Encouragements and Discouragements from the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting
This is a smorgasbord of reflections from the 2022 convention. Each are labeled so you can easily focus on issues of interest to you and skip those you wish.
Encouragement: Pastor’s Conference The Pastor’s conference happens before the convention. Essentially, it’s a relentless assault of sermons with a little music in between. It can be exhausting, and I feel for some of the preachers who catch you when your mind is jello, but there was a lot of good preaching.
Discouragement: NAMB This is multifaceted. First of all, NAMB knows that many Southern Baptists are concerned about their vision, philosophy, theological drift, and money-spending habits. I won’t go into all the details. You can research that on your own, but the concerns are legitimate. I share them. Unfortunately, NAMB did absolutely nothing to alleviate or even address any of those concerns. Instead of leading with transparency and humility while trying to clear the air to begin building back trust, NAMB paid for lunch, flew in Tim Hawkins to make us laugh, and gave us all Echo dots… The other major part of this was how the motion for a forensic audit on NAMB was handled. It was the first new business brought forth, but it was not addressed until the end of the convention when there was no time left to change it and bring it back, even though the parliamentarians acted like it was an easy, open and shut case that it was against the constitution and bylaws. I understand that the motion as written might have legitimately been unconstitutional, but the way it was handled only furthered distrust. An audit on NAMB had a lot of support. You could feel it in the room and hear it from the applause. It would have been better for the committee and parliamentarians to admit right away that the motion would not work and suggest a path that would work. Instead, it felt like another disrespectful brush off.
Encouragement: Music The music was fantastic. Not only did the bands do an amazing job at song choices and leading in a way that kept the focus on God instead of themselves, but the messengers sang out in unison. It was a joyful time. Though, I’ll admit there were times I couldn’t help but see the irony in all of us worshipping together in song, knowing that in a couple minutes we would be arguing about business. This is a huge exaggeration, but picture a scenario where boxers have to hug each other for 10-15 minutes between rounds.
Discouragement: Voting Reform (or lack thereof) Voting reform is a huge issue for the SBC, but it never seems to be a huge issue for SBC leaders. For years, I have been discouraged at how much pushback and how little concern people at the top have had for making changes so that more Southern Baptists can have voices and votes in their denomination. I fully understand the desire to keep our elections secure. I am not a proponent of letting everyone vote from home on their computers and phones. I think we could keep the same secureish system by having satellite sites across the country where messengers could still be in person voting live with paper ballots just like normal. All we would need is to relay the vote counts. I don’t even think we need to have every convention be a site. If we could just have enough sites that everyone could make it to one within a day’s drive, I’d be giddy. I randomly got to speak with Bart Barber, the new SBC president, at the convention and voice my concerns. Hopefully he listened.
Encouragement: Presidential Candidates Bart Barber is the new SBC President. I voted for Tom Ascol, but I felt both were satisfactory candidates. I just felt Ascol was more open to voting reform and would work harder to make reforms, but I am not disappointed to have Barber as the president. I was disappointed in how he addressed the plagiarism issue, but I still think we went in the right direction this year with the president. Some people think Barber is theologically moderate and a natural successor to Greear and Litton. I think he is a far better candidate and solidly conservative.
Discouragement: Rick Warren and the Saddleback Issue Messengers were hoping to vote on whether or not to disfellowship Saddleback Church over their ordination of three female pastors. We never got the chance. The credentials committee fumbled this issue by bringing forth what proved to be an unpopular motion, realizing their mistake, and then withdrawing the motion and leaving messengers with no opportunity to vote about it at all. There was no reason to drag this out, especially after Rick Warren was allowed to give a long speech to the whole convention. He called it his “love letter to the SBC”, but it came across as an egotistical defense for pragmatism over doctrinal soundness. You can watch the speech here. People can try and make the case, unsuccessfully from my perspective, for pastoring as a gift rather than an office and pastors who are not elders, but the Baptist Faith and Message does not have such a distinction. Warren knew that, and he knew the trouble and division Saddleback’s actions would bring to the SBC. The messengers are not the cause of this drama. Rick Warren and Saddleback church brought it upon us. Furthermore, one of their female pastors saw this “change of philosophy for women in ministry” as “revolutionary.” Add to that the fact that Warren’s successor comes from a church where his wife was a “teaching pastor”, which is also the role she will have at Saddleback. Additionally, if pastoring is just a gift and not an office, why is ordination necessary? Why would those women need to be appointed to the role of pastor? What’s happening with Saddleback is more than just semantics, and there’s no good reason for them to bring this division. They should have withdrawn from the SBC peacefully and saved everyone the trouble. We could stand to disfellowship some other churches as well. There are more SBC churches with female pastors. Others should be disfellowshipped for separate reasons. Furtick’s Elevation and FBC Orlando come to mind.
