In preparation for Southern Baptist Church Convention in Indianapolis this week, many churches are responding to their declining baptism rates by considering dropping the name “Southern Baptist” and distancing themselves from the Church’s fundamentalist image. The Washington Post reports that numbers have fallen for the third straight year in a row and for the last seven out of eight years. Rev. Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Church warned that by 2030 half of the denomination’s churches could be closed.
The Southern Baptist Convention holds fundamentalist conservative beliefs, for example, that the bible is the literal word of God, that homosexuality and premarital sex are sins, and that abortion should be illegal, according to the official statement of the Southern Baptist Convention. At its convention in 1988 the Southern Baptist Church turned even more ideologically conservative and passed a radically extreme addition to its already conservative beliefs: that wives should “submit graciously to their husbands.” According to the Dallas Morning News the first membership downturn occurred shortly thereafter, and many have blamed this shift towards extreme conservatism for the decline in membership.
Many Southern Baptist Churches blame the decline in membership on their shift towards a fundamentalist viewpoint, according to the Washington Post. The Washington Post reports that some more progressive Southern Baptist Churches have changed their names to exclude the words “Southern Baptist” so as to distance themselves from the right-wing “culture warriors,” who they claim have “hijacked” the Baptist name. Other Southern Baptist Churches, such as the Sandals Church in Riverside (CA), not only remove the word “Baptist” but have begun using unconventional outreach methods, such as holding meetings in night clubs, and recruiting young people who have tattoos and Mohawks, according to the Press Enterprise.
Southern Baptist churches have full autonomy in running individual congregations, many not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. This explains the historically broad spectrum of adherents, from Jerry Falwell and Fred Phelps to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jimmy Carter.