Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Increasing Divorce Rate Among Southern Baptists

In 2010 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution entitled On the Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce. The resolution states "that conservative Protestants in the United States of America are divorcing at the same rate, if not at higher rates, than the general population." The resolution further states "the acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."

Sometimes I am perplexed by the logic of Southern Baptist assemblies. Rather than boycotting Disney World at our business meetings, we might want to consider a corporate course or two in logic. How can the divorce rate in every state in the union be declining while at the same time the Southern Baptist divorce rate is accelerating, but we Southern Baptists are said to be "accommodating culture"? Read again the precise words of the divorce resolution:
"The acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."
Think. If we Southern Baptists were accommodating culture, we'd see fewer divorces in our churches. Unfortunately, the divorce rate is accelerating among Southern Baptist churches.

I believe I know the reason. Contrary to the illogical conclusion of the 2010 resolution on divorce, the reason the divorce rate is accelerating within the Southern Baptist Convention is precisely because of a "shift in theological conviction."

The leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention have been strongly promoting a doctrinal error called The Eternal Subordination of the Son. The devastating effects of this doctrine on marriages are far-reaching. Few Southern Baptists even know what this doctrine is, but when you go to a church led by a Southern Baptist pastor who promotes it, the emphasis of the teaching will be on "the authority of the husband" and "the subordination of the woman to her husband" (just like Jesus is allegedly eternally subordinate to the Father). When the emphasis in any Christian environment (home, church, marriage, etc...) is on authority, a breach in relationship is ripe.

Here's why.

When Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, the radial effects of their sin included an innate desire to dominate and control one another by exerting their control over the other person. The curse causes captives of sin to concentrate on establishing an air of authority and forcing another's complete submission to that authority. Southern Baptist leaders seem to think that what the Bible calls "the curse" is supposed to be the norm. They think this because they have wrongly come to the conclusion that since Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father, then women should be subordinate to the male in every relationship. Not so. When the first man (Adam) sought to rule over the first woman (Eve), Adam was manifesting the curse, not obeying a command (Genesis 3:16).

Jesus came to reverse the curse. Redemption causes curse-filled people to become grace-filled people. Those who seek to rule over others by exerting authority, when they come to see what Jesus says about life, will turn loose of trying to control other people and will only seek to love and serve, NEVER exerting any alleged authority. Jesus said that "the Gentiles lord over others" and "exert authority," but "it shall not be this way among you" (Matthew 20:24-26).

Southern Baptist Convention leaders are wrongly pushing for men to lord their authority over their wives, and calling on wives to submit to the authority of their husbands because of a belief in and promotion of "the eternal subordination of the Son." I've written about this doctrinal problem among Southern Baptists for years, but I recently came across a brilliant article by Dr. Keith Johnson (Ph.D. Duke), the director of theological development for Campus Crusade for Christ.  Johnson's article is called Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective.

Dr. Johnson's article is long, but in my opinion, it gives a definitive refutation for any claim that the woman is to be subordinate to the man in a marital relationship because the Son is subordinate to the Father. Dr. Johnson's summarizes the critical error of those who hold to the eternal subordination of Jesus to the Father (Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Bruce Ware, etc....) when he writes:
Bruce Ware claims that “inherent authority” and “inherent submission” constitute the Father/Son relationship; however, this misreads Augustine. “Authority” and “submission” are not “personal properties” for Augustine. To the contrary, “eternal generation” is what constitutes the Son as Son. Augustine is unequivocal on this point. Ware... rejects eternal generation as the distinguishing property of the Son. In Ware’s theology (eternal subordination), “submission” effectively replaces “eternal generation” as the distinguishing property of the Son. Augustine is then read through the lens of this alternative understanding of personal properties.
Someone recently called me "the Barney Fife of pastors." I think he meant it as an insult, but I laughed and received it as a compliment. Everybody can relate to Barney. Mr. Fife knew how to say it simple and make himself understood. Let me put my Barney Fife hat on for a moment and simplify and summarize for Southern Baptist men and women what Dr. Johnson is saying in his article:

(1). Nobody in marriage has any inherent "authority." Christ has all authority, and He sends His Spirit to live within us, dispenses spiritual gifts for us, and provides loving watch care over us so that we might learn how to love and serve each other.

