In the weeks ahead, I’m going to engage the big problems everyone is discussing in advance of New Orleans. Before that, I want to engage a problem at the root of these difficulties that many are missing.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is disagreeing on a lot right now. It is not the end of the world to disagree, especially when those disagreements are important. Most disagreements become a problem, however, when you mistreat each other in the disagreement.
Southern Baptists are mistreating each other in our disagreements. I am regularly shocked by how toxic our discourse is. We take swipes at each other on Twitter, question integrity, judge motives, talk badly about one another in our committee meetings, publicly demean when we should privately discuss, and cruelly accuse on our podcasts. If this is what we are doing in public, then I know it’s far worse in private.
I can think of two truly sad reasons we are doing this.
The first reason for our cruelty is that we have become like the world. The hatefulness in our world is an intrusive force that has invaded the church. We are cruel to each other because we watch it happening in the world, we admire it, we draw it into our hearts, and we delight in it. We love the attention, the hits, the likes, the views, the platforms, and the rush of adrenaline that comes with our public mistreatment of others. The Apostle Paul talks about this in Galatians 5:15 saying we “bite and devour one another.”
Southern Baptists have developed a taste for flesh and are eating one another alive.
The second reason for our cruelty is that we do not trust each other. This reason is less sinister but just as painful and equally destructive. Meaningful relationships can only happen where there is trust. The SBC is one massive swarm of relationships. Those relationships are dysfunctional right now because there is no trust. Instead, multiple groups question each other’s motives. We have developed a bad practice in our disagreements, not of thinking the best of one another but of thinking the worst.
Guidepost is a great example of this. Some in our convention are in favor of working with Guidepost as we deal with the sexual abuse crisis. Others are opposed. People in each camp harshly judge the motives of those with whom they disagree on this matter.
Some in favor of using Guidepost accuse those not in favor of stonewalling efforts to protect victims of sexual abuse. Some not in favor of using Guidepost accuse those who are of being liberals who don’t care about biblical sexuality.
I have been clear about my position on this issue. But an environment of trust requires that we keep our disagreements about the issues, not on suspicious interpretations of the invisible motivations of those with whom we disagree.
Because we are not doing this right now, distrust prevails, and our problems are increasing.
The biblical solution to worldliness and distrust is love.
Our disagreements require us to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Bible forbids both kind dishonesty and cruel truth. Compassionate clarity is the way forward as we speak.
As we listen to one another, the Bible forbids a spirit of suspicion and doubt but demands that love “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:17). I love you well when I listen without suspicion and desire to trust you—even when we disagree.
This is the biblical way to have a conversation.
These kinds of conversations often make it clear that we have honest disagreements. Such discoveries are a gift. Southern Baptists are in a crucial season of needing to determine who we are and who we are not. When our loving conversations reveal lines of separation, they have served a good and necessary function.
One of the most shocking statements in the whole Bible happens in John 13:35 when Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus thinks the acid test for whether we are his disciples is whether we have love for one another. Southern Baptists live a lot like we disagree with Jesus. We live like Jesus said, By this all people will know that you are my disciples if your side wins on the convention floor, or if you can disgrace one another online, or if you can win the election, or if you can show your position is right, or if you can undermine the person with whom you disagree.
This functional disagreement with Jesus is what is poisoning so much of convention life right now.
We must repent.
I have said that I think the future health of the SBC is found in being faithful, transparent, and safe. This issue is about our faithfulness in being the people of love that Jesus has called us to be. There is no way we can unite as a denomination when we as individuals are being faithless to Jesus’ call to love.
I’m terrible at predictions and make no claim to know what is going to happen in New Orleans or beyond. But I’ve been praying a lot about our convention and John 13:35, and I’m asking God for the grace that—whatever happens—a hateful world will look at our convention and see our love for one another as proof that we belong to the God of great love who sent his Son to die for us.
This is part 2 of a series of blog posts on the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention.