Hi and welcome back! Recently, I showed you the most recent Annual Report of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It covered the usual bad news for the huge evangelical denomination. It also contained the SBC’s usual customary address from their still-reigning president, J.D. Greear (though this year it was a virtual address). He provides us with a good look at a whole lot of aspects of evangelicalism as a whole — but especially he gives us a sneak peek at the strategies evangelical leaders will be deploying in the near future to deal with their tribe’s various challenges. Today, let’s check out those strategies — and see if evangelicals have managed to pull an end to their decline out of their magic hat this time.
(The 2020 SBC Annual Report can be found here. If you want a different year, just substitute the year you want for the “2020” part of that URL. As far as I can tell, all of the reports are there. Incidentally, 1959 contains a tantalizing report about their “Jewish work.” Also: h/t to LeekSoup for coming up with my favorite nickname for J.D. Greear.)
The King of Baptist County Holds Forth.
First, here are some highlights of J.D. Greear’s virtual address.
Oops, They Did It Again: Starting on p. 53, J.D. Greear issues his usual demand that the flocks Jesus harder. He also pushes the usual utterly transactional message of evangelicalism. Sorry, Mark Wingfield!
Divisiveness Accusations Ahoy! J.D. Greear also thinks only about 10% of his denomination are contentious and divisive. I just don’t know what to say there except that he’s obviously not paying much attention lately.
Still Pushing His Creepy Stalker Initiative: He’s still really pushing hard on his creepy “Who’s Your One?” campaign. With a level of arrogance we really only see in today’s evangelicals, he declares that this phrase needs to be “the very heartbeat of every Christian.” He sounds very annoyed that it’s completely failed to gain traction with the flocks.
Black Lives Matter, Sorta: J.D. Greear seems to support the basic concepts of Black Lives Matter (BLM). He specifically rebukes evangelicals’ favorite comeback to it, “but but but all lives matter!” But then he states outright that he refuses to “align” himself with the BLM movement on any formal basis.
He Knows Trump’s Destroyed the SBC’s Credibility: While still clinging hard to his backfired culture-war mentality, Greear laments that so many pastors support Trump from the pulpit. He very obviously does support Trump, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that he knows that official pastoral support for the disgusting reprobate is wrecking the SBC’s sales.
Jesus Allowed COVID-19 to Become a Raging Pandemic So the SBC Can Finally Make Enough Sales: Yes. He says:
The coronavirus is too big for God to waste. [. . .] God is rearranging things so that the Great Commission can have greater progress forward. [. . .] So let’s put up our sails, catch the wind of the Spirit, and look with expectation on what God is doing during this very extraordinary moment.
Someone needs to tell this bungling, incompetent asshat that people are dying and that his lovely flocks and leadership peers seem largely to blame for it.
Sure Jan: J.D. Greear also pretends that his tribe is anything except a greedy, grasping, control-lusting bunch of bigots and racists. He admonishes the flocks to quit making it harder for new people to join up:
Defending our reputations, advancing our politics, and winning various arguments are not what most occupies us. [. . .] We don’t want to make it difficult for any unbelievers in our country or in our world to find their way to God.
Except that’s exactly what they are doing, and their Dear Leader is not pushing for any serious changes to that behavior at all.
J.D. Greear Grieves, Y’all. GRIEVES.
Christianese Ahoy! Finally, J.D. Greear gets around to addressing the SBC’s ongoing decline. He uses a well-respected bit of Christianese to do it, too:
I grieve at the news that our reported baptism numbers fell again this year, continuing our 50-year decline.
“I grieve” is solid Christianese. It means he’s sad, but in a very Jesus-flavored way. The implication here is that Jesus himself is sad, and thus Jesus’ sadness makes J.D. Greear feel extra-sad. It’s like that line in Men in Black II about how rain doesn’t make Laura sad; instead, rain falls because she’s sad.
So when Greear talks about being grieved, he borrows authority from nothing less than his god. Whatever is grieving him, it’s something that his flocks had better pay extra attention to fixing.
And he does indeed have something in mind for them to fix:
I think we realize there is cause for concern that fewer and fewer people are demonstrating a public response to our message. How can any true fisherman be okay with catching less and less fish?
Let’s pause here to reflect on why exactly fishermen fish in the first place, and then contemplate what fishermen do with the fish they catch. As metaphors go, this one’s almost as bad as the shepherd-and-sheep one. “Almost,” because some fishermen do catch and release fish for various reasons. Shepherds, however, very rarely tend sheep just for the fun of doing it.
Of Course, the Culture Wars Continue.
Possibly the most noteworthy thing about evangelicals is their utter inability to introspect. I mean, they completely, utterly lack self-awareness. J.D. Greear, as the King of Baptist County, epitomizes this shortcoming.
