COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn
The Southern Baptist Convention’s summer annual meeting traditionally is a time for Baptists to make big statements together. And, in the past, many of those decisions have made a splash with national media.
The attention in those years made the annual meeting feel like a major event that held import for a large part of the culture, and not just for messengers meeting in the Convention city.
But this year’s Convention in Baltimore didn’t get that kind of reaction. Even the buzziest issues – a resolution on transgender
identity and possible action concerning a California church – received relatively few mentions from national media.
The quiet raises a question for Baptists: Was 2014 the year the SBC dropped off the national radar?
Throughout the years, SBC stories have dominated national headlines: The return to conservative theology in the 1980s, the decision to boycott Disney in 1997, and the election of Fred Luter as the SBC’s first African American president two years ago. We’ve made it a practice to include several bits from other media in the Convention issue of the Illinois Baptist, to widen our paper’s perspective and answer the question, “What do they think about what we think?” Reading the national news coverage
can be enlightening and a little dangerous, kind of like Googling your own name.
When we went to gather information for the section this year, we came up empty. There were a few stories about the resolution to affirm that gender is determined by biological sex, rather than self-perception. And some writers commented before the Convention about the likelihood of action against a California church that recently voted to change its stance on same-sex relationships. But it was nothing like in years past, when national coverage of the Convention was extensive.
The lack of attention seems to confirm fear that the SBC’s influence is waning. Or maybe it’s shifting.
One columnist did write a thorough piece on the SBC, just prior to the meeting in Baltimore. In a piece for Religion News Service, Jacob Lupfer said, “A generation after the ‘Conservative Resurgence,’ the SBC has capitalized on its remarkable unity….This is not to say there are no matters of controversy, but the nature and scope of disagreements make doctrinal and ideological cohesion – not infighting – hallmarks of today’s Southern Baptist Convention.”
Remarkable unity, doctrinal and ideological cohesion. A mouthful of a headline, but good news for Southern Baptists.
Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.