My report from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention
Thanks for your interest in my report from our recent 2022 Southern Baptist Convention in exciting (but expensive!) Anaheim, California. To better understand my comments for this year, you may want to read my comments from last year, since many of the things that happened this year are based on what started last year. You can read those comments posted on my Facebook page June 24th, 2021.
But here are a few highlights from this year, 2022…
1. The findings of the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) and our response – Last year, we learned that our SBC Executive Committee (EC) had possibly been ignoring potentially credible claims of sexual abuse by SBC pastors and/or leaders and that an independent company would do an investigation. Back then, I wrote that the worst thing the EC was probably guilty of was not doing more than it could. I was wrong. The SATF report revealed a far worse and clearly documented history of repeatedly keeping the credible claims of sex abuse victims not only quiet, but many times attempting to discredit them from their stories, saying that they were trying to hinder the spread of the gospel. And internal documents clearly documented the reason for all this: to try and insulate the SBC from any possible legal action that might result from these claims. And this has gone on for nearly 20 years. It seems the actual trustees of the EC themselves were kept largely in the dark because it seems the office staff and SBC attorneys were the ones who received the reports, but rarely shared any substantive claims or details with the EC trustees. As a result, hundreds of incidents occurred, and one can only wonder how many of them could have been prevented if we acted and made the names of these convicted perpetrators known.
Now that these facts have come to light, the messengers 2022 SBC Convention had the opportunity to respond. The good news is that I feel that the messengers took this report very seriously. There didn’t seem to be any kind of thoughts about sweeping this under the rug or just simply praying about it. The leaders made clear that the time for covering up was over… now it is time to own up to what we could have and should have done. I think the Chairman of the SATF, Bruce Frank (Pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, NC) did a great job in presenting the report with all the facts and in the right spirit. The messengers voted overwhelmingly in approval of two recommendations: One is to form a response team. Granted, Baptists forming another committee sounds like standard procedure. But I believe this is going to be a team that is going to really roll up their sleeves and dig into this mess with the mindset to right these wrongs and help institute some things that can go a long way toward helping SBC churches not only acknowledge this problem but instill stronger safeguards to keep these predators from seeing our people as an easy target. The second recommendation that was approved was to form a “Ministry Check” website that could be a place where the names and information of church ministers and leaders who have been convicted of sexual abuse crimes would be posted and available for all to see, especially other churches so that it will be far more difficult for these offenders to go somewhere new and do these terrible things to others. One of the saddest things about all this is that this is pretty much what the victims who reported these things to the SBC leadership 20 years ago asked for back then. They weren’t looking for money or fame… they just wanted the SBC to do what it could to make sure what happened to them wouldn’t happen to someone else.
I don’t want legal ramifications will come from this. I highly doubt that the SBC will be held criminally responsible for any crimes that were committed. I assume civil trials will occur and I expect many victims will settle out of court with the SBC and receive compensation, mostly to help with expenses they have incurred for counseling and trauma, which I am hopeful we will provide. What really sickens me is that facts show that our SBC EC staff, and legal counsel hid behind legal loopholes hoping to shield the SBC from liability and seemed to have not even a shred of compassion for those who were crying out for help and getting the SBC to use its considerable power and influence to help those who were being oppressed and denied justice. It sounded so much to me like our recent Amos Bible study with our Thursday morning men’s Bible study, where we read how God judged Israel, not because they necessarily broke certain laws or commandments, but rather ignored or even took advantage of those who had no power. In Amos 5, God condemns their acts of worship by saying “Away with the noise of your songs, I cannot stand your assemblies… but let justice roll on like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” My fear was that if we did nothing, that if we continued to ignore the pleas of victims, that God would hate OUR assembly. Sometimes, God needs to slap us in the face to get us to wake up to the injustice we’ve gotten so used to that we don’t even see it anymore. But just because we don’t see it, or we choose to turn away from it, doesn’t mean God doesn’t see it. He does… and it is NOT okay.
But I am thankful to report that I feel our convention has felt this “gut punch”, as our outgoing president Ed Litton put it, and I think God has gotten our attention and we are responding in the right way and in the right spirit. There is still a lot that needs to be done and we have a long way to go… but it’s a start and I think it’s a start in the right direction.
2. The election of a new SBC President – Last year, we started with 4 good candidates and ended up electing one for our SBC President. This year, once again, we had 4 good candidates. I’m certain every one of them would do a good job. But when we look to elect leaders, we naturally look for differences in the candidates, especially the differences in their positions on key issues. And especially today in our current culture that inflames polarization, we can move very quickly from seeing solid leaders with different opinions to seeing one being clearly the right choice and seeing the other candidate at the farthest end of the spectrum and thinking they would be disastrous. Definitely not the case here. Like last year, we voted on 4 candidates and whittled it down to two and then voted on those two, Bart Barber and Tom Ascol. Again, in my opinion, I think either one would have been fine. Both men are solid biblical conservatives. Both men champion evangelism and missions. Both men have clear records as respected and accomplished leaders. They are far more alike than different. But very similar to last year, one candidate was cast more as the moderate (Bart Barber) and one was cast more as the conservative (Tom Ascol). And like last year, it was a very close vote in favor of the “moderate”, Bart Barber. This year, I voted for Tom Ascol. After listening to Tom Ascol, I agree, he is a conservative, but not a mean-spirited tyrant, looking only for power. He is passionate about reaching lost people and feels that our convention needs to speak clearly about our beliefs and stand on the standards of God’s Word. By the way, I think Bart Barber will too. So, I don’t think those of us who voted for Tom Ascol “lost”. There is no danger Bart Barber is going to lead us to be “liberal” or “woke” or anything other than a conservative direction. My hope for Bart Barber is that God will infuse him with supernatural strength (trust me, EVERY SBC President needs this!) and passion to be able to lead our convention at this pivotal time to preach the gospel to the world, and to speak the truth in love.
