The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting concluded yesterday with quite a bit of public media attention and continued talk of what is next in the SBC.
Steve Gaines, Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee was reelected for a one-year term as President. He has done a fine job in leading our denomination this past year, and especially through a challenging annual meeting.
I am thankful for his leadership and service to our convention, not just this year but in years prior. I will continue praying for him as he remains on the national stage, not only as pastor of a significant church in our denomination, but as our President this next year.
Last Year's SBC Election
If you remember the SBC Annual Meeting in 20116 that took place in St. Louis, there was quite a bit more drama regarding the presidential election of the denomination. Of those nominated, a virtual tie resulted between Pastor Gaines and Pastor J.D. Greear of Summit Church in North Carolina. Messengers were scrambling to get back into the meeting room for ensuing votes and rather than a sense of unity among messengers, a growing sense of division was developing.
I was unable to attend that meeting in St. Louis, but was watching online via livestream. Based on tweets from friends and messengers and conversations with those in the convention center, the feelings of disunity were growing.
The Meeting Between Gaines and Greear
It has been shared numerous times, and once more this year at a Baptist 21 Luncheon on Monday. At seemingly the exact same time, in two different locations as these men prayed alone and with family, they each decided to recuse themselves from the election - allowing the other to win the nomination.
Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary shares that he was in the room when the men met together. Dr. Gaines shared he would be stepping away from the nomination and allow Dr. Greear to be nominated. Greear responded with appreciation and the instruction that Gaines could not do that because he had come to the same conclusion and would recuse himself.
This moment that would not have happened in our denomination about three decades ago between nominees was vital, inspiring, and needed.
J.D. Greear stepped out of the race and Steve Gaines won the presidency of the SBC in an amazing moment of unity before our messengers, our churches, and the watching world.
God's timing is always perfect and this has proved to be true once more.
Unity Is a Continual Challenge
To be unified is challenging. It takes strength and focus to remain together for the sake of a cause. In this case, the cause is the most vital in the world - the Gospel. We just experienced an attempt from our enemy to divide our churches at this year's SBC meeting. (Read about that here and here.)
The Baptist 21 Meeting This Year
In the Baptist 21 meeting on Monday much was discussed about the current status of the SBC. This meeting took place a day prior to the resolution issues regarding the Alt-Right and racism, so that discussion was not center stage, yet. Nevertheless a candid discussion on numerous issues where culture and faith intersect occurred. The discussions featuring a panel discussion with Steve Gaines, Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Kevin Smith, and Jedidiah Coppenger. At one point the moderator, Coppenger, asked about unity and last year's SBC presidential situation.
As the discussion and recounting of the events of last year were covered, Dr. Gaines mentioned that he would be excited to nominate J.D. Greear as President of the SBC in Dallas in 2018.
I heard him say this and thought "Wow! This is a huge step for our convention."
There is obviously no animosity between Gaines and Greear. For Dr. Gaines to proclaim his desire to nominate Greear next year stated clearly to those in the room and no doubt other Southern Baptists who have grown accustomed to seeing Baptists divided, that we are unified for a larger cause than self.
I look forward to an official announcement to come, likely early next year regarding Greear's nomination. As far as I know, Greear has not stated whether or not he will run again, but I believe he would serve the SBC well.
Our Southern Baptist family is just that - family. Our Heavenly Father has chosen to use us for His glory and we graciously move forward unified in the Gospel.
The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting has ended. The second day of our annual gathering traditionally has welcomed less-than large crowds following lunch. In recent years, required business, for the most part, was completed during Tuesday gatherings. Wednesday has been the time for one last opportunity for unfinished business (normally, not newsworthy outside the SBC) and reports from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Of course, those reports with required time for questions have, at times, elicited some interesting sound bytes.
The wording of the previously declined resolution was reworked and made more clear. Copies were made available digitally through the SBC Annual Meeting app, and online while printed copies were available at the doors for all messengers. A copy of the document is available here: Download Resolution 10
The "resolved" sections are stated clearly...
Barrett Duke, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee and Executive Director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to the resolution. His clarity and transparency was welcome. As the entire committee stood with him, an apology was offered for not recognizing the need to allow messengers to vote on the resolution. Reasoning for initial declination was described in my previous post as well. Duke then clearly and loudly proclaimed that everyone on the committee stood firmly against the motives and declarations of the Alt-Right movement, white supremacy, and all forms of racism.
Barrett Duke, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions, speaks during the SBC annual meeting June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo by Van Payne
The committee apologized.
That is no small thing.
We have a wonderful denomination. We are family. I have been part of an SBC church since the womb. I love our denomination, and yet, since we're human, we know that we mess up at times. Even seeking to live in Christ, follow the Word and have ears to hear and eyes to see ... we sometimes (more often than we'd like) mess up and sin.
And like family, when we do, we confess.
At that confession and repentance, forgiveness is offered.
This is truly the Gospel at work in the lives of God's people.
What's so challenging is that we are gathering here in Phoenix having a family meeting with the entire world watching via social media, livestream, or news media stories. It's like we're on an episode of Big Brother, but a moral version, with much more at stake.
Following Barrett's recommendation for the resolution to be passed, the floor was open for questions. There were a few. One focused on amending the proposal by editing just a few words in the "Resolved" section. The wording recommended clarified the enemy's tactics of deceit and the Resolutions Committee took it as a friendly amendment and the floor voted overwhelmingly for the amendment.
Another question sought to amend the resolution by adding to it other aspects of racial division present in the US. This was ruled out of order due to the fact it was actually worded as an additional motion and not an amendment.
