The issue, contrary to some who are like the boy that cried "wolf," is not liberalism. The issue is one of coooperation - or lack of it. The Southern Baptist Convention is only filled with Bible-believing, Christ-loving, mission-oriented people, pastors and churches. Within the strong conservatism of the SBC, there is a wide variety of interpretations on various issues including spiritual gifts, women in ministry (there is a confessional consensus in the SBC regarding male senior pastors, but there are disagreements on the role of women in higher education, missions, etc.), soteriology (Calvinism vs. Arminianism), eschatology, ecclesiology (elder rule vs. congregational rule; open communion vs. closed communion, etc.), and other issues of interpretation of the sacred text that have nothing to do with the essentials of the gospel. People want leaders with hearts of cooperation.
But the convention seems to be divided into two clear and different groups of people. There are those who wish to cooperate with all Southern Baptists for the purpose of missions and evangelism. There are others who wish to make every Southern Baptist conform to their particular interpretations and bar anyone from SBC missions service or leadership who disagrees with what they often will call "historic Baptist identity." The first group - those who wish cooperation with all Southern Baptists - are respectful of all views on the tertiary issues. They have strong convictions of their own, but they do not wish to exclude others who disagree. They will, however, oppose strongly anyone who demands conformity. On the other hand, those who are demanding conformity show very little tolerance for any opposing theological or doctrinal view. In essence, the conformity group unabashedly states they alone possess true "Baptist Identity," which by their very claim shows a lack of understanding of historic 17th century Baptist identity. Our forefathers thrived on dissent and diversity in a day of English religious conformity.
I'm not sure what these two groups should be called. Dr. Chapman has suggested cooperating conservatives and crusading conservatives. I probably prefer cooperating conservatives and conformity conservatives. I am hopeful that those that currently demand conformity will see the danger of doing so in a convention built on cooperation - and they will change their view. Before anyone says, "But you are asking people to conform to your view," let me say, again, that the only demand made by cooperating conservatives is that people STOP DEMANDING CONFORMITY. Cooperating conservatives ARE NOT demanding anybody doctrinally change. Nobody has to abandon their firmly held beliefs, but what needs to change is a lack of openness to the views of others and an unwillingness to cooperate with those who disagree.
The rhetoric has been intense. In fact, my very perceptive wife has said to me that people seem to wish to confuse the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. At her suggestion, I will write the problem, as I and others see it, both succinctly and clearly:
If those Southern Baptists demanding conformity ultimately force out those Southern Baptists who desire cooperation, there will be no future for the "Cooperative Program," cooperative missions, cooperative ministry, etc. because there will be no Southern Baptists left with whom the conformists can cooperate.
I have seen missionaries rejected, trustees ridiculed, and laypeople reprimanded for not being "Baptist" enough. Granted, there has been a very strong and active political movement against those who are demanding conformity, but that is because the stakes are enormous.
Some of us will not be forced to conform to a particular ideology in order to be called a true Southern Baptist. I will die with the fundamentals of the gospel in my heart, but I and others will not sit by silently while other Southern Baptists demand conformity on doctrines that are not fundamental to the gospel. We willingly cooperate with any Southern Baptist who disagrees with us, and we will willingly, patiently and graciously debate the issues as needed; but when any Southern Baptist begins to say his view is the "only" true Baptistic view - particularly any Southern Baptist leader - then we cooperating conservatives will intentionally, purposefully and strongly resist.
Again, the reason to resist what seems to be a resurging "Baptist Identity" movement in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is in reality a conformity movement, is clear. If this group is successful in excluding those who disagree with them from serving as missionaries, trustees, professors or convention leaders, we will cease being a convention based on cooperaton. As it is, I am doing all I can to prevent hundreds of Southern Baptists who have personally written to me from taking their Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon dollars and leaving.
Unfortunately, some Southern Baptists wish nothing less than for those who have ideological disagreements on tertiary doctrines to leave the convention. These conformists are the ones who believe no doctrine is tertiary. Ironically, these conformists are also the only people who should be disqualifed from SBC leadership. Why? You don't have people who demand conformity running a cooperating convention which is fueled by the Cooperative Program. If the conformists ultimately prevail in our convention and institutions, all we will get is petty conflict, moves to exclude dissenters, and an ever increasing smaller number of convention members, convention dollars and kingdom advancement.
In His Grace,