If a tombstone exists for broader Baptist cooperation among Southern Baptists, the year after the dash might read “2018.” Sure, it’s been on life-support for some time, taking a major hit in 2004 when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to leave the Baptist World Alliance that unites more than 200 Baptist groups worldwide.
Before that, the SBC hurt the cause of Baptist unity in 1991 by leaving the Baptist Joint Committee, a group that unites Baptist bodies to promote religious liberty. SBC leaders also rebuffed efforts in 2008 to participate in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, Ga., that brought more than 15,000 Baptists together across denominational and racial lines. Fortunately, some state conventions in SBC life joined all three of those efforts.
But 2018 brought more isolationism. In February, leaders of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Baptist General Convention of Texas both voted to end ties with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and not even forward designated money from churches. Those moves ended essentially two decades of dual alignment where we had some Baptists still coming together across the SBC-CBF chasm.
In May, the SBC ended its relationship with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention after the DCBC refused to kick out a non-SBC church. For more than a century, DC Baptists represented a cooperative bright spot among U.S. Baptists, dually aligned with both the SBC and American Baptist Churches USA — and that expanded to a triple alignment in 1997 with the Progressive National Baptist Convention added.
Other state bodies are even working to pressure churches to only align in particular ways. Over a decade ago, the Missouri Baptist Convention passed single alignment rules and kicked out churches supporting CBF or Churchnet. Leaders of the Kentucky Baptist Convention will propose at their annual meeting in November to remove any churches dually aligned with CBF.
And we export our divisions. I’ve seen this most tragically in Cuba, where there are Eastern and Western conventions. But Cuban Baptists didn’t split. Baptists in the U.S. drew an arbitrary line on the island and said Southern Baptists would work in the western part and Northern Baptists (now American Baptists) would work in the east. That harmful division we created remains today.
It’s not just that we’ve splintered; it’s that we won’t even talk together, worship together or partner together. We focus on fighting the “heresies” of other Baptists while forgetting the Bible clearly depicts disunity as a sin. This hurts our witness, wastes our energy on needless fights and leaves us without the wisdom of different voices.
So, my mind keeps returning to a prophetic experiment Missouri Baptists tried. Although U.S. Baptists split in 1845 over the issue of slavery, that topic was settled two decades later with the Civil War. Yet Baptists remained separated.
After the war, two Baptist conventions in Missouri — one supporting the South and one with the North — united. Then, in 1889, they launched the Missouri Plan. Churches could pick one national body to forward money to, or let it be divided between various missions agencies. And leaders from both Southern and Northern Baptist churches served in convention leadership. Sadly, the experiment didn’t spread and the effort ended three decades later.
At Word&Way, we embrace the spirit of the Missouri Plan. In every issue, you’ll find news and opinion from Baptists outside your tribe. It’s important we read perspectives on the Bible and living out our faith from those with different denominational, ethnic, national and ideological backgrounds.
That’s why our podcast is called “Baptist Without An Adjective.” Not just Southern. Not just Cooperative. Not just American. Not just National. Not just Ukrainian. Not just…
I’m not ready to etch “2018” into the stone yet. I’m hopeful that together we can reignite a spark for broader Baptist cooperation.
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.