A lack of trust has been the big problem in our SBC for the last two years. Situations have arisen and the relentless Twitter wars have steadily eroded trust, particularly with immediate past Executive Committee (EC) and the alleged improper handling of sexual abuse cases, with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's (ERLC) leadership and focus, with a couple of our seminaries on the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT), with the operations of North American Mission Board (NAMB), and with the issue of women pastors/preachers.
I suppose the convention could have turned out to be worse. But to say that over 15,000 messengers left Nashville united would only be an aspiration, not the reality. In the highly anticipated presidential election, with four candidates, the eventual winner of the run off only won by a 52% to 48% margin, only 556 votes. And leading up to that was an apparent smear campaign aimed at Mike Stone, the eventual runner up. Meanwhile, high-profile, CP salaried individuals made public endorsements for the eventual winner. In my opinion, many who wanted to vote for Mike Stone were dissuaded at the eleventh hour due to the negative cloud put on him by some so obviously, publicly and loudly opposed to him.
Why is the presidential election so important for Southern Baptists? It's because the president has a certain power of appointment. He appoints the members of the Committee on Committees, which in turn serves to nominate many other positions on boards and agencies of the convention. It matters and makes a difference.
Here are some of the bigger issues we had as Southern Baptists going into the convention and what transpired during our meeting in Nashville.
1. The Executive Committee and allegations of mishandling reports of sexual abuse issues.
This must have been the most confusing issue for the average Southern Baptist. Allegations by survivors that their reports of sexual abuse not being heard and dealt with appropriately, denial of wrongdoing by the EC, and leaked letters and recordings have combined to add up to one thing - total confusion of issues and happenings for most. Of the 15,726 messengers present, only a handful of people know the truth, the rest of us would like to know so problems can be remedied and people be exonerated or held accountable. It's sad that this situation could not be remedied in house. But by the time Southern Baptists convened in Nashville, there was no choice but a third party investigation. Certainly, this is to our shame (1 Cor. 6).
The end result was the beginning process of an outside organization being hired to investigate the immediate past EC, which will be handled by a special task force group, hand picked and appointed by the new convention president, Ed Litton.
PRAY that as a task force is appointed by our new convention president that the right people will serve without partiality. This task force will be the liaison with Guidepost Solutions who will conduct the review.
2. The Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission
The ERLC drama has been extensive and going on since 2016. Russell Moore, who had led as president of this agency for the past eight years, resigned just prior to the meeting in Nashville. He had been under increasing criticism from many for matters to which he had spoken out about, and for matters that he had remained curiously silent about. His story intersects with the controversy surrounding the immediately past EC on matters of the handling of reports of sexual abuse. Most likely, he is the one who leaked letters criticizing the EC, which ultimately made the final push for a third party investigation.
PRAY that the board of trustees for NAMB will find that right man to lead the ERLC - one who will be a bridge builder and restore confidence in the work of the ERLC.
3. Critical Race Theory
Certainly CRT was a concern to many since the passing of Resolution 9 in 2019. Messengers submitted several resolutions on CRT for the Committee on Resolutions to consider. I submitted one such - here. Another was submitted by over 1,300 different people (a strategic move by a newly formed network of Southern Baptists called the Conservative Baptist Network) - here. And there were others. However, the Committee on Resolutions, chaired by James Merritt, chose not explicitly to address CRT. Instead, the committee brought to the messengers a good, but vague resolution to avoid the controversy of addressing CRT explicitly. When messengers went to the mic, James Merritt regrettably used tactics to shame and demean anyone who had an issue with the weakness of the resolution or wished to propose an amendment. It was obvious that he had no intention of listening to the messengers that he represented. I was standing at a mic myself, but was never called on. This was not one of the good moments of this year's convention.
The resolution adopted will do nothing to settle the issue. I was very encouraged; however, during the seminary presidents reports. I was deeply pleased with the overall resolve of the presidents, but mostly with Dr. Adam Greenway of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Time will only tell if CRT rhetoric that was coming out of Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary will cease or be embolden from the inaction taken in Nashville.
PRAY for our seminary leaders as they choose and oversee faculty. Their responsibility is great. Pray that they will indeed steer a clear and bold course that will not begin to embrace, teach, or speak the rhetoric of the ideology that underpins CRT.
