I know there is concern about the rise of Populist* Fundamentalism in the SBC and the push of a certain group to gain power. While this isn’t going to be an exhaustive list, and I could be wrong in my optimism, I believe the tide is pretty obviously away from that group. It is also important for me to say this: I am a fundamentalist in the classic sense. I subscribe to the 5 fundamentals:
- the deity of Jesus
- the Virgin Birth
- penal-sub atonement
- the bodily resurrection
- biblical inerrancy
So how was the agenda of the populist fundamentalist group repudiated?
First, their push for their presidential candidate failed. It was a close vote, but I don’t think that is as concerning as it may seem.
1a. When it came to the runoff, Ed Litton gained over 2000 more votes. The populists gained only 1000 more. Nearly everyone who was going to vote for the populist candidate did the first time. Before the runoff there was a real choice between two candidates who weren’t fundamentalists. In the run-off, there was an even clearer, binary choice.
1b. This was after a massive campaign to elect the populist fundamentalist candidate: Tens of thousands of dollars to start and digitize a new network; slander, lies, and half-truths against all other candidates; paid ads on Twitter to garner votes for their candidate; a spot on Fox News the morning of the vote; endorsement by a former Republican US presidential candidate; endorsement by a fired Fox News and Baptist Press reporter; a former SBC entity head behind the scenes working the political intrigue. All of this they claimed was actually grassroots, but was far from it.
1c. Ed was actually grassroots. He had local pastors invite him to small events. He made two videos (that I’m aware of): one to announce and one at the very end. I never heard him attack his opponents or call them names. Having never been an entity head nor having served in the immediate past on a troubled national committee, he was truly the dark horse, unknown candidate. And, yet, he won against those odds. That says a lot about the rejection of the populist machine. It says even more, I think, about Ed’s character and demeanor.
Second, other populist fundamentalist members were removed from positions of influence. When those removals, being both proper and defensible, were contested, they lost the contest.
2a. Committee chairs were changed.
2b. Committee members were removed.
Third, those same populist fundamentalist members attempted to make changes to our polity that would have centralized power in the group they thought they had a majority on, the Executive Committee. They both lost influence on the group and they also lost their attempt to centralize the power.
3a. The change of wording to “empower” churches was changed to “serve” churches. We are bottom-up, not top-down.
3b. The attempt to alter the allocation budget to give the EC more power failed.
3c. The Business and Financial Plan that would have given the EC the power to determine if other entities were doing what they were told, and then escrow funds if they deemed they weren’t, failed. The EC does not oversee other entities, and the messengers spoke clearly.
Finally, all this failed after the leadership group of the populist faction paid the way for people to attend the Annual Meeting, but only if they voted in a prescribed way. All this failed in Nashville, a hub of the very demographic this group seeks to sway. I don’t see Anaheim going any differently, since Nashville went the way it did. With such a concerted effort and an organized disinformation campaign, the splinter group still lost on nearly every side.
I’ll add that I do not believe that every person that supported the splinter candidate is part of a concerted populist fundamentalist movement. The leadership of the splinter group has used the perfect scare-words and Fox News tactics. These, in turn, have convinced those rightfully concerned about our culture to support a group and candidate that they normally wouldn’t have if they could have seen the inner workings. I’m hearing there is a bit of a falling away from the group as people see inside it.
All of this shows that our convention is neither liberal nor fundamentalist. We are Great Commandment and Great Commission Baptists, right where we should be. I pray we stay there and that no group will sway us.
Michael Linton is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sulphur, LA, and has served in churches in Louisiana and Texas since 1995. He and his wife, Etta, are the parents of four children from ages 7 to 18.
*Editor’s note: the original article used the term “alt-right” in a number of places, referring not to the alt-right proper, but asserting certain similarities between this SBC alternative-right movement and the secular alt-right. I think there’s a valid point there, but I missed the fact that leaving that term in the article would be inflammatory and distract from the article’s valid points. I take responsibility for that mistake. I’ve replaced those instances of “alt-right” with “populist fundamentalist” or something close in hopes that the group will still be obvious while causing less reaction. –Brent Hobbs