Thursday, June 21, 2012
Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight — The 2012 Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptists came to New Orleans to make history, and history is what we made. The Southern Baptist Convention will forever be changed by the events of the New Orleans meeting, and the world will be watching to see if we really meant what we said as we elected Fred Luter as the first African American President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The following are my reflections on the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention and its meaning.

1. The importance of meeting in New Orleans. The Southern Baptist Convention came to New Orleans almost seven years after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This great historic city has been important to the Convention from its founding in 1845. One of our six SBC seminaries is located here, built upon the work established as the Baptist Bible Institute in the early twentieth century. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary made an important commitment to the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, and the seminary has a great witness within the city and far beyond. New Orleans is also where Southern Baptists were historically engaged in important hospital and charitable work, and much of that work continues still. Southern Baptists came by the thousands for the 2012 convention, and the city of New Orleans was a gracious host. Its people were incredibly friendly. For several days, the French Quarter was selling more ice cream than cocktails, but what the city suffered in alcohol sales it made up in meals sold. We came, we saw, we ate.

2. The importance of electing Fred Luter as President. Slavery was not the only precipitating issue for the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, but it was the central issue. The SBC was forged in the bitter and humiliating defense of slavery and institutionalized racism. For more than a century beyond its founding, that institutionalized racism continued, with the majority of Southern Baptists resisting the Civil Rights movement. And yet, in 2012, that same convention elected an African-American man as its President. That action was a demonstration of God’s patience with His people, and it was a moment of unmerited grace for our denomination. Fred Luter is a man of great conviction, presence, and leadership. He has been tested by fire and found faithful. The respect of the entire Southern Baptist Convention is his, and he will lead well. The test ahead is for the Southern Baptist Convention. Even as twenty percent of our churches are now identified as ethic and minority, we still lag far behind the nation in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that America will be a “majority minority” population by the year 2033, if not before. Southern Baptists will become a marginalized people holding to a quaint folk religion if we do not seize the moment and see racial and ethnic diversity as a gift, and not just a fact to which we have to reconcile ourselves. We leave New Orleans with great hope.

3. The importance of leadership. President Bryant Wright led with great grace and character. His calm and gracious personality was extended to the way he presided in the Convention’s sessions. It is virtually impossible to dislike Bryant Wright, and his grace and kindness in the sessions were great gifts. He was open, generous, and happy — traits that should characterize all Southern Baptists. Other leaders also served well, particularly Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, who provided stellar leadership for the Committee on Resolutions. He demonstrated statesmanship and mature confidence under pressure, and the Convention appreciated the hard work of his committee.

4. The importance of our name. The Southern Baptist Convention is not going to change its name — not this year and not anytime soon. The reasons for this are many and they are enduring. The motion adopted by the SBC in New Orleans allows churches to identify themselves as “Great Commission Baptists” without denying the SBC in any way. This will help churches that are not located in the South more than others, but the descriptor, “Great Commission Baptists” is worthy of our acceptance and eager use. It also establishes an identity we must now serve and fulfill.

5. The importance of doctrine. There have been meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention that, in theological terms, have been nothing less than determinative. The most recent of these was 2000, when Southern Baptists adopted a revised statement of “The Baptist Faith & Message,” our confession of faith. Other meetings of the Convention have been, at times, less explicitly theological. The 2012 SBC was marked by talk about theology, and the issue of Calvinism in particular. At this point, the reality is more like talking about talking about theology, but the talk will become more organized, partly through a process to be led by the SBC Executive Committee. In the meantime, Southern Baptists need to be kind, open, generous, and truthful. We should expect the best of each other, and extend understanding in every possible way. The three weeks prior to this year’s SBC did not find Southern Baptists at their best in terms of this kind of discussion, but we can and must have the right conversations in the right way. This conversation will marginalize those whose influence should be marginalized — those who have a party spirit, who play into tribalism, or who want to divide Southern Baptists from each other. We will stand within the “Baptist Faith & Message” and we will learn how to talk in a way that will help each other to be more faithful and biblical, not more hardened and bitter.

6. The importance of our mission. The Southern Baptist Convention was established for the purpose of reaching our nation and the nations of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The SBC dreams mission dreams and bleeds missionary theology. When the Convention’s messengers heard reports and testimonies of people coming to faith in Christ, their hearts quickened and their joy was evident. The SBC will instinctively gravitate to anything that serves the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the reaching of the nations. Messengers loved the reports of peoples reached and churches planted in the United States and around the world. If your heart does not resonate with that, you need to attend some other meeting, and join a church of some other denomination.