(2). Submission in a marital relationship is "putting others needs before my own." The submission and subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father was never about 'greater authority' because Christ had "all authority." Christ put the Father's plans first, submitting Himself to the cross in obedience to the plan of redemption (i.e. "If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done"). Jesus Christ also submitted to us (the church) when He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and died in our place. Submission is never about 'greater authority,' but rather, it is always about putting the plans, desires, and needs of others first. In marriage, both the husband and the wife are to be mutually submissive to one another (see Ephesians 5:21). Sometimes what is in the best interest of your partner is to say no! In every decision, your partner's best interest comes first. Don't give up on your marriage until you have sweat blood looking out for your partner.

(3). When we stop trying to control our spouse, and we learn what it means to love and accept him or her the same way Jesus Christ accepts us, then we begin to build a marriage on grace and love instead of domination and control. When that happens, the curse is reversed.

We Southern Baptists do a great many things very well. We do missions well. We perform acts of mercy well. But we are sorry at building marriages. I suggest, for the sake of Christian marriages in our churches, it is time for Southern Baptist people to call out and correct those who advocate the doctrinal error of eternal subordination.


Bob Cleveland said...

I presume the chart shows the number of divorces during a particular year, compared against the number of marriages taking place during that period. And it's misleading to this extent: there are a certain number of married folks at the beginning of the period, and a certain number of married folks at the end. The added marriages during the year, minus the divorces during the year, yield the ending number. As the number of married folks grows, the percentage of couples divorcing will usually shrink.

Of course, one is too many.

Even if one is a complementarian .. which I am ... one cannot teach wifely submission without also teaching husbandly sacrifice. To me, the greater burden is on the husband, as he has the responsibility for the success of the family, and must accomplish it sacrificially.

That's only possible by the Holy Spirit.

The net result is the same, to me, but I cannot escape my responsibility to act sacrificially, as God has said. And it's worked for 55 years as of this month.

I think it's going to last.

Pege' said...

WADE....Keep speaking the truth! You are going to be deeply criticized for this information. I will keep you in my prayers. God taught us these truth and with out Him and the truth my marriage would have been over 10 years ago. Having a marriage where we both are equal and daily lived in Grace....I cannot tell you how much better it is. THANK YOU for speaking the truth 10 years ago and for still trying to get people to open their hearts eyes and ears!!!

Victorious said...

I'm a bit confused by the use of the word "curse" since only the serpent and the ground are said to be cursed.

Perhaps the decrease in the number of divorces is because more people are living together rather than marrying.

Kevin Bussey said...

Could the busyness of church play a role? Most SBC churches I was in expected their people to be at every event.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this Godly wisdom, I believe that the way a man is to treat his wife is exactly the way that Jesus treated and treats women. I also am reminded that Jesus sent clear instructions to the disciples through the women first at the tomb and then Jesus later rebuked them for not believing the women.

Tom Parker said...


Southern Baptist leaders IMO have been and are destroying the SBC. It is just a shell of what it once was. So much emphasis IMO has been placed by The Southern Baptist leaders in making sure women have been put in their place. They say the Bible supports their position, but that is certainly debatable. This emphasis has been going on since the 1980's.

As you correctly point out if you speak the truth on these issues in SBC life it will cost one much--but it is worth it.

Wade Burleson said...


The curse of sin is separation from God - in other words, sin brings its own curse.

When one is disconnected from God, authority becomes the focus.

When one intimately knows the Redeemer, servant love is the focus.

Wade Burleson said...


When someone has no desire for anything the SBC offers, then one can speak the truth without fear of the consequences.


The Govteach said...

