I have been wrestling with putting my thoughts on last week’s SBC Annual Meeting into words. This post will be a meager attempt to review and critique the events of last week. Before I begin with my review, it is helpful to know; I did not grow up Southern Baptist. For that matter, I was not Baptist at all! I started dating a Baptist (GARBC) deacon’s daughter when I was in high school. We married, and I brought her back to Texas. When we began the search for a church home, we were cautioned about joining an SBC church because they were “too liberal.” My impression of this all changed when I learned about the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program (CP) is the giant kitty of money contributed by SBC churches and individuals for ministry work. In 1845 it was predominately for foreign missions. As the “Convention” the need for theological education became glaring, so the CP helped fund seminaries. Now the CP helps fund six major seminaries, two mission boards (IMB and NAMB), an annuity board (GuideStone), the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as the Woman’s Missionary Union. These all exist because of the cooperative effort of life-minded Southern Baptists. These entities also require financial oversight, which is had at the direction of the Executive Committee. For a frame of reference, the CP annual budget is in the $45mil range. I do not intend to address the committee on committees and the election of entity trustees, simply focusing on the Executive Committee’s (EC) responsibility to review financials and distribute CP dollars. For more on the EC click here.
With this background laid, let me present some of the significant issues addressed this last week—first, the alleged mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the Executive Committee. Second, the case of Critical Race Theory (CRT) within the CP-funded entities. Third, a hotly debated and contended race for President of the SBC.
- Mishandling of sexual abuse claims – It was overwhelmingly decided by the messengers to the annual meeting to place a third party over an investigation into the Executive Committee (EC). This third party will consort with a “task force” of SBC pastors to discover to what extent the EC knew about sexual abuse claims and how they responded to such claims.
- Critical Race Theory – At the 2019 meeting, the messengers passed the now-infamous resolution nine. This resolution characterized CRT as a “helpful analytical tool.” The 2021 meeting saw an attempt to rescind resolution nine; however, it failed through parliamentary procedures (which was not surprising). However, the Resolutions Committee did present resolution two as an attempt to generally address the concerns of CRT without offending brothers and sisters of color. Though contested, the resolution passed with a solid majority.
- SBC President – This year saw four candidates running for President of the convention, but in the end, it came down to the two front-runners, Ed Litton and Mike Stone. Litton has been a consistent voice of temperance and unity, while Stone has been a consistent voice of intense and sometimes controversial conservatism. In the end, Litton won the presidency by a somewhat narrow margin.
I understand this is just a very brief review of some of the significant moves during last week’s meeting. There certainly was much more that happened, but it is not my intention to give a play-by-play of the entire meeting. If you are looking for that, just check Twitter (#SBC21). However, having given a brief review of three significant moves, I would now like to critique these points.
Mishandling of sexual abuse claims
In full disclosure, I write this critique as someone who was sexually abused as a child. While my abuse was NOT at the hand of anyone in the SBC, it is nevertheless part of my story, but it is certainly not my identity. I will admit, the facts surrounding this issue are still a little fuzzy to me, but I suspect that is the very reason for an investigation. One of the concerns for members of the EC is not making victims relive the trauma of their abuse or drawing attention to victims who want to stay out of the limelight. While this may be a genuine concern, it does come across as something under the surface. I commented, “I feel like this is another search for WMDs in Iraq.” The investigation very well may come up empty, but I still think it is worth the integrity of the EC and the entirety of the SBC to dig deeper.
Some use 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 as a biblical argument for why a third party should not be used for this investigation. This position is not saying an investigation is not needed but should be led by SBC pastors. This is an attempt to “keep it in the family.” I think the 1 Corinthians 6 text is a stretch in its application, but I do understand the sentiment being expressed. For more on this, click here.
Critical Race Theory
It seems CRT has been taking the newsreels by storm in the last several weeks, but for Southern Baptists, this has been a two-year crisis. Again, in full disclosure, I am a Ph.D. student at a Southern Baptist seminary, and I have concentrated the last year of my studies on CRT. Let me be very clear on this point, CRT is a deconstructionist attack on any and every objective truth claim. This means CRT is in fundamental opposition to the objective truth of the gospel. For individuals to dismiss, this reflects they either do not understand CRT or are intentionally misleading about the end goal of CRT. At the same time, CRT has been used as one of the most polarizing topics since I became a Southern Baptist. There is no common ground between those who are pro-CRT and those who are anti-CRT.
Ibram X. Kendi, a leading voice for CRT and the “woke” movement, presents the case for anti-racism in his book How to be Anti-Racist. His premise is this; you are either racist or anti-racist. To simply say you are not racist is in itself a racist sentiment. According to Kendi, the only way for an individual to be anti-racist is to fight for anti-racist laws and against established structures continually. In Kendi’s argument, there is no middle ground. I came away from Nashville with the feeling that this is the case within the SBC. Either you are fighting for anti-woke resolutions, or you are guilty of being woke. I am not so sure this is the healthiest approach to the problem, but I am confident that it drives a wedge into our cooperative concentration as a convention.
Wow! I could not tell if this was the SBC presidential election or if I was reliving the 2020 election over again. I looked into every one of the candidates before going to Nashville, and these are the conclusions I drew: Adams was too unknown, Mohler was too established, Stone was too harsh, Litton was too soft. At the same time, Adams was for full disclosure and transparency, Mohler was for statesmanship, Stone was for doctrinal clarity, and Litton was for unity. In the end, Pastor Ed Litton won in the run-off over Mike Stone. Regardless of where one placed their vote, Ed Litton deserves our prayers and support. I will be the first to say this; I would not want that VOLUNTEER job. Even if it was paid with a substantial six-figure salary, you could not get me to do it. Admittedly, Litton was not my first choice (neither was Stone, for that matter!). I have several concerns with President Litton (namely his appointees and how they might impact major SBC entities, but it is too soon to make a final judgment on this), BUT I will not speak ill of the man, and I will promise to pray for him. I believe his message of unity is something that we as a convention need right now. We need to put the sabers away and get back to work we have cooperated to do as Southern Baptists.
In closing, I come away from the SBC annual meeting generally encouraged. We have a lot of work to do, but I believe our convention will persevere through the trials that lay ahead. So long as we stand on the inerrancy and sufficient authority of scripture. And as long as we proclaim, with power and confidence, a clear gospel of repentance, redemption, and reconciliation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We must understand that gospel and that gospel alone saves us from the judgment of sin and that we will not fully understand justice and perfection until the inauguration of the New Heavens and the New Earth. We must hold fast the hope of glory which Christ in us! This is the Southern Baptist Convention I love.