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3/21/14 at 02:26 PM 4 Comments

The Increasing Divorce Rate Among Southern Baptists

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By Wade Burleson

In 2010 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution entitled On the Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce. The resolution states "that conservative Protestants in the United States of America are divorcing at the same rate, if not at higher rates, than the general population." The resolution further states "the acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."

Sometimes I am perplexed by the logic of Southern Baptist assemblies. Rather than boycotting Disney World at our business meetings, we might want to consider a corporate course or two in logic. How can the divorce rate in every state in the union be declining while at the same time the Southern Baptist divorce rate is accelerating, but we Southern Baptists are said to be "accommodating culture"? Read again the precise words of the divorce resolution:

"The acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation."

Think. If we Southern Baptists were accommodating culture, we'd see fewer divorces in our churches. Unfortunately, the divorce rate is accelerating among Southern Baptist churches.

I believe I know the reason. Contrary to the illogical conclusion of the 2010 resolution on divorce, the reason the divorce rate is accelerating within the Southern Baptist Convention is precisely because of a "shift in theological conviction."

The leaders of our Southern Baptist Convention have been strongly promoting a doctrinal error called The Eternal Subordination of the Son. The devastating effects of this doctrine on marriages are far-reaching. Few Southern Baptists even know what this doctrine is, but when you go to a church led by a Southern Baptist pastor who promotes it, the emphasis of the teaching will be on "the authority of the husband" and "the subordination of the woman to her husband" (just like Jesus is allegedly eternally subordinate to the Father). When the emphasis in any Christian environment (home, church, marriage, etc...) is on authority, a breach in relationship is ripe.

Here's why.

When Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, the radial effects of their sin included an innate desire to dominate and control one another by exerting their control over the other person. The curse causes captives of sin to concentrate on establishing an air of authority and forcing another's complete submission to that authority. Southern Baptist leaders seem to think that what the Bible calls "the curse" is supposed to be the norm. They think this because they have wrongly come to the conclusion that since Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Father, then women should be subordinate to the male in every relationship. Not so. When the first man (Adam) sought to rule over the first woman (Eve), Adam was manifesting the curse, not obeying a command (Genesis 3:16).

Jesus came to reverse the curse. Redemption causes curse-filled people to become grace-filled people. Those who seek to rule over others by exerting authority, when they come to see what Jesus says about life, will turn loose of trying to control other people and will only seek to love and serve, NEVER exerting any alleged authority. Jesus said that "the Gentiles lord over others" and "exert authority," but "it shall not be this way among you" (Matthew 20:24-26).

Southern Baptist Convention leaders are wrongly pushing for men to lord their authority over their wives, and calling on wives to submit to the authority of their husbands because of a belief in and promotion of "the eternal subordination of the Son." I've written about this doctrinal problem among Southern Baptists for years, but I recently came across a brilliant article by Dr. Keith Johnson (Ph.D. Duke), the director of theological development for Campus Crusade for Christ. Johnson's article is called Trinitarian Agency and the Eternal Subordination of the Son: An Augustinian Perspective.

Dr. Johnson's article is long, but in my opinion, it gives a definitive refutation for any claim that the woman is to be subordinate to the man in a marital relationship because the Son is subordinate to the Father. Dr. Johnson's summarizes the critical error of those who hold to the eternal subordination of Jesus to the Father (Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Bruce Ware, etc....) when he writes:

Bruce Ware claims that “inherent authority” and “inherent submission” constitute the Father/Son relationship; however, this misreads Augustine. “Authority” and “submission” are not “personal properties” for Augustine. To the contrary, “eternal generation” is what constitutes the Son as Son. Augustine is unequivocal on this point. Ware... rejects eternal generation as the distinguishing property of the Son. In Ware’s theology (eternal subordination), “submission” effectively replaces “eternal generation” as the distinguishing property of the Son. Augustine is then read through the lens of this alternative understanding of personal properties.

Someone recently called me "the Barney Fife of pastors." I think he meant it as an insult, but I laughed and received it as a compliment. Everybody can relate to Barney. Mr. Fife knew how to say it simple and make himself understood. Let me put my Barney Fife hat on for a moment and simplify and summarize for Southern Baptist men and women what Dr. Johnson is saying in his article:

(1). Nobody in marriage has any inherent "authority." Christ has all authority, and He sends His Spirit to live within us, dispenses spiritual gifts for us, and provides loving watch care over us so that we might learn how to love and serve each other.

(2). Submission in a marital relationship is "putting others needs before my own." The submission and subordination of Jesus Christ to the Father was never about 'greater authority' because Christ had "all authority." Christ put the Father's plans first, submitting Himself to the cross in obedience to the plan of redemption (i.e. "If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done"). Jesus Christ also submitted to us (the church) when He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and died in our place. Submission is never about 'greater authority,' but rather, it is always about putting the plans, desires, and needs of others first. In marriage, both the husband and the wife are to be mutually submissive to one another (see Ephesians 5:21). Sometimes what is in the best interest of your partner is to say no! In every decision, your partner's best interest comes first. Don't give up on your marriage until you have sweat blood looking out for your partner.

(3). When we stop trying to control our spouse, and we learn what it means to love and accept him or her the same way Jesus Christ accepts us, then we begin to build a marriage on grace and love instead of domination and control. When that happens, the curse is reversed.

We Southern Baptists do a great many things very well. We do missions well. We perform acts of mercy well. But we are sorry at building marriages. I suggest, for the sake of Christian marriages in our churches, it is time for Southern Baptist people to call out and correct those who advocate the doctrinal error of eternal subordination.


Wade Burleson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma and blogs at WadeBurleson.org.

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