Because I know that this post might have greater interest than usual, I decided to provide a brief recap at the beginning (for those who want a quick bottom line) and then take a more detailed dive into some issues in the rest of this post for those who are interested.
MY SUMMARY OF THE CONVENTION…
Several church members and friends have reached out to me inquiring “How did the convention go?” The short answer is that it went very well, in my opinion. I honestly did not see how it was reported by news outlets, but I can assure you there was a high degree of unity in the room among 8000 gathered messengers from all 50 states. There was a determination to deal straightforwardly with the issues identified in the well-publicized Sexual Abuse Task Force report. The messengers took needed and necessary first steps with no real opposition to the recommendations. My good friend, Craig Carlisle, summarized the highlights of the convention this way…
- We commissioned 52 new missionaries.
- We affirmed and approved the Sexual Abuse Task Force recommendations.
- We elected conservative leadership to every position.
- We bolstered our position on pro-life.
I agree with Craig’s highlights. Were their differences of opinion? Sure. You get 10,000 Baptists in the room and there will be some different opinions! However, someone said that Southern Baptists look much better in person than we do on social media. The convention agreed near-unanimously on all but a handful of matters.
The bottom line for me is that I came away from the convention cautiously encouraged that we had found a pathway forward from some of the serious issues we have been dealing with.
A MORE DETAILED LOOK AT KEY ISSUES….
WHAT DID THE CONVENTION DO ABOUT THE ABUSE CRISIS? The Sexual Abuse Task Force (commissioned at the 2021 SBC) and the report they released covered three basic areas: allegations of abuse, the responses to reports of abuse, and treatment of victims. The investigation included all employees of the SBC Executive Committee and all those who served on the Executive Committee itself going back to the year 2000. It was not an investigation of the whole convention; the scope was pretty narrow. Still, the findings of the investigation were horrendous and the messengers at the 2022 SBC were determined to address them head-on and take steps to ensure the SBC responds better to these issues.
Specifically, the messengers near unanimously approved two recommendations that come from the Sexual Abuse Task Force. First, messengers approved the formation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force. Members of this task force will be appointed by the new SBC president. This task force will deliberately and prayerfully bring further recommendations to the convention over the coming years. Second, messengers approved the establishment of a “Ministry Check” website that will contain names of SBC pastors, staff members, denominational workers, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse. The goal is to prevent people from moving from church to church and state to state and repeating the same vile acts. The approval of these two recommendations represents important, vital, tangible initial steps. The SBC certainly is far from finished addressing this issue, but we got off to a decent start with these actions.
DID THE SBC ELECT A “LIBERAL” PRESIDENT? Absolutely not. There were four men nominated for the office of SBC President. In my estimation, all four of them were good, faithful, godly men who were all conservative theologically. Ultimately, Bart Barber, the pastor of FBC Farmersville, Texas was elected president in a run-off. Do I agree with Bart Barber on every issue? No. However, that doesn’t mean he is a liberal. Bart is not a “mega-church pastor” like most who have served as SBC president in my lifetime. He has my prayers and support. By the way, the SBC President is an UNPAID position. Yes, Bart will still serve as pastor of FBC Farmersville and have the stress of being SBC President on top of the normal (considerable) stress of being the pastor of a local church. I am optimistic that Bart will serve us well.
I HEARD THE SBC IS “GOING LIBERAL” ON ABORTION & WOMEN PREACHERS. IS THAT TRUE? I do not believe that is accurate at all. Yes, some did not like how the interim ERLC president answered a question about abortion and pro-life advocacy. Yes, there was debate on the floor of the convention regarding the Credentials Committee recommendation regarding Saddleback Church in California. However, NOT ONE PERSON argued that abortion was not the taking of a life and that Roe V. Wade should not be overturned. NOT ONE PERSON argued in favor of the SBC approving female pastors. I was in the room. In fact, the prevailing atmosphere of the messengers in the room was decidedly toward a conservative, complementarian view of female pastors and the role of women in the church.
CAUTIOUSLY ENCOURAGED. As I stated earlier, I came away from this year’s SBC meeting cautiously encouraged. I hope the worst of the mess at the Executive Committee is behind us. I am very grateful for the interim leadership there and that recent EC committee meetings have been without conflict. I am hopeful that people will tear down one another on social media less in the coming months. I am hopeful that 2022 was the beginning of our denomination finding its way forward in a way that all but a handful of our churches and pastors will support.
I STILL BELIEVE IN THE WORK OF OUR CONVENTION. What is that work you ask? Collectively, those 47,000 SBC churches from all fifty states cooperate to send over 3500 missionaries internationally and over 5000 missionaries in North America. Our International Mission Board and North American Mission Board continue to do much outstanding work. Our six seminaries are all led by solid, Biblically conservative Presidents and train thousands of future pastors, church staff, and missionaries. Southern Baptists are the second largest disaster relief organization in the world – second only to The Red Cross. These efforts alone represent 95% of the money spent by the national SBC. In addition, there is great work being done by many state conventions and local associations across the country. Personally, by the nature of being involved in both, I can attest to the wonderful Kingdom work being done by our Alabama Baptist State Convention and the Birmingham Metro Baptist Association.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been my home since 1990. I have served at six SBC churches. I have preached in countless others. I personally have degrees from two of our seminaries, and my own ministry efforts are the fruit of Southern Baptist’s investment in me. I have seen our mission efforts up close and personal. I know the impact that is being made for Christ literally all over the world by Southern Baptists. I have countless friends serving as pastors, staff members, deacons, volunteers, and faithful members of SBC churches all over America. For these reasons (and many more) I refuse to walk away or lead my church to walk away from the SBC at this point. Am I deeply concerned about several trends I see? Absolutely. Have mistakes (and worse) been made? Yes. However, I am not ready to throw in the towel. Count me as one who chooses to be hopeful that our convention can not only survive, but thrive in the future.
WE MUST ALWAYS BE VIGILANT. Some more perceptive readers noticed the phrase “at this point” in the previous paragraph. Why do I say it that way? We must always be vigilant and watchful. First and foremost we must be vigilant and watchful of ourselves and the local churches in which we serve. We must always be vigilant and watchful of the institutions that we support, no matter how much we love them. We must always stand rock solidly on the inerrant Word of God and proclaim the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must always be watchful that our churches and the institutions they support faithfully fulfill the Great Commission and “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
We can NEVER just assume or take doctrinal fidelity for granted in our churches or institutions. We must always be watchful – particularly in the post-modern 21st-century culture we find ourselves in. Our first loyalty is always and forever to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. Our commitment to our Baptist institutions is only appropriate IF those institutions exist for the glory of Christ and the fulfillment of His commission. No association, state convention, or any SBC entity is “owed” anything by any local church. Those who lead our Baptist institutions and entities must constantly earn the support of our churches by their unapologetic faithfulness to Christ, His glory, His Word, and His commission. THAT reality is the only thing that will actually keep the SBC “rope of sand” together long into the coming decades.