As the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., prepares for its annual conference next week, all eyes are on its leaders following recent national backlash.
Last week, a letter from former SBC leader Russell Moore was leaked, putting the convention into the hot seat. The letter referenced troubling conversations Moore had with other SBC leaders who were angered by his public disapproval of the convention’s stances on sexual abuse and racial reconciliation. Moore wrote that he received threats from some members, and he was told by task forces to keep quiet on certain issues.
In response to the leak, two Southern Baptist pastors are planning to motion for an investigation into the allegations that the SBC mishandled several sexual abuse claims and bullied victims. But prominent convention leaders such as Mike Stone, who is a nominee for SBC president, blasted Moore, saying his letter was “scandalous, unscriptural, ungodly [and] outrageous,” and others claimed that Moore’s letter was inaccurate and included conversations that were taken out of context.
Speculation about which leaders Moore was referencing in the leaked letter spread like typical church gossip, but confirmation finally came today when Phillip Bethancourt, pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas, released a Google Doc with names and audio clips of several conversations Moore had with Stone and Ronnie Floyd, two of the convention’s most prominent leaders. Bethancourt explained that he never intended to be a “Southern Baptist whistleblower,” but believed that SBC members deserved to hear Stone and Floyd’s words to know the truth.
Moore’s letter will certainly be a big topic of conversation at next week’s convention, but it isn’t the only one. The convention is expected to hear a resolution from a group of pastors (led by Stone) that would condemn the use of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. The resolution has been called “racially divisive” and many members believe it would cause an even further split down the convention. Additionally, after Beth Moore left the convention earlier this year, the conversation about the role of women within the convention has ramped up. Gender and race will be at the forefront of the convention’s worries.
The news surrounding the SBC has already had massive consequences for the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, as its membership has declined steadily for over a decade. With a plethora of topics to cover at the annual conference, the convention could change drastically by the end of next week.