Dr. Russell Moore spoke from the floor, not as President of the ERLC, but as a messenger from his home church. His statement was strongly worded and clear. The opening of his statement addressed that the resolution had a number on our list of resolutions of ten. That was a fact and the crowd waited to hear where he was going with this. Then he stated, "The Alt-Right and white supremacist movement has a number, too. It's 666." And at that, the room knew.
Well said, Dr. Moore!
Finally, one more comment from the floor strongly seeking the committee to reject any other added amendments that would ultimately weaken the wording of the resolution with concern that a weak document would express the opposite message to non-white brothers and sisters about our seriousness regarding racism.
The questioning time ended.
The SBC Votes "YES" on Resolution 10
As SBC President Steve Gaines called for the vote, he asked messengers who wished to affirm the adoption of Resolution 10, he asked for all in favor to raise their ballots. The scene was beautiful as hundreds of green ballots in an overwhelmingly positive vote made clear that despite our family's sordid past, and even our founding as a denomination, regarding race relations, we would stand firmly upon God's Word, declaring His love and ultimately our love, for all peoples regardless of race, skin tone, or cultural background.
Photo by Philip Bethancourt
Was It Too Little, Too Late?
I guess time will tell, for some. Ultimately, it is never too late to do the right thing. Through God's grace and providence he led us to agree with Him in this defining moment. This moment declares that political ideology does not drive our biblical theology.
In this moment, we acknowledge our dependance on God for guidance, for insight, for wisdom, and for life.
This moment reminds us that the sins of our ancestors do not define us. The sins of our churches are forgivable. The sins of just a day prior can be eradicated by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
Some will say that our mechanism of voting and revisiting the vote means that we truly didn't mean what we ended up saying. That simply isn't true. Our final vote was clear. Our family (SBCers) were united to ensure we ended this issue (of the resolution) well.
Should we have voted on Tuesday? In retrospect - yes. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Thank God we didn't leave the issue undone. Thank God the initial discussion was on Tuesday so that we could resolve this on Wednesday. Otherwise, it would still be hanging over us as we await next summer's Annual Meeting.
Some have and will say that our vote in the affirmative was prompted by media and social media outrage.
It would be disingenuous to state that no one in the room heard or read what was being said. God has used numerous things, people, organizations, and circumstances throughout history to get the attention of his children. The Minor Prophets declare many ungodly things, nations, and people used by God for His glory.
I actually thank God that we were listening.
Yet, rest assured, the SBC did NOT vote in affirmative to decry the motives and beliefs of the Alt-Right and white supremacists solely because Twitter prompted us to do so and because it was the politically correct thing to do.
The ultimate vote was yes because it was and is right.
Racism is evil. It is demonic. It is divisive. It flies in the face of the Gospel. We believed this before our meeting. We believed it during our meeting. We voted on a resolution we likely never thought we would have to vote on to declare it even more clearly.
There are likely many churches and pastors who will be having to address angry church members who either don't fully understand the depth of the issue, or who could be wrongly racially motivated and in need of forgiveness. Our churches are varied and in diverse locations. No two SBC churches are identical, believe me.
I pray that our churches will be eradicated of racism within the pew and if need be, in the pulpit. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will convict and transform those who have either been excusing this sin or just now realize they are knee-deep within it. Apart from transformation, I pray that biblical churches will do what many have never done and enact biblical discipline upon those who remain unrepentant in this area.
Some of our pastors may feel they're standing alone when they meet with their membership on Sunday. Remember, pastor ... you are not alone. Ever.
A resolution was passed. This is good.
Racism remains in our world. This is a reality and still very bad.
The mission remains. Nothing has changed for the church but the conversation. And this is a big change. This generation of pastors and church members is being led into a dialogue that has been ignored by too many for too long. Older members of our churches, both black and white, have memories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Churches in the South were segregated, just like everything else. For many of our older brothers and sisters, these are memories.
For the younger generations (50 and younger) these are history stories.
Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that since we have come so far regarding race relations in our nation that we had completed the task? Rest assured, based on what we have seen in our nation over the past few years, no one could rightly say we have arrived.
There is much work to do.
Racial reconciliation remains on the table and will for years, likely. The church, and in our case, the SBC churches, acknowledge the stains in our history, but must resolve (no pun intended) to not be defined by them.
The work to be done by the church to bring healing will not be done through political movements. That which must happen to unify Christians will not occur simply through a resolution. Presuming to understand fully the plight of another race is insulting and impossible. In other words, as a white man for me to tell my black brother "Oh I understand what you go through" is demeaning and wrong. Yet, there is hope.
Not Too Late Because There Is Hope
Through Christ forgiveness occurs.
Through Christ healing happens.
Through Christ, the church prevails.
We had just better remain humbly focused on Christ.
God led us this week in Phoenix. He brought our denomination to the river (in a desert no less) and directed us to trust Him as we stepped in.
We stepped in and with him we will remain secure as we walk together through the waters ahead.
I am currently in Phoenix, Arizona for our denomination's (Southern Baptist Convention) annual meeting. I am serving as a messenger (a representative) from my church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park, FL.) This is not the first annual meeting I have attended. This year's meeting is not unlike others in the past. Yet, there seemed to be no highly charged issues on the pre-convention agenda and there appeared to be no real hot-button issues to be discussed ... but, we are Baptists and anything can happen.
And it has.
Motions and Resolutions
Prior to the meeting, Southern Baptists are offered the opportunity to submit items for potential motions or resolutions. These are reviewed by our Resolutions Committee. Some are declined. Some are accepted. Some are referred to other committees. This is not unusual. It happens every year. It actually has proven to work well, for the most part.
Some items become motions. Some become resolutions.
