I recently attended the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Nashville and would like to share my “opinion” regarding a few of the more popular issues. I’m tempted to call it a “report”, but “report” can sound as if it is an objective rendering of the events that took place. But if this year’s convention highlighted anything, it made clear that one of the major challenges we face is we all see everything through our own opinions and experiences, and preferences. Is being objective, by definition, even possible? By the way, this is not a new thing… it’s been going on forever, hasn’t it? Cain wasn’t exactly objective in his view of his brother Abel’s offering. And what was it that skewed his perspective? It was his own sin; the sin we are all born with and carry with us all our lives. Paul described it in Romans 7 as a battle between our spiritual nature and our sinful nature. And this battle is raging within us long before we sit across that person who dares to have a different perspective. It is a struggle we face daily in all relationships, regardless of the specifics of the current events of the day.
I begin my “opinion” with this because I found myself reflecting on this core issue of the sinful nature of all humanity in all cultures throughout all of history as I participated in the events of our SBC annual meeting. So, with this cheerful perspective, I share 4 opinions. Sorry, they are a little long, but they are MY opinions…
- The (Non)Resolution regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) – There certainly seemed to be a large and passionate contingent among our brothers and sisters that felt we MUST form a full and firm resolution clearly rejecting any forms of Critical Race Theory being taught in our schools or applied in any segments of our society. I can see reasons for this. But here’s the problem: What is “Critical Race Theory”? I think if you ask any 10 people what CRT is, you’ll probably get 11 opinions. For some, CRT is the belief that racism is embedded in most, if not all, of America’s institutions and cannot be improved or removed and that the only solutions are to burn the institutions down to the ground and raise up new ones led by non-Caucasians, since Caucasians are also hopelessly infected with racism and cannot see their own guilt, much less be capable of rendering justice. Pretty strong. I don’t mind admitting I would not support this form of CRT being taught or applied. However, some see CRT as more of just trying to help all races be more sensitive to the practices of racism that indeed are happening within many of our institutions and some may be occurring consciously or unconsciously, but either way, we should not turn from these wrongs, but instead, seek together to shine more light in these dark places to right the wrongs and make things better. If this is your definition, I am more inclined to agree with you and am more than willing to work with you.
But since there are these two definitions and about 4,000 others, it isn’t very wise (in my opinion) to pass a resolution saying, “we’re against CRT”, if to you CRT is more about addressing racisms in areas where we would all agree are problematic. In fact, saying you are against CRT to some is the same as saying you are against working against racism.
I’m sure not everyone saw this issue like I did, but fortunately, the majority of the SBC convention did, and we did NOT pass a resolution condemning CRT in all its forms, but rather passed a resolution that speaks clearly that we are against all forms of racism and the scriptures should be our guide to address these ongoing evils. My hope is that our SBC churches comprised mostly of minorities saw this as our convention saying, “We really are trying to listen, understand, and work with you regarding the racism problems we know still exist in our county.”
- The election of Ed Litton as our new SBC President – In most years, the election of the new SBC President is a formality… it’s usually one of the vice presidents (we elect several) and oftentimes there isn’t even a challenger. But this year, there were 4 candidates, just to give you an idea of how this was a more tense year than usual. The first ballot process whittled it down to Ed and another pastor, Mike Stone. In my opinion, when it got down to these two, I knew we were going to have a good president either way. Mike Stone has a great reputation as a man of God, gifted in evangelism, passionate for God’s Word, strong conservative, excellent leader… but you could say the exact same thing about Ed Litton. So I really would have been fine either way. But for some, when it came to this sticky CRT issue, Ed Litton has a proven track record of being a bridge-builder, especially among churches and leaders of other races. And he’s been doing that for more than 20 years… in southern Alabama. And he’s been doing it long before things like the death of George Floyd. In his pre-election writings and speeches, I think you could hear Mike Stone speak more of his passion for making strong statements about what we believe and what we should stick to… and not so much a sincere concern for those who see things differently or may have even been impacted in different ways than we have. I don’t mind saying that as your messenger from Mauldin First Baptist, I cast my vote for Ed Litton because I think this is a time within our convention and within our culture that we need to focus more on building bridges than reinforcing the walls of our fortress. But again, that’s my opinion.
