Vol. 2, No. 5 December 1999 Editor: Bruce Prescott
Why Baptist Families are Fracturing
By Bruce Prescott
The Bible Belt, the heartland of the Southern Baptist Convention, has the highest divorce rate in America. Only Nevada, home of the quickie-divorce, has a higher rate of divorce than Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
SBC leaders and Oklahoma Baptist leaders think the solution to the problem of divorce is to tell wives to “submit” to their husbands. “Submissive” wives don’t question their husband’s directions and they hold their tongues when they know their husband is leading the family astray. In the words of Dorothy Patterson, a drafter of the SBC’s family statement, "When it comes to submitting to my husband, even when he’s wrong, I just do it. He is accountable to God." In the Fundamentalist’s world, husbands give orders and wives obey. All relationships, even families, are structures of power and servility.
Unfortunately for Fundamentalist’s, most women in the real world of twentieth century America believe that marriages are built on love and respect. They got that idea from the Bible (Eph. 5:33), not from their culture, and they expect to be equal partners in a regenerate relationship. They got that idea from the Bible too (Gal. 27-28; Eph. 5:21-33).
Fundamentalists don’t deny that love is the basis for marriage. They just define love in the terms of pagan Roman culture rather than in the terms of biblical Christianity. For Fundamentalist’s, love is a struggle for power and marriage is a relationship between a master and a slave.
Christ, on the other hand, demonstrated in word and in deed, and in life and in death, that true love is sacrificial and self-giving. Christian love concerns itself with serving others not with ruling over them. That is the only kind of love with power to reconcile fractured and broken relationships.
The want of genuine love and respect within Baptist homes could be glimpsed, on a broader scale, in the dynamics of the Baptist family at the recent Oklahoma Baptist Convention.
Stress fractures within the Baptist family have been apparent for more than a decade.
Most recently, strains arose when one party decided to revise the terms of the covenant under which the family was united (the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message) and insisted on forcing those terms on the other party.
Mainstream Baptists suggested that the family reaffirm its original confession and asked for an opportunity to discuss the issue with the whole family. The whole family agreed on a time and a place for this discussion. Before the appointed time, however, the “head” of the family led his side of the family to adopt his revisions. At the appointed time, when the Mainstream side of the family arrived, they politely pointed out that the basic rules of trust and respect had been violated (Roberts Rules of Order). The “head” of the family then lovingly claimed to have power to change the times for family meetings and put an end to discussions on this issue.
When the “heads” of Oklahoma’s Baptist clan publicly act in such an autocratic and dictatorial fashion, they are demonstrating how they expect the “heads” of families to act in the privacy of their homes. Their handling of Mainstream Baptists sends a clear signal about the kind of “love” and “leadership” to which wives are being told to “graciously submit.”
Instead of listening in love, engaging in dialogue, and establishing relationships of mutual respect and mutual submission, Oklahoma Baptist leaders are advising men to show their wives “who’s boss?” and telling women to “shut up” and “knuckle under.”
The enthusiasm with which some Oklahoma Baptist pastors endorsed the actions of their leaders at the state convention meeting should inform the Baptist laity about the quality of Fundamentalist pastoral leadership.
If you are a Baptist and your daughter is in an abusive marriage, you might need to think twice before suggesting that she make an appointment with a fundamentalist pastor to discuss family matters.
If her pastor is a Fundamentalist, he probably thinks he can fix every marital problem by bringing dad and the kids together and, before mom arrives, have them pass a decree telling mom to “graciously submit” to dad’s abuse.
Only a Fundamentalist would wonder how this brand of “love” and “leadership” could lead to divorce.
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