Motions are brought before the messengers and if passed, require action. For example, a motion may require the trustees of one our entities to move forward with a study group for specific action. If passed, that entity must do so. It's not unlike the local Baptist church's business meetings that many of us have grown up attending. Truth be told - the Southern Baptist Convention only exists truly for two days every summer when we gather and it is a business meeting. For the other 363 days of the year, our SBC Executive Committee stands in as our corporate entity and operators of day-to-day denominational business.
Resolutions are statements that require no action, but clearly affirm beliefs held by the messengers and ultimately, if passed, by the membership of the SBC. In many cases, items in resolutions are re-affirmations of beliefs held and stated in our Baptist Faith and Message. Such is the case of the resolution passed this year on Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
One motion, presented by Pastor Dwight McKissic of Arlington, Texas was declined. The motion in question focused on the desire for the SBC as a whole to denounce the alt-right movement that has grown in our nation since 2015. The denouncement was intended to condemn the alt-right movement and the roots of white supremacy. The full motion may be read here.
As is his right, Pastor McKissic spoke of the declining of his resolution.
The committee members are godly people and answered well regarding the declination based on concern the term "alt-right" was too broad and hard to define as presented in the resolution and that ultimately, the resolution was poorly worded.
The Defining Moment
Regardless, it was at that moment most everyone in the room realized that we (Southern Baptists) may have just given the enemy opportunity to create the perception publicly that we are who we are not. In other words - the message received via Twitter, Facebook, and through other forms of media and social media was "The SBC will not take a stand against white supremacy."
Perhaps, that is when you saw stories popping up on your news apps?
Parliamentary Procedure done well allows us to have annual meetings and resolve and work together in unity. Yet, even as we sought resolution for what was essentially blowing up, the world was writing its own story.
If you follow the #SBC17 hashtag on Twitter, you will see many self-proclaimed alt-right individuals declaring the superiority of the white race, pro-slavery, and denouncing any Southern Baptist who dared claim that racism was evil and Satanic. Even I was attacked through this - and when you're attacked by racists for not being one, that is a good thing!
As the Resolutions Committee met, they unanimously (and within their rights through Robert's Rules of Order) have set a new vote for discussion and resolution for today, Wednesday, June 14 at 2:45pm. Many pastors and messengers who had booked earlier flights home are now scrambling (or should be) to be able to remain and vote.
From what I hear, the resolution from Pastor McKissic is being reworded and resubmitted.
I believe a firm stance against racism and in this case, white supremacy especially, will be made. It must be made.
I was with H.B. Charles, Jr. (pastor of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville) last night at a meeting and he shared with those in the room that his phone began to "blow up" following the news media's report on the SBC not condemning racism. This brother and friend who pastors a sister church in our city has responded with grace. He is here. He is going to be serving as our SBC Pastor's Conference President in 2018. He said that his church members will be like "Yeah, you're the Pastor's Conference President. But what about this?!?" And he will have to guide his flock through this. He does not speak for every African-American SBC pastor, just as I do not speak for every white SBC pastor. I just want to be clear on that.
H.B's wisdom as he revealed how his church is questioning and responding is worth note.
I will vote today, as I anticipate many others will, to affirm the resolution brought before us at 2:45pm.
Will an affirmation by the SBC fix what was perceived as a sinful response or lack of response by many yesterday? Likely not. However, it is clear to me that no one on the Resolutions Committee or in SBC leadership truly understood at the time how a simple declination would appear.
Now, we repent of missing an opportunity.
And we will vote.
We do the right thing not because social media is trending. We do the right thing because it is the right thing. It is not political. It is not easy.
As Christians, we have been and always will be faced with difficult choices and situations. Yet, by God's grace, we persevere and seek His lead. He always leads us correctly. We don't always follow well, however.
Every messenger will go home either tonight, tomorrow, or later this week. Pastors will be back in the pulpit on Sunday. Church members, for the most part, may be unaware of what transpired in Phoenix this week. Many will have an idea, but it will be skewed based on only what sound-bytes have been heard and news reports have been read.
Some will take whatever happens here as a political stance either for or against political parties, leaders in Washington, or those on the far side of all movements. Baptists have been and will continue to be called a variety of things like: liberal, conservative, legalists, racists, RINOS, Democrats, Republicans, Never-Trumpers, Pro-Trumpers, haters, bigots, globalists, etc.
Amazing how that which we are labeled falls all along the spectrum of descriptors, right?
Yet, this has happened. It will happen.
May we settle not for what the world labels us, but for God's label - children, holy, image-bearers.
Some may leave our churches. I lost members when I affirmed a resolution at the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting regarding evangelizing immigrants, regardless of legal status. My take was "Why would I not evangelize them, or anyone else for that matter?" Nevertheless, some were angered and left our church. That was a good day.
Pastors United Leading Through Racial Division
I pray for my pastor brothers of other ethnicities, especially those in my city like H.B., Elijah, Dan, Barry, Jaime, Diego, Thu Lai, Pierre and many others. We are brothers. We are fellow pastors. We are navigating together in a culture that seeks to divide the church. Some within the church have fallen prey to this tactic. A resolution will not necessarily impact how we do ministry together in our diverse city of Jacksonville, but a statement focused on racism that is not addressed, or worse yet ignored, will create a wall of division among those in our churches (and even within our individual congregations) that can keep us from the Kingdom work ahead.
Racism = Sin. It always has. It always will. It must be confronted, in love.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. - Galatians 2:11-13 (ESV)
While most of America was watching, or at least aware, of the Senate hearing last week featuring former FBI Director James Comey, there was another hearing taking place in Washington DC that flew under the radar for the most part. This other hearing potentially may impact more Americans long-term than anything coming from the Comey hearings.