- What’s going on with our Executive Committee? – Let’s be honest… most of you reading this really don’t know too much about the structure of our SBC and how the leadership works. That’s okay. Here’s a quick review… When we meet for the convention, pretty much anyone from an SBC church can stand up and make a motion about how things should be done and all the messengers there vote and if it passes, then that’s done. But the other 363 days of the year, all the messengers aren’t all together in one room… so we have an Executive Committee made up of 86 people who represent all of us that meet and work throughout the year to get the business done. And this is important because they are endowed with a lot of power and authority. They oversee a huge budget (over $186 million!), they supervise all our institutions and entities like our seminaries and our mission boards. So who they are and what they do is important and should be held to the highest standards.
But one thing they DON’T do is give directives to local churches. Unlike many denominations, Southern Baptists practice what is known as the autonomy of the local church. It simply means that we rule ourselves and while our SBC leaders have great responsibilities, they can in no way tell us what to do or who to hire. We freely join together with over 45,000 other SBC churches to combine our gifts and resources through something called the Cooperative Program because we know that joining our gifts and resources together will be more powerful and effective in doing God’s Kingdom work than trying to do it all on our own.
So… with that in mind… we’ve all heard the awful things about sexual abuse happening with church leaders across all denominations and faiths. And many denominational leadership groups are beginning to stress more accountability and transparency regarding how churches are handling these cases and doing everything possible to make sure that those responsible for these reprehensible acts will not be put in positions of authority to prey upon others ever again. And rightly so. SBC leaders have resisted instituting these types of safeguards for the last several years because, in my opinion, we simply aren’t set up to exercise that kind of authority over any local church. However, given the severe nature of this terrible atrocity and the alarming levels of its infestation, I agree, it is time to use the power of our convention to speak to this injustice. Even if we cannot form a policy that we can enforce upon churches, we can at the very least speak loudly and clearly regarding those who abuse others and shine the brightest possible light on these devastating acts with the hope that it would be well known who has committed these crimes and for others not to be duped into hiring them again.
The Executive Committee has been labeled by some as being aware of some of these cases of ministers involved in such abuses within some of our SBC churches, but not doing enough about it. Quite honestly, I have yet to see anything that proves this… but in today’s age, especially with this issue, we must be above reproach and not allow these things to be swept under the rug. So in preparation for the convention, the Executive Committee hired a firm to investigate these claims, bring them back a report, and then the Executive Committee would then bring those results to the churches. Now if you’re hearing this and thinking “So… they decided to hire their own people to investigate themselves and then they would tell everyone what the results are?”, then you pretty much got it. Not exactly the strongest example of transparency. So the messengers of the convention (me included) proposed that instead of doing this, that the newly elected President would form an independent task force of his choosing, work with the consulting firm, and then bring the results of the study directly to the convention of churches, essentially by-passing the Executive Committee. Now to overturn the Executive Committee, it takes a two-thirds majority vote… and the vote was about 95% in favor of this action.
Now… in my opinion… the worst thing the Executive Committee is guilty of is probably that they could have said and done more but didn’t. It may come out, but I really don’t think they have intentionally covered things up. But we will see, let the firm do their work, let light shine in all the dark places where sin could be breeding.
- Many great things are going on in the SBC and need to be celebrated and supported! I don’t agree with everything the SBC outlines. In some areas, I am probably a little more moderate than most of my Southern Baptist family. The same is probably true for our church at Mauldin First Baptist. But I strongly believe we agree together far more than we disagree together. And I also believe there is and should be, plenty of room under of Southern Baptist tent to have differing views on what Romans 14:1 describes as “disputable matters”. How to handle CRT, the best candidate for convention president, the right course for our Executive Committee… all disputable matters… again… in my opinion.
Non-disputable matters? The world is lost. People are hurting and they need help. Only Jesus can save us. God loves all of us enough to send His Son Jesus to save us. We need to send missionaries. In order to do that, we need to train them and equip them and support them. We need ministers to share God’s Word. And we need seminaries to train them and equip them and support them. And God expects us, commands us, to be ONE! And these are things the SBC is doing and doing very well. Despite our recent fumbles, I believe our mission agencies and our disaster relief efforts are the best in the world!
I came away from the convention tired but encouraged. We have weaknesses, but doesn’t every family? And a family as large as ours with over 14 million members is bound to see some things differently. But I still believe we are better together and there are great things going on and better things to come! Thank you again for allowing me to go and represent you during this convention!