Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Rankin Defines Global Mission — and Warns of Hell

Dr. Jerry Rankin, President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, addressed the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists in Greensboro. As he spoke, he defined the Great Commission and made a very important point. [See Baptist Press coverage here.]

As the report summarizes:

“The Great Commission was just a reminder and reinforcement that the heart of God was to reach the nations and the ends of the earth,” Rankin said. “Where are the uttermost parts of the earth? It’s those places where people have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Rankin expressed sorrow over those who die without having heard the Gospel.

“People will say, ‘How can we say they’re condemned to hell?’ — that surely a merciful and loving God would not condemn them to hell,” Rankin said. “But they are condemned by their sin. I’ve been challenged on that point, and I say it deliberately.”

In a day of theological confusion in so many quarters, it is reassuring to see Dr. Rankin make this point so deliberately.

Thursday, June 22, 2006
Slavery, the Secretary of State, and the Burden of History

Messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention experienced moments of drama, boredom, controversy, inspiration, remembrance, and urgency—but the Convention also experienced a rare moment of grace. This came as U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Convention and was received with rapturous applause and an enthusiastic welcome.

Anyone with the slightest sense of historical perspective—or a sense of irony—must have caught the profound meaning of that moment. There stood a descendant of slaves addressing the spiritual descendants of slaveholders. A denomination birthed in the context of racism and slavery found a moment of genuine pride and delight in welcoming the first African-American woman to hold the highest appointive office in the nation’s government. Furthermore, the messengers rose to their feet when Secretary Rice spoke of the nation’s resolve to oppose and eradicate slavery wherever it may be found.

For those moments in the Greensboro Coliseum, history tilted on its axis. There were interesting overlays to Secretary Rice’s appearance—ranging from reflections on civil religion to the Secretary of State’s ambiguous positions on matters of vital importance to the messengers.

Nevertheless, the meaning of the moment must have been felt by the messengers, even if it was unarticulated. This proud African-American woman, on whose capable shoulders is borne the prestige of the entire republic, must certainly have been the first African-American woman to deliver a major address to the Southern Baptist Convention. Her appearance is a reminder of the burden of history and of how much ground remains to be covered as the denomination struggles with the legacy of racism and the promise of the Gospel. Messengers will forget those moments in Greensboro to their shame.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
But for the Conservative Resurgence . . .

In beginning my comments at the SBC Pastors Conference session with Dr. Patterson [see below] I mentioned that it was healthy that Southern Baptists were discussing a serious and worthy theological issue — the doctrine of election. This, I stated, was a remarkable development, and one for which we should be very thankful. After all, if the conservative resurgence in the SBC had not happened, we would surely be discussing the ordination of homosexuals or the recognition of same-sex unions.

This is no exaggeration. Tragically, the evidence is all too clear. For example, Dr. Welton Gaddy, now President of the Interfaith Alliance, was once a lead staff member of the SBC’s Christian Life Commission [forerunner to the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission]. Now, as IA president, he is an advocate for homosexual rights. In a recent Religion News Service release, he stated his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment: “The amendment ‘discriminates not only against people who want to be married, but also against the faith traditions’ that deem homosexual marriage consistent with their religious ideals, said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance.” [RNS, June 8, 2006]. [See IA media releases here and here, and Dr. Gaddy’s op-ed here.]

Similarly, Dr. Paul Simmons, formerly Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Bapist Theological Seminary, took part in a public call for opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Dr. Simmons, now on the faculty of the University of Louisville, participated with the group known as Clergy for Fairness in a press conference in Washington, D.C. at which the group stated its position [see photo here]. Dr. Simmons’ comments:

“Let there be no mistake about it: there is a broad and profound opposition to the proposed [Federal Marriage] Amendment among religious people. The thunder of the religious right should be resisted as misguided and prejudicial: an effort to deprive a certain group of people in the United States, who are citizens, of rights guaranteed for the rest of us, and under the Constitution we take them for granted.”

Furthermore, the Alliance of Baptists, a liberal group that broke away from the SBC in the 1980s, is a member of Clergy for Fairness. Here is the group’s statement as posted at the Clergy for Fairness Web site:

Statement on Same Sex Marriage

April 17, 2004

Affirming that our federal and state constitutions exist to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority and in the context of the current debate over same-sex marriage, we of the Alliance of Baptists decry the politicization of same-sex marriage in the current presidential contest and other races for public office. We specifically reject the proposed amendments to the constitution of the United States and state constitutions that would enshrine discrimination against sexual minorities and define marriage in such a way as to deny same-sex couples a legal framework in which to provide for one another and those entrusted to their care.

As Christians and as Baptists, we particularly lament the denigration of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers in this debate by those who claim to speak for God. We affirm that the Alliance of Baptists supports the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality, and we affirm anew that the Alliance will “create places of refuge and renewal for those who are ignored by the church.”

This Statement of Concern was adopted at the Annual Meeting of the Alliance of Baptists meeting at First Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.

Remember these developments when someone asks why the conservative resurgence in the SBC was necessary.