The event was a confirmation hearing for an executive level position in the Office of Management and Budget. That alone is why this hearing did not garner news media attention. It was a simple hearing that in most years would not be newsworthy, but basically a formality. Yet, that is far from the case this time.
Russell Vought had been nominated by President Trump to serve in this position. Of those on the Senate panel interviewing Mr. Vought were Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and Senator Van Hollen Jr., D-Md.
Bernie Sanders burst onto the national scene last year, after decades of public service, as an alternative to Hillary Clinton. His brash, pro-socialist agenda resonated with many, especially young adults. College and university campuses welcomed Senator Sanders and young men and women who were looking forward to participating in their first presidential election "felt the Bern" and lined up behind him and his message. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton bested Sanders in the race and many young Democrats have since expressed their frustration that Sanders did not win. Thus is American politics.
Photo credit: Randy Bayne via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Sanders has been described as a Jewish agnostic based on his heritage and self-proclaimed status as "not particularly religious." Hollen's political stances have consistently fallen on the far left of the American political spectrum. He has often made public statements condemning anti-Semitism and has gone on record with statements affirming the religious freedom of people around the world. On September 15, 2011, he declared this on record:
Around the world, millions of people suffer persecution merely because they practice a different religion than other people around them. No one should be made to feel that the practice of their religion is a crime or a source of shame. Such persecution violates their inalienable human right to practice the religion of their own choosing and promotes political instability.
Despite the well stated affirmation for religious freedom, Senator Hollen along with Senator Sanders, have now gone on record to declare Christianity a religion to be condemned, freedom be damned.
Russell Vought, the nominee of the President, is an evangelical Christian who graduated from Wheaton College. Wheaton is a solid, evangelical college with a clear statement of faith and biblical worldview. Last year, the college came under scrutiny when they parted ways with a professor who made spurious claims that Muslims and Christians are both people of the book and then quoted Pope Francis by affirming that "we worship the same God.” These statements stand in contradiction to biblical truth and the statement of faith held by evangelical Christians and Wheaton College.
Vought clearly declares the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone. This quote from Vought's article was the element brought to the table by Senator Sanders:
Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.
It is doubtful that Senator Sanders regularly reads The Resurgent, but props to his staff who, in the current world of political divide, found this nugget to offer their boss.
Senator Sanders landed on this statement of condemnation and made claims that should cause every American, not just religious Americans, to take note:
"In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms ... we must not go backwards."
It is true that as a nation, we have struggled to overcome discrimination. Yet, in the following comments, if you can peer between the political buzzwords and Twitter-worthy statements, you will discover a revealed discrimination that is growing.
Sanders asked Vought if he considered his statement about Jesus to be "Islamophobic." Vought began to respond with "I am a Christian..." but before he could go any further, he was interrupted by Sanders who asked if Jews were also condemned because they reject Jesus.
When Vought began to answer Senator Sanders, he said "I am a Christian..." but was once again interrupted by the Senator.
“I understand you’re a Christian. But this country is made of people, not just… I understand Christianity is a majority religion, but the people of other religions in this country and around the world believe in their judgement that people convicted of non-Christians?”
Senator Hollen quoted from Vought's article, saying:
"I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one ... you are condemning people of all faiths. I'm a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God ... It's your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust in what will be a very important position."
Ultimately, these push backs may be as much against the President who nominated Mr. Vought as to Mr. Vought himself. Nevertheless, the positioning is clear. Biblical Christianity is condemned by the culture while seeking to claim that Christianity is condemning others.
No, You Don't Understand
When Senator Sanders says "I understand you're a Christian..." it is clear that he does not really understand. When Senator Hollen states "I'm a Christian, but..." it is clear he does not affirm biblical Christianity.
This is a battle of world views and it is nothing new. What is new, or seemingly new, is that most Americans have never truly acknowledged the deep divide between absolute truth as expressed in God's Word and the "truthiness" of the world.
At a minimum, the senators' comments, stances, and ultimately recommendations for non-approval of Vought have positioned them, by their own words, as creating a religious litmus test for those serving in public office. As Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC made clear,
"While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution."
Of greater note for evangelical Christians is the fact that regardless who is in the Oval Office, who represents us in DC or local political offices, the world view divide will ultimately require a statement of belief.
Do You Understand?
Christian - do you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ? He is the ONLY way! He is the ONLY truth. Through Christ ALONE, may we have life eternal. It may sound intolerant to those who do not understand. For those who do understand, it sounds like grace.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. - John 3:18 (ESV)
In a culture that seeks to be spiritual, but not religious (which ultimately is impossible) a certain version of religiosity has developed over the years. In the early 2000s, researcher Christian Smith surveyed adolescents in the United States of various faith backgrounds (Catholic, Jewish, Mainline Protestant, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Evangelical, and others) to determine where teenagers stood when it comes to religion.
The research has been reviewed and updated over the years and while there are likely some shifts occurring, one standout revelation as defined and described in Smith's book Soul Searching states that across the board among American students, the religion of the day, as affirmed and modeled by their parents even, is now "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." It rightly sounds like therapy or at a minimum, the presentation of religious thought from a television talk show host.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
Smith goes on to codify the details of this religion as revealed in their interviews as follows:
A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
Good people go to heaven when they die.
The sad reality is that as many people read these descriptors, they will mentally affirm them to be true. Yet, this version of God who would find himself very welcome and affirmed in our culture misses much of what Scripture reveals. In other words the God expressed here is not the God of the Bible nor does he offer redemption, hope, or salvation. But...at least people feel good about him, right?
