Actually, itâ€™s not just E. J. Dionne whoâ€™s offering an incorrect analysis of Frank Pageâ€™s election to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Dionne and others are mistaking the dark horse for a trojan horse that would signal the beginning of the end of the conservative movement in the SBC. In a Washington Post editorial today, Dionne writes:
Pageâ€™s upset victory could be very significant, both to the nationâ€™s religious life and to politics. He defeated candidates supported by the conventionâ€™s staunchly conservative establishment, which has dominated the organization since the mid-1980s. His triumph is one of many signs that new breezes are blowing through the broader evangelical Christian world . . . The mellowing of evangelical Christianity may well be the big American religious story of this decade. . . The evangelical world is going through a quiet evolution as believers reflect on the perils of partisanship and ideology and their reasons for being Christian. This will probably affect the nationâ€™s political life, but it will certainly affect the countryâ€™s spiritual direction. My hunch is that not only moderates and liberals but also many solid conservatives welcome the departure (source).
Yes, Frank Page is a bit of an outsider and was not involved in the conservative resurgence of the 1980â€™s and 1990â€™s that rescued the SBC from creeping theological liberalism. And, yes, Page desires â€œto pull together various factionsâ€ within the SBC, including â€œemergent pastorsâ€ and â€œthe few remaining moderatesâ€ (source).
But Dionne is completely off the mark in suggesting that Pageâ€™s election means that Southern Baptists are backing away from their â€œideologyâ€ as he calls it. We are and will remain theologically conservative, at least for the foreseeable future.
Make no mistake, if SBC messengers would have had reason to question Pageâ€™s conservative bona fides (specifically, his committment to the inerrancy of scripture), his candidacy never would have been considered.
Iâ€™m afraid that Dionneâ€™s eagerness to see the SBC drift leftward has skewed his analysis.