3. Something to watch for – Last year, a motion was made to have the Credentials Committee to review Saddleback Church in California to see if their beliefs closely aligned with our SBC Convention’s beliefs as outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). The key issue is that Saddleback Church recently ordained three women. Our BFM clearly states that the office of pastor is limited to men. The question right now about that is: Does “pastor” here mean only the Senior or Lead Pastor? Or does it apply to any church leader with “pastor” in their title? There was a lot of discussion on the floor about this and many emphatically argued that regardless of staff position or responsibility that women should not have the word “pastor” anywhere in their title. Others stated that while associate staff are often called “pastors”, this does not mean that they have the same position or authority as the Senior or Lead Pastor, so it does not violate this statement. So, the Credentials Committee made a motion that a group be formed to study this and dig further into the current practice of SBC churches and to present their findings later. This motion was voted down. The good news is the Credentials Committee meets yearround and has the power to act any time. So, I think the consensus of the convention was “we don’t need another committee, make a decision.” I voted in favor of the motion to have a group study this, mainly because there seems to be a growing faction in the SBC that seems eager to seek out churches quickly and aggressively and vote them out if they don’t agree and practice every detail of the BFM. Should we have statements of faith declaring where we stand? Yes. Should we hold each other accountable? Yes. But even the BFM itself states that we should seek to be churches that “closely align” with these beliefs. So how do we define “closely align”? President of Southwestern Seminary, Dr. Adam Greenway suggested that rather than studying the pastor line, the committee look at the bigger question of how much affiliating churches need to comply with the beliefs set out in the BFM in order to be “closely aligned”. If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves giving our primary attention to where we’re different instead of celebrating where we agree. Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church, shared from the floor about this and asked, “Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues,” Warren asked, “or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?”
When I read the New Testament, I see Paul describing how this was already happening within the first century church. He certainly addressed heresies and wrong practices, but he also sought to keep the church together, even when they had differences. Last year and this year, once again, I cite Romans 14 about how Paul acknowledged “disputable matters” and encouraged churches to endure each other and allow for variations that in no way affected the gospel. This is always hard, but it’s always worth it. Let’s not be too quick to find reasons to disassociate. Saddleback Church has been SBC Church of the Year, has baptized more than 56,000 people in the last 40 years and started nearly 100 churches (in Orange County alone!) … and we can’t work together anymore? We won’t allow them to be called Baptist anymore? Over this? My hope is that we can find solutions to address problems and differences, and that we can find other options than simply the threat of removal from fellowship.
4. More wasted time on resolutions – I always like to be positive and find the good in everything… But when it comes to our annual SBC Convention resolutions… Please… no more. I’m sure people mean well, but the fact is our resolutions have no power, nothing is binding, all they literally mean is that the messengers of this particular convention believed a certain thing at a certain time. And that’s it. A lot of time and resources go into this, and I just can’t see where resolutions have EVER made a positive contribution to fulfilling the Great Commission. And just as telling, our resolutions mean nothing to the lost world around us. Nothing. They couldn’t care less. As usual, I enjoyed the vast majority of things at the SBC Convention. I see our fellow churches more “closely aligned” than I do being apart. I see a passion for sharing Jesus with the world and as always, a great highlight for me was being part of the crowd that got to stand and applaud our newly commissioned missionaries going to the most remote places in the world to share Jesus. What never gets the headlines is the amazing sacrifices these people make. These people really are amazing. Many are going to places to where they could be killed for sharing the name of Jesus… and here we are quibbling over titles or resolutions.
5. Two reasons to be proud – First, SO PROUD of our very own Clay Smith, Senior Pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA, as one of the speakers at the SBC Pastor’s Conference! For those of you who don’t know, Clay grew up in our church as the son of the late Tom Smith and Nancy Smith. Tom served as our Worship Pastor and Nancy as our Church Pianist for many years. God has really had His hand on Clay and is using him in mighty ways and he brought a great message to our convention!
Second, I would say that my favorite quote from the SBC Convention came from Dr. Paul Chitwood, President of the International Mission Board (IMB). He said, “For all the problems in our world – and abuse is a tremendous, grievous problem – the reason we cooperate is to address the world’s greatest problem.”
What is the world’s greatest problem? War? Poverty? No… He said, “Spiritual lostness is the world’s greatest problem for it is the one problem with eternal consequence,” he said. “Lostness is the world’s greatest problem, but God has given us a solution. That solution is the Gospel.”
Some could hear this as trite or insensitive, or that we shouldn’t care about war or poverty. I heard this as making sure that we keep in front of us our true calling… to go and make disciples, and to go all throughout the world doing this. There is a time and place for handling internal matters, clarifying policies and procedures, even addressing war and poverty… but we do this SO THAT we can give our primary attention and resources and passion to the world’s greatest problem… lostness.
Dr. Chitwood also shared that despite all our drama, SBC giving to support missions through church giving and the Lottie Moon Offering is UP 14% over this time last year. I am SO PROUD of this because of YOU! Last year, our church gave significant gifts (over $75,000!) to support these missionaries. WE are giving towards addressing the world’s greatest problem… lostness. Let’s address the issues, handle the business, do things the right way… SO THAT we can keep doing the main thing Jesus called us to do… reach the lost.
Thank you all again for allowing Elizabeth and I to go to the SBC Convention and the privilege of serving with you all. We love you!