The Cultural Divide Between Southern Baptists And Secular Society Grows Wider

Houston is the host city for the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting which starts tomorrow at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Southern Baptists are one of the most influential religious groups in the country and the decisions they make this week could have far-reaching effects.

For people in the South, the cultural and political influence of Southern Baptists should not be underestimated.

"Across the entire South, from southern Virginia all the way through Texas, the dominant faith, county by county by county, is Southern Baptist."

Rice University Prof. Michael Emerson is co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

This year, some convention-goers are calling for a resolution to withdraw sponsorship from boy scout troops.

It's not clear how much support there is for that idea, but Emerson says gay rights continue to be a touchstone issue for Southern Baptists.

"You can take a certain position and maybe five years later suddenly people are looking at you as if you're bigoted. And you didn't change your position, the culture changed around you. So it's a negotiation between what do we see as fundamental that we cannot change and maybe a position we took because it was cultural and it actually wasn't biblical."

Dr. Lynn Mitchell is director of Religious Studies at the University of Houston. He agrees supporters of homosexual rights have made significant gains in the last five years. But he says the decisions made by the Southern Baptist Convention this week will be closely watched.

"Lots of towns in Texas are predominantly Baptist. And the Catholics and the Baptists kind of fight for numbers, superiority in Texas. So they are largely, especially in small towns, the people with the political and the social power."

The Southern Baptist Convention has already taken a stance against gay marriage and homosexual clergy, but Emerson says those decisions will likely be reaffirmed at the meeting.

"The divide between religious groups and others is getting larger. Religious groups are not changing their mind on these issues, the rest of society is. So I think they're going to continue to emphasize shoring up those values as this is what we believe, we will not change just because the society is changing."

Incidentally, while members of the convention are inside attending workshops and voting on doctrinal issues, members of the fringe Westboro Baptist Church say they'll protest outside against the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...