My colleague Tim Graham and I have found over the years that religion reporting in the secular media is often lacking any exploration of the one thing most of us who actually geek out over religion news want to see given attention in the press: theological disputes. After all, what's the point of having a reporter cover religion if you're not going to have him or her go into the substantial theological battle lines drawn in a given church or denomination.
In her June 11 article, "Southern Baptists Elect New Leader," Washington Post's Jacqueline Salmon completely failed to report on such a major theological implication in the Protestant denomination's election of the Rev. Johnny M. Hunt as convention president.True to liberal media form, Salmon boiled down Hunt and his supporters as the "fundamentalist wing" who are "hard line on the inerrancy of scripture" and opposed to the more relaxed "young reformers" who have questioned the old line Baptists on "its bans on alcohol consumption and female pastors."
Yet Salmon neglected one major theological debate roiling in the SBC that is part of a wider centuries-old conflict: Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Wrote Christianity Today's Ted Olsen in a June 10 post:
It's clear that Hunt is no fan of the growing Calvinist movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. He's hosting a major conference to refute Calvinism at his church in November. But most of the candidates were not friendly to Calvinism, and Hunt has given indications that he's not out to purge the denomination of Reformed influences.
"I am not overwhelmingly concerned about Calvinism," Hunt told Baptist Press two weeks ago. "I am concerned about hyper-Calvinism, simply being defined as those that take election to the point that they feel that the Gospel should not even be shared with the whole world. ... I trust that Calvinists, and those who love Jesus of other persuasions, would come together for the common cause of making Jesus Christ known to the nations. There is plenty of room for all of us in this Baptist family."
It's worth noting that Frank Page, the current SBC president was also highly critical of Calvinism (even writing a book titled Trouble with the Tulip) but had an irenic spirit that won him support among Calvinists and Arminians alike.
Things may have gone quite differently had Al Mohler, the Calvinist president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stayed in the race (he suffered health complications).
The aforementioned conference -- sponsored by three Baptist seminaries (Mohler's Southern not among them) -- is The John 3:16 Conference to be held at Hunt's church in November, although Hunt himself is not scheduled to preach there.