7. The importance of the total event. The Southern Baptist Convention is a two-day business meeting, but it is also a multi-day gathering of Southern Baptists, who meet for the Pastors Conference and a host of other meetings. Among my favorites was the Baptist21 luncheon on Tuesday, organized by a group of bright, creative, and convictional young Southern Baptist leaders. The panel discussion featured, among others, Dr. Paige Patterson talking about the importance of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. It was a worthy and important conversation, especially crucial since so many in that room had not even been born when the so-called “Battle for the Bible” was launched. The “9Marks at 9″ meetings Monday and Tuesday nights under the direction of Dr. Mark Dever also brought together a generation ready to be sent anywhere in the world. Their love for the SBC was as clear as the energy they are ready to deploy and the convictions they hold.

8. The importance of getting to work. Southern Baptists come to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and then go home. The Southern Baptists who gathered in New Orleans this week will leave praying in a new way for the Baptist work in that great city and beyond. As we go back home, the real work begins anew. The annual meeting is both necessary and important, but the work of the Convention is not at the meeting, but out in our churches and on the fields of mission. Now is the time to get back to work, to celebrate the history made together in New Orleans, and to be determined to make it count.

It is a new day in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we must be exceedingly thankful for the light of this new day. As we leave Louisiana, we will show the world if we will make the most of this opportunity, or let it pass and bear the judgment of God for our failure.


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Monday, October 03, 2011
Will the CBF Really Pay Churches to Consider a Woman as Pastor?

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Associated Baptist Press reports that a state Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is now offering financial incentives in order to encourage pulpit search committees to consider women candidates.

According to the report, “The CBF of Missouri offered Sept. 17 to pay interview, travel and other expenses incurred by search committees willing to ‘include a woman candidate in the process … treating her as a top candidate even if she isn’t actually one of the top candidates,’ CBFMO Associate Coordinator Jeff Langford explained in a handout distributed at a Coordinating Council meeting at Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo.”

No, I am not making this up. Langford added: “Even if the church isn’t ready, the search committee may discover a remarkable candidate along the way that changes their perspective, either for the current search or for a future one.”

The motivation for the concept is clear — those who are offering these incentives are frustrated that few churches are calling women as senior pastors. According to the ABP report, the idea to offer financial incentives came out of a meeting in which several other ideas were also offered. This is the idea that made headlines.

Though the CBF promotes women as pastors, a 2005 study indicated that few of its own churches had called, or had even considered calling, a woman as pastor. The authors of that study stated their findings in clear terms:

Never before have so many Baptist women officially served as pastors and co-pastors, and yet statistically the great majority of Baptist churches affiliated with the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF have not called women to serve as pastor.

Even within the ranks of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where the leadership sincerely supports women as senior pastors, their churches are still very unlikely to call a woman as pastor. There are a few highly visible women who do serve in senior pastor positions, but they are rare exceptions to the general rule.

My point is not to accuse the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or its leadership of hypocrisy, for there is no reason to question the sincerity of their beliefs. I believe that their convictions are wrong, not that their stance is insincere. Indeed, their frustration at the slow pace of change in this regard seems authentic — thus this new policy in Missouri.

And yet, the policy does seem clumsy, at best. Paying search committees to consider women as top candidates? That is awkward enough. But, paying them to treat a woman “as a top candidate even if she isn’t actually one of the top candidates”? That seems absolutely desperate, and one can only wonder if women seeking pastorates would consider this a step forward.

Kathy Pickett, moderator-elect of the Missouri CBF and pastor of congregational life at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, voiced her own concerns that women might be harmed by the proposal. She was especially concerned about young women graduating from seminaries, who might be misled by the policy. “There is a hopefulness that something is going to change when it likely isn’t going to,” she said.

The Missouri proposal, though hard to believe at first glance, is also deeply revealing. Those who believe that women should be senior pastors believe that the slow progress toward the acceptance of female pastors is rooted in enduring prejudice against women. Those of us who believe that the Bible precludes women from serving as pastors, on the other hand, believe that this pattern reveals the endurance of a biblical instinct, even among those who believe, at some level, that women should be pastors.

The theological distance between the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention continues to grow. This development out of Missouri makes that point in an unmistakable way. It will not be the last development to do so.


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Vicki Brown, “CBFMO Offers Incentive for Churches to Consider Women as Pastors,” Associated Baptist Press, Tuesday, September 27, 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Will the Southern Baptist Convention Change its Name?

Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright has launched an effort to change the name of the Convention, or at least to give the issue serious consideration. He announced this intention as he presented his report to the SBC Executive Committee last night. Instantly, energy filled the room.

The idea of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention is not new. Convention committees and task forces of the past had considered the question, and the Convention voted not to consider the question in 2004, when Dallas pastor Jack Graham, then the Convention’s president, proposed a similar process.

Bryant Wright made his announcement after speaking of the energy and unity within the Convention after the SBC annual meeting this past June in Phoenix. A consideration of the name change, he said, would be “another move forward” for the Convention.

