Yes, you heard me correctly. I’m coming away from the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention’s annual gathering Not Embarrassed.
I apologize for making the statement in the negative, but in light of some other annual gatherings, this expression is most appropriate. Too often, the annual gathering of the largest protestant denomination leaves me with a mixed sense of gratitude and a bit of regret – honestly, downright embarrassment. But this year stood out from other conventions.
My sincere and profound gratitude for the SBC always grows out of our legacy of cooperative, Christ-centered local and global missions advance. I’m always excited to connect with great friends and partners in ministry.
I was excited this year that NAMB raised the bar to a new level in terms of creatively communicating their mission and message in a setting other than the traditional reporting format; they offered a lunch with a powerful presentation – more effective than the usual business report that occurred late on Wednesday night, when most people had already departed for home.
I was moved by Tom Elliff’s IMB report that 1281 churches have decided to engage some of the remaining unreached unengaged peoples of the world. As former IMB missionaries, my wife and I are always overcome with conviction and re-commitment to our Lord and Savior – posturing ourselves more strategically for radical obedience.
Unfortunately, the wonderful things about the SBC gathering are countered by sheepish, unspoken embarrassment – usually coming from some whacky resolution that slips through one of the more sparsely attended business sessions. The end result is usually a bitter-sweet taste in many Southern Baptist mouths. In the past, I would be embarrassed if my non-Christian friends were to hear about the contentious way in which Christians behave while “doing business.” In the past I would not want my non-believing friends to know about that one-off polarizing, non-essential, or even nonsensical business item that surfaced.
In an article in The Commercial Appeal, James Patterson of Union University points out the Landmarkist influence that has been the source of some of my embarrassment. In the Baptist 21 panel, theologians young and old were reminded from representatives of two different theological views that the theological debate and tension is an important factor for denominations. Young pastors were reminded that the debate needs to be lively but Christlike, even “sweet,” whether it is a debate over Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or a debate over ecclesiology or eschatology.
Al Mohler in his recent post, did a much better job than me in pointing out some of the reasons we celebrate this year’s convention. Personally I can confirm that this year was great and here are three specific examples of why I celebrate.
- Fred Luter – I was in the assembly hall when thousands stood unanimously and waved their yellow ballots confirming the first African American president of this old denomination. Fred Luter is a godly pastor who represents dramatic progress for the future of Southern Baptists. This one is personal for me, since I am the Associate Pastor of a three-year old African American congregation. My wife and I are the only Anglo’s in the congregation so this election makes an important statement to our church.
- Great Commission Baptists – I am grateful that Southern Baptist leaders recognized and acted to overcome the barrier found in our historical, legal name. The SBC is no longer exclusively identified with a particular geography. The SBC, like the gospel that we preach, is not limited by location, ethnicity or culture. Thus it is appropriate that longitude and latitude yielded to an alternate nomenclature – Great Commission Baptists. What do Baptists who live south of the equator think when when we call ourselves Southern Baptists? What do we communicate in the Northeast or Northwest when we say we are Southern Baptists? What do we communicate to my congregation of Black Americans when we said, “You can legitimately call yourselves Great Commission Baptists rather than Southern Baptists?” To say the least, my African American pastor and church are pleased. It will be easier in the African American community here in Memphis to talk about being a Great Commission Baptist church than to call ourselves a Southern Baptist church. Thank you Southern Baptists for this wise decision.
- Young Leaders – I am also grateful for a groundswell of young leaders who appeared at this convention. I attended a robust 9pm gathering of young leaders under the banner 9 Marks, as well as the Baptist 21 gathering of 1000 young leaders. After the Baptist 21 panel discussion I tapped Johnny Hunt and reminded him of a few years earlier when as President he made it a priority to pass the torch to young leaders. He had personally appealed to young pastors to facilitate change, to get involved, and to take leadership in their denomination. Thank you Johnny for calling these young pastors to participation. Thank you young leaders for being there and engaging relevant issues. I was excited to see that young leaders stood during business sessions and called Southern Baptists to wisdom.
So this article is my declaration that I am not embarrassed by any thing that I need to explain or overlook regarding actions of the SBC this year in New Orleans. In fact, you could say that my feelings are not only not negative – but very positive.
So I leave New Orleans with a full tummy (too much Mr. B’s barbecue shrimp and beignets from Cafe du Monde) and a full heart.