Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch on Monday termed recent fires at Baptist churches in Alabama “theological terrorism” and said he is surprised and doesn’t understand why the media isn’t making more of the story.
“These fires are worse than we’re making them,” Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., said Monday evening in remarks to the SBC Executive Committee in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Nashville, Tenn. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
“Do you understand what’s happened?” Welch asked Baptist leaders. “Ten Baptist churches have been burned to the ground.”
The fact that not all the churches are Southern Baptist, Welch said, simply indicates that the arsonists don’t know there are different types of Baptists.
“The people who are burning these churches, they don’t like Baptists,” Welch said. “I think it’s theological terrorism upon Baptists.”
“I’m a Baptist,” Welch said, “and I don’t intend to stand for it.”
Welch toured five Baptist churches burned apparently by arson in one Alabama county on the night of Feb. 2-3. Five more burned since. Authorities said two other fires at churches last weekend appear to be unrelated.
Welch wondered if the fires would have been treated as a bigger story if the targeted congregations were large megachurches or if several lives were lost. Try telling that, he said, to a mother witnessing a charred crib in a church nursery where her baby had just slept.
“What does it take to get our attention?” he asked.
Welch said if the fires had targeted any other “ethnic group in the United States of America,” people would be up in arms.
Welch said he feels “total, overwhelming outrage” about the arsons. “We’re not going to put up with it,” he said.
Welch, in is last report to the Executive Committee before his second and final term as SBC president ends in June, also said it is too early to gauge the impact of his campaign to lead the denomination toward a goal of 1 million baptisms this year, but either way Southern Baptists “are going to know” something about their convention.
After the massive effort, he said, “If we don’t’ have a significant increase in baptisms, we must be honest with ourselves that we are far worse off than we thought.”
On the other hand, if baptism totals do increase, he said, it will show Southern Baptists that they can get off the plateau and set the course for other evangelicals.
“I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention … is God’s gift to the evangelical church world today,” Welch said. “There is absolutely nothing like it.”
Welch said the worst thing that could happen to Southern Baptists, with all their resources, is to face “squandered opportunity” and “unfulfilled potential.”
“If this convention ever gets up and running, we can win this world,” Welch said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.