I was in SWBTS in the 1980s and saw this coming. When I got out, I never entered any ministry, instead, spent the next 30 years teaching high school.
I always told my female students to " go to college, make yourself " job ready."
My former female students are now doctors, lawyers, CPAs, engineers, teachers, health care professionals, business owners....look I saw a number of female students marry a guy so sorry, even though they were a professing Christain, they either had to divorce the bum to keep from catching some STD or from being beaten on a regular basis....I told these young women, prepare yourself, you never know when you will be on your own, raising children, without a speck of child support...

Anonymous said...

A lot of SBC pastors are just trying to keep their jobs and churches afloat. They have took a total pass on marriage fidelity. Case in point - a few years ago when the pastor ran me and my wife (married 32 years then) off from a SBC church in the Oklahoma City area because we designated too much money to the childrens department, the chairman of the deacons at the time and his wife had multiple marriages between them. But this was perfectly OK with the pastor, because that deacon chairman was a yes man for the pastor and part of his protection possee. And there you have it.

Christiane said...

That doctrine 'ESS' is not seen at all in orthodox Christianity.

When was the first time it showed up among fundamentalist evangelicals ? I've been trying to find out the answer to this for a long time, without success.

Another question:
I blog at SBCvoices (I'm 'moderated' and mostly deleted there, which I don't mind as it is David Miller's blog.) But in the last year or so, the number of women making comments has fallen off . . .
has there been some further increase in the way SBC patriarchists are applying their 'submissive' rules that would affect women feeling free to comment there, I wonder? I've mentioned the observation there, but no response, and my questions were deleted, so I don't know the reason for the change, but it IS obvious, and disconcerting.

Finally, thank you WADE, for standing up for women in the Church. It has cost you much to do this, I imagine, but in time, I think you will be recognized in the SBC for doing the right thing.
Your work on behalf of Dr. Klouda was inspirational. God Bless and keep you and yours. You have my prayers always.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Sometimes I am perplexed by the logic of Southern Baptist assemblies.

Not if you assume they're using North Korean logic:


Tom Parker said...


What I will never understand is that the mindset for many of the SBC leaders is--if you do not like the way we are running the SBC leave and thousands have. I would love to ask some of the these leaders is the idea that the last one left in the SBC-- please turn the lights off? If that is the case IMO it is getting closer to that last person being left every day. I have seen this nonsense as it relates to Women in the SBC play out for years now and no I do not think it can be supported by the Bible. There was a time in the SBC that women were valued and performed mighty works for the Lord. But tragically they are not allowed to now. But they are allowed to be submissive. Is God stopping these women from using their God given talents or is it men?

Christiane said...

The tragedy is that in order to live in a way that their leaders tell them is God-approved,
these women must shut-down their talents, their initiative, their feelings and emotions, and put aside the gifts that call to them to be used in a world that needs those gifts . . .

and all to shore up (re-inforce) what?

The Scriptures warn us that we are to use our gifts and talents,
not to bury them and hand them back unused. Does a woman say to God 'I thought my gifts weren't important to You' ???
They are HIS gifts that we are given for HIS purposes, and those gifts need to be respected as such. Many women understand this at a very deep level, but they are trapped in a system that is in partial denial of God in His role as the 'Giver of Gifts'.

May our eyes be opened to His Will more fully is my prayer for the Church.

Anonymous said...

Was wondering about this since I've never heard of ESS. The Bible clearly teaches that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Was wondering what authority that means he has. Certainly Christ has authority over the church. If you use the typology as Paul intended it, a wife should be in submission to her husband just as the Church is subject to Christ. The rest of the discussion is closed by the Scriptures since they hold supreme authority over what a Christian marriage is.

Garry McDevitt said...