The tragedy is that many within the church today have slid into this affirmation of religion under the guise of progressivism or tolerance.
This is why our churches must embrace a family equipping discipleship model. Church attendance and activities can be highly effective. Yet, we know that as we embark on high school graduation around our nation, many students in the church have falsely bought into a God described above. This is one reason why so many students have manageable gods in their lives, but not the true God and eventually walk away from "organized religion" to self-identify as "spiritual but not religious" and ultimately lost.
Smith, Christian with Melinda Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Students are putting on ill-fitting mortarboards and unattractive robes as symbols of accomplishment throughout our nation. It is that time of year where high school students receive their diplomas and college and university students are honored with their degrees.
Commencement ceremonies, with all the pomp and circumstance, are wonderful events. They bring families and friends together for a time of celebration. For many parents of college students, the moment feels like their boss just gave them a raise (that is if they were paying for their child's schooling.)
Yet, as we now know with our cultural and sexual revolution in full-swing, no public gathering will take place without a worldview divide revealed. Division has always existed among people, but the lines have shifted most recently and dramatically, at that.
Everything is Political
Politics is divisive by nature. It always has been. Yet, now more than ever in the US with President Trump's administration in place and the Republican led House and Senate, the dividing lines seem to be painted more boldly. Of course, it may be due to the vast increase of media outlets online and the mostly left-leaning mainstream traditional news outlets. Thus, the battle for the news, whether it be real or fake.
Recent incidents have revealed the political and social worldview divide on the public stage. Recently, graduates from Bethune-Cookman University loudly protested the introduction of commencement speaker, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The disruption at the ceremony led the university's president to threaten cancellation of the ceremony with a promise to mail the degrees to the graduates. Secretary DeVos was allowed to continue her speech at that point. (Story here.)
Most recently, the most popular Roman Catholic university in the United States, Notre Dame, held it's graduation ceremony. It too made headlines based on a student protest. Vice President Mike Pence was the guest speaker and when introduced, a large crowd of students stood and exited the room. It was noticeable and captured on video to be shared globally. News agencies picked up the story and while it was unprecedented, it was far from surprising.
Why the protest of Pence?
News sites have numerous interviews with students and seem to be leaning on two stories as to why the protest occurred. One has to do with Pence's position in the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump's immigration policies among many other things, were being protested by the students.
The other issue had to do with Pence's positions on family, marriage, abortion and LGBT views that were center-stage when Vice President Pence served as Governor of the state of Indiana. Pence's views and opinions on these issues have not shifted and that is the problem.
It's strange, however, that the public views and policies of the Vice President actually line up with the stated views of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and therefore, of the University of Notre Dame. Yet, it is at this university where a divide was viewed most clearly. That is what makes this even more intriguing. If this protest took place at the University of Florida, Florida State University or any other publicly funded university, there would be no story. But, this was at a religious university, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Mr. Miranda (Luis Miranda - a 29-year-old masters graduate who walked out - DT) said. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”
Mr. Miranda added that Mr. Pence’s role in graduation was particularly unsavory for some students and their families — including gay people and immigrants — who might have been hurt by the policies favored by the Trump administration.
Protest organizers estimated that more than 100 people had walked out. On social media, many could be seen wearing rainbow pins or flags, which were also hung from windows around the campus as a symbol of gay pride.
And there it is.
A few things stand out to me, but primarily, as a parent who has funded one university graduate's complete tuition and fees and currently is doing the same for another, the statement that the commencement ceremony is "a celebration of all our hard work" reeks of self-centeredness. But, who can blame him. In a culture where child-worship begins at birth and lasts through adolescence into young adulthood, this is expected.
While I do not know Mr. Miranda, nor do I know how he paid for his education, I do feel it safe to say that the majority of graduates have experiences from childhood through elementary, junior high, high school and college that reveal others along the way who supported, provided and sweat along with them for this special day. Of course, I understand that the student is the one receiving the degree. The study, work, and testing was done by that student and it was and is hard. Believe me, I'm back in school as well.
Nevertheless, a self-centric focus that states that the event is "all about me" is asinine and wrong.
Mr. Miranda's family may applaud his protest. I just wonder how many other parents of students who walked out felt betrayed, not by the commencement speaker (even if they disagreed with Mr. Pence greatly) but by their student for daring to do what they did? Truth be told - I have one child who would likely want to walk out as did the protestors at Notre Dame, for the very same reasons. I would disagree with just about every reason. Betrayal would be one feeling that would surface.
It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some were heralded as bold while others were chastised by loved ones.
Yet, the point is clear - we live in a divided culture. Is it more so than in the past? That's hard to determine. We didn't live in the past with the age and experience we now have. Yet, historical analysis reveals that our dividing lines are pretty unique. The sexual and LGBT revolution have determined such.
I think back to my graduation from the university. It was a big deal. I finally made it. However, do you know what I don't remember?
I don't remember who the commencement speaker was. Neither do I remember what he or she said.
I do remember that I didn't walk out.
Of course, I'm sure my speaker wasn't as politically connected or globally popular. Nevertheless, I graduated and my wife and parents were there with me. They celebrated along with me because my walking across that stage in Denton, Texas was as special a moment for them as it was for me.
News stories like this come and go. They get shared on social media. Radio and television talking heads dissect the details. Christians get caught up in the stories as well and the danger is to not become that negative stereotype that blasts the younger generation. Seriously - being that old guy standing outside yelling "get off my yard" to the next generation is not the model we should follow.
Yet, as Christians, we must see things for what they are.
