How mainstream is the "Mainstream" movement?
February 19 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

How mainstream is the "Mainstream" movement? | Monday, Feb. 19, 2001

Monday, Feb. 19, 2001

How mainstream is the "Mainstream" movement?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor The genesis and growth of the "Mainstream Baptist" movement has raised excitement in some quarters and disgust in others. What should we make of this new organization that claims to represent old Baptist principles? Some conservative observers accuse the movement of being a duplicitous political front for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). Two N.C. Baptists have written the Recorder, asking that we expose the perceived hypocrisy of Mainstream leaders by pointing out how many of them also support CBF.

It is certainly true, as the Recorder's coverage of the movement has made clear, that the early leadership of Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina (MBNC) has been primarily "moderate," though they have eschewed the label and have also sought to include conservatives in the movement.

It is also true that those same leaders are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Baptist State Convention (BSC) of North Carolina-but I haven't heard anyone accuse them of being a political front for the SBC or the BSC.

A prominent N.C. Baptist conservative told the Triad World (a conservative newspaper that purports to represent a "biblical worldview") that the Mainstream movement, like so-called "Mainline" Protestant denominations, is bound for decline. "Mainstreamers are confused a lot," he said. "Everything mainstream is dying. Mainstream is a reactionary thing to wanting to be one big happy family. Everything mainstream is going downstream."

Readers may be surprised to know that some moderate observers also think the movement is misguided, not because of any perceived CBF connections, but precisely because Mainstreamers have disowned any link to CBF and have called for leadership that avoids "fundamentalism" from the right or the left. Some CBF faithful wonder if the rhetoric is intended to suggest that they are the leftward fringe that Mainstream wants to avoid. Others worry about N.C. Baptists being drawn into orbit around Texas.

Mainstream leaders are undeterred. They have been very clear in stating their agenda and defining who they are. They may or may not think highly of CBF, but they uniformly dislike the increasingly rigid positioning of the SBC, and they don't want to see state conventions remade in the same image.

Whether that attitude is truly shared by the Baptist "mainstream" depends entirely on one's perspective. Mainstream leaders are convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists share their views and would support their agenda if informed of the issues. Supporters of the SBC's conservative reformation demur, citing continued success in winning elections as evidence that the majority supports their cause. Mainstreamers point to decreasing attendance at the SBC's annual meetings as an indication that the real majority is staying home.

Agreeing on the meaning of "mainstream" is like trying to agree on the meaning of "historic Baptist principles." There are at least two groups who are convinced they know the correct definition, and no argument or evidence will persuade them otherwise.

In a sense, the debate renews a lingering issue of semantic confusion.

Some "moderates" who consider themselves to be theologically conservative have long been irked that "more-conservative-than-thou" brethren succeeded in co-opting the term "conservative" and accusing all others of being "liberal," leaving those who are less conservative to adopt the wimpy-sounding "moderate" label as a way of denying that they are "liberal." For a while, Baptist newspapers tried to avoid the problem by using the terms "moderate-conservative" and "fundamentalist-conservative," but gave it up because the terminology was just too unwieldy, and because few people want to be called a "fundamentalist," even when the label fits.

Now the nomenclature is on the other foot, so to speak, as Mainstreamers have adopted (and legally trademarked) a label with largely positive implications, leading some SBC advocates with little recourse but to campaign against the term's legitimacy.

How mainstream is Mainstream? For now, the answer remains in the eye of the beholder. For the future, the answer may be measured by whether the movement succeeds or fails.

Unfortunately, the true numerical majority of those claimed by Southern Baptists can still be branded with two other labels with regard to denominational matters: "uninformed" and "apathetic." If those labels do not change, Southern Baptists will eventually find themselves neither mainstream nor downstream, but up the creek.

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2/19/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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