4. The North American Mission Board
NAMB has been under fire for sometime now for a couple of significant issues that still have not been resolved. I believe that these will still be points of contention as we move forward. There have been concerns over an apparent lack of clarity and practice in church plants regarding women pastors. There has also been tension regarding NAMB's church planting cooperation with state conventions and the use of resources. There have been questions regarding the fiscal responsibility of NAMB. Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, who also ran for convention president, campaigned on these alleged issues with NAMB.
As NAMB continues to have a singular focus on church planting in large urban areas, the line between contextualizing and compromise may continue to be blurry. Many Southern Baptists are increasingly growing uncomfortable with what they are observing in some instances. And I don't expect the calls to cease for better accountability and transparency regarding how CP money is being used by NAMB. Just as the EC is having to undergo an investigation to rebuild trust in our convention system, NAMB needs to be more forthright with monetary spending, if it too wants to strengthen its trust with many Southern Baptists.
PRAY for Kevin Ezell, President of NAMB. Pray that he will have wisdom and discernment concerning how proactively to build trust with many Southern Baptists. Pray that NAMB's church planting work in large cities will be distinguished by a solid commitment to biblical doctrine and practice.
5. Women pastors/preachers
The topic of women pastors and women preaching was subject of interest in the last couple of years around our convention. Why? Beth Moore, who has now officially exited SBC life, was the focal point. Why? Because she was increasingly preaching to whole congregations on the Lord's Day in Southern Baptist churches. Some argued that she was a guest and not the pastor, which is true, of course. However, one has to ask the following question: Even so, is she not still picking up the task of the pastor? Her ministry was morphing into something that many felt was beginning to blur the line between a pastor's role and function.
Additionally, as mentioned above, women began to be observed on websites of NAMB sponsored church plants with the title of "pastor." In the 2020 Pastor's Conference, which did not happen because of the pandemic, a woman, who was listed as a pastor in her church, was scheduled to speak. This issue has been simmering for some time, yet it was not a subject picked up by the messengers during the convention.
PRAY that our seminaries and institutions will continue to be faithful to biblical teachings regarding gender roles and that we will be clear and consistent in our message and practice.
Major Negative Takeaways
We are not united, even if the voices on the stage claim that we are. There are important convictions and matters that are pulling us in different directions. Issues related to CRT and women pastors are not going away. And there is much trust to be rebuilt.
A significant dissatisfaction with NAMB is not going away and the call for more accountability and transparency will persist.
The problem of dealing with sexual abuse and misconduct claims will continue to be a matter that Southern Baptists are going to have to solve. There is much confusion regarding what constitutes abuse and who is to be held responsible. In reality, it is the local church or institution that must deal appropriately with any knowledge of sexual misconduct or abuse within their own congregation or organization. Ultimately, it's not the responsibility of the EC. This year our EC, on behalf of the churches, did vote that two churches who had not handled matters related to sexual misconduct/abuse not to be in friendly cooperation. (i.e. removed them as Southern Baptist churches) - see New York Times article. This is really all the EC can do on behalf of all of us who elect them to this position of responsibility.
Major Positive Takeaways
A lot of messengers showed up in the room! Over 15,000 of them. The most in 25 years. More participation is always better. It was encouraging to see many, many adults younger than myself.
The International Mission Board under the leadership of Dr. Paul Chitwood has been reinvigorated and revitalized. We celebrated the sending of 64 new missionaries during the Send Conference. Every Southern Baptist should be encouraged! This is what has been at the core of being Southern Baptist for 175 years - sending missionaries together to the nations.
God has blessed Southern Baptists. As major mainline denominations have continued to drift significantly into biblical infidelity and an embracing of worldly ideologies, the SBC continues strongly to protect our shared commitment to the Bible. Even the fact that we are having some tensions about CRT and women pastors is evidence of that commitment. Only God knows how these matters will ultimately play out in the next few years. But one thing is obvious to me after leaving Nashville. If many Southern Baptists at large had fallen asleep below deck on our journey together, they're wide awake now and on the deck asking important questions about our course ahead. Those steering are now having to answer. This is a good thing. Be encouraged.