Worldviews matter. The sexual and moral revolutions in our culture have and are happening at breakneck speed. It's evident in these graduation ceremonies. More things like what happened at Notre Dame will happen and will eventually not make the news - because it will be so common.
Christians are forced with hard questions of faith and biblical truth. When the dividing lines have been drawn (regardless who drew them,) on what side do those who seek to follow God's Word stand?
Loving people is not up for a vote. It is a mandated command from Christ. Nevertheless, love does not mean total absolution of biblical truth. In fact, it means just the opposite. Love does not mean affirmation for sin. This is the challenge of the church—how to love God, love people, and make disciples of Christ without compromise or becoming the negative stereotype that those on the other side of the divide are devising?
It is possible. It is happening. One protestor held a sign that said "Love Trumps Hate" with obvious intonations toward the President. Even in the snarky protest, the truth is on that placard. Love does trump hate. Love does win. Just not the version of love that culture defines.
The win is found in the Gospel—the Good News. The good news is that God loves. So. Very. Much. And that love through Jesus Christ gives us hope. That love is not self-centric. That love is God.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)
Here in the South, the previously known "Bible Belt," many local schools and youth sports leagues used to avoid scheduling games and practices on Wednesday evenings. Some leagues and schools still avoid this day for sports. For those who live anywhere else in the United States or Canada, this seems odd.
WHY IS WEDNESDAY ANY DIFFERENT THAN OTHER WEEKDAYS?
The answer is simple, and it has nothing to do with it being "Hump Day"! (You just said that sentence like the camel in the GEICO commercials didn't you?)
For decades, Wednesday has been viewed as the "other holy day" on the evangelical church's weekly calendar.
Sundays have been the gathering day for churches for, oh about two thousand years, but Wednesdays? That's another story.
I found an online forum where someone asked "When did Wednesday church become a thing, and why?" Here are some of the most common answers...
Growing up Lutheran in heavily Catholic Buffalo, I never heard about church on Wednesday. In the various cities where I've lived, same thing: church services were held on Sunday, with the popular Saturday night services for Catholics. I never heard of church on Wednesday until I moved to northeast Ohio. When I tell others about it, the response is generally along the lines of "Well, duh!", as if I told them I didn't know people went to church on Sunday.
Never heard of it. I've lived in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and several countries other than the USA.
A Wednesday evening service is standard in the Protestant South.
I've always associated it with the Baptists. Seems all my Baptist students have some church activity or another scheduled for Wednesday night. Never any other denomination, to my recollection.
Most Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches that I'm aware of, both east coast and west coast, have Wednesday night services. I've been to them in California, Ohio, Atlanta and Florida.
When I last attended public school (Iowa, early 1980s), I assumed Wednesday was the night for church youth groups. Didn't know it was part of any denomination, altho our district was probably 75% mainstream Protestant and another 20% Holy Joe.
I grew up in South Dakota, and Wednesday nights were always 'Church Night', and there were no activities related to school (such as sports, besides practices) pretty much statewide. In fact, the calendar included with the monthly school bulletin had all Wednesdays marked as 'Church Night'.
Relatively few churches around here have mid-week services. A few have contemporary services and I suppose some of them are held on Wednesdays, but not to the extent that it would have a big impact on secular scheduling. I suspect it may be more a tradition in Baptist churches, though I'm basing that on the one Baptist family I'm friends with....and that is more their Awana night, which I think is like an intensive Sunday School for the kids. I suppose if there is a large concentration of Baptists in your area then it may be tradtional to schedule around that night. But us United Methodists don't block that day out permanently.
I grew up in Texas. My family was Methodist, and our church did nothing special on Wednesdays. However, Wednesday evening services seemed nearly universal among the local Baptist* churches, of which there were many. Wednesday was "off the table" when setting the practice schedules in the local youth soccer league, for example, and the reason why did not normally need to be explicitly mentioned in conversation; it was considered common knowledge.
Well, it seems the South is not the only Wednesday church area, but as the comments reveal, there is an obvious reality here. For highly churched areas (where Baptists are a majority it seems,) Wednesdays have been a staple for decades. The comment that the local youth soccer league had Wednesdays "off the table" regarding practices and games is more common in southern and midwestern areas. Yet, even that trend is changing.
WEDNESDAYS NIGHTS - THE SACRED COW OF MANY CHURCHES
In a recent conference I attended led by Tony Morgan, he asked about the very real issue of "sacred cows" in our local churches. Borrowing the term from Hinduism, the Baptist and evangelical sacred cows have nothing to do with the walking beef we see in fields and on ranches. The sacred cows that develop in our churches are ministries or programs that have developed in our churches having most likely experienced their era of usefulness, but still remain in the budget or on the calendar. They remain because no one in leadership is bold enough to say "that needs to go or change." One pastor at the conference responded that Sunday School was a sacred cow in his church. You could almost hear the air leave the room. For many Baptists, Sunday School has been untouchable. It is the the one program that must never be eliminated or changed, it seems. At least that's how many feel. Yet, this pastor mentioned it and many others in the room (myself included) agreed that in some cases, even Sunday School may need to change or be eliminated based on a church's structure, model, and culture.
I'm not saying Christian education and discipleship need to go, but an ineffective model may.
Wednesday night programming is something that also may need to be addressed.
The same questions many churches are asking about Wednesday evening programming were asked about Sunday evening programming not that long ago. I see very few churches in our city pushing a traditional Sunday evening service schedule. While some do (and it works for them), most are going to home groups, special events, committee meetings, or simply nothing on Sunday evenings.
One pastor I know says that the sign of a dying church is when they cancel Sunday night services. Try as he may to prove that statement correct, many churches have proven that wrong. Ultimately, a calendared event is not the sign of a healthy, growing church.
