The Convention

"The art of prophecy is very difficult, especially in respect to the future."--Mark Twain

Speculation heading into last week's meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was universally pessimistic. It looked for all the world like America's largest Protestant denomination was destined for schism if not a complete split. It was billed as a contest between conservative evangelicals and very conservative fundamentalists, and every prediction was that the far-right faction was going to win.

It didn't happen that way, though. Southern Baptists refused to drive off the cliff and thus cripple, if not destroy, our mission of sharing Christ with the nations. I was greatly relieved.

With nearly 16,000 "messengers" gathered in Nashville on June 15-16, it was the largest meeting we have had in a generation. I wasn't there this time but watched nearly all of the proceedings online.  I thought J.D. Greear presided with fairness and good humor. In his presidential address on Tuesday, he called for Southern Baptists to hold firmly to biblical values, while not becoming angry legalists resembling the Pharisees of Jesus' day. I thought his timely word hit the nail right on the head.

The most important outcomes, it seems to me--

1. There was the demand for greater transparency and accountability from the Executive Committee. Less "control" of the various agencies, too. There will even be an independent investigation of the way some things have been handled in recent years.

2. We are not so interested in the esoteric intricacies of Critical Race Theory (not a burning topic in our churches nor in the curriculum at our seminaries) but we do absolutely reject vestiges of racism that persist in our culture. We desire to stand with our brothers and sisters of color in their quest for justice. We want to hear their stories and find ways to create a better future for all of us. As always, the Bible, not man-made philosophy, will inform our understanding of humanity's problem and the answer to it found only in Christ.

3.  We want to be absolutely clear in our response to sexual abuse in our churches, especially at the hands of clergy. Every denomination and every organization is having to face this, and Southern Baptists are not immune. There must be openness and accountability, a concern for the victim above an interest in protecting the institution. No more silence demanded from, or shame foisted upon, those who have suffered.

4.  Ed Litton, a pastor from Alabama, was elected president of the convention. He is known as a unifier and holds to these mainstream positions. Of the 4 candidates running, he is the one I would have voted for had I been in the hall. I encouraged friends who were there to do so.

5. Our strongest resolution ever on abortion was passed. I am as pro-life as anybody, but I would have preferred an amended statement that offered more grace to those caught up in this sin. The wording seemed harsh and filled with judgement toward the women who have had abortions. More than one person is involved in everyone, you know.  Plus, demanding an immediate and total outlawing of all abortions, for any and all reasons, severely hampers legislators who are working to achieve the same goal incrementally. Stridency doesn't usually change public opinion, and public opinion is what will have to change if we really want to see an end to abortion.

There are no "liberals" in Southern Baptist life and leadership these days—just different shades of conservative. I am a conservative but, for example, I do not oppose women in ministry as many Southern Baptists do. We have had woman as deacons at First Baptist for more than a generation by now, and two of our staff pastors are women. We take seriously but read differently the very few biblical texts that deal with this. That makes us a little atypical, yes—but not in any way that really matters. We preach the same gospel as do the rest, and we support cooperative missionary work around the globe as much as, if not more than, 99.9% of the other churches. That has been good enough for a long time. I guess my fear is that if hyper- conservatism ever prevails—our church might be shown the door—for this reason alone.

We'll be OK if that should ever happen. First Baptist existed as a gospel witness in Alexandria decades before there was a Southern Baptist Convention. But what a loss for the Kingdom that would be. Every Baptist church is totally independent anyway—nothing is imposed on us—we voluntarily choose to cooperate with others because we can accomplish much more that way.

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” to quote Mark Twain one more time. This denomination still has life in it and, as demonstrated in Nashville last week, it still wants to stand for biblical faith mixed with kindness and love for one another, and a concern for all people to come to know our LORD, Jesus. And that's why I have always been—and am still today—a Southern Baptist.

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