Overview:

Once again, Southern Baptist extremists are driving the denomination toward another Conservative Resurgence. But they're doing it in such a hamfisted way that the effort might backfire.

Reading Time: 14 minutes

As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) continues to decline, two factions have taken to the field of battle. They both want to rule this massive money-making engine. But only one can win the crown. The faction that’s been losing nowadays seems to have focused on another tactic: deliberately fomenting schism to drive the denomination apart⁠—which they clearly hope will leave their faction’s leaders standing on top of the SBC’s steaming rubble.

And everyone shall know them by their love and unity hate and constant slapfights

For a long time now, Christians have proudly declared that their enormous love for each other and their unity marks them as divinely guided. They even have a song about it.

YouTube video
Uploaded September 18, 2020 by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

However, I suspect that most outsiders immediately recognize this claim as pure wishful thinking.

The saying derives from something Jesus is said to have told his followers in the Gospels:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Also in the Gospels, Jesus prayed earnestly that his followers would be so incredibly united in spirit and purpose that every single heathen observing them would instantly know that only divine power could make that happen:

“I am not asking on behalf of them [his current followers] alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

“I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one—I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.”

John 17:20-23

Regarding both hopes: In his dreams, he was free indeed.

Infighting: Christianity’s most beloved tradition

Unfortunately for Jesus, reality did not play nicely at all with his prayers. It’s easy to understand why Neil Carter once called John 17:20-23 “the most fantastically failed prayer in history.” Indeed, before Christianity was even formally known as its own religion, groups of Christians were already squabbling among themselves about every single facet of their new faith.

You can see hints of that division right in the New Testament epistles themselves.

Galatians 5 addresses a growing argument about circumcision. 1 Corinthians 8 concerns the consumption of meat that’d been sacrificed to idols (some early Christians were fine with the idea, but it scandalized others). James 1 has some scathing things to say regarding Christians who weren’t Jesus-ing hard enough. Galatians 2 hints at a serious argument between the Apostles Peter and Paul. And 1 John 2 calls heretics and apostates “antichrists!”

Since then, the branches of Christianity have only spread further and further apart from each other. At this point, there is no way whatsoever that anybody even could unify the religion’s adherents, much less get them to stop fighting with each other.

What a schism is—and isn’t

When an argument gets so loud and heated that it threatens to break apart an entire collected body of Christians, it gets called a schism. A schism goes well past an ordinary disagreement. It’s like that last big huge blowout fight that ends a marriage. The couple might disagree about things, and they might even argue for decades. But when that big argument gets started, there’s no returning from that.

To conduct a proper schism, Christians align themselves on either side of an argument, then seek to gain enough power to drive out or expel their enemies. After the schism completes, the winning faction remains to rule that body. The losers usually make their own new collective body, though sometimes they join another established one.

A schism can occur within a church, or it can encompass an entire denomination.

Christianity has struggled with schisms from the very beginning. Without the power of schism, Protestants wouldn’t even exist today, much less Southern Baptists.

Why I keep an eye on the Southern Baptists

For a while now, I’ve followed the internal politics of the SBC. I figure it’s just good sense to keep tabs on them. Their politicking is also hugely entertaining in its own right. Where else are you going to see a bunch of suited-up, middle-age-and-older religious leaders acting like a pack of feral twelve-year-old Mean Kids?

Though the denomination has been in freefall decline for years, the SBC still has about 13.5 million members. That means this is still the largest Protestant denomination in America. (If you wondered: Catholics claim to have 68 million official members.)

That said, the size of this denomination ain’t nothing compared to its adherents’ lust for power.

Probably because they’re dysfunctional authoritarians, the SBC’s leaders and members tend to massively overreact to perceived threats. Years ago, the threat was to their power, and the call was coming from inside the SBC’s own house.

There was absolutely no low that was too low to defeat such a threat. Cue the massive Conservative Resurgence, the SBC’s last schism.

