It is time for Southern Baptist churches, led by God-fearing pastors, to show up, stand up, and speak up, and remind the elites and our erstwhile leaders that the seminaries, institutions, and agencies of the SBC belong to the churches. Those who lead them and work in them work for the churches. The trustees of them are not their unpaid employees but represent the churches. And it is past time that the churches start holding our employees and trustees accountable.
Several things happened at #SBC21 and many, if not most, of them are deeply concerning to grassroots Southern Baptists who love Christ, fear God, tremble at His Word, and want to cooperate for the cause of missions and evangelism with others who are likeminded.
The Founders pre-conference was outstanding under the theme, “Be It Resolved.” Those messages will be posted online in the weeks ahead and I commend them to everyone, whether SBC or not. Though I was unable to attend I heard that the Conservative Baptist Network breakfast on Tuesday morning was also an outstanding event (and, like the Founders pre-conference, sold out). Those who gathered in these two events were people who are concerned about the progressive direction of many in the SBC.
The reports from the International Missions Board about gospel-advance around the world are always encouraging to hear and to be reminded of what is, or at least can be, best about our Southern Baptist Convention. We do have a great mechanism for getting workers into hard places for the sake of Christ.
More could be said about the good things that took place in Nashville, such as evangelistic efforts, fellowship and renewal of friendships, encouraging conversations, discipleship efforts, and the passing of the strongest resolution in SBC history against the holocaust of abortion—which was done by successfully challenging the Resolutions’ Committee efforts to prevent the convention from ever seeing it. It also overcame a media campaign by one of that committee’s members (Bart Barber) against it, compounded by Southern Seminary professors’ (Denny Burke and Andrew Walker) public opposition to it, along with an impassioned speech on the floor of the convention against it by a paid employee of our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Josh Wester. The fact that a widely split convention (the presidential race was won by a 52% to 48% vote) could overcome almost insurmountable odds to get this resolution passed was a clear reminder that denominational elites do not always have to get their way if grassroots church members will unite to wisely engage the process to challenge their agenda at those points that are problematic.
Ed Litton, a pastor in Alabama, was elected President of the SBC. At the time of his election his church believed that
God is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are co-equal parts of one God.
Shortly after his election (and after this statement from his church’s website was publicized), the church changed their beliefs to exclude that last sentence about God, which is a good thing because it eliminates an ancient heresy that teaches that God has parts and is not one, divine, simple, Being. This rapid step toward orthodoxy should be celebrated despite the questions it raises about the church’s polity.
Before the convention Ed said, “I think that our pulpits should be places that reflect our view of pastors. At Redemption church, we do not have women preach.” Also, before the convention Ed’s wife, Kathy, said thiswhile on stage with her husband during a Sunday morning, “In this series that we’ve been doing for five weeks… this is our last sermon…”
Many Southern Baptists find this problematic. Evidently, the majority of those voting for a new president did not. Though the celebration of the elitists and more woke-minded Southern Baptists was exuberant, and the disappointment of the grassroots Southern Baptists was palpable, everyone should stop and remember that Ed Litton won that race by 556 votes. Despite all of the attempts by the platform personalities to assure us that we are united and “together on mission,” there is no denying that the division within the SBC right now is real.
That divide can be assessed from various angles and I am sure that those on the other side of ideological divides will see things differently, but here is my immediate assessment. There were two types of Southern Baptists in the convention hall: those who wanted open discussion and opportunity to repudiate Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality vs. those who wanted to avoid addressing those ideologies by name; those who wanted the voices of hundreds of Southern Baptists to be heard (through the submission of this resolution by more than 1300 church members) vs. those (primarily the Resolutions Committee chaired by James Merritt) who wanted those voices silenced; those who wanted to speak strongly for the abolition of abortion vs. those who wanted to say less than the resolution that ultimately passed actually said; those who repeatedly reminded us from the platform that “the world is watching us” vs. those who were more concerned that God was watching us.
The Southern Baptist Convention is in a mess. We are facing a pivotal moment. By “moment” I do not mean, month” or “year.” I mean five years. From conversations that I and others had my sense is that we had more first-time messengers at this convention than we have had in years. I am sorry that the post-convention survey did not ask that question. But it is undeniable that many, and I would guess thousands, of new people showed up to vote for a new president.