This past week Southern Baptists from across the nation gathered in St. Louis, Missouri for the annual convention meeting. I do not often have the opportunity to be a part of this tradition and business meeting, but since it was in St. Louis, I was able to attend.
For a little context here…Southern Baptists are the largest protestant denomination in the world, with approximately 15.3 million attenders weekly in SBC churches. Additionally, the SBC gives the second most of any denomination to missions and charities on a yearly basis (1st being Roman Catholics). We have a rich heritage. However, as a part of that heritage, we have also made our fair share of mistakes.
A few weeks ago I was patrolling the news sites, as is my custom, when I discovered several stories on the general convention meeting of another denomination. Every article presented a bleak picture: protests, fighting over LGBT clergy, same sex marriage, transgender bathroom policies, and more. As I have friends in the denomination, I sent a few messages expressing my prayers and support for them.
Heading for St. Louis with my family, I thought about current events and what that would mean at the SBC. I entered into the convention hall, found my seat in the back (apparently these Baptists did not know the best seats were in the back…), began reading through the book of programs, and waited for the show to begin. One by one, resolutions, reports, and motions were read and brought before the messengers. After 4 hours….no fireworks. Came back after lunch, nestled into my chair, and watched – resolutions, reports, and motions were read and brought before the messengers. After 4 more hours…no fireworks. I thought to myself, “What’s wrong with these folks?! Don’t they know we are Baptists?! We fight about everything…”
The following morning, I came into the arena, sat with some friends and prepared for the day. There were three things on the table that were sure to bring controversy. First, we were trying to elect a president. The governing documents of the convention require a candidate to receive 50% of the vote. The first election offered three men. The first was a Godly man, conservative, with great integrity. The second was a Godly man, conservative, with great integrity. The third was a Godly man, conservative, with great integrity…What’s a convention to do? The first vote narrowed the field down to two – a Godly man, conservative, with great integrity vs. a Godly man, conservative, with great integrity. After the second vote, both candidates were basically split evenly with neither gaining the majority (how does that happen with only two candidates you ask? A great story for another time…). So here we were on the second morning…the tension was palpable…the surrogates of candidates were whipping up the vote….backroom deals were aplenty…one by one folks were going to the microphone to tell how great their candidate was and how terrible the other one was…ONLY IT WASN’T. Instead, it was time for the vote and the candidates came on the stage. It was quiet as the first addressed the messengers…”I have decided to withdraw my name from nomination,” said J.D. Greear. He went on to explain that one candidate with 51.1% and another with 49.9% was no way to go and so for the sake of unity, he would withdraw and vote for Steve Gaines as the new SBC president. The crowd unanimously voted in favor of his motion to name Gaines the new SBC president…
Issue two, the messengers were presented with a motion regarding joining the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board together. No vote was held, but a calm, reasonable discussion was facilitated as people were discussing the most important issue – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Issue three, would the SBC messengers ask all SBC churches to “consider” no longer displaying the Confederate flag. I confess, it was the most divided of the issues. Some believe the flag is a display of racism, while others maintain that it speaks to their heritage and familial sacrifice. Truth is, I understood both sides…You know what happened? Messengers spoke about the matter respectfully, time was extended for extra debate, and brothers all spoke about our common devotion to the gospel. In the end, overwhelmingly the messengers voted to ask SBC churches to “prayerfully consider” removing the Confederate flag from their grounds for the sake of the gospel. There were some that didn’t agree…some that saw it as an answer to prayer – each of you has to be the judge – but you know what? Within minutes there was total peace and brothers and sisters were worshiping with Julio Arriola and singing “This Blood” by Rita Springer.
Every heritage, whether of faith or ethnicity, has great moments and moments we would like to forget. This is true of Southern Baptists. But this week…I was humbled and proud to be a part of a convention of churches in unity. While other denominations are fighting the cultural war, Southern Baptists won the war for truth 25 years ago and now stand in unity. We have disagreements from church to church and no two Baptists are exactly the same, but we have uniting principles that keep us from fighting the cultural war of relativism – we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! Where truth reigns, so does unity…That is why I was proud to be a Baptist this week.