When that last schism just wasn’t schismatic enough

I’ve mentioned before that the SBC has begun to rumble once again with progressive inclinations over the past five or six years. A few years ago, the denomination’s huge sex abuse crisis, which journalists have called “Abuse of Faith,” rocked the SBC’s pew-warmers to the core. It involved hundreds of predatory clergy and what has turned out to be thousands of victims, and the subsequent cover-ups and victim-silencing went right up to the top ranks in the denomination.

More and more members are demanding firm action to bring abusers to justice and bar them from pulpits forever. They want systemic reform to prevent more abusers from finding and staying in power in SBC churches.

To do any of that, much less all of it, will require nothing less than a complete overhaul of Southern Baptist leadership and culture. It will also require the SBC to embrace the idea of human rights and the absolute necessity of consent, both of which would invalidate every one of their culture wars.

But the regressives in the denomination know what will fix this whole problem, by which I mean make it go away:

Another schism!

Setting a course for the next big SBC schism

Recently, I got reminded that Tom Buck is a person who exists in the SBC Extended Universe. Back in April, he threw an absolute tantrum over the leaking of a manuscript his wife had written. This manuscript was something she’d been wanting to make into a book. In it, she described how incredibly emotionally (and yes, physically) abusive he’d been to her for years, before he realized she would dump him for it eventually. Over several years and with a lot of coaching, Buck stopped abusing his wife. Mostly.

His wife credited his slow, torturous sorta-change to Jesus Power, and she wanted to tell women to stay with their abusive husbands.

Someone leaked her manuscript to Baptist News Global, which isn’t (to my knowledge) affiliated with the SBC itself in any way. They tend to be more progressive than the SBC, though let’s face it: it’d be hard not to be.

Buck immediately pointed fingers of blame every which way, but each person he falsely accused seemed extremely unlikely to be the leak. He seemed to revel in all the attention he was getting, even involving himself in the SBC’s election politicking. However, I don’t think his faction’s leaders appreciated it much. My read on Tom Buck has always been that he aches to be one of his faction’s major players, but its major players already know what a crushing liability he represents. So they don’t let him get too much power.

Back in April, though, one of the sites braying loudest in his defense was an ultraconservative site called Capstone Report.

Whither Tom Buck, O Capstone?

So I headed over there this evening to see what they’ve got to say about Tom Buck. Lately, he’s been thundering and blustering on Twitter about LGBTQ kindness, female pastors, and abortion. (He bitterly opposes all of them, naturally.)

I noticed that Tom Buck continued to rant about the leaked manuscript until almost the end of June. But Capstone contained not one story about the new conspiracy theories he thought explained the situation. They gave him several impassioned stories in April and covered a number of Tom Buck stories before that, but nothing past April.

Hm, I thought, that’s interesting. So I checked a similar site, Protestia. They used to be Pulpit & Pen, but changed names after Google blacklisted them for spreading lies about the 2020 election. (A redirect camper took over the old URL, so be careful.)

More recently, Protestia’s owner and main writer, J.D. Hall, turned out to be a substance abuser, liar, and drunk driver. Oh, and allegedly he was also violently abusive to his family. But before that, in March, he publicly announced on his site that he wanted Tom Buck to run for the SBC’s presidency! So obviously, Protestia/J.D. Hall really liked Tom Buck. I can sure see why, too.

Hall ran a lot more articles about Buck, some even in June before his own scandals surfaced. But I’ve seen nothing since early June. It looks like Protestia’s got a lot more they’d rather talk about, now that Buck’s dear friend Hall has left. It’s still a hilariously overwrought site, but at least they’ve got a diverse set of topics.

The topics Capstone would rather discuss

So if they’re not slobbering over angry Tom Buck and his conspiracy theories, what is Capstone talking about?

Well, they’re slamming their faction enemies as hard as they can. Protestia’s writers seem to hate all evangelicals who are even slightly more moderate than they are. But Capstone’s writers specifically and directly hate Southern Baptists who are even slightly more moderate than they are.