The reason for the high rate of divorce is a practical one where a self-defined idea of grace becomes lenience, and Southern Baptists fail to allow the truth of Scripture to govern their lives. A Christian is bound to the Scriptures not man-made doctrines of grace. 1 Corinthians 13 and Paul's admonition for Christ and the Church to represent true Christian marriage, must govern our relationships, and Christ himself will heal and lead our marriages. The anonymous comment earlier was mine but I wasn't privy to how to sign on. The Bible and the Apostle say that the husband is indeed the head of his wife as Christ is head of the church. That is the clear teaching of Scripture. No one can alter that. But that privilege is earned by self-sacrifice. A wife is to lovingly submit to her husband as she would to The Lord. Our failure in marriage is that we are not submissive to Christ. Neither husbands or wives. It has nothing to do with authority or submission to each other, but a doctrine that excuses us from the Lordship of Christ, and excuses us from the adherence to Christian marriage and love.

Victorious said...

Garry, I'll share my understanding of submission in Eph. 5.

Paul shares a "string of participles" that pertain to the behavior of those who are followers of Chrst. (v.1)

We should be:
* redeeming (the time) v.16
* being filled (with the spirit) v.18
* speaking (in psalms, hymns) v.19
* singing & making melody v.19
* giving thanks (to God) v.20
* submitting (to one another) v.21

Verse 22 does not contain the word submit, but it was added (supposedly for clarification).

So the "string of participles" Paul used applies to all. Including wives v.22. The way husbands submit to their wives v.2 is by loving her the way Christ loved the church...and that is by "giving himself up for her." There is no mention in the passage of Christ's authority, but only His self sacrifice is given as the example for husbands to emulate.

He lays down his very life for his wife as Christ laid down His life for the church. That's how he is included in the "submitting to one another in v. 21.

To summarize the passage:

Followers of Christ, redeem the time; be filled with the Spirit; speak to one another in hymns and psalms; sing and make melody to one another; give thanks together; submit to one another.

Hope that helps. Paul is not establishing nor condoning a hierarchy in this passage on "one anothering."

Christiane said...

GARY, what is God's Will in a case where the wife is told to do something she feels is absolutely against her conscience?

Does she abrogate responsibility and blame her wrong-doing on her husband's 'lordship',
or does she listen to her God-given conscience as her guide and avoid doing what she finds abhorrent ?

This is a CLASSIC question which gives much difficulty to those who argue on the subject of 'free will'. Do 'submissive' wives have to answer to God for what they do in violation of their consciences?

I suggest there is more to 'submissive' than women see at first glance;
and perhaps that has contributed to some women leaving their husbands to escape a theology that has required them to override conscience to the point of no longer being able to experience the peace of Christ.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Looking back in my lifetime in the church, and speaking to others, the church has messed up a lot concerning relationships, husband/wife, parent/children.

Love was presented as a form of discipline and submission. Love wasn't being a warm place or being treated well no matter what. Scripture was placed in the "appropriate" places, taken out of context but we didn't know. I wish I would have gone with my reading of scripture more as a parent and a wife. I know now, but I wish I would have known at a pivotal time in my life. The church let many down in this area, and as a result we have many people who do not know the definition of love outside being mean and calling it love or in a disciplinary context.

Aussie John said...


Bob hit the nail on the head! I'm trailing him by 2 years:)

I'm always amazed how many men love to emphasis Eph.5:24, and forget that v.25 exists.

It is completely illogical and unbiblical to suggest that because a woman becomes a wife, her position as a sister in Christ is negated, as the emphasis on Eph.5:24 suggests.

The idea that a man has "authority", in the popular evangelical sense, is as divisive as those insisting on circumcision in the church at Galatia, where Paul sought to instill the truth that regardless of gender, race,etc. an epochal change has occured in the life of those who are "in Christ".

Yet we still want to function according to worldly wisdom. 2425845

Maybe some need to learn that the chapters preceding ch.5 set the context for ch.5.

FormerSBCer said...

Kevin Bussey said...

"Could the busyness of church play a role? Most SBC churches I was in expected their people to be at every event."

While I agree with everything Wade said, I STRONGLY agree with Kevin's thinking. Unfortunately, I think I cheated my wife and kids out of a lot of my time by feeling obligated to attend so many church activities.

George Luter said...

