Actually, it’s not just E. J. Dionne who’s offering an incorrect analysis of Frank Page’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:
Page’s upset victory could be very significant, both to the nation’s religious life and to politics. He defeated candidates supported by the convention’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 nation’s political life, but it will certainly affect the country’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 1980’s and 1990’s that rescued the SBC from creeping theological liberalism. And, yes, Page desires “to pull together various factions” within the SBC, including “emergent pastors” and “the few remaining moderates” (source).
But Dionne is completely off the mark in suggesting that Page’s election means that Southern Baptists are backing away from their “ideology” 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 Page’s conservative bona fides (specifically, his committment to the inerrancy of scripture), his candidacy never would have been considered.
I’m afraid that Dionne’s eagerness to see the SBC drift leftward has skewed his analysis.