Here are some of my observations from the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. For those readers who attend Wilkesboro Baptist, I’ll be giving a more thorough report on Wednesday evening June 29 at 6:00 PM. We will have childcare and would love for you to attend in person. We will record that report and make available on our podcast channel as well.
Congregational, bottom up polity is both good and interesting. The SBC Annual Meeting functions a little like a church with congregational government. Decision-making authority rests with the messengers who attend. This means that the annual meeting each year is the time when decisions are made. This also means that any one of the messengers can speak to the body at a microphone. The benefit of this model is that the messengers can overrule the platform (moderator) with sufficient desire (majority). Our polity provides opportunity for interesting moments. Some pastors/messengers will take advantage of the microphone with little or nothing helpful to say. One pastor took about a minute to preach. We are a denomination where decisions are made during one big business meeting. In reality, the only time decisions are made regarding our denomination is in the two days we meet annually for the convention of messengers.
The quote of the week came from Dr. Al Mohler, President at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, regarding our polity: “When Southern Baptists are stupid, they get to be stupid for a year.”
It appears to me at least that the messengers got the big decisions right. The most significant issue going into this annual meeting had to do with the Sexual Abuse Task Force. The SATF was appointed at the annual meeting 2021. For context, here are my reflections from last year and a recent post regarding the investigation’s findings.
The SATF presented two motions to the messengers. The first motion recognized their inability to adequately address the long term solutions needed by recommending an implementation task force:
“That the messengers to the 2022 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention approve the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF), authorized to operate for one year, to be renewable by each subsequent annual convention as needed.”
The second motion addressed the need for a ‘Ministry Check’ website:
“That the messengers to the 2022 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention authorizes the ARITF, in coordination with the Executive Committee, to create a ‘Ministry Check’ website and process for maintaining a record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity.”
You can read the full text of the motions here. Both motions passed overwhelmingly by the messengers. While it was disheartening to read the investigative report, it is always the right thing for followers of Jesus to seek the truth. I believe the SATF motions are motivated by a right and righteous response and a desire for Southern Baptists (followers of Jesus) to do better with regard to handling sexual abuse.
Southern Baptists remain conservative and Bible-believing. One of the areas of disagreement within our denomination relates to the view of some that the SBC is in a theological drift toward liberalism. I don’t believe the evidence supports this view at all. Theologically speaking, conservative and Bible-believing go hand in hand. Around a half century ago Southern Baptists were dealing with a liberal theological drift where seminary professors questioned the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. Those days appear to be gone. The leadership of SBC entities are all theologically conservative and Bible believing. One of the more interesting tensions at this year’s annual meeting came from the Credentials Committee. Tasked with handling a motion from last year’s annual meeting addressing Saddleback Community Church who ordained women as pastors, the Credentials Committee recommended further study to discern what the Baptist Faith and Message intended with the word “pastor.” Two seminary presidents (as messengers) addressed this issue. First, Dr. Al Mohler (SBTS), spoke against the recommendation on the grounds that it was untenable for a study committee to be formed to study the usage of words in the Baptist Faith and Message, especially the word “pastor.” Afterward, Dr. Adam Greenway (SWBTS), recommended an amendment to the Credentials Committee motion giving them the opportunity to study to what extent a church had to agree with the Baptist Faith and Message to be considered in cooperation with the SBC. Greenway rightly pointed out in a subsequent post on social media that the SBC is confessional (BFAM), but not creedal (we don’t have to affirm a specific creed to be considered in cooperation with the SBC). Ultimately, Greenway’s amendment failed and the Credentials Committee withdrew the original motion. Essentially, this issue reflects the current tension in the denomination. I don’t believe our tension is between conservative and liberal factions, but rather between conservative (Bible-believing, but open to a broad and inclusive stances on churches that cooperate) and fundamentalist (Bible-believing, but more narrow in defining churches that cooperate) factions.
We have a long way to go. We have a long way to go in several areas. First, with regard to the implementation task force, the next year will be important in the life of our denomination. Pray that this task force to be appointed will be faithful to the task of implementing ongoing strategies to guide our denomination in dealing with issues of sexual abuse. Second, with regard to differences of opinion, disagreements, and social media, it is one thing to disagree. It is another thing to be disagreeable and dishonest. Pray that we will seek and speak the truth in love and consider the best about one another rather than the worst. Third, with regard to our ongoing mission, we did commission 52 new IMB missionaries! We must ever be grateful for the cooperating partnerships that spread the gospel to our nation and to the nations. But there are still more than six thousand unreached people groups who have never heard the gospel. Pray that our continued cooperation will advance the gospel throughout the world.