Baptist Press Misses the Point

          Every major news outlet in America covered the recent story on the U.S. Religious Landscape survey from the Pew Forum. CNN, AP, Time, Newsweek and all the major newspapers covered it. As noted in a previous post, most came to similar (and mostly correct), analyses of the 140-page survey: the religious world in the United States is volatile and fluid, people easily move away from their religious heritage, and the growing edge of religion is among the unaffiliated.

            Now, let’s consider the coverage of the survey by Baptist Press. What was the focus of their coverage?  Listen…

            Paragraph 1: Southern Baptists make up nearly 7 percent of the United States adult population, according to a new Pew study that also shows evangelicals outnumbering mainline church members and Catholics.  (Translation: we’re bigger!)           

Paragraph 2: It showed that 6.7 percent of 225 million American adults (18 years old and older) say they are Southern Baptist, which makes it the largest represented non-Catholic denomination in the survey. Adults affiliated with the United Methodist Church total 5.1 percent of U.S. men and women, while every other denomination makes up 2 percent or less of the adult population. (translation: we’re still bigger!)           

 Paragraph 4: Evangelical Protestant Churches — which include Southern Baptists — comprise 26.3 percent of adults and outnumber Catholics and Mainline Protestants (18.1 percent). (Translation: really, we’re so much bigger!)           

 Paragraph 7: Both the Pew report and the GSS findings are in line with the results released in 2002 by the Catholic-affiliated Glenmary Research Center which showed growth among conservative evangelical churches and decline in liberal mainline denominations. (Translation: even our team is bigger!) 

 Paragraph 8:  People affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance of Baptists, a general “liberal/progressive Baptists” category and those with an ambiguous Baptist affiliation in the mainline tradition make up less than three-tenths of a percent of U.S. adults. The survey lumped all four into one category (Other Baptist denomination in the Mainline Tradition) and named them among Mainline Protestant Churches. (Translation: see, we’re bigger and better than all those lousy liberal types, too)

            The unaffiliated group is not mentioned until the last paragraph—and the fact that it is the fastest growing religious group is not mentioned at all!

              I could go on an on about what this says about my tribe, but I’ll just note two. First, it displays a remarkable level of hubris—a not-subtle arrogance over our numbers, relative size and self-perceived importance in the religious landscape of our nation.  This is the sort of report that gets spread across the nation as an example of how we view ourselves.  It’s embarrassing – even coming from the press mouthpiece of the denomination.

              Even more troubling, the report displays a remarkable level of cluelessness about the realities of the challenge we face in reaching people in our culture with the good news of Jesus.  The point is not how many we have, but how many we’re reaching.  The North American Mission Board gets it– and heroically tries to communicate the differences between a churched culture and a generation that is increasingly checking out of the church and its message. 

             I pray we Southern Baptists will change our focus away from being the biggest and having the most, to being the most broken-hearted over the lost and passionately humbled before the Lord whose power we desperately need to reach the people of our generation.  

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