Competing Visions: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference and SBC Forum, 1961-1991
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SubjectSouthern Baptist Convention--History--20th century.
Southern Baptist Convention. Pastors' Conference.
This dissertation argues that the pulpit rhetoric of the Pastors’ Conference and SBC Forum portrays the Conservative Resurgence as a competition between conservative and moderate visions for Baptist identity as differentiated by the mutually exclusive manner in which each group perceived of doctrine and the constitution of denominational fellowship. That conservatives and moderates both construed of the conflict in this way is revealed with remarkable consistency by their respective preaching at the annual pre-convention gatherings. Regardless of what conservatives and moderates may have said during the battle or since, their preaching revealed that they both viewed the Resurgence as a competition of visions for Baptist identity. Conservatives pursued the vision of a well-defined and well defended Baptist orthodoxy, while moderates pursued a vision of Baptist freedom. Chapter 1 presents the primary research problem and main argument of this work. Chapter 2 introduces the preaching of the Pastors’ Conference and SBC Forum, giving special attention to those sermons that best exemplified the disagreements that fueled the controversy. Chapter 3 analyzes the preaching of the events using a variety of complementary theories from within the field of social movement rhetorical criticism. Chapter 4 applies Richard Weaver’s theory of ultimate terms to the discourse of the two preaching meetings, revealing what were the most rhetorically potent words and/or phrases among competing conservative and moderate rhetorics. Chapter 5 administers Ernest Bormann’s theory of fantasy theme analysis to the most relevant sermons in order to determine the dramatic motifs to which conservative and moderate rhetor-leaders most often appealed when they invited their hearers to support their vision for Southern Baptists. Chapter 6 provides a synopsis of the main discoveries of this work by describing the issues, the people, the setting, the values, and the visions contained in the pulpit rhetoric of the Conservative Resurgence. The differences between conservative and moderate Southern Baptists as revealed by the rhetorical analysis contained in this work were so profound that a conflict of the nature and significance of the Resurgence was essentially inevitable.