I'm merely an old lawyer; but it seems to be that this subordination/complementarian is another way to keep those pesky women out of any authority. Much simpler that way for the guys who now run the new SBC.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Could this divorce rate reflect the effects of feminism? More and more even Christian women see themselves as victims of male oppression. You are blaming the Complementarians. Why not blame the growing influence of egalitarianism instead, since this is the trend among women.

Kristen said...

To Mrs. Webfoot: Here is a portion of a blog post I wrote that addresses this issue:

Many churches today blame "worldly feminist culture" for the increase of divorces in evangelical marriages. But here’s what I think is really going on in many cases. Women once believed they really were inferior to men. When their legitimate concerns were ignored or silenced, they accepted it. What else could they do? They had no power, and it was their lot in life. But the evangelical church as a whole is putting forth a new doctrine, even while claiming it is what Christianity as a whole has taught through the ages. The traditional doctrine, taught by Jerome, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and many others, said point-blank that women were by nature inferior. Today the evangelical church generally teaches that men and women are equal in nature, but have different “roles,” with women meant for the subordinate roles and men meant for the roles of authority.

Today, then, an evangelical woman may say to herself, if she is in an oppressive marriage, "I have chosen to be submissive, but I’m not inferior. I deserve to be listened to and heard. And if I am speaking the truth, it is not less true because I am the one who has it. If my husband’s perceived ‘truth' is weightier and more important than mine, that isn’t right."

This feeling of injustice, of not being heard, will eventually affect her feelings about the marriage, and if things get bad enough, she may in self-preservation seek divorce. But is this truly “worldly feminism”? Or is it a correct understanding of her worth and value to God, and her responsibility of self-stewardship as a temple of the Holy Spirit?

So what is the answer? Go back to the easier time when women knew they were inferior, and so did not expect to be heard and listened to? When it didn't bother them as much when they were overridden by their husbands, because they accepted it as a matter of course? But in that case what do we do with the truth the church has now embraced, because it is, manifestly, the truth, spoken by God in Gen. 1:26-28 and proven by the blood, sweat and tears of women over the last hundred years-- that women really are equal?

Gem said...

Kristen, very insightful comment! I agree!

Wade, I think I hear what you are saying about "authority". However, in my experience in female skin, I felt robbed of any authority, power, voice. My journey has involved recovery of my God given equal (feminine) authority.

Genesis 1:26-28 is God's vision for male female relationship (and authority/dominion) and has not been retracted as far as I know.

I renounced the "Sapphira spirit" of failing to speak up and exercise my authority. (Acts 5)

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Thanks for the comments. Feminism has nothing to do with the rising divorce rate in Southern Baptist churches. Patriarchy is to blame.

Did I understand you correctly?

Mrs. Webfoot said...

I agree that women should not keep silent in the face of real abuse and oppression. I believe that for men as well, and children who are being abused by their mothers. I believe that for all human beings, and I speak from the experience of one who spends a fair amount of time with people suffering under political oppression.

In fact, I have taken authority, if you will, in the sense of not allowing myself to be abused, especially online - which has happened to me. No problem there.

I agree whole heartedly with that part of what my brothers and sisters are saying here.

I just think that the divorce rate among Southern Baptists is probably much more complex than what Pastor Burleson has outlined here.

Whatever the cause, I hope that this trend can be reversed, and I pray for ya'all to that end. I am not southern, but I am proud to be the mother of a TAMU Aggie. This trend makes me very sad.

Blessings and love to all of you, and thanks for your kindness.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

I'm chatty this AM. Please excuse me, but I just have to say thanks to the young marrieds group in a So. Baptist church in College Station, TX for being such a help and encouragement to my daughter and son in-law while she was doing her masters at A&M. They were wonderful, especially in helping us move the kids to Houston where our little grandson heart baby was born at Texas Children's.

You people are the best. Not sure why I'm telling you that, it's just on my heart.

Victorious said...

Mrs. Webfoot,

you said:
I agree that women should not keep silent in the face of real abuse and oppression.