Did you know that onetime big-name SBC leader Richard Land is totally a globalist? (June 16, Capstone) (Oh, and “globalist” is an ultraconservative Christian dogwhistle for being the puppet of secret Jewish masters. Yes, these guys are also antisemitic.) Land flat denied that accusation, but Capstone played word games to twist what he actually said. By the way, Capstone came to this conclusion because Land was photographed carrying a large bag emblazoned with a logo Capstone thinks is “globalist.”

Or that Al Mohler is totally a Christian nationalist? (July 6, Capstone) Of course, I have never seen any indication of such a thing. The problem here is that he’s a regressive just like these extremists, but he’s just not extremist enough for their taste. And so they play word games with what he actually said to come out with this shocking accusation. It’s like reading a reenactment of the sheep scene in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

YouTube video
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). NSFW (language).

But Capstone’s writers reserve their worst, most craven, and slimiest recent attacks for Adam Greenway, who is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS).

Wait, who and what now?

On July 28, Baptist News Global published a story about some SBC business. A professor at SWBTS, David Allen, had reached the end of his 18-year career with this SBC-branded seminary. Greenway informed Allen that his professor position was ending, but he offered Allen a new one: Senior Professor. According to the news site, this role doesn’t grant a full-time salary or benefits, rather being more of a “retirement position.”

I immediately suspected that finances played a role in that decision.

As documented in the last four years of the SBC’s Annual Reports, SWBTS has been experiencing some ups and downs. In 2018’s report, we see them receiving USD$7.5M in funding (p. 58). That dropped to $7.4M in 2019 (p. 68), then to $7.1M in 2020 (p. 69). It rose to $7.3M in 2021, and we don’t know yet what the 2022 report will say. Full-time enrollment, however, has been struggling, as has income:

  • 2018-2019: $39.9M
  • 2019-2020: $34.8M
  • 2020-2021: $32.8M (the previous three figures come from p. 96 of the 2020 Annual Report)
  • 2021-2022: Confusing, but could be either $31.3M or $37.4M (p. 488)

So, I can easily understand why Greenway might have felt the need to trim back on expenses. Just the financial stuff alone would explain his decision.

Well, Allen didn’t like Greenway’s idea. He rejected the Senior Professor offer. And now, he’s running around telling his regressive extremist friends that SWBTS, and in particular Adam Greenway, totally and unfairly fired him.

Why David Allen thinks Adam Greenway fired him

In 2019, SWBTS hired Adam Greenway to replace none other than Paige Patterson. Patterson had ruled SWBTS for years (and Southeastern before that!), but he finally got fired in 2018 over egregious mishandling of sex abuse reports on his campus.

This decision split the SBC down the middle.

Right then, though I didn’t realize it for a while yet, the SBC’s factions were already forming up.

At the time, though, it just seemed like half of the SBC wanted Patterson painted yellow and run out of town. The other half wanted him back in power⁠—and his detractors punished for their insolence. The drama around Patterson’s firing is still ongoing.

Patterson, of course, was the natural choice for leader of this new regressive faction. I call them the Old Guard, because they want a return to the original Conservative Resurgence days and then some. Patterson had helped make that schism happen. But he’s slowly become radioactive, with even previous SBC president J.D. Greear asking SBC churches not to hire him to speak.

And David Allen shared a platform with Patterson last March.

What actually happened

I call the other faction the Pretend Progressives. Of course, they are not progressive. They simply know that to win, they must appeal to the pew-warmers who want major reforms. Right now, they are winning the war. The current president of the SBC, Bart Barber, hails from this faction.

David Allen is very, very sure that his enemies in the Pretend Progressives engineered his firing-that-isn’t-really-a-firing. He thinks that Greenway was furious with him for associating with Patterson. As Baptist News Global put it:

Because of the fallout over that firing and subsequent allegations of mismanagement and donor poaching by Patterson, he remains persona non grata on the Fort Worth campus.

