The 2018 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was not without its share of challenging moments. Motions were made to fully defund an SBC entity, to remove all Executive Committee trustees from one of our seminaries, and to remove Vice President Mike Pence from speaking to the messengers. From one perspective, I suppose a Southern Baptist could walk away from this year’s meeting a bit discouraged and concerned. But I’m encouraged and excited.
Some SBC voices are expressing concern about a growing number of Southern Baptists who are increasingly vocal and practically engaged in important issues such as racial reconciliation and the treatment of women. There is irony here. Often those who are unconvinced about the wisdom of emphasizing these kinds of issues will express their discontent with phrases such as “cultural Marxism” or “social liberalism.” And yet, from my perspective, those working toward these issues are demonstrating a zealousness for God’s Word that is undiluted with any political or societal influence. On the other hand, the concerned group – those who are lamenting a perceived rise of capitulation to culture – are themselves embracing the marriage of a political mission with the Great Commission. Some of us who love our country and respect our vice president were hanging our heads in disbelief as a stump speech for President Trump was delivered only hours after hearing passionate sermons about the SBC’s mandate to align ourselves only and always with King Jesus.
And yet, I’m optimistic because there was noticeable tension in the room during the Pence speech. There was uneasiness. Although the vice president received standing ovations and many were enthusiastically behind his speech, I sensed the room was awakened to both the danger and the damage of any political presence in a convention hall devoted to the blessed task of making disciples of all nations. This awareness combined with the election of President J.D. Greear ensures that we will not be hearing a stump speech at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Birmingham from any politician or political party. That, I hope, will set a precedent for years to come.
I’m also encouraged by the passionate and unified principles on which the SBC continues to stand. Part of what made the Pence arrival so unfortunate is because it unnecessarily distracted from the overwhelming unity in the SBC on the most essential issues. The authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, the necessity of discipleship and evangelism, the work of NAMB and the International Mission Board, a priority of planting churches, and a commitment to the Cooperative Program are all positions that are rock solid and uniformly held by Southern Baptists. That is reason to rejoice.
Another encouraging aspect of this year’s meeting was the convention’s brokenness by recent developments in the SBC, especially as it pertains to the treatment of women. We heard and saw genuine repentance, multiple motions, strong seminary reports, and future collaborations to help the SBC make progress in these areas. Alongside this, on difficult motions that were potentially divisive, the messengers voted correctly. For example, the messengers correctly and overwhelmingly voted against a motion to remove all Executive Committee Trustees from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Finally, I left the annual meeting this year excited and thankful to be a Southern Baptist. I left anxious to get back to my church that I love so much and be a better pastor. I left even more convinced of the need to evangelize the lost. I left with a renewed spirit after sitting under the preaching of the word. I left with the hope of the gospel that was once for all delivered to the saints.
So yes, the meeting this year had its challenging moments. But the future is bright for the SBC. I’m excited to see what the Lord will do.