This week I had the opportunity to serve as a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention, which was held in St. Louis, MO. I went as a voting delegate for Chapel Hill Baptist Church. The convention met to elect a new SBC President and address various issues and practices pertinent to the day in which we live. I will not comment on every thing that occurred while I was there, but I will offer a few thoughts on the major points. Also, below you will find a few photos that I snapped with my trusty Moto G.
Let me state here that this was my first SBC Convention, so everything had a “new” feel to me as I wandered about the different exhibit rooms and the massive hall where the main event was taking place. There were a little over 7000 voting delegates present and my fellow Southern Baptists congregated from all over the nation. All of the major SBC entities were present as well… IMB, NAMB, BGR, etc. All of the major Baptist seminaries and schools were also represented.
Highlights in Bullet Form
- Racism & Healing – the SBC did a great job this year bringing the topic of racism and reconciliation to the forefront. In many ways this was a truly historic effort as the National Baptist Convention was invited to participate in addressing the issue at hand. President Jerry Young spoke on a few occasions and did an amazing job of representing his constituency. One powerful phrase that he spoke to us was a true highlight of the event when he said that “We need to pass the salt and turn on the light!” He was clear, succinct, and to the point. He was also very respectful to all in the room.
- Confederate Battle Flag – this year the SBC made a resolution (#7) to ask Southern Baptists to stop flying the Confederate flag. I have heard a lot of talk about this and most people seem to lean toward one extreme or another. Yes, wording was even changed to make the intent crystal clear. My personal take on the subject is that it was not suggested that we somehow re-write history or condemn our southern heritage, rather that it is time to move beyond a “symbol” which is often construed as hateful and divisive. Sometimes this type of sacrifice must be offered to heal old wounds and build bridges between peoples and cultures.
- A Test of SBC Unity & Electing a President – indeed, my first experience at #SBC2016 included a “not so subtle” spiritual battle of the will, so to speak. The election of our new president was a bit contentious with the upwardly mobile crowd desiring to wrestle control away from the older suit and tie group. This was a wild and woolly affair for sure and involved three ballot votes to come to a conclusion. During the first ballot, three men were considered. David Crosby, Steve Gaines, and J.D. Greear were the three. David Crosby was knocked out during the first round of voting. A second vote was taken and a clear majority could not be confirmed due to some illegal ballots being cast. The illegality was not some sort of “hanky panky” on the part of ballot counters, but involved cases where people marked the wrong number or used a wrong ballot. So, confusion ensued and so did a fair amount of grumbling. We were all notified of a third vote to be taken at a specified time the following morning. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets were ablaze with suggestive and often rude commentary from the SBC world. Things didn’t look good for a while, then the following morning, J.D. Greear announced that he was withdrawing his name for consideration and asked everyone to unify behind Steve Gaines. It was mentioned that both men were troubled by the contentiousness and division of the election and both considered dropping out for the greater good. In the end, they prayed together and J.D. sacrificed his own candidacy for the unity of SBC. This was an amazing moment and the crowded convention hall rallied around Steve Gaines as our new president.
So, let me wrap up with a few personal thoughts. Of course, there were many other things that occurred at the convention. I attended various discussion panels, toured the large exhibit hall, bumped into former IMB colleagues, and heard lots of good preaching and singing. Some of the preaching brought me to tears and one of the panel discussions raised my blood pressure. The biggest “take away” that I can share is about the passion and attendance of the younger pro-Greear crowd. Even though I may not agree with the “win at all cost” attitude that some of them exude, I do admire their fervor and concern for the future of our denomination and advancement of the Gospel. In contrast to that, I do not approve of those from the older group who believe that nothing should change in the face of an obvious decline in Gospel advancement. What is most needed is to find a way to bring both groups of Baptists together in compromise of agendas for the betterment of the Gospel Work of Jesus Christ. J.D. Greear offered up a model of this when he willingly gave up his candidacy for the betterment of our denomination. I pray that we will all be willing to sacrifice personal agendas for the sake of the lost all around us… amen.