Baptist News Global

In reality, SWBTS seems to have gotten way more upset over Allen’s side gig. Like a lot of SBC leaders (most notably Thom Rainer, who quit before getting fired), Allen runs a ministry business on the side. Pastors pay him to teach them how to preach. In SWBTS’ opinion, sometimes this side business seemed way more important to him than his actual day job. So, they decided to move him to a position that would better allow him to pursue that “ministry.” Their statement leaves no room for doubt or ambiguity.

However, Allen seems certain that Greenway acted improperly. And so does Capstone.

Old Guard attacks Old Guard: News at 11

It’s very important to remember that Richard Land, Al Mohler, and Adam Greenway are all Old Guard guys. They 100% support the Old Guard’s overall desires. They do not deviate one little bit from the SBC’s 1990-ish outlook and worldview.

In particular, Greenway condemned critical race theory (CRT) back in November 2020, along with Mohler and all the other seminary presidents. He also wrote a short letter in the 2020 Annual Report (pp. 202-3) that makes crystal-clear that he would not qualify even a little as a Pretend Progressive. He doesn’t even mention the sex abuse crisis, nor ending racism. Instead, he focuses on the need for unity and a return to the SBC’s original focus of Jesus-ing hard, clinging to their creed, and evangelizing everyone in sight. These are typical Old Guard talking points.

But Greenway, along with Land and Mohler, is part of the slightly-less-extremist Old Guard. Capstone and Allen are part of the more-extremist end of the faction, and it has begun dominating the less-extremist side of its circus tent.

Slatestar Codex reminds us that groups tend to most hate people who are closest to them in beliefs and customs, but deviate only a little. And so it is with the extremist Old Guard. They despise Pretend Progressives, but oh my word, they absolutely hate less-extremist Old Guard folks with the raging purple fires of ten billion unholy suns.

The way these guys talk about Adam Greenway is just something to behold

I just can’t, with these Capstone people.

A few choice excerpts from their July 30 story:

Pravda would be proud. Baptist Press, the official wire service of the Southern Baptist Convention, published fake news about conservative professor Dr. David Allen. Allen was fired by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) President Woke Adam Greenway; however, Woke Adam Greenway lied and said Allen retired. Faithfully, the liars at Baptist Press reproduced the statement despite all the evidence to the contrary. . .

Greenway is a known liar. . . Of course, not only is Greenway a liar but so is Baptist Press. . .

This is what your church’s Cooperative Program is funding. Happy with it?

On July 30, they referred to a mild disagreement between Mohler and Greenway as a “NERD FIGHT.” Yes, in caps. In that story, they repeatedly refer to Greenway as a “leftist” and characterize him as behaving just like Satan. (Interestingly, they come down on Mohler’s side, though they make sure readers know he’s still in the doghouse.)

An August 1st story repeatedly refers to Greenway as “Woke Adam Greenway.” Looks like they took a page from the onetime Liar-in-Chief’s handbook. Capstone also claims that Greenway is a “paranoid lunatic” and “petty, vindictive man” who basically fired Allen over decades-old emails.

(And I reply gently: with dysfunctional authoritarians, every accusation tends to be a confession.)

Yes, these stories seek a new schism

Remember that bit from the quote above about the Cooperative Program? Every single story about Greenway that I’ve linked contains similar references.

These references are 100% a demand that SBC-lings stop giving to the SBC’s Cooperative Program. That’s the program that funds missionaries and seminaries. So yes, they’re trying to force a showdown schism. One story makes clear exactly what’s at stake, to them:

This is what your Southern Baptist church supports if it gives a dime to the Cooperative Program. You are paying to ruin the lives of conservatives. You might want to put a stop to that.

