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First Thoughts

Four Facts about Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention

Part 3: The Southern Baptist Convention Is a Powerful Force for Good

Popular to Condemn

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is going through a difficult time. Scandals, numeric decline, disgraced leaders, and bumbling responses to all the above make it unpopular to praise our convention.

In times of difficulty, enemies make their voices heard. It is popular to condemn the SBC as everything from a once-great organization whose time has passed to the embodiment of evil in the contemporary religious scene. In this climate, critics score points when they paint with a broad brush of corruption and predict the end of the SBC. But this currently fashionable trend of convention condemnation is not going to end well because our convention is not condemnable.

There’s a time to candidly admit our faults and to pass resolutions about our failings. There is also a time to be honest that the SBC is a phenomenal force for good. Right now, it is time for the latter.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

It’s not like there is no reason for concern in the SBC. We have more than our fair share of problems. The most significant one concerns abuse in our convention. The SBC abuse problem has included the existence of abuse in some churches, the improper handling of abuse allegations in other churches, and, most recently, a long and complicated response to the abuse crisis that, after five years, has not made very many people happy.

We have other problems. Our denomination has been in a serious pattern of decline for decades, and today, we are embroiled in debates about what convictional parameters ought to frame our cooperation.

I have no wish to dodge or deny any of these problems, nor does our convention. For years, we have repeatedly expressed our will to address these matters honestly and robustly. My argument is not that our convention is free from problems. It is that, in spite of our problems, we are still a powerful force for good.

A Powerful Force for Good

In the contemporary rush to condemn, it is possible to overlook all that is wonderful about our convention. The SBC is home to the largest and most faithful seminaries in the entire world. The International Mission Board is the largest mission-sending body in the history of evangelical Christianity. The North American Mission Board is fighting back against the creep of secularism with the greatest church-planting effort in history.

Our convention is full of some of the most amazing leaders in contemporary Christianity like Al Mohler, whom history will record as the finest Baptist theologian in the 21st Century. We have other leaders like Paul Chitwood, who is laying down his life to take the gospel to the nations, Tommy Green, who is the masterful leader of the Florida Baptist Convention, David Dockery, and O.S. Hawkins, who are restoring respect to one of our finest seminaries, and Jason Allen who is one of the single most effective leaders in evangelical Christianity. That list of names doesn’t even consider phenomenal pastors like Steve Gaines, Jimmy Scroggins, Willy Rice, H.B. Charles, Fred Luter, and Mark Dever. And these are just a sprinkling of the more recognizable names.

Even more important than those names are the millions of excellent Sunday School teachers, student volunteers, children’s workers, and deacons. They have names like Bobbie Reiter, Tami-Jo Riley, Sue Sheetz, Terry Davidson, Mark Eiginger, John Pecnik, R.C. Mills, Angela Ryan, Brent Blanchette, Dave Holland, and Sue Baumgardner. You might not recognize any of those people, but over the years, I have come to know every one of them. They have given their lives to funding the Great Commission, improving ministry, helping others meet Jesus, and making sure all who come to our churches are safe, happy, and loved.

You can even see evidence of our incredible convention in our numeric decline. Everyone hates decline because everyone wants to grow. But the Bible is clear that God has made us responsible for our faithfulness while he maintains responsibility for fruitfulness. I’m thankful that in the midst of a difficult season of decline, our convention has not compromised faithfulness but is standing on the truth and trusting God to give the growth. Honestly, this is gutsy faith, and it is glorious.

There is also evidence of strength in our response to abuse. It is obvious to everyone that the convention response to abuse response isn’t making anyone happy right now. But what massive, decentralized organization that meets once a year can you think of that could do any better given the extent of problems we have faced? I have been a Southern Baptist all my Christian life, and I have always found that when you give Southern Baptists enough time and enough information, we eventually get in the right spot. Southern Baptists are going to figure this thing out, and when we do, we will be stronger.

Honesty about the Good and the Bad

At a time when the SBC is going through a hard time, it is really important to avoid piling on about the bad and be honest about the good. That is important as a matter of truth-telling. It is also important as a matter of mission. The SBC is much bigger and far better than its failings. A world without it will be a diminished one that is worse, not better.

The truth about the SBC is that it is an imperfect institution that is a powerful force for good. That truth is worth celebrating and defending.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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