This comes from the National Journal's Hotline, which is the daily, must-read, Web-based political journal out of Washington, D.C. We don't agree with all the conclusions here, but is it interesting to see how the secular media is running with this.
Four Reasons Why The Southern Baptist Convention Election Matters To You (If You're Not A Southern Baptist)
A blogswarm propelled a revolution in the leadership of the nation's largest protestant domination yesterday; delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention chose an outsider from South Carolina as their new president, rejecting the establishment candidacy of an Arkansas mega-church pastor who had sewn up the body's top endorsements. Here's why it matters to students of American politics. The Southern Baptist Convention remains the most influential organized religious body in the South. More than 16 million Americans identify as Southern Baptists.
The new president is Frank Page , pastor of the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.
Page was drafted to run by SBC bloggers fed up by the SBC's establishment. The media says Page is "reform-minded," which is a word that smells like "liberal" to many outsiders. But Page has affirmed his belief in the inerrancy of the bible and the primacy of the Southern Baptist faith. What he'll reform, he says, is the operations of the SBC institution and its perception to outsiders that it's closed and intolerant. (He responded to a note from the Hotline with a simple sentence. "Please pray for me," he wrote.
There are several direct connections to American politics.
First, Page defeated Ronnie Floyd, who can't seem to appear in a newspaper article without the words "pastor of the biggest church in Arkansas" attached to it. Floyd is one of the most powerful preachers in the South. When Mike Huckabee, an unassuming minister ran for president of the SBC in AR,, associates of Floyd, his opponent, pegged him as too liberal for the state. Huckabee and Floyd are close, though, and have grown closer over the years. Huckabee, in an interview, said denominational politics "was way too much for me. They can be so much more brutal than regular ol' politics, he says.
This year, Floyd's national SBC presidential campaign was endorsed by the leading lights of the convention, including Paige Patterson, one of the original conservative reformers who yanked the SBC to the right (or, toward purity) in the late 70s and early 80s. Patterson is now the head of a venerable SBC seminary. One of the major issues: a complicated row over what's called the Cooperative Program, which helps to fund SBC ventures across the country. The split is sort of similar to the debate in the Democratic Party over Howard Dean's decision to spend money on state and local parties. Floyd was, at best, a medium-warm supporter of the Cooperative Program; Page promised to strengthen it. Smaller churches want less CP money to be controlled by megachurches like Floyd's in AR, and Huckabee, who keeps up with the church bulletins, said the election probably represented the collective will of small churches who thought that Page "would stand up for the little guy" over the larger megachurches. [MARC AMBINDER]
Connection two: Dr. Richard Land, one of the most powerful figures in evangelical politics, is the denomination's chief lobbyist in Washington. If Page cleans house, will Land go? (Probably not; Land is very effective and Page is very conservative.)
Connection three: Page is from, eh, South Carolina. Of the nearly 1.3 million self-described evangelicals in South Carolina, about 75 percent of them identify as Southern Baptist. A plurality are concentrated in northern counties around Greenville. Page's church, a few minutes north of Greenville, will almost certainly become a must-stop destination for presidential candidates. (The data comes from the Association of Statisticians of Religious Bodies as presented on the website of the Association of Religious Data archives.)
Connection four: Consider that the SBC is beset by, as Page himself put it in his nominating announcement, "declining baptisms, declining Sunday School attendance, declining participation in almost every category." Even the most liberal SBC members are not diffident to apostasy and the SBC considers itself the guardian of a very specific set of theological principles. The debates that have riven the SBC for years have almost always been about doctrine -- when it's ok to dissent from the SBC, what other denominations it's ok to work with. The SBCers don't consider Mormonism a true expression of Christianity.
One of the larger unknowns associated with Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy is whether Protestant pastors -- not Protestant laity -- would find it salubrious to support a Mormon for president. After all, the fasting growing American religious denomination is Romney's LDS church. The competitive pressures for the affection (and souls) of Americans is intense. Will these pressures make supporting Romney untenable? Put aside theology and focus on filling the seats: would these pastors dare endorse (with the nudges and winks, of course) a Mormon over a non-Mormon evangelical? Will these pastors choose Romney if they know a Romney presidency would likely usher in both a new wave of acceptance for Mormon theology and lead to the further growth of Mormon congregations?
Incidentally: our search for information about religious conservatives tempted us to check Iowa, too. Most religious conservatives there are Catholic; the rest are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the more conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church; there are 75 Southern Baptist congregations in the state .
posted by Arkansas Razorbaptist at 6/18/2006 12:33:00 PM