Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Myth of Hard-Hearted Southern Baptist Conservatives

Disaster Relief

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is the third-largest disaster relief organization in the United States of America. Normally people don't crow about the bronze medal, but consider who comes in ahead of us: The American Red Cross (ARC) and The Salvation Army (TSA). Disaster relief items get top billing for those two groups, while for Southern Baptists it is decidedly secondary to the propagation of New Testament churches. Still, can you imagine ARC or TSA being on the receiving end of the tongue-wagging, finger-pointing lectures that Southern Baptist conservatives receive about not caring for hurting people, all while we're dishing out upwards of 90% of the meals that ARC feeds people in disaster situations? I don't think so.

Poverty Assistance

Yesterday, while I was at the dedication of a new disaster relief unit, teams from FBC Farmersville were making repairs to the houses of two impoverished families in our community. Of course, this will slip entirely under the public radar (OK, except for this blog post). The government had no role in it, so it will not appear in their statistics. We did not alert the media to come take pictures of us being generous. In a very "Matthew 6" kind of way, we quietly and simply went about doing good.

I do see changes in the way that Southern Baptist churches assist the poor—changes reflective of overall shifts in our ecclesiological paradigm. Once upon a time with regard to missions, benevolence, etc., our paradigm was more-or-less to invite people to pay for someone else to do it. Now, although we still collect money, individual church members desire to be more involved hands-on: thus, the kind of event we had on Saturday.

Polls have indicated that conservative evangelicals are among the most generous people on earth. Southern Baptists fit into that category for these purposes. But, because Congress didn't get to vote on things like our ministry on Saturday and because nobody's political coalition got to take credit for it, people chastise Southern Baptists as though this kind of ministry were not going on every week across the nation.

The Eternal Gospel

Of course, I'll grant that the Southern Baptist apparatus emphasizes evangelism over the meeting of physical needs. That's exactly how things ought to be, and I will not apologize for it. If a person is going to Hell, it matters not whether he goes from a neat little Habitat house or a slumlord tenament. Southern Baptists perform a lot of ministry to physical needs, but such ministry is subservient to our efforts to share the gospel.

Ben Cole has observed on his blog:

If Southern Baptists would commit to issues of social justice with the same rallying cry that founded the Cooperative Program for the task of world missions — namely that we can do more together than we can apart — we might find the good and pleasant blessing promised of God when brothers dwell together in unity.

I'm glad that Ben has a heart for helping people. We all benefit from that spirit. But Southern Baptists are already committed to appropriate issues of social justice. I don't know that our approach has been any less effective than LBJ's forty-year-and-counting War on Poverty and whatever else the government is doing to address "issues of social justice." The image of Southern Baptists as disengaged from the plight of hurting people is simply unfounded, unsubstantiated liberal stereotyping (i.e. liberals are the origin of it, whoever may be repeating it). And one can understand the need for the stereotype, because if liberals cannot convince themselves that they are the more-enlightened, more-compassionate among us, then what do they have left?

I'm all in favor of us doing more. Let's become #1 in Disaster Relief. Let our churches be even more involved in ministering to physical needs. But frankly, I agree with Nathan Finn that our greatest need for improvement is in the area of sharing the eternal gospel, not the social gospel. I'll guarantee you that a good number of the people working on houses for us yesterday have never personally presented the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone. But we're working on that.

Now I'll be accused of "triumphalism." :-)


Les Puryear said...


Very well written. A timely post that is needed to remind us all of the truth of that the SBC truly cares about people.


Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Words that are needed to be heard by everyone. Obviously those that make accusations of uniting resources instead of doubling efforts to do the same things, forget we have the thirds largest organization in the US. Through this organization many things get accomplished. I mean would it not seem inappropriate to form another world-wide organization like Samaritan Purse, when one already exists?


Steve Weaver said...


Thanks for providing this information. This is exactly what I thought of when I saw many call for unity in order to accomplish more social action. It's not that we don't do the things that the liberals want us to do, they just want us to lay down our pro-life convictions and the our belief in the exclusivity of Christ. To say that Southern Baptists don't care for those in need is to throw an inaccurate smokescreen. Thanks for exposing the fallacy.

Pastor Steve Weaver

Anonymous said...


i too grow weary when people accuse conservatives of not caring for the poor and needy...when we do so much. and then, i have a little smile come across my face, because i know that what you wrote here is true. and, obviously, from your post, we do more than a whole bunch of denominations who claim to be into the social gospel.

why should we join with others who arent doing all that we do now?


Geoff Baggett said...


A most excellent post. I, too, grow weary of all of the "talk" about issues of social justice and ministry. It goads me when people like Bono (and other celebrities, even religious ones) get all of the "press" for caring, simply because they talk about social ills.

Such is the scourge of lieralism ... the idea that talking about something is actually "doing" something. It's been my experience that the quiet, humble, believers and churches have been serving quietly, behind the scenes, and will continue to do so.

The "hands-on" issue is so very important in Southern Baptist life right now. I'm not sure what point Ben was trying to make in his statement. But I don't think that a lack of addressing social ills is the problem behind an eroding support of the CP. The real issue is hands-on ministry. The real issue is generational. I minister among a group (and generation ... we only have 6 members over age 60) of people who are not satisfied to mail their money to a fund for others to manage and do their missions and ministy for them "by proxy." My church wants to go, serve, and do.

Personally, I do not think this is a bad thing. Quite the contrary.

Great post.


Strider said...

