As a child and teenager attending my conservative Southern Baptist church, I knew nothing of the theological and organizational controversies taking place at the upper levels of the Southern Baptist Convention. The only inkling I had that something was not right in SBC-land was when I was living in Ohio as a junior higher and our pastor resigned from our church to attend seminary. At that point, I had to be educated on what seminary was. We lived in Dayton, Ohio and I heard someone in the church ask the pastor if he was going to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky. That would make sense logistically since Louisville is only about three hours away. Our pastor said there was no way he could attend SBTS and that he would be enrolling in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. He explained something related to theology and not agreeing with what was happening at SBTS. I really didn't know what he was talking about. (Thankfully, SBTS is now a highly recommended conservative, biblically-grounded SBC seminary. I am currently studying for my doctorate there.)
My family soon moved to Fort Worth as well when my dad was transferred there. Following high school and four years in college, I surrendered to God's pastoral call into full-time vocational ministry and enrolled at SWBTS.
I had been an active Southern Baptist my entire life, but the denominational politics, the conservative resurgence, and other elements of SBC life were basically unknown to me. I just knew that I loved Jesus. I wanted to serve him. I felt called. I wanted to learn. I wanted to be used by God. And, I knew pastors and leaders who recommended SWBTS as my next step.
Those years at SWBTS were wonderful for me. My love for SWBTS makes recent events more grievous for me.
My naïveté regarding SBC politics soon melted as a student at SWBTS. I began to understand the need for a conservative resurgence and discovered that much of that process had already happened as this was the early 1990s and the shift was now seemingly inevitable. For that, I remain grateful.
The conservative resurgence was needed and I am thankful for those who did what must be done in order for it to happen. Yet we know that there was a great cost for this turn. I affirm what Dr. Albert Mohler, President of SBTS has stated...
The American denominational landscape has experienced significant shifts in recent times, but one major story stands out among them all—the massive redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention. America's largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention was reshaped, reformed, and restructured over the last three decades, and at an incredibly high cost.
For years, the SBC made the news. This was due to the conflict within our ranks. Unity was a concept sought, but not experienced.
Then, after conservatives took leadership, things settled down a bit. Those who would not remain in the SBC left, forming other organizations and networks. The annual meetings were not as divisive and dramatic. The only big surprise at annual meetings for years seemed to center on what Pastor Wiley Drake may say when he found opportunity to speak in the open forum at one of the microphones.
Then, things began to be shaken up.
Political viewpoints partnered with racial statements by some, either in hallways or on the microphones, left many wondering where their place was in the SBC. Presidential elections for the most part were not dramatic. In many cases, we just had two conservatives running against each other. There for years a sense that those who were instrumental in the conservative resurgence would "get their turn" and be nominated with expectation to be elected as SBC president. For the most part, this happened (well, except when Dr. Frank Page was elected in 2005 and 2006.)
For the first time in years, I now have church members asking what we are going to do as Southern Baptists.
I have church members and friends asking me who I will vote for as president this year. In the past, if anyone asked anything of me regarding the convention it was "Are you going to the SBC this year?"
I have a number of people asking my take on what just happened this week at my alma mater regarding Dr. Paige Patterson. I'm asked what I would do if a woman came to me after being physically assaulted by her husband (easy answer - call the cops.)
Questions now come regarding racial issues and social justice.
Questions about the news stories regarding the aforementioned Dr. Page have come.
There are many questions, and as we have already seen earlier this week, Baptist pastors are not immune to letting anger and fear lead to wrong statements and offensive social media posts.
A Reckoning in the SBC
It is clear there is something wrong in my SBC. It is sad. It is humiliating. It is embarrassing. It is not to be ignored.
Dr. Albert Mohler wrote a poignant article about this earlier this week. Full article is here. Of all that Dr. Mohler said, this stuck out to me:
Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.
Sadly, I agree.
So, Now What?
Here's what I know will NOT fix the SBC...
- A resolution won't fix our problems.
- A high-level political strategy won't fix our problems.
- Meetings with high-ranking politicians won't fix our problems.
- Finely-crafted press releases won't fix our problems.
- Ignoring and excusing the sins of others, even those we love, appreciate, and respect, won't fix our problems.
- Venerating SBC warriors and heroes won't fix our problems.
- Shifting away from biblical complementarianism won't fix our problems.
- Bowing to cultural mandates won't fix our problems.
- Standing proudly as self-righteous American evangelicals won't fix our problems.
This list could go on and on, but this blog post is already too long, so I'll slow down.
Our problems are not public relations problems.
We know what we need and it's not a tepidly defined revival (though true revival is needed.) We need to submit to God during these days.
We need the right man, his man, as our SBC president and we need SBC messengers to vote for that man, not against another. Each man running for president, as I have stated before, is not only qualified, but godly. One has preached at our church. The other has partnered with our church in helping send a church planter to a nearby city. Qualifications of these men are not questioned. Yet, for such a time as this, I believe we will be well served having J.D. Greear as our SBC president. I was sent this link earlier today by a friend and appreciate Greear's timely and wise words.
Yet, even J.D. Greear (or Ken Hemphill) won't fix our problems.
We, the SBC, have been humiliated and this has been done by God, I believe. Humbled may be a better word, but it feels humiliating.
God does not need the SBC and we must acknowledge this. <Tweet This>
What embarrassing event will happen next? What will be revealed? I don't know. In all honesty, I don't believe we have dealt well with our most recent embarrassment, so we definitely are not positioned for another.
The One Thing
Yet, God has given us an option. We don't need to ask what God's will is for the SBC. We need to read His Word once more (not that we haven't been) just to remind ourselves what his will is (it hasn't changed,) then move back "into it."
How does that happen? One repentant heart at a time. Repentance that leads to transformation, to change, to humble service to our Lord, to the mission of Kingdom work.
Friends, brothers, sisters - we have sinned. Since we are the SBC, we are complicit. The wages of sin remain the same as they always have. We must turn from the ways of pride, selfishness, idolatry, and more, and return humbled to the Lord. I don't believe he is through with the SBC, but we must remember that he does not need us. We need him.
That One Thing? Repentance.