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Doctrinal Matters: Denominationalism

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Southern Baptists Break with World Alliance

by  Alden Bass

In June 2004, at the 99th annual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) officially severed ties with the world organization, citing as its reason for departure an increase in liberalism within the body. The Southern Baptists are the largest protestant denomination in the United States, with about 16 million members (Reeves, 2004). They compose a considerable faction of the 46-million-member BWA, and contribute $300,000 a year to the voluntary association (“Baptist Moderates…,” 2004).

The SBC accused the BWA of “liberalism, anti-Americanism, and apparently, excessive sympathy towards gays” (Bates, 2004). The World Alliance has characterized these allegations as “slander,” and affirms that it stands against women leadership, homosexuality, and anti-Americanism (“BWA Rejects SBC Charges,” 2004). The SBC was particularly alarmed that the BWA invited South African archbishop Desmond Tutu to address a general council meeting in Durban.

The BWA claims that the schism can be traced back to the 2002 acceptance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a moderate group that split from the Southern Baptists in 1990 over issues of female leadership and biblical inerrancy. Although the CBF considers itself moderate, the Southern Baptists accuse its leadership of rank liberalism. A statement made in 2000 by Daniel Vestal, national CBF executive director, makes clear the CBF position: “We’re not really passionate about the gospel changing people’s lives. We’re...more oriented to political correctness and relevancy” (“Where Do You…,” 2000).

This split is illustrative of a growing trend, both in the Baptist fellowship and in Christendom in general. Tension is continuing to mount between the SBC and the more independent Baptist General Convention of Texas. And gay-rights issues have driven the Episcopal Church to the verge of a split. As the world grows more tolerant of sinful behavior and false doctrine, some religious groups feel it necessary to compromise their doctrine in order to reach an increasingly wider audience, while others hold fast to more conservative beliefs. Time will tell where all this will lead.


“Baptist Moderates to Back World Group Rejected By Conservatives” (2004), Associated Press, [On-line], URL:

Bates, Stephen (2004), “U.S. Southern Baptists Split World Alliance,” Guardian, [On-line], URL: 5b30c0f94a58efef0c4b0c9ed214672a&_docnum=1&wchp= dGLbVzz-zSkVb&_md5=72073c75971fef95b244c0a45c9ab42e, June 24.

BWA Rejects SBC Charges” (2004), Baptist World Alliance, [On-line], URL:

Reeves, Scott (2004), “Baptist Committee Votes to Leave Alliance,” Associated Press, [On-line], URL: 5b30c0f94a58efef0c4b0c9ed214672a&_docnum=5&wchp= dGLbVzz-zSkVb&_md5=a046fecedcddcb0fede056e9e466b728.

“Where Do You and Your Church Stand?” (2000), The Conservative Record, [On-line], URL: cbf as denomination.htm, October.

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