Terrific Post Bart! Since I do disaster relief here I am always excited to hear others affirm it. But two things I would like to point out. (ok, I made it three).
One- We are part of the reason that the disaster relief and humanitarian aid work is not part of our image. What you have written is true but the rest of the truth is many many SB's don't know that this is what we do! We pass alcohol resolutions at the Convention but when have we passed any resolutions about the good work we did at Katrina or the thousands of other good projects we have done. If we don't tell anyone we can't be upset if they don't know.
Two- we can be number one in these efforts. Any other big name organization like the Salvation Army wishes they had the constituency we have. But we need more post like yours, more good PR to let our own churches know what we are doing and how to get involved. When I am home I go to some churches that are totally up on what we are about and excited about being a part of it but I go to too many other churches who have no clue that SB's do anything to help anyone. Let's get the word out.
Oh, I think it is a mistake to make this a liberal/conservative thing. Let's just be obedient because we love Jesus and let the rest of the world learn from our example. Several comments above mentioned 'why partner?' when we can do it all. That is not a God honoring attitude. Let us show up at partnering meetings so that we can show others the way to do it! We are the stronger brother, not the weaker and we have nothing to fear by fellowshipping with others. Let us be an influence for the good.
My experience is that more will listen than we think will- oh me of little faith.

Anonymous said...


I am not sure that the "welfare state" is not part of the reason that Christians in general are less enthusiastic about helping the needy on a local level. Why do it if the State has it covered? I have heard enough stories about the generosity of believer's to their neighbors in past generations to know that before the welfare state helping the poor and needy was a daily part of life for Christians where I live. I would also add that I don't know anyone where I live that is hungry. At least, when they come in the office asking for food they don't look like they are hungry.

I would also suggest that for me personally, I have no desire to be a part of making meaningless pronouncements about my concern for the environment, the poor, race relations etc. As best I can tell no credit is given in heaven for saying how much you care. A token dollar given to this need or that need may make one feel like he is doing something I am not sure that such shallow engagement in "helping" pleases the Lord. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that conservatives give more than liberals to charities. That's not exactly what the public perception is. Maybe conservatives in general try to do what the Bible tells us to do and that is, "Just do it."

Tim B

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, I tried to post the following yesterday afternoon, but is giving me fits on my home computer. Seems the discussion has gone in a little different direction than what I thought of after reading your post. But I'll throw this in, anyway, cause I'm curious whether anyone else was/is thinking it.

Interesting information that I would not have known otherwise. Also interesting and timely in light of the recent internet/blog activity about the "New Baptist Covenant".

I have looked at their web site a little bit. Here are a few things that struck me, and I'm curious what others think. One is that they really want to emphasize how many Baptists they represent. Though it has probably since been endorsed by different bodies, it seems to me that the original meeting of "18 Baptist leaders representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America" was more likely 18 leaders representing themselves who were FROM BODIES representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America. Anybody know?

The web site notes that the "Biblical text for the Celebration is Luke 4:18-19." Certainly nothing wrong with this Biblical text. It appears that it is used to emphasize social issues. Nothing necessarily wrong with that either. But I see this more as a prophecy of Christ that He said He fulfilled, while our marching orders are more from Matt. 28:18-20, etc.

Finally, I noticed how coexistensive the NewBaptCov is with the North American Baptist Fellowship (of the BWA). Not necessarily wrong either, but this "new" thing seems basically a grouping (and purpose) that already exists in another form.

Alan Cross said...

Great post, Bart. The compassion of Southern Baptists is one of the things that I praise God for. Although, I don't really care about us getting the credit that many want, I am glad that God is saying well done. You are right to remind us of these things and I pray that we put even more effort into this work in the future. Living down near the Gulf Coast, I can tell you that the response of Southern Baptists, and evangelical Christians in general, was amazing. So many people were, and continue to be helped by Baptists.

You did bring up an interesting point, however: We partner with the Red Cross, a non-Chrisitan, and fairly liberal organization socially, in disaster relief. Just sayin'.

dwm III said...


Great post! I too appreciate Ben's call for us to care for the social needs of others. I think this is something that we as SBCers have missed sometimes on our evangelistic pushes. :)


joerstewart said...

Great job, Bart! Did you also notice the lack of generosity of liberals in that same poll? I, for one, tire of people telling us how we don't care. By the way, we too were working on a house Saturday for an impoverished person. We also helped four people with electric bills, provided for an unemployed Dad, and led four people to Jesus last week.

What was most important?

Bart Barber said...

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and commenting.

I'm in a hospital with a family waiting out a surgery, so I can't really bury my head into my laptop. I'll try to make a combined answer to various questions:

Strider: Praise God for your DR work! I agree that this shouldn't be about conservative/liberal. The accusations from the liberal side are what inject ideology into this topic. The very point I am trying to make is that those accusations seeking to tie conservatism to stinginess are without merit.

Alan: The possibility of cooperation is based upon what we're trying to cooperate to do. If an atheist and I happened upon a burning house at the same time, I assume that we could cooperate to get out the endangered residents. We could not cooperate to plant churches, however.

Joe: I did notice those stats.

Thanks to everyone for coming to comment.

Alan Cross said...


I agree with you completely about planting churches, evangelism, and any spiritual work. I was talking about cooperating with people that we do not share the same exact theology with on purely social, compassion, or justice issues. We have been doing that for years, but sometimes people make a big deal about it when a new alliance is being suggested. I was just making a point that it is not as foreign to our experience as some would claim.

dwm III said...

A short clarification for my previous comment.

The gospel need is the most important need there is. However, I think they both go hand in hand.


Joe said...

In the December 18, 2006 Southern Baptist Texan newsmag there was an article from a study that showed Conservatives more generous than liberals.
I'm sorry but I don't know how to insert the link, but the address is:
Some interesting stats...
Just like true conservatives, we don't like to toot our own horn.
I recently heard a leader of another charity claim that their food program (I think it was connected with the UN) was the best in getting the most bang for the dollar. However, I know that the IMB World Hunger gives 100% of every dollar toward hunger. I don't think you can get any better than that!