By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
The recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas offered something for everyone.
For those who like controversy, messengers faced a decision in the first session about whether or not to provide a place on Wednesday’s program for Vice President of the United States Mike Pence. Some messengers believed having the vice president speak was political. Others heeded the biblical admonition to respect those in authority. Both sides have valid points.
I lean toward not inviting political leaders to speak, other than maybe the host city’s mayor to welcome messengers, thank them for choosing their city and for the positive impact the convention has on the community. Let’s be honest. Any national political leader is going to be seen as having an agenda, regardless of party. Pence is a strong Christian who is not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. I applaud that. We need more men and women in public service just like him. But, on this occasion, he was viewed more as a politician, not as a Christian.
There was also some lingering resentment over the termination of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s President Paige Patterson by SWBTS’s trustee executive committee. The fact that SBC messengers were given an opportunity to vote on whether to terminate the trustee executive committee astounds me. I’ve been attending annual meetings for over 30 years and that was a first for me.
Trustee boards cannot ignore issues and fail to act. That only makes matters worse. Southern Baptists elect trustees to serve as stewards of our entities on our behalf. They are in place to provide accountability and oversight. Whether or not you liked the decision made by Southwestern’s trustees, you have to give them credit for addressing a complicated, sensitive issue and making a decision.
Through resolutions, messengers affirmed the dignity and worth of women, denounced all forms of abuse and called for sexual purity among Christian leaders. Really? It’s a sad state of affairs in our convention when we have to adopt resolutions on these matters. All three issues should be matters of common sense and Christian practice. It’s like passing a resolution to remind everyone to brush their teeth, take a shower, and eat breakfast.
Messengers, however, were given an opportunity to voice their opinions through a host of motions and resolutions and that is healthy.
For messengers who aren’t fond of conflict, the convention also had plenty to offer through positive reports from SBC entities and convention messages.
Tennessee’s Steve Gaines did an excellent job with the President’s Address. Gaines has been an incredible leader for Southern Baptists over the past two years. He has dealt with some tough situations with dignity, class, and a Christ-like spirit. He truly has been a leader “for such a time as this.”
Convention messengers were able to celebrate missions by participating in a commissioning service for new missionaries.
Two more observations. There seems to be an underlying tension between younger Southern Baptists (50 and under) and those over 50. The presidential election (J.D. Greear over Ken Hemphill) was clearly a vote between the younger “new guard” and the aging, older established group who were instrumental in the conservative resurgence years ago.
There also seems to be a group that tends to not think of state conventions as equal partners in the Great Commission. State conventions are extremely crucial to winning the United States for Christ, particularly the mainline Southern states which receive little or no funding from SBC national entities. In Tennessee, our state convention provides necessary support and funding which helps share the gospel from Memphis to Mountain City and all points in between.
Just a reminder. We are all on the same side — God’s. We need to work together to reach a lost and dying world for Jesus Christ. Let’s move ahead together.