SBC 2012 in New Orleans was a good gathering for a denomination that is known for its ugly fights and petty disagreements. It is easy to dismiss the SBC (and other denominations) as simply an unnecessary organization that has little to do with true Christianity. But, I would disagree. While I don't place my faith in the SBC, it is a group of Christians that are commanded to walk together in unity (as are all Christians). When that happens, it is a good thing. Overall, there was a sense that most desire unity and a focus on Christ and our mission to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. The talk in the convention halls (at least in the conversations that I engaged in) almost exclusively involved mission, unity, and moving forward. Of course, there was talk about controversy and division, but it was primarily couched in the perspective that we hope we can move past this and just get along instead of hoping one side or another "wins." Maybe the "winner-take-all" language is beginning to wear on Baptists for the time being. I am hopeful.
A few observations about what I found Great, Bad, and Sad. Each of these points could turn into future blog posts, if I am so inclined. Some of these things are particularly related to my own experience at the Convention and would not necessarily be shared by all. There is certainly a lot to reflect on:
- The unanimous election of Fred Luter as SBC president is the highlight, for sure. It was a holy moment as 170 years of Baptist history as well as the founding of the SBC was practically repudiated by our call for an African-American to lead us. As Russell Moore said, "Jim Crow is dead, Jesus Christ is alive." Death has been swallowed up in victory and we experienced a bit of that as we see once again that God is reconciling all things to Himself in Christ. This election demonstrated once again that racism as an ideology will be forced to bow before the Cross of Christ. If you understand our history at all, you will know how amazing this is.
- Overall sense of unity. A resolution on unity around the understanding of the Gospel as presented in the Baptist Faith & Message passed almost unanimously. That is a good thing. Even though we have Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC, we do not wish to divide over soteriology or present one side over another. The SBC has spoken. The tent is large enough for both views and we will not tolerate one view trying to assert itself over another. Can we move on, now?
- Election of Dave Miller for 2nd VP. This one is a bit personal, as I was asked by Dave to give his nomination speech. Dave winning this thing was not supposed to happen. He is a pastor/blogger from Iowa on the same ballot as a strong Traditionalist leader from Mississippi in the home state of his father, the Executive Director of Lousiana who announced weeks ago. Dave's announcement was Friday night on this blog (and, of course, SBCVoices). It was inconceivable that Dave would win, but I don't think we know what that word means. Dave got 60% of the vote. I think that Dave is a good candidate who desires to see Baptists work together. He has strong opinions and I hope that he continues to share them as editor at SBCVoices.com. We need leaders who will speak out for the things that Dave believes in, not be quiet now that they are in leadership. I am glad to see a candidate like Dave and I was happy to be a part of electing him to help us work TOGETHER.
- Passing of Resolution 8 on the Gospel and Human Needs Ministry. I wrote this resolution to affirm and encourage all Baptists to see the meeting of human needs through acts of kindness, service, and love as implications of the Gospel. In Christ, false dividing walls come down and we are called to love others sacrificially. The Scripture clearly shows that demonstration of good deeds is to accompany proclamation of the Good News. Many Baptists do this, but I am hoping that this resolution will push forward the idea that this is what we are all supposed to be doing in our life and ministry all the time. Again, more blogging will come on this later.
- LOTS of younger people at the SBC this year. More than I have ever seen, and that can only be a good thing. It seems that we might be turning a corner in this area and repositioning for the future. Also, there was more ethnic diversity than I have ever seen. With the news that over 20% of SBC churches are now majority-minority/ethnic churches, it is good to see minority leadership emerging. The presence of young people and minorities in the SBC, especially moving into leadership, gives me a great deal of hope.
- There are still many in the SBC who greatly desire power and think that they are entitled to it. I don't understand this kind of thinking. It is great to serve and if asked to lead, we should do so humbly while making much of Jesus. I can't judge hearts and motives, but when I see people become angry because they did not get their way or because they think they lost power or influence in some way, then I know that their focus is on the wrong thing. I know this because I have done it before and had to just let things go and get a grip.
- Apart from the constant chatter from the floor about the use of microphones and parlimentary procedure, there was not much else that rates in the "Bad" category.
- SBC Leadership on the platform choosing not to allow discussion on Todd Littleton's motion to agree with the ERLC Trustees and Richard Land that his comments on the Trayvon Martin Affair were wrong. Yesterday morning, I saw Rev. Luter being interviewed by Soledad O'Brien on CNN. She asked him if his election was not a token gesture since Richard Land made comments about Trayvon Martin that some deemed as racist. Rev. Luter had to back up and explain those remarks. The Messengers should have been allowed to AGREE with the ERLC Trustees and Richard Land that his comments were wrong in a motion that would show that the messengers and the SBC as a whole repudiated such remarks. Not giving us that chance was shortsighted and could be construed as caring more about protecting Richard Land than making the right and prophetic statement. We need to think more about long-term consequences than we do.
- Not bringing out Dwight McKissic's resolution condemning racist language in Mormon Scriptures that have not been repudiated. Rev. McKissic made an impassioned plea for Southern Baptists to speak to these abusive comments, but we refused to do so. Some said that it was because we did not want to condemn just one aspect of Mormonism. Others said that it was because we did not want to get involved in a political debate. When have Baptists ever shied away from condemning anything? When have we ever shied away from politics? It can appear to some as though we are not interested in bringing up or condemning anything that might be perceived to be hurtful towards Mitt Romney and his campaign. But, bringing up the inherent racism in Mormonism and repudiating it now would have helped Mitt Romney in the long run by giving him a chance to repudiate the position of Mormonism in their Scriptures early in the summer. It would have also been the right and prophetic thing to do.
I think that on the previous two issues, Southern Baptists chose to not be prophetic on procedural grounds. But, it appears (on both counts) that Southern Baptist leadership did not want to take positions that might hurt their political candidate or people in the inner circle. We have a long history of thinking primarily about what benefits our perceived interests in situations like this and we are better served to think about long-term implications to the positions that we take on issues related to race and justice.
Overall, it was a good, historic convention. I am glad that I was a part of it. I am hopeful for the future of the SBC if we continue in this trajectory and I am excited to see the growing youth and diversity present in our largest gathering. Like everything else, however, we are only as strong as our dependence on the Lord. Let us look to Christ alone.