Encouragement & Discouragement: Abortion and the ERLC The encouraging aspect of this is that I believe our denomination is thoroughly pro-life. I don’t think we are drifting away from that. The discouragement is that we have failed to clearly state what I believe should be our ultimate goal: equal rights for preborn children.
I am not going to get into the debate about political incrementalism and what should or should not be supported at a legislative level. Instead, I believe Southern Baptists should not be like political parties that have a hidden agenda they do not want exposed until they get what they want. Rather, we should make our end goal clear on abortion, and that should be equal rights for preborn children.
There’s a lot of talk about compassion around this subject, but I ask us to also consider whether we are being compassionate to the children who are being murdered and assassinated with no ability whatsoever to defend themselves. I think about if those children could read, and they came into our meeting, picked up one of our books, opened it up and saw an ad for one of our ERLC events with the tagline “Making Abortion Unnecessary”. I understand the sentiment, which you can read about from the ERLC, and I do not make these comments with any malicious intent, but I imagine they would feel incredibly offended, disrespected, and unvalued. It would be a slap to their face, perhaps like it would be a slap to the face of our precious sexual abuse survivors if they were to open up that book and see an ad for one of our events with the tagline “Making Rape Unnecessary”. Understand I’m not equating the situations of women with rapists, but rather the offense I believe those preborn children would feel. The arguments I have heard against the goal of equal rights are well intentioned but are also centered around pragmatism. They don’t believe it will look good. They don’t believe it will work. But when it comes to declaring what’s right, we must not concern ourselves with how it looks, whether it will work, or whether we even believe it could ever happen. Without equal rights, we might be able to convince women that abortion is unnecessary, but I do not believe we will be able to convince them that the child inside them is truly equal. Let us please stop being afraid to stand for what is right and make our agenda clear that we want equal protection for preborn children and be done with this. Instead, we pass resolution after resolution slowly walking our way forward without ever being clear on the endgame. The Resolutions Committee never wants to bring anything forward on equal protection, and the messengers continue to resist bringing one out for a vote, like the resolution presented this year.
Without equal rights, we might be able to convince women that abortion is unnecessary, but we will not be able to convince them that the child inside them is truly equal.
Encouragement & Discouragement: Sexual Abuse Issues I was encouraged that the prevailing attitude around issues of sexual abuse was one of lament, repentance, and motivation to change. There were legitimate mistakes and sins to be dealt with and necessary changes to be made. I also believe the changes we voted to make were sensible and helpful, except Resolution 5, which I wrote about already. I think the heart of the Sexual Abuse Task Force and the messengers was in the right place.
I was discouraged by how legitimate concerns were so easily dismissed and poorly deliberated. The Guidepost issue was not addressed well. The focus at the convention was more about their support for the LGBT worldview than their approach to the investigation, which Megan Basham highlights much more successfully at the Daily Wire. Of course, Guidepost’s worldview influences how they approach their investigation, but that was all fumbled at the meeting. The SBC needs to be discerning as we move forward with these issues. It is easy to overcorrect and be carried by the winds of a cultural narrative. The same lack of discernment, ignorance, and knee-jerk reactions have been happening with other issues in recent conventions. I am encouraged at how few examples have been found of sexual abuse being poorly handled in the SBC churches themselves, and I hope it stays that way and improves. The media would have us think the SBC is rotten and needs to go. They have and will continue to fuel the fire, exaggerate, and outright lie about what’s going on. Don’t forget that they have an agenda. They do not want the SBC to exist because they do not want conservative Christians to exist.
Discouragement: Ed Litton I just wanted Litton to come before the messengers and humbly, sincerely, and publicly repent. It would have meant a lot. Even if he didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong, he could have explained why and tried to clear the air. Too often the scandals in our denomination are handled like the scandals in the world: ignore it and wait for the next big news to distract from it.
We’re still sending missionaries to difficult places. That’s always a high point and a good place to end.