The question of the SBC’s name and possible alternatives emerged soon after World War II, when Southern Baptist leaders recognized that the Convention was no longer satisfied to contain its witness within the historic southern and southwestern states of the United States. Nevertheless, the Convention’s messengers have never faced any formal proposal for an alternative.

Clearly, changing the name of the SBC will not be easy. There is tremendous value in the established name and reputation of the Southern Baptist Convention, especially when the denomination has put itself on the line again and again in defense of biblical truth and theological orthodoxy. The name emerged from a historical context that is central to the denomination’s history and identity. Of course, the Convention’s population distribution is still mightily weighted by concentrations in the South and Southwest.

There may be significant legal and economic factors to consider, especially when the SBC’s founding was almost 170 years ago. The legal name of the Southern Baptist Convention is woven throughout SBC life — not to mention its 40,000 member churches. This would be no simple re-branding effort. Much is at stake.

What international implications might a name change hold? Those must be considered. In a global context, “southern” does not imply the American meaning. So, what does it imply? That question must be asked. How much international recognition might be lost by changing the name?

On the other hand, there are powerful reasons to consider changing the name. The SBC is not driven by a southern agenda nor a southern vision, but by a passionate commitment to the Great Commission. In the context of the United States, “southern” refers to a region. That region gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention, but it no longer contains it. To many in regions like New England and the Pacific Northwest, the “Southern Baptist Convention” sounds strange, if not foreign. On the other hand, how much does this really mean anymore?

Furthermore, there is a legacy with which we must continue to deal. We were established as an association of churches that would appoint slaveholders as missionaries. There is so much to celebrate in the heritage of our beloved denomination, but there is also a deep stain that is associated with slavery, the nation’s sectional division prior to and during the Civil War, and the legacy of racism. If these issues can be resolved, even to any significant degree, by a name change, a Gospel-minded people would never hesitate to consider such a proposal.

Many church planters and mission strategists have openly called for a name change and have celebrated the call for a study and proposal. Many influential pastors and denominational leaders have joined in support — but at this point the support is for an ordered process of asking the question, and this is healthy and responsible. No Gospel-driven movement of churches would want to retain any preventable barrier to faithful and effective evangelistic and church planting efforts.

Bryant Wright is not alone in believing that now is the time for the SBC to consider this question in a serious and timely manner, driven by a sense of evangelistic and missiological urgency. Those members of the SBC Executive Committee who spoke against the idea on Monday night are not alone in their concern about what might be lost by such a name change, as well as what might be gained.

The discussion on Monday night was not the finest hour for the SBC Executive Committee, nor its worst. It was a sign that this is a highly-charged issue that holds great potential to divide the Convention if not handled well and responsibly. The task force must act in a way that unifies Southern Baptists and helps us all to gain a much-needed understanding of what is and is not at stake.

I have known nothing but the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of my own personal identity for the entirety of my lifetime, now over the half-century mark. For almost twenty years, I have had the privilege of serving as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

To be honest, I am personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name. I feel an almost physical loss at the very prospect. It is a deeply and unavoidably emotional question for any Southern Baptist whose life is intertwined with the Convention, its work, and its churches.

At the same time, our commitment to the Great Commission and the urgency of the Gospel must exceed our emotional attachments and fears. A responsible movement of Gospel churches — of Baptist churches — must be ready to ask this question and face it fearlessly. We can and will do this together.

President Wright appointed a task force to be led by SBC elder statesman Jimmy Draper, a former SBC president, beloved pastor, and former president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. I, along with several others, have agreed to serve on this task force. This is not a task force that is poised to make an irresponsible or precipitous proposal. There is much hard work ahead.

This decision will not be made by any task force. The name of the Convention belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and will ultimately be settled by its messengers. The Convention has shown great wisdom and strength of character and conviction in its past. We must trust that it will rise to that same wisdom and strength in the present hour.

During the discussion Monday night, President Wright demonstrated a strength of character that served the denomination well. Those who spoke to the issue with such passion and concern sent a clear and honest signal of how difficult the task may be. Family discussions are often difficult, but this is what healthy families do — they work through the challenges rather than run from them.

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this question — so let’s make them. There are important questions to ask — so let’s ask them. There are emotional issues that pull at our hearts — so let’s talk about them. There are generations of the past to whom we owe so much and a generation of those now living we desperately want to reach — so let’s bridge them. There are legal and financial issues to consider — so let’s consider them. There are so many Southern Baptists from which we need to hear — so let’s listen to them.

Most importantly, there is a world desperately in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — so we must not allow this question to divert our energies from the Great Commission task. It will not matter what we call ourselves if we lose sight of the one great cause that has brought us together.


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Wright Announces Task Force to Study Possible SBC Name Change,” Baptist Press, Monday, September 19, 2011.