But, what about Wednesday?
I do believe there is validity in having a mid-week gathering for Bible Study, fellowship and other things for the local church. However, those gatherings do not have to be large group settings. They also do not have to happen in a church's facility. For student ministry, a mid-week worship service or Bible teaching time is great. In fact, many teenagers may connect mid-week where they would never on an early Sunday morning. Yet, just because a youth service gathered 100 students ten years ago does not mean it will today. That is true for all ministries. As long as we are organized and structured to do what worked a decade or two ago, we will continue to develop ministry strategies designed to reach people that existed a decade or two ago.
With the growth of church plants and churches who rent space in schools and other locations on weekends, the idea of a mid-week gathering at a church building is not an option.
WEDNESDAY IS NOT REALLY A CHURCH DAY
We categorize church days as those when the church meets for worship and gathers together. For the vast majority of us, that day is Sunday. Though, with changing schedules and church space issues, some churches have "church day" on Saturday or another day of the week.
When speaking of Wednesday as a "church day" it hearkens back to an era when even those not in church agreed that church activities (mostly children and youth activities) were on Wednesdays and should be. Therefore, nothing else would be scheduled to compete with that.
Those days are gone.
Perhaps church leaders should put Wednesdays on the table for evaluation and have honest discussions regarding the mid-week schedule? I am not advocating the cancellation of Wednesday activities. However, I am advocating an honest discussion on the viability of such mid-week gatherings. If a church holds Wednesday services solely because it always has...that's the making of a sacred cow at worst, or a frustrating ministry at the least.
BUT, WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Once you start talking about ministries, programs, and schedules in church, people get really concerned. The good thing about such concern is it often pushes church members to the point of asking questions that were never addressed prior. Questions like "Why?"
Does the Bible say that we need to gather together as a church? Does the Bible say that we need to do that twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday? What does it say?
The writer of Hebrews gives us this information that should be taken to heart when considering the need for corporate worship and the gathering together of the church.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
The Christian should not be seeking ways to NOT gather together and meet as the church. The Hebrew writer makes this clear. There is value and power when two or more are gathered in Christ's name. As Christians, we do need each other and there is much value in coming together for worship, fellowship, study, and prayer. In fact, these should be non-negotiable.
There are numerous examples of the church gathered throughout the New Testament. In fact, each letter of Paul written to a church was to be read to the people as they were gathered, which was considered normative and expected.
In the book of Acts, we see a snapshot of one of these gatherings with Paul
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. - Acts 20:7 ESV
Therefore, the question is not "Should the church gather often?" That answer is a resounding YES and the Bible speaks of that. In a culture where interconnectedness occurs in various ways through personal interaction (still the best) and through telephone, texting, social media, etc. there is even more need for the church to be connected. Yet, the question must be asked by each church regarding weekly schedules.
Oh, and just because you ask "Should we meet on Wednesdays?" does not mean the answer must be NO. In fact, for many churches the very best time to connect during the week with fellow Christians and community members remains Wednesday evenings. Just don't allow the long-held traditions of what Wednesday church has been become a "sacred cow" and leave you perpetuating a broken model that does not help make disciples or engage an unsaved world.
Oh, and don't be that church that looks down on other churches for having the gall to change the weekly schedule. That's how Pharisees are made.
It seems that as pastors and ministry leaders we continually find a full calendar of events and "opportunities" for those in our church. All this is good, because the ultimate goal is to reach more people for Christ and to make disciples.
Yet, is it possible that our programming may be doing more harm than good?
Questions that must be asked regularly are:
What should we keep doing?
What should we stop doing?
What should we start doing?
Easier said than done, but it must be done. Otherwise, we will just keep greasing the gears of this machine called the local church and could miss the mission.
Photo credit: Ciccio Pizzettaro via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
By now, many in our community know we're launching a new campus of our church in the community known as Fleming Island (yeah, we know...it's not really an island.) When those in our launch team and others in the church share about this new campus to meet in Paterson Elementary School, the most common question asked is "Why do we need another church on Fleming Island?"
When I open Google Maps and type "church" in the search box, the following appear on the map (and to be honest, that's not all the churches that gather on "the island."
Granted, these churches express a wide variety of faith traditions. While all have the name "church" on their signs or websites, there are some pretty significant differences among doctrine held by those gathering. So, I'll just speak of those who are in our tribe (Southern Baptist) and in our denomination, there are already three SBC churches in this area. That leads to an even more pointed question, right?
Why do we need another Baptist church on Fleming Island?
Jon Wood, our Campus Minister, wrote of this on his blog not too long ago. Here's what Jon wrote (blog here):
We don't need another church on Fleming Island. But, we do need new disciples of Jesus Christ and the best way to make new disciples is through new work. Here are some stats that have been discovered over recent years in the US regarding church planting and community engagement:
A new church gains 60-80% of its membership from new conversions.
A new church baptizes 1 person for every 13 members (legacy churches have a ratio of 1 baptism for every 52 members)
A new church will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation the same size.
While there are nuances to every statistical analysis, these have proven to be true, especially as we see the rise of the "Nones" in our culture. Hey, do you remember the "Bible Belt"? Yeah, that's fiction. The truth of the matter is that even with almost 20 churches of various flavors on Fleming Island, there are more people living in the community disconnected and unengaged from church and more importantly from Christ than there are those who attend and participate regularly.
We've talked with some of the pastors of sister churches in the area and all agree - no one is doing enough to reach these people.
So, opportunities present themselves. A venue is open. God provides funding and leadership. Through prayer and seeking His lead, we step into a story that some say we should've been in about twenty years ago. Yet, now is the time. It's time for a new campus on Fleming Island.