Capstone Report, August 1

The problem is, David Allen’s life is not ruined at all. He failed upward, so to speak, getting hired almost immediately by a non-SBC-affiliated school, Mid-America Baptist Seminary. Richard Land himself ended up at a similar place, Southern Evangelical Seminary, back in 2013 after he got fired for virulent racism. Capstone really likes Mid-America, calling it “one of the only conservative and reliable seminaries for Baptists.”

And it certainly wasn’t “ruined” by emails or associating with faction enemies. Capstone is histrionically screeching for SBC-lings to stop donating to the SBC’s most important fund, and they’re giving the worst possible reasons for making the demand. But they avoid giving the real one: dreams of schism.

Capstone has been trying to force a schism for ages now

The whole site of Capstone came to my attention because of Tom Buck. Back in April, they were all about how evil the Pretend Progressives were to poor widdle Tom Buck. At the time, it distinctly seemed as if they were trying to turn Buck into some kind of conservative icon to rally around. But Buck himself suffers from a number of personality flaws that make him constitutionally incapable of attracting much sympathy from anyone but other extremist Old Guards. When Capstone failed to gain traction on the Tom Buck front, they forgot he existed.

So now, they’ve leaped from that ice floe in the river to the next one: the cruel martyrdom of poor widdle David Allen at the hands of, um, let me check my notes, ah yes: the leftist, lying, woke NERD Adam Greenway.

It doesn’t look like these accusations have caught on much, though, outside their own circles. So I fully expect Capstone to leap onto the next ice floe like this one never existed at all. After all, when Tom Buck accused Karen Swallow Prior of leaking his wife’s manuscript, Capstone leaped on her with vicious smears, insults, and attacks for weeks. But they’ve said not a word about her since May.

The schism Capstone wants

What Capstone wants is for SBC-lings to refuse to donate to the SBC’s Cooperative Fund. That, they clearly think, will cause the SBC’s current Pretend Progressive masters to rethink the wisdom of their current courses of action: reform, progress, and working on not being so sexist and racist.

Barring that, they want outrage to get to such a fever pitch that various Pretend Progressives lose their positions, which can then be filled by waiting extremist Old Guards.

The important thing to Capstone, along with all of the extremist Old Guard, is to keep as many high-level people in SBC leadership as they can. Every leader they lose is another one who can’t replace their faction enemies, then influence the denomination to plunge into greater depths of paranoid control-lust.

They tried this tactic recently, in fact, by raising an outcry against Pretend Progressive Ed Litton for pastoral plagiarism. Had they succeeded, an extremist Old Guard guy would have succeeded him. They didn’t try it on J.D. Greear, the president before Ed Litton, because the next in line was just another Pretend Progressive. Such a move would have gotten them nowhere. But that effort, too, failed.

And the hypocrisy that is with them every day

For people who rail against (their own misconception of) postmodernism, these Capstone guys sure don’t like the idea that words like “leftist” actually mean specific things. And for people who claim to be Jesus-ing the bestest and rightest way ever, they sure don’t care at all about the specific commands given by Jesus and the epistles’ writer(s). I’m sure misused snarl words miss the mark in a major way, to use the Christianese.

But that’s just business as usual, right there. Hypocrisy was baked into Christianity from its very first days, from the first moment Christians decided that a real live god lived inside them when none ever have. No gods, for that matter, have ever lifted a finger to change Christians into better people; if they’re not already decent people or ready to work hard to unlearn their old habits, then they will simply get better at hiding their hypocrisy.

That is the reality of Christianity. Reality is the Deepest Magic that defeats both the Lion and the Witch. The more fervent and authoritarian the Christians, the harder they push reality away and the more hypocrisy they allow for themselves⁠—and excuse in their cronies. That’s why scandals are so pervasive in such Christians’ groups.

I just hope Mid-America Baptist Seminary doesn’t mind seeing David Allen spend a lot of time on that side gig. Sounds like it’s been quite lucrative for him. So lucrative, in fact, that he was willing to act against his own faction’s interests to grab more for himself.

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...