the U.S. for sexual crimes is one thing; the revelation of the Greek (or Roman) Church’s complicity in white-collar theft, pork-barrel politicking and a form of nepotism whose sole purpose has been to line the clerical elites’ own pockets is something else again.
Without question, the sex crimes are more heinous, but even outside criminal court there is a perhaps growing interest in financial accountability and other kinds. A few arrests, even at the level seen in Greece, aren’t enough action.
Christa Brown rightly blisters Southern Baptist Theological Seminary head Al Mohler for “nothing but talk” while not acting to make it safe at church for the suffering little children.
With a straight face, news services reported this week that in 2008-2009, the number of Southern Baptists declined 0.42% to 16.1 million members. It is the third straight year of decline, according to the 2011 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
Yet those are grossly misleading numbers. They say nothing of value about the number of active members, and it is old news that active membership is perhaps one-third of those reported membership numbers.
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 Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land is closely identified with the lie that President Barack Obama’s plan to overhaul the American health insurance system is a government takeover of health care that he deserves dishonorable mention.
A well-constructed Google search finds more than 9,000 ties between Land and that argument.
His most extravagant stunt in service of that lie was an alleged 1.3-million signature petition by the National Center for Policy Analysis/Salem Radio Network (for which he is a show host). At the time, he said:
This petition is indicative of a spontaneous grass roots eruption of protest against a government takeover of the American health care system.
More extravagantly, on March 11, 2010, Land argued in an open letter:
… President Obama and the liberal congressional leadership are trying to ram through a takeover of nearly one-sixth of the U.S. economy with a new strategy.
Yet the St. Petersburg Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact service concludes in naming the 2010 Lie of the Year:
Readers of PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times’ independent fact-checking website, also chose it as the year’s most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin. (Their second-place choice was Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claim that Obama was going to spend $200 million a day on a trip to India, a falsity that still sprouts.)
By selecting “government takeover’ as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.
The phrase is simply not true.
Said Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: “The label ‘government takeover” has no basis in reality, but instead reflects a political dynamic where conservatives label any increase in government authority in health care as a ‘takeover.’ “
They document the fallacy of the claim point by point, and its origin in a Republican strategy memo, here.
The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s full-throated voice of a falsehood is not a new. In 2009, Land was likewise owed honorable mention (below Sarah Palin} for the PolitiFact Lie of the Year award trophy for elevating fictitious “death panels” to a topic of frenzied national debate.
Indeed, Land promoted both the falsehood that health reform involves eugenics programs, like those instituted in Nazi Germany, and the “death panels” myth which is part of those partly retracted claims.
Like Fox News, ERLC so often fosters misinformation that relying upon them has meant being misled on matters of historic significance.
Bold Faith Type offers a few other examples of Religious Right promotion of the falsehood:
- The Family Research Council held a webcast called “Government Takeover of Healthcare: Counting the Cost.”
- The Susan B. Anthony List took out radio ads alleging that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) “cast the deciding vote to allow the government takeover of health care.”
- FRCAction PAC ran campaign ads accusing numerous Democrats of supporting “big government” that is “taking over our health care.”
In 2000, Herb Hollinger retired from the helm of Baptist Press — the Southern Baptist Executive Committee public relations arm that masquerades as a legitimate news service. In a meeting shortly afterward, longtime editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, Lynn Clayton, asked then-SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman what kind of person would be chosen to lead BP.
Without hesitation, Chapman responded: “Someone loyal to me and the conservative cause.” While he expanded on that response, there was no mention of competence or experience, just loyalty to those looking for help in carrying out their Fundamentalist agenda. Chapman found such a person in Will Hall. North Carolina will find one too.
We saw it (controversy) coming. My brothers and I have been dealing with it for years. This just happened to bounce big, and I paid no attention. News means little to me, and the Web is — well, bloggers for the most part — are just frustrated people in their basements.
His speaking skills are of course still for hire. His successor as seminary dean , Elmer Towns, did say, “… I see Ergun with a long, profitable ministry.”
Also still for hire is Crying Wind, the not-an-Indian whose profitable history of pretending to an American Indian life story is detailed by Phil Johnson in Evangelical Bunco Artists. There is a long list, to which Johnson sadly appends Caner.
The Southern Baptist Convention isn’t the only once-robust denomination afflicted by an apparently incurable shrinking disease.
Dan Horn of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes:
Almost two out of three Catholics in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky won’t go to church this weekend to celebrate Mass, an event they have been told since childhood is the center of their spiritual lives.
The church’s most recent count of people in the pews found that about 290,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and 60,000 in the Diocese of Covington skip Mass in a typical week.
The annual attendance count begins again next month, but church officials don’t expect dramatic improvement.
