What Happened to The Southern Baptist Convention?
The Death of The Southern Baptist Convention
This week is the week of The Southern Baptist Convention. That is the week when representatives of America’s largest Protestant denomination are going to send representatives, we call them messengers, to Southern California in Anaheim to do convention business for a series of days and make crucial decisions. This meeting is, of course, happening in the aftermath of the release of the sexual abuse report detailing sexual abuse and sexual abuse cover-up from some of the leaders in the executive committee that is in The Southern Baptist Convention apparatus. There are a lot of decisions that Southern Baptists need to make; there are a lot of realities on the line, and there is a lot of disagreement and a lot of tension. So much is at stake this week.
I want to talk about the death of The Southern Baptist Convention. I want to talk about the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention is in more peril than at any time I have ever seen in my life. When I talk about the death of The Southern Baptist Convention, I’m not making a prediction about what’s going to happen, certainly this week or even in the near future. I’m not predicting that The Southern Baptist Convention is absolutely going to die. What I’m talking about when I talk about the death of The Southern Baptist Convention is the realistic assessment, in my view, that The Southern Baptist Convention might not make it. Certainly, The Southern Baptist Convention does not have to make it as we confront this moment of peril as we confront this season of danger and division. It certainly is the case that it doesn’t have to make it. There’s no rule that The Southern Baptist Convention has to survive this crisis. We need to be honest and admit that we really could be at a point where The Southern Baptist Convention is toast. We could have passed that point already. I want you in case that sounds overly negative or doom and gloom; I want you to consider all the threats that are confronting The Southern Baptist Convention.
Threats Confronting The Southern Baptist Convention
First of all, in the aftermath of the release of the report on sexual abuse, there is the virtual guarantee of terrible legal liability and massive lawsuits. Now, I want to be very clear. I have been clear in print, in blogs, in sermons, and in town halls with my church, I believe that the release of the report on sexual abuse is a moral good. I believe it is a good thing when the darkness is exposed to light. I hate sexual abuse. I hate sexual abuse cover-ups. And that means I love the exposure of the darkness to light. I am not complaining about the exposure of abusers and those who would cover their tracks. I want to complain about the abuse; I want to complain about cover-ups. The exposure of those things is a good thing. As true as that is. It is just a legal reality that in the world in which we are now living, there are people who are going to pursue The Southern Baptist Convention for damages. Those damages could be quite expensive, and they truly could cripple the ability of The Southern Baptist Convention to operate. So that’s one threat.
We Are Not United
The greatest threat, in my view, that the convention is facing right now, this week in this moment in our history, is that The Southern Baptist Convention is not together. We are not united. It’s called The Southern Baptist Convention. A convention must convene. I’m telling you everything I’m seeing online. Everything I’m seeing on social media is that Southern Baptists from around the country are not coming to Anaheim to convene. Southern Baptists appear to me to be coming to Anaheim for a conflict. They want a fight. Here is the honest truth.
As it appears to me, there really are at least two conventions, and what we call The Southern Baptist Convention and this one Southern Baptist Convention meeting, we can say it’s the Southern Baptist Convention. But I think we’ve got at least two conventions, maybe more. And none of the groups who are going to be in that room, it seems to me, trust each other. It doesn’t matter who wins the presidency this year. Whoever wins the presidency, that person is going to have loud, powerful, and persistent enemies for as long as they serve as president. It is not going to be an easy road. It’s going to be very hard.
With the sexual abuse task force and their recommendations, there is no consensus about how to respond to the sexual abuse allegations. I think most Southern Baptists don’t want sexual abuse. I think they don’t want cover-ups. The recommendations of the task force have not created a consensus on the part of Southern Baptists that what they are proposing is the right way to solve the problem. I want to be clear; this is not a disagreement between wicked people who like abuse and wonderful people who don’t. It’s a wisdom issue where good people are disagreeing about the best way to respond.
I’m telling you, one of the most discouraging things I’ve seen in my life is the comments on social media. That you can’t find hardly any charity, grace, reasonableness, or any desire to persuade, it is a total dumpster fire. There is shaming, there is splaning, there is silencing, there is marginalizing, there is caricaturing. Everybody is fighting and clawing to have it their way. Everybody is trying to torpedo the people that they view as their enemies. And here’s the point, a convention does not have to stay together. A convention is based on a desire to convene. And if you have hundreds and thousands of churches who decide that they don’t want to participate in this gathering, they don’t have to, and I’m telling you, we are at a point where we are going to begin to see lots of churches, hundreds of churches, thousands of churches decide they don’t need to be a part of this, they don’t need to go down with the ship, they don’t need to be a part of the arguing they don’t want to do it, and they’re not going to do it. I’m not making a prediction, as I said at the very beginning. I’m just being very realistic. That a convention, this convention, The Southern Baptist Convention, is a delicate thing. We are in as perilous a moment in our history as I’m aware of and certainly as I’ve ever seen, and we might not survive. If we make it, it’s going to take the hand of God.
The Good News
I was reading this morning in Psalm 50:15, which says, “Call upon me, in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” That passage hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m telling you, for The Southern Baptist Convention, this is the day of trouble. We need to call on the Lord and ask for his deliverance and pray that we will have the opportunity to glorify him for the good things that he’s going to do in our convention. It is going to take a work of God for the convention to make it on the other side of this. It’s going to take a lot more than we have seen. It’s going to take leadership that we haven’t seen; it’s going to take conviction that we haven’t seen; it is going to take a move of God.
I want to be really hopeful. I don’t want to be overly negative. I don’t want to sound overly apocalyptic. I think there’s a hopeful word, even as we look at this serious day in the history of The Southern Baptist Convention. It’s a word from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24:13-14, Jesus says, talking about the last day, “The one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Jesus promises that his gospel is going to be preached in the world. Jesus promises that people are going to be saved and are going to endure unto salvation. This is good news. The future of The Southern Baptist Convention has nothing to do with the future of the good news of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t need The Southern Baptist Convention. God is going to accomplish his mission at your church and your town and across the world with or without The Southern Baptist Convention. He doesn’t need us.
I have to tell you personally; I really want The Southern Baptist Convention to make it. I really want The Southern Baptist Convention to be used of God in a great and a new and a powerful and a fresh work, and I’m willing to work to do my part to see that it happens. I’m going to invest this week in the convention this week and do everything I can to help. But God doesn’t need us. And with or without the convention, we’re going to have his grace to preach the good news to the ends of the earth and good news to our neighborhoods in our towns. For me, that’s here in Jacksonville; it will be true for you where you are. If we are going to see God do a great work in The Southern Baptist Convention, everyone online with all their harsh and their, bitter, and their divisive comments, if you think you’re showing up to Anaheim to fight and claw and to have your way, everybody else is thinking that too and we’re in for a train wreck. I think for me and my house, instead of figuring out how we can win, instead of figuring out how we can destroy our enemies. We need to pray. We need to beg for a move of God that brings purity, safety, humility, repentance, and unity.