Every new church plant and pastor starts with the same concept. I've heard it dozens of times - "We want to reach the people other churches aren't."
It's not revolutionary. I mean, what pastor would actually say "We just want to reach the people who already attend other churches but are bored and need something 'cooler'?" No one says that. Well, some people actually strategize to do that, but no pastor would ever say that.
So, we are pushing against the easy way. Anyone can build a crowd. Most people have enough friends at other churches who will "help just to get it started" and develop a gathering. In some cases, it feels like success. Yet, if all we do is plant a new campus or church and simply borrow (or steal) members from other churches, we are doing a disservice to the Kingdom. That happens all too often.
What if this works? I mean, really works. What if God has positioned us to come alongside our sister churches and those unengaged nones actually get reached?
But it won't be easy.
How We Will Know If We've Done This Wrong
And, if we end up with a room full of people gathering weekly who have a church membership resume of local churches that reveals little more than systematic hopping to the latest version of church (you know, the church that "meets my needs" or "feeds me") then we will be guilty of launching a church campus that was not only NOT needed, but harmful for Kingdom growth.
That's not the goal (and seriously, why would it be?) But, apparently this happens often. So, we have to continually push against that model.
The unengaged and unsaved population dwarfs the church crowd. (Well, in some cases the church crowd actually could be categorized as unsaved. Yeah...I said it.) That's why we need another church on Fleming Island. That's why we need to pray for our sister churches on the island who are preaching the Gospel and making disciples as well.
Maybe....just maybe....we're supposed to reach this community together?
We are almost two years removed from the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case where the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.
As predicted, churches and Christian denominations began to discuss, or continued discussions, related to the recognition of such unions and the hosting of same-sex weddings. As expected, traditionally conservative denominations and churches have mostly held to the orthodox view that biblical marriage being between one man and one woman for . On the other hand, churches with more moderate or liberal viewpoints have declared acceptance of such unions. In some cases, strong affirmation has been stated. Truth be told, most of these groups had walked away from biblical inerrancy and truth so many decades prior that to have them state anything other than affirmation for that which stands opposed to biblical truth would be shocking.
Photo credit: peetje2 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA
While the law of the land is likely not changing, the marginalization of those holding to traditional, biblically orthodox viewpoint will increase. This seems to be inevitable.
Many conservative evangelicals (of which I would be counted) continue to seek engagement of those in our communities and neighborhoods with the truth of the Gospel, while not capitulating on what we deem to be biblical truth. This leads to conversations with those self-identifying as LGBT. I do mean conversations, in that engagement with those in our community requires both talking and listening. Yet, based on the wide differences between the culturally-accepted and prevalent worldview and the biblical one, these honest conversations will eventually be less about the weather, sports, and our children's school events and ultimately will lead to deeper questions regarding truth and life. Missional engagement requires such.
Marriage and Divorce
When conversing about same-sex marriage, the evangelical church must readily admit that the track record for pure heterosexual marriage, even within the church, has not always been stellar.
For far too long, many churches (even, conservative evangelical ones) have winked at divorce among members and many pastors have refused to preach on the topic for fear of an upheaval among members (and likely financial supporters.) The sin of omission regarding divorce lands under the category of "fear of man" and therefore is often never addressed. So, in this sense, when Christians started railing against the prospect of the legalization of same-sex marriage, many on the other side of the debate responded with accusations of hypocrisy based on the divorce rate and broken families of those standing under the "family values" banner.
The church must have a biblical stance on same-sex marriage. However, in many cases, the church must reevaluate it's stance on heterosexual marriage as well and seek to value it more deeply.
God speaks of this.
"Let marriage be held in honor by all..." (Hebrews 13:4a ESV)
Conversely, He declares his opinion regarding divorce.
"For I hate divorce, says the Lord..." (Malachi 2:16 NASB)
Most of us who have been in church at length have heard the verse from Malachi. Other translations allude to that phrase as well. As the context reveals, God's desire is that covenants be kept. The passage states much more than just this one phrase and actually declares why divorce is hated by God. Click here to read more from gotquestions.org on this matter.
The question remains...
Let's presume the Bible to be true (which I do) and that God's truth is absolute regardless of culture, circumstances, or the reader of the Word's preference. In our current state where legalized marriage between two people of the same gender exists, how does God's view same-sex divorce?
This is the question never addressed by prior generations because the boundaries of acceptable morality and legal definitions were different. Yet, today, here we are.
Does God hate gay divorce?
The Bible does give instances where divorce is allowed. Yet, in every case, the relational definition remains heterosexual. Even when a believer marries a non-believer (which is not God's desire, either) the marital union between man and woman fits the design by God as expressed in Scripture. Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC stated it well in this article from Christianity.com...
Even if these marriages were entered into sinfully in the first place, they are in fact marriages (emphasis added) because they signify the Christ/church bond of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:22-31), embedded in God’s creation design of male and female together (Mk. 10:6-9).
Therefore, from a biblical viewpoint, the marriage between two men or two women does not represent the image of the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. In other words, though legal in the eyes of the state, biblically the relationship is not truly a marriage.
Moore's statement continues...
Same-sex relationships do not reflect that cosmic mystery, and thus by their very nature signify something other than the gospel. The question of what repentance looks like in this case is to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), which means to cease such sexual activity in obedience to Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). A state, or church decree of these relationships as marital do not make them so.
And...that means divorce, from a biblical standpoint, does not actually enter the equation. God hates divorce. This truth has not changed. However, in the case of same-sex marital relationship, there is no marriage biblically and therefore, no divorce.