The Baptist Reformer

Perhaps more than other Christians, who seem more open to floating freely among various denominations for worship and identity, MohlerCatholics tend to view some other churches as monolithic institutions with clear doctrine and discipline, guiding all members along a straight and narrow path. But the cover story of this week’s Christianity Today suggests that in at least one denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, this is far from accurate.

Molly Worthen profiles R. Albert Mohler, Jr., the controversial head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship school, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Mohler is a favorite of the media for his ability to remain calm and collected while making outrageous statements, including his endorsement of gene therapy for fetuses that may grow to be homosexual; his unflagging belief of seven-day creationism; the idea that Islam and other non-Christian faiths are vehicles for Satanism; and the claim that yoga is not in line with Christian belief. And he espoused in 2000 that Catholicism is a “false church” preaching a “false gospel.”

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So what is there to learn from this man, whose views tend to deviate starkly not only from mainline Christianity, but basic decency?

There’s much in this article about internal Baptist politics that I don’t understand (most of my Baptist “education” comes from a close friend who defected from that church and now occasionally attends Catholic Mass), but the themes are especially interesting. It’s the story of how one man, in only a couple decades, was able to reshape a denomination that prides itself on independence from central hierarchy. It’s the story of a concerted effort by a group of right-leaning members who sought to sully moderates and progressives within their denomination in order to stage an internal coup. It’s the story of an institution that presents an image to the world that is pure and free of internal discourse, when the reality is quite different. There are many facets to this story that Catholics may consider when looking at our church, remembering that the results for Southern Baptists aren’t terribly encouraging: baptism and church attendance is way down, especially among the young. Mohler was able to transform the Southern Baptist Convention into a bulwark of conservative fundamentalist faith, but at what cost? Are there similar efforts in our own church? Do we embrace theological, spiritual, and philosophical diversity, or do we strive for complete conformity and orthodoxy? 

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Gerelyn Hollingsworth
7 years 2 months ago
I think many Catholics are unaware of the beliefs and practices of other religions. 

Reading the forums where former members of other churches post messages can be enlightening.  Googling ''ex Seventh Day Adventist'', ''ex Mormon'', ''ex church of Christ'', etc. leads to examples. 

It is particularly interesting, imho, to read on those sites  what members of those churches are taught about Catholics.
Marie Rehbein
7 years 2 months ago
Isn't it ironic that a religious denomination that was established in reaction to the extreme conservatism of Puritanism would now be characterized by that same intolerance, while the descendants of that Puritan church are now among the most liberal of religious denominations?
7 years 2 months ago
Michael, I've enjoyed both the excellent profile and your perspective.  Since I grew up Southern Baptist, went to a college that has since cut ties with the convention, and have an older brother who left Louisville's seminary during Mohler's takeover, I'd like to add a little.

It's not totally accurate to say Mohler remade the SBC.  His crew remade the seminary, sure.  They rewrote the Baptist Faith & Message and shook up the state conventions and religion departments at SBC-funded colleges. But individual congregations have been fairly insulated from all this. I'd bet more Southern Baptists know and have opinions on Pope Benedict than Mohler.

That's because a Southern Baptist church has only the lightest of ties to the convention.  Churches make a monthly offering to the convention, but decide how much to give.  Furthermore, a congregation can ordain (men) freely.  That's all it takes to preach and run a church- not formal education, just a ''fire for the Lord.'' My childhood church, where most of my family still attends, began from a ''church split'' and got halved by another forty years later. While not encouraged, it's not shut down from the top either.  Baptist faith emphasizes the ''individual priesthood of the believer.''  What matters is between you and God.  There are no mediators.

There's also no confessional and no withholding of the Lord's Supper (Communion) if, say, you don't read the KJV.  However, a science- and gay-friendly Southern Baptist will likely just church-hop until finding a church where such views are downplayed if not welcomed. For instance, Rick Warren, another Southern Baptist, makes an interesting comparison to Mohler. Younger and more liberal believers often end up in nondenominational, evangelical churches, if anywhere at all.
Mark Harden
7 years 2 months ago
''the claim that yoga is not in line with Christian belief.''

''Yoga is incompatible with Catholicism because the best known practice of Hindu spirituality is Yoga. “Inner” Hinduism professes pantheism, which denies that there is only one infinite Being who created the world out of nothing.''


FATHER JOHN HARDON, S.J.
Kay Satterfield
7 years 2 months ago
Having been raised a Southern Baptist in the South i can say that as a young adult I fled it because it just felt too narrow. There was a world outside my Baptist church.  It was always us and them, the saved and the unsaved.  A person who wasn't baptized was going to hell. It also was about being perfect.  Being exposed to Catholicism in the late 80's in college through my boy friend, later husband I found more openness and certainly more care for the world around us though a real emphasis on social justice.  It just seemed more real.  I have to attribute this openness to Second Vatican II.  Before that, I understand from stories that Catholics also could be just as closed.
I sense that some American Catholics have a real desire for a 'Catholic identity' like what they perceive is existing in more conservative Christian denominations. They want to be set apart.  Unfortunately it seems to me that this vocal minority gets a lot of attention.  
However, what I like about being a Catholic is that we have to strieve to get along with one another.  Though some people may leave but our church doesn't split.   Most people in the pews are just trying to iive with their church as an anchor.

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