The Threat to the SBC: Progressive Liberalism or Fundamentalism?

Josh Buice


Just last week, the Southern Baptist Convention gathered together for their annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana to conduct business and make decisions as a group of churches on a variety of issues. During their time together, they were faced with the typical list of amendments and the reports from their various entities. Over the last number of years, a couple of big issues have caught major attention for the SBC, and at the top of the list are the issues of egalitarianism and abortion.

If you consider the way progressive debate tactics function, there is typically the thesis which is a starting point in the conversation. This is followed by an antithesis which is a reaction or negation to the suggested idea. The debate typically ends with a synthesis which is the outcome. Progressive political strategy will often employ this tactic in order to move in a progressive direction which results in small compromises over time that eventually achieve the overall goal.

Depending on what news source you read, either the Southern Baptist Convention is moving in a leftward or progressive liberal direction or it’s being threatened by a growing fundamentalist position that will hinder the work of the churches of the SBC. Which one is correct?

Recognizing the Bogeyman Language

It has become a popular tactic among certain evangelical circles to discredit conservatives by labeling them as fundamentalists. This is a means of labeling them with a “Scarlet F” in order to discredit their positions and muzzle their voice. That word has gone through an etymological shift through the years to take on the idea of people who are narrow-minded and find joy in separating over non-essential matters.

It has become a popular tactic among certain evangelical circles to discredit conservatives by labeling them as fundamentalists. This is a means of labeling them with a “Scarlet F” in order to discredit their positions and muzzle their voice.

David French, in an article that described the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention referred to a specific group of conservatives as “fundamentalist pirates.” In fact, that was the title of his article: “Under Attack from Fundamentalist Pirates, Evangelical Baptists Refused to Give Up the Ship.” He also used the language of “toxic fundamentalists” as he created two categories: evangelicals v. toxic fundamentalists. In a similar vein, Thomas S. Kidd writing for The Gospel Coalition concludes:

And our current problems reflect yet another instance of people in churches being discipled far more by cable news and social media than by the church. The “spirit” of fundamentalism tells us that no difference, politically or theologically, is tolerable, and that our enemies must be destroyed. The spirit of Christ offers a better way: robust truth and robust kindness.

Just last week, Sam Rainer who is the son of Thom Rainer who is the former CEO of Lifeway posted this on X:

The SBC’s decline corresponds with the shift towards fundamentalism and away from evangelicalism. What was a big-tent conservative group is becoming a narrow fundamentalist group. I do not anticipate the SBC changing course any time soon. Thus, declines will continue.  #SBC24

It should be noted that Sam’s post employs two opposing categories which happen to be the same two categories purported in David French’s article back in 2021: evangelicals and fundamentalists. Is this a true statement or is it merely a caricature of people who happen to be more conservative on specific issues than Sam Rainer, Thomas Kidd, and David French?

Rejecting Abolitionism

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is the political arm of the SBC that provides engagement in the public sphere on a variety of social issues. After the rise and fall of Russell Moore, Brent Leatherwood has been leading the ERLC as president since 2022. Over the last number of years, the messengers of the SBC from local churches have sought to make it clear that the SBC is against abortion and in favor of equal protection and equal justice for all—including the preborn. These initiatives have been led by a group of messengers who hold to a firm abolitionist position on the issue of abortion.

During the report of the ERLC at the 2024 SBC, Brian Gunter, a pastor from Louisiana, asked an important question from the microphone that gave Brent Leatherwood an opportunity to provide clarity regarding his position and the position of the SBC on the issue of ending abortion and providing equal justice for all.

In his answer1You can see the full interaction published by Dusty Deevers on X:, Brent Leatherwood made it clear that he and the ERLC (along with the SBC) are engaged in the pro-life movement where they stand opposed to abortion but never stand for the criminalization of women. In other words, Leatherwood made it clear that he would not support any bill for equal protection and equal justice for the preborn across the nation because it would go against the pro-life industry’s commitment to protect women from being charged with the crime of murder if abortion is outlawed and the woman is caught murdering her preborn child.

