The Chicago Tribune asks: Have Southern Baptists lost their way?

The question I would pose as a logical follow-up would be lost their way to what? The Trib obviously believes that religions should be judged solely on numbers.

As a number of conservative Protestant denominations now face decline, leaders have chosen to batten down the hatches, endorse orthodoxy and herald the importance of sharing their faith with others.

But if these denominations narrow their theology at the same time they widen their outreach, is anybody going to listen?

The writer points out that Southern Baptists, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, lost followers for the first time in decades -about 40,000 people from 2006 to 2007.

If that rate continued, leaders say half the Southern Baptist churches in America could disappear by 2030. Not that I believe there’s much reason to believe that trend will continue in that way.

So, according to the Trib:

That’s why this week the denomination launched a 10-year evangelism initiative that targets college students and families with young children. The initiative also urges Southern Baptists to share their beliefs with non-Baptist friends and colleagues.

Not to nit-pick, but isn’t it possible that evangelism existed before the Baptist’s numbers dipped. Isn’t it possible that evangelism for believers isn’t something done just to keep their attendance records full and their donation baskets packed? Isn’t it possible that Baptists evangelize because they actually believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible.

But my point here is not that Baptists love Jesus, but that the media just doesn’t understand religion in any meaningful way. The writer at The Trib obviously doesn’t view things through a religions prism. Case in point:

In many ways, the battle for the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention has mirrored the tug of war in American society since the Nixon era. Polarizing debates over biblical inerrancy, temperance, homosexuality, abortion and the role of women in the church have divided the denomination and yielded more liberal breakaway Baptist denominations such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The Nixon era? Was Nixon a religious leader? Nixon wasn’t even a Baptist. He was a Quaker. What could this writer be thinking bringing Nixon into this discussion? Did polarizing debates in religion really start in the late 1960’s. Someone better tell Saint Thomas More that that little religious kerfuffle didn’t really rank very high, according to journalists of the 21st century. And Nixon was just impeached. He got off easy compared to Thomas More.

But then then Trib asks:

Have Southern Baptists lost their way by narrowing their theology or has something else contributed to the decline of America’s mainline? Or, are Southern Baptists still on track despite the fall in numbers?

If Baptists are gauging their success on numbers you could say they’re failing but “narrowing their theology” is not necessarily a sign of failure. It could be a sign of fidelity to what they believe but the media certainly wouldn’t understand that.