By Jennifer Davis Rash
The Alabama Baptist
With the newly organized Conservative Baptist Network garnering attention on blog posts and social media in Southern Baptist life this week, The Alabama Baptist decided to talk with Alabama’s most well-known member of the group’s steering council — Chuck Kelley, president emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kelley shared his opinion on various aspects of the Network and related topics.
Conflict of interest claims
The potential of a conflict of interest is “outlandish,” Kelley said in response to accusations by a variety of people, including Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee member Jared Wellman in a June 24 blog post.
Wellman pointed to four new EC leaders who are also on the Network’s steering council and calls it a conflict of interest whether done intentionally or unintentionally.
Kelley argued that people connected to other organizations like Baptist21 and Together for the Gospel also have opinions about the SBC, but they have not been viewed as a source for conflict of interest.
“And if we are going to talk about conflict of interest, then we must address the issue of an entity head asking for power (in the role of SBC president) for selection of trustees for his institution. That is a real conflict of interest,” Kelley said. “You cannot raise the possibility of a conflict of interest on the EC with non-CP employees as members, if you do not in the same conversation consider the conflict of interest if a CP employee whose entity is also receiving millions of dollars from CP were to have the position of SBC president with all of its influence and power. Of course, he would also be an automatic member of the EC, who would be voting on his budget allocation and the rules for CP distribution.
“I don’t think an entity head ought to run to be SBC president,” he said. “I told Paige (Patterson, Kelley’s brother-in-law and former president of Southeastern and Southwestern seminaries) that back in 1998 when he decided to run. I disagreed with him, and I had the same concerns when Al (Mohler) announced he planned to run this year.”
Patterson, one of the architects behind the theological takeover of the SBC known as the Conservative Resurgence of the 1970s–80s, used the bully pulpit of the presidency to achieve the goal, Kelley explains in part 3 of his The Dilemma of Decline: Southern Baptist Respond to a New Reality blog posts.
“[The] plan required multiple presidents acting in concert for at least a decade to succeed,” Kelley writes. “Transparency was also a critical element, as those involved in the movement freely discussed with Southern Baptists what they were doing and why they were doing it. President after president executed the action plan in turn until the desired result was accomplished, ushering in an era of profound theological change that reshaped the convention and all of its entities.”
“The Conservative Resurgence showed how you can influence entities through the appointment of trustees committed to a direction,” Kelley told The Alabama Baptist. “It’s a long process, but the influence factor is there. So yes, the influence factor is there with the new Network, but no more than during the days of the Conservative Resurgence.”
Kelley has been preaching his “Baptist Blues” about the serious denominational decline for more than a decade and said he hears consistently from people across the convention that they feel their concerns are ignored.
“A lot of people don’t know why they are uncomfortable, they just know they are,” he said. “Others want evangelism to be a central point of all we do as Southern Baptists.
“And you have conservative Baptists concerned about the whole gospel message not being brought up in current conversations [such as on racism and sexual abuse].”
Kelley said that while he was part of the launch team for the new Network, he did not create it nor come up with the idea, but he was not surprised when it emerged.
“If people were trying to express concerns, and they were ignored, attacked or blocked, that was not going to stop them,” he said. “That method rarely stops it.”
Paige Patterson’s role
And, according to Kelley, Patterson isn’t pulling the strings for the Network either.
“Has Paige been asked for his opinion? Yes. Has he asked for a leadership role or been asked to serve in a leadership role? No.
“To the best of my knowledge, Paige is no longer interested in any kind of leadership role in the SBC for any reason,” Kelley said.
“The Network is an effort to keep people from leaving the convention,” he added.
“We are just trying to take all these disconnected voices and say, ‘You are not alone and, as a collective voice, speak into the SBC.’ Would you at least listen and not attack us? Would you be willing to talk about what we feel are legitimate concerns?”
Noting there will always be a group of people who “get nervous about upsetting the status quo,” Kelley urged SBC leaders to listen to the voices. “What do people feel we are not addressing? Why do they feel the SBC is moving in a direction that is of concern?”
Is there a clear path for the Network? Not according to Kelley.
“We’ll see where the Network takes us,” he said.
“My life assignment from the Lord is evangelism, and I am very concerned about the SBC and the loss of an evangelism culture,” Kelley noted. “We are a convention in decline and that decline is real. We’ve been in decline for a long time. This didn’t just happen.
“Southern Baptists have to regain that evangelistic culture. It has been dramatically diminished, and the Network is interested in helping us recover it.
“Does anybody else see the same thing we are seeing? Does anybody care? Having been ignored and criticized and slammed for raising this issue of evangelistic decline, you start wondering if anybody is ever going to care about this.”