Save OBU: Fundamentalists Consolidate Power

This is the second to last post in the Understanding Fundamentalism series at Save OBU.  Today, I examine the fundamentalist takeover (in their words, conservative resurgence) in the Southern Baptist Convention and its effects on the beliefs and faith of Baptists:

It was not long after the Elliott Controversy that another battle broke out among the Southern Baptists concerning the accuracy of the Bible.  Nearly all Baptists agreed that the Bible was “without any mixture of error,” but the various groups involved interpreted this phrase very differently [2].  The moderate movement maintained that the Bible was authoritative and free from all error but not necessarily inerrant, that its purpose was theological not scientific.  However, inerrantists, influenced by dispensationalist interpretations of God’s supernatural involvement in history, insisted that it contained no error on any grounds whatsoever [3].  It would be in this controversy that the fruit of the fundamentalist movement could be seen most clearly in Southern Baptist life.

In 1973, only ten years after the Committee on the Baptist Faith and Message had affirmed the 1963 BFM, a fundamentalist group known as the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship formed to ensure that SBC organizations met the terms of the new confession.  Led by Paige Patterson, a Dallas theologian, and Paul Pressler, a Houston judge, they recognized that structure of national convention gave enormous power to the president.  A concerted, organized effort to elect sympathizing presidents who would appoint only fundamentalists to the boards of the denomination’s various agencies could transform the convention in ten years.  At the annual SBC meeting in 1979 in Houston, Texas, the orchestrations of Patterson and Pressler led to the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency.

Accordingly, Rogers instituted a policy of only appointing trustees to the denomination’s boards who supported the fundamentalist agenda and goals.  Moderates were caught by surprise at the sudden support for the fundamentalist cause.

…Though its seeds were planted much earlier, the official beginning of the Inerrancy Controversy was the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency of the SBC in 1979.  Since his election, not a single non-fundamentalist has been elected to preside over the convention, and each president has continued to pursue the policy of only appointing those who are in agreement with the fundamentalist cause to the boards of the various denominational agencies [5].  Though the battles would continue for many years after, Patterson and Pressler were successful in institutionalizing fundamentalist leadership within five years of beginning their plan.  The denomination which once prided itself on its ability to balance theological diversity and cooperation in missions was splitting apart, now controlled by what was formerly a minority tradition.

Today is the last day of the history portion of the series.  I invite you to click over to Save OBU to see how the story ends.  Tomorrow, the last day in the series, I’ll offer my own thoughts about fundamentalism and the future of Christian (and Baptist) higher education.


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