Just wondering about the use of the word "real" in defining abuse. Would appreciate knowing what you meant by that.

Thanks! And congratulations on your new grandson!

Victorious said...

I agree with Wade that the doctrine of ESS may have an effect on marriages, but even the male=authority/rule and female=subordinate/submissive can be devastating to a relationship. It can give license to bullying.

There is much outcry today about bullying in schools and sports, but in Christian circles sadly overlooked in marriages. I found this definition on the "Stop Bullying" dot gov websiste:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

If someone is being bullied, they are encouraged to report it and the bully is held accountable. We should encourage those abused by bullying in relationships to leave that situation. Like the angel that freed Peter from the literal prison he was in, we should help those in a similar (relationship) prison to escape.

By ignoring or minimizing a victim's cry for help, we reinforce the power imbalance and perpetuate the crime from generation to generation.

The attempt to relegate Jesus to a subordinate position for eternity is a desperate attempt to further an agenda that mandates a subordinate position of the woman in marriage.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Victorious, thank you for your kind words. Our grandson is doing very well, but has to have one more operation before he enters school. He had two in his first 3 months of life. He's a fighter, by the grace of God and the prayers of God's people. He will be 2 at the end of May.

Real abuse? First, let me share that I am an abuse survivor.

I assume that you are also an abuse survivor, so I'll just say this. It has to do with a good frind of ours who, because of her mental illness, cannot distinguish fantasy from reality all the time. Her condition is not all that common, but it happens.

Take care. I'll probably not respond again. You show a real love and concern for those who are hurting. Thank you. God bless.

BrianS said...

"I hate divorce saith the Lord" Malachi 2:16

theasdgamer said...

No wonder divorce is so common among SB's nowadays, with such scripture twisting about wifely submission. The wife and husband aren't equal in roles or authority, just like a lead and follow aren't equal in roles or authority when dancing. Leads direct and follows submit. If there's a problem in SBC theology, its that it has accepted feminist ideas about women's equality. Follows typically get to do the cool turns and get the attention. Leads and follows are complementary in roles, as husbands and wives should be. Wives ought to submit to the husbands, as Paul teaches. Husbands are to cherish and nourish their wives. Paul gave different commands to each.

Angela said...

Way to go - My transgender brother is quoting you as a reason why no Southern Baptists (including ALL of his family members) can be trusted, or speak any truth at all. So thank you for further alienating from us. That is exactuly what we needed! There are consequences to tearing down your brothers and sisters in Christ - you tear down the GOSPEL. What a jerk. And yes - I know that you will never allow this comment to be seen, but at leaxt think about what kind of influence you want to have, not on in the SBC - which you hate as much as my brother does - but in the world at large. Do you want to tear down a denomination or lift up Jesus - I think that the current answer is obvious, but I pray that you will repent of all the harm you are doing to the cause of Christ.

Nancy said...

The BFM 2000 insinuates that wives are chattel, and many SBC leaders have also insinuated as much. Women are not allowed full fellowship (not allowed to participate in mixed gender Sunday school classes or speak in business meetings) in the church that my husband and I attend. So, I have completely lost interest in church activities.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I became Southern Baptist 31 years ago when a gracious, humble pastor reached out to me in a crisis. Since then, I moved to another state and was in a 20 year abusive marriage in which I sacrificed my sons on the altar of male headship. It amazes me how people will fight so hard for authority that they will resort to subordinating God in the flesh for all eternity just to have power and control over someone else. It seems to me that we Christians ought to be striving to be last in God's upside down kingdom instead of taking away the free will that God so graciously bestowed on His image bearers. Anyway, I finally left the Southern Baptist Church I loved greatly because it pained me deeply to hear repeated sermons that discouraged me from being the person God gifted, equipped and called me to be. Thank you for shedding some light on the false doctrine of ESS and how it has hurt families in the SBC. My family is an example of that. (As a side note, my whole family has left the SBC and one of my sons may not be a believer. Please pray for him...)