For years now, I’ve seen study after study confirming that evangelicals’ culture wars and overt politicization are losing them members and wrecking their sales numbers. In this virtual address of his. J.D. Greear alludes to understanding these points. And then he slides right past them to insist that the tribe keep up their culture wars and overt politicization.
On p.56, he tells his flocks that they need to stop making it hard for non-members to join their tribe. Specifically, he refers here to evangelicals’ entrenched and over-the-top racism. Of course, racism is far from the only stumbling block evangelicals present potential recruits, but it’s definitely one of their very worst ones.
Then, on the next page (p.57), he commands the flocks to stop worrying more about “winning in the news cycle” than about making sales. Obviously, as the leader of these honking geese, he cares enormously about making sales, sure. It’s his top priority. But he doesn’t tell the flocks to stop caring about “winning in the news cycle.” Instead, he tells them to consider that one of their “secondary issues” after making sales.
And on page 58, he reiterates the importance of every single one of his tribe’s culture-war causes. It’s almost funny how he slips his anti-LGBT, anti-feminism culture wars into a far loftier list of imaginary accomplishments and wingnut beliefs. Let me show you:
If you can’t be happy about that, if you can’t just rejoice and be amazed about people [
switching churches] coming to Jesus, about a Convention of nearly 48,000 [tiny, shrinking] churches that stand unwaveringly on the [imaginary] inerrancy of the Bible, the [imagined] exclusivity of Christ, the clarity of God’s Word [LOLWUT] regarding gender and sexuality, and the need to get [ OUR] the gospel to the nations, well brother, I’d say if you can’t see the grace of God at work in that, you may not have eyes to see it. If you can’t be happy and rejoice in that, then you can’t be happy, and Southern Baptist congregation members are happy people [Suuuure.]
Did he think people wouldn’t notice that “gender and sexuality” thing he slipped in there? Or was it purposefully done?
The J.D. Greear Strategy for 2020/2021.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I like to check out the SBC’s Annual Reports is that they give me a good idea of where evangelicals’ minds are generally — and how they plan to respond to their various challenges. This report certainly is no exception to that rule.
First and foremost, J.D. Greear still thinks he can push the flocks into doing more personal evangelism (person-to-person recruiting) — and that personal evangelism will totally save the SBC.
He’s been pushing this idea since before he won his office. In fact, he won his office largely on the promise that he’d totally be able to reverse the SBC’s decline. And then indeed, the 2019 Annual Report revealed that he slowed down the SBC’s losses in baptisms and membership and managed to increase donations over the previous year. WOWZERS!
However, that minimal success didn’t last.
Despite the utter failure of his campaign to increase personal evangelism, Greear still thinks that person-to-person recruitment represents the absolute key to the SBC’s return to dominance. That still represents his main strategy: to somehow find a way to get the flocks out onto the sales floor.
He wants the flocks to ease off of their racism and be nicer.
Yeah, that’ll happen. Sure. Right after they get right on that personal-evangelism thing.
The flocks’ steady refusal to obey him here, however, does give him an easy excuse for his failure to turn the SBC around. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
He’s also very upset about the drop in “Total Receipts” and other donations this year.
Greear’s address contained much blahblah about the need to increase donations all the way around. In addition, he demands that individual member churches spend more money on missionaries.
Oh boy. More of what nobody needs! More professional-Christian activity to win fewer new recruits than ever!
So which is it? Personal evangelism is the key? Or are tons of missionaries the key? I doubt Greear himself even knows — or cares.
Still, I gotta wonder if he has any pals working in overseeing missionaries or administering seminaries.
Good News — for the Rest of Us.
Overall, this report really represents great news for the rest of us — albeit really bad news for Southern Baptist leaders. It presents us with another chapter in their bleak story of inexorable decline.
And J.D. Greear, like the rest of the denomination’s leaders, seems stubbornly incapable of recognizing the causes of that decline, much less of coming up with any strategies that might actually work to reverse it. Perhaps he can’t even if he wants to; after all, his increasingly-restive flocks would destroy him if he even tried to recommend anything else than what he has offered here.
That all means we need not fear any resurgence of cultural dominance for evangelicals in general. However, we do need to be vigilant regarding their increasing grabs for political power.
NEXT UP: The one statistic that tells us that the SBC’s been in solid decline for fifty years. Seriously! Fifty! See you tomorrow! <3
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Last note: This past weekend, I asked the SBC’s media people for that old report of theirs about baptism, the one I wrote about way back when. Their guy responded quickly and courteously to send me a copy of it. He cited their site redesign as the reason why the report’s URL had gone dead. Whew! So now I’ve got a copy of it.