Our culture continues to teach women the progressive mantra: “My Body, My Choice!” The Bible teaches the exact opposite. Life is a gift from God and he alone has the sovereign authority to govern over the life and death of individuals. From conception until natural death, the church of Jesus must continue to stand without wavering upon the sanctity of human life.

Is the call for the full and complete outlaw of abortion and equal justice for the preborn a fundamentalist cause or is it a principle that flows straight from the pages of Scripture? Is the commitment to stand against abortion while at the same time standing against the prosecution of women who murder their babies a progressive liberal position or a fundamentalist position?

Rejecting the Law Amendment

Much ink was spilt over the last two years regarding the Law Amendment that passed in the 2023 SBC and had to pass a second time in the subsequent annual meeting according to the governing documents of the SBC. In short, it failed to get a 2/3 vote at the 2024 SBC and failed to be adopted by the messengers of the SBC.

The Law Amendment made it clear that the churches of the SBC believe the Bible is clear that only men should hold to the office of pastor, elder, or overseer (depending on the choice of biblical vocabulary used for the single office of pastor). The Law Amendment was a simple sentence to add clarity to the current section of the SBC constitution under Article 3, Paragraph 1 concerning “Composition” that reads:

  • Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.

 According to the website devoted to the Law Amendment:

As our culture seeks to erase the distinctions between men and women, many churches in our convention are openly rejecting this part of our statement of faith and the Bible. Sadly, this number has been increasing. This is why the amendment is so important. Amending the constitution–which carries a greater binding authority than the Baptist Faith & Message (2000)–would clearly define who is and is not part of the SBC. Such an amendment could add stability to our convention for decades, and guard us from the drift toward liberalism.

Is this true? Is the evangelical culture drifting in the direction of liberalism? In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a distinct rise in women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” According to the statistical report titled, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.” In 2022, Rick Warren appeared before the SBC to defend his egalitarian position. In 2023, a major stand was taken by Rick Warren who fought to spare his church from being disfellowshipped from the SBC on the basis of violating the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 on women serving in the office of pastor.

In 2024, the SBC spent much time and energy debating the issue only to fail in passing the Law Amendment. This failure comes at a time when there are more than 1,000 churches in the SBC who have female pastors serving on their staff. Not only is this practice in direct opposition to the governing documents of the SBC, but it’s in clear violation of God’s Word on the matter which is abundantly clear (1 Tim 2:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9).

With the decline of the SBC and fractures that are currently taking place—is this decline caused by a rise of fundamentalism or is it precipitated by a rise of progressive liberalism? Certain voices would have you believe that this decline in the SBC is being caused by a group of narrow-minded “fundy” pirate-pastors who find more joy in fighting over non-essential and non-biblical issues than spreading the gospel to the ends of the world. In fact, Bruce Frank who was one of several presidential nominees for the SBC in 2024, went on record during the Presidential Forum at the SBC to say that in 100 years from now, although doctrinal precision is important, it will be igniting passion for evangelism in the local churches and having people bring people to Christ that matters most.

I would argue that although I am no longer within the SBC, the decline is based on the liberal drift of the SBC that has been in progress for a number of years. For many years, pastors have been sounding an alarm and seeking to work for change in the SBC to avoid this liberal move. When our local church exited the SBC at the end of 2021, I wrote an article that detailed the concerns that have only become more severe since our departure.

It should be plain and clear that the current downgrade of the SBC is not based on a fundamentalist drift, but rather a clear liberal drift of the SBC.

It should be plain and clear that the current downgrade of the SBC is not based on a fundamentalist drift, but rather a clear liberal drift of the SBC. There are good pastors, missionaries, professors, and good churches within the SBC, but unless there is a true course correction that begins with firm unwavering and unflinching leadership who refuses to capitulate on God’s holy Word—the decline of the SBC will only continue to increase speed until it completely derails like the Presbyterian Church of United States of America (PCUSA) and the United Methodist Church (UMC).  

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1 You can see the full interaction published by Dusty Deevers on X:
Author SBC-2024

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.