Mass attendance has been falling steadily for decades across the country as a growing majority of Catholics find other things to do on Sundays, from shuttling their kids to soccer games to hitting the snooze button and sleeping in.
. . .
“There are serious problems, structural problems, all up and down the line,” said William D’Antonio, who has studied Mass attendance for almost 25 years at the Catholic University of America. “If you’re asking what are the future trends, they’re bleak.”
. . .
D’Antonio said national surveys he’s conducted since 1987 show sharp generational differences, with older Catholics attending Mass far more often than younger Catholics. He said just 20 percent of Catholics born after 1978 regularly attend Mass
. . .
D’Antonio said unless young Catholics such as Patton can be brought back into the fold, attendance will keep falling as the older, church-going generations fade away.
Read the rest here.
Norman Jameson, editor of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, gets right to the point:
Being a denominational journalist or any Baptist with a contrary opinion in the current era of Southern Baptist Convention upheaval sometimes feels a bit like a tick picker atop a rhino. It’s an important role, but the rhino is going to go where he will.
And nowadays, he gets there in secret.
His immediate concern is the closed-door session in which the SBC North American Mission Board on Sept. 14 “interviewed, discussed and voted on their new president behind closed doors.”
The 37-12 vote hiring Kevin Ezell for that job was ferreted out, but not announced.
As Jameson argues, secrecy is the longtime, continuously destructive rule at the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Ezell’s two predecessors were forced to resign in closed deliberations.
- An entire book, Misspending God’s money, deals with otherwise secret expenditures under former NAMB president Bob Reccord.
- Baptist Salaries, known and unknown deals with how little is known to the public about compensation to executives like Ezell.
- Great Commission Resergence Task Force meetings were closed and recordings of the deliberations sealed for 15 years.
- The powerful SBC Executive Committee meets primarily behind closed doors.
We agree with Jameson that the result is destructive:
Baptists want to believe in the work of our institutions. We want to continue supporting them. Closed doors indicate a lack of trust in us. It is hard to support an organization that doesn’t trust you.
Do Southern Baptists who refuse to put up with it have to leave the denomination?
“We have nothing to hide.”
That’s what then Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt said in June 2009 about the not yet formed Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. He made the statement to editors from four state Baptist newspapers, according to Baptist Press.
Hunt said the group would be as open and transparent as possible.
“I would be real open to say that we look forward to every meeting that there will be a state editor there to be able to document the meeting,” he said.
Not only did the task force close its meetings to editors and everyone else, it decided to seal the records of its meetings for 15 years.
So, what do they have to hide?
An article by Biblical Recorder editor Norman Jameson offers a few hints. He mentions the timing of the task force announcement to seal the records.
“It came as word was leaking out just how nebulous the task force’s ‘unanimous’ agreement on their recommendations was. It came as we further learned of the need for task force members to be educated about the autonomous nature of Baptist state conventions before they realized their recommendations could be only that – recommendations and not mandates.”
So perhaps the task force hopes to preserve the appearance of unity. Or maybe SBC leaders would be embarrassed that members of the task force were unfamiliar with Baptist polity.
Southern Baptists will have to wait until 2025 to find out. After approving the task force report June 15, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting easily defeated the next day a motion to unseal the records immediately.
The task force move is hardly surprising given its members aversion to straight answers and use of confusing and frustrating language during the process. At one point there was a lot of fog about the North American Mission Board and much conjecture about its possible merger with the International Mission Board.
Defeat of the motion to unseal the records further enhances the notion that passage of the GCR will not change the SBC.
During debate on the motion on June 16, task force members said they promised confidentiality to those with whom they talked.
“This motion would require the task force to break its word,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the task force.
Baptist blogger Wade Burleson said that’s a promise the task force should not have made.
“When the Convention authorized the Great Commission Task Force to do their work, the Convention never said it should be done in secret. The Great Commission Task Force did not have the authority to seal the records, only the Convention did.”
Jameson takes issue with another rationale for sealing the records. Task force chairman Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press that the task force was following the precedent of the “Peace Committee,” a group that tried to work out reconciliation between conservatives and moderates at the height of controversy in the SBC.
“The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force operates in an environment entirely unlike that of the Peace Committee era,” Jameson said.
Jameson said the task force’s decision runs counter to the group’s own report, which has a component about making values transparent. He points out that one of the values it lists is trust: “We tell each other the truth in love and do what we say we will do.”
The report also talks about working toward “the creation of a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“If we are to grow together and work together in faithfulness to the command of Christ, we must establish a culture of trust, transparency, and truth among all Southern Baptists,” the report says.
Sealing the records of the task force’s own deliberations was a march in the opposite direction. A good start would have had the task force showing openness like that required of state and federal governments.