Baptists Now Defined by Policies, Not Principles

Gary Burton


What has tarnished our image? The answer is simple, but most stumble over it: We are now defined by our policies instead of our principles. Controlling, alienating policies.

What has brought about the mutation of the Baptist image in the public mind? There is a profound, but simple, answer. But first, consider the following:

We have expunged the name "Baptist" from our most effective enterprises. So much negative baggage is associated with the name. Why do many church starts eliminate the name? The profit motive was key to the marketing strategy behind changing from "Baptist Book Store" to "LifeWay Christian Store."

Now after 61 years, the radio program "The Baptist Hour" is known as "Strength for Living." We have learned that when engaging the non-believing public or when plying commercial interests, the name "Baptist" is perceived as pejorative, caustic and inflammatory.

What has tarnished our image? The answer is simple, but most stumble over it: We are now defined by our policies instead of our principles. Controlling, alienating policies.

Baptist policies have targeted or penalized divorced people, ordained women, female pastors, Disney and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Leaders have spewed warlike rhetoric with Jews and Muslims. Oppressive policies are now directed toward missionaries and non-submissive wives.

When Baptists were at our best we looked to our principles for empowerment; cooperation was more than just a one-way flow of money. Traditional principles of soul liberty, the freedom to interpret Scripture, local church autonomy and religious freedom were like shining stars in the night.

When was the last time you heard denominational workers, now self-proclaimed missionaries, talk about such principles? The current controversy has forced many to find a false and temporary safety in their silence.

The word "tradition" can be traced to a Latin root meaning "to hand over." From the same root has evolved the word "traitor." Could it be that we have become traitorous to our traditions by refusing to hand them over to Baptists now more defined by policies than principles?

Gary Burton is pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church, and a member of BCE's board of directors.