Adrian Rogers, a three-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention who helped religious conservatives take control of the 16 million-member denomination, died Tuesday at age 74.
Rogers was hospitalized this month after developing pneumonia during cancer treatment, according to an announcement of his death on his ministry’s Web site.
“A mighty oak has fallen in God’s forest,” said fellow Baptist leader Jerry Falwell.
Rogers was first elected president of the SBC in 1979 at the beginning of a long and sometimes bitter power struggle between religiously conservative pastors and their more moderate counterparts. He also was president in 1986 and 1987.
“He began the theological and spiritual renaissance that brought the largest Protestant denomination back to its original roots and commitment to the Bible,” Falwell said from Lynchburg, Va., where he directs Jerry Falwell Ministries.
Rogers was part of an “inerrancy movement,” which championed the belief that the Bible is free from error and literally accurate in all ways.
The conservative movement Rogers helped lead also pushed the denomination to stronger political opposition to abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of female pastors, said Bob Allen, a writer and commentator for the Baptist Center for Ethics, an independent Baptist organization headquartered in Nashville.
“The Southern Baptist Convention today would be part of the religious right and 20 years ago it would have been more mainstream,” Allen said. “I think it would also be fair to say the conservatives have developed pretty strong ties to the Republican Party.”
In 1992, members of the SBC who called themselves moderates broke away and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
While Rogers may have been less well-known outside the SBC than some other Baptist leaders, “no one has been more influential inside the Southern Baptist Convention,” Allen said.
Increased church by nearly 20,000 members
He was pastor of Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church for 32 years, and under his direction, the church’s membership grew from 9,000 to more than 28,000. He stepped down as Bellevue’s pastor in March.
In 1987, Rogers founded a ministry called Love Worth Finding that produced broadcasts for radio stations and cable TV outlets around the country and abroad. In 2003 he was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described Rogers as “one of the giants of the faith.”
“Adrian Rogers was perhaps the last half-century’s premier example of an expository preacher who used his gifts to magnify the Lord Jesus Christ and his victory for humanity on the cross,” Land said.
Rogers is survived by his wife, Joyce, four children and one grandchild.