Biblical Recorder:How mainstream is the 'Mainstream' movement?
October 30 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Biblical Recorder:How mainstream is the 'Mainstream' movement?

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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 hypocritical political front for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). A couple of N.C. Baptists have written the Recorder, insisting that we must expose the perceived duplicity 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.One prominent North Carolina conservative leader told the World Triad Magazine (a radically conservative publication related to Bob Jones University) that the Mainstream movement is a poorly conceived attempt to return to the old days prior to the conservative makeover that has changed the public face, the internal structure, and the doctrinal statements of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). "Mainstream is downstream," he said. 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 (at least in North Carolina) disown any link to CBF and call for leadership that avoids "fundamentalism" from the right or the left. Some CBF faithful wonder if the rhetoric might imply that CBF leaders are the leftward fringe that Mainstream wants to avoid. Mainstream leaders have been 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 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 cite continued success in winning elections and increased Cooperative Program giving 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 answer, and no argument or evidence will persuade them otherwise.In a sense, the debate renews a lingering issue of semantic confusion.So-called "moderates" who consider themselves to be theologically conservative have long been irked that those who are farthest to the right have taken ownership of the term "conservative" and accused all others of being "liberal," forcing those who are only slightly 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 those who oppose the current SBC's closed system have adopted a label with positive implications, leading some SBC faithful to deny its legitimacy and claim it for themselves.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, my perception is that the true numerical majority of Southern Baptists can still be branded with two other denominational labels: uninformed and apathetic. If that does not change, Southern Baptists will eventually find themselves, not in the mainstream, but up the creek. | Home | NewsOpinion | Baptist Life |

10/30/2003 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments

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