By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
In less than two weeks, Nashville will be abuzz with Southern Baptists. More than 12,000 messengers are expected to register for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention to be held June 15-16 at the Music City Center in Nashville.
Music City and Tennessee last hosted the SBC annual meeting in 2005 and 11,641 messengers registered for the event.
Attendance has dwindled at SBC meetings in recent years. Since 2000, only four annual meetings have produced more than 10,000 messengers — Orlando in 2000 and 2010, Nashville in 2005 and Greensboro, N.C., in 2006. When Southern Baptists last gathered in 2019 in Birmingham, Ala., 8,183 messengers attended. Last year’s annual meeting, again scheduled in Orlando, was canceled due to COVID-19.
There was some question as to whether this year’s event would take place in Nashville due to COVID restrictions still in place. On April 15, Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, announced the venue was being moved from the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center to downtown to “provide abundant space conducive to holding a meeting that is efficient, effective and safe for every attendee” while adhering to local COVID-19 protocols (See story).
This year’s annual meeting is more important than it normally would be.
Yes, it is the same in that it allows Southern Baptists to gather for fellowship and to handle business matters. But what makes the 2021 annual meeting unique is that it can be viewed as providing hope that life in the United States is resuming some kind of “normalcy” after COVID-19.
Not only is the event significant for Southern Baptists, it is important for the city of Nashville. According to Baptist Press (see link above), Nashville lost $4.6 billion in expected revenue last year. The annual meeting is the first major event in the city since COVID shut the world down last year.
As for Southern Baptists, it will allow the convention to elect a new president (current president J.D. Greear served an extra term due to COVID).
Four men (Al Mohler, Mike Stone, Ed Litton and Randy Adams) have announced they would allow their nominations this year. (See story on page 1).
There is a lot of interest in the election this year. I encourage Tennessee Baptists to read up on each candidate and make the best decision possible. Baptist Press posted Q&As with the candidates earlier this year. Look those up at bpnews.net.
By all accounts, the candidates, which include two pastors, a seminary president and a state convention executive director, are good men and solid leaders. Research their churches’ Cooperative Program giving. That is not the only criterium that should be used by any means, but it does provide a glimpse at how the candidates and their church support the convention they want to lead.
Whoever is elected will not have an easy job. Southern Baptists are divided over politics, social justice issues, racial reconciliation (everyone wants it but no one knows how to achieve it), theological issues and more.
It has already been announced that a new resolution on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality will be introduced again.
A resolution on the topic was approved in Birmingham in 2019 but received widespread criticism among many Southern Baptists, primarily a group who have formed the Conservative Baptist Network to return the convention to the belief that “the gospel is enough.” (See story on page 2).
All in all, the annual meeting should provide plenty of fodder for bloggers and others concerned about the future direction of our denomination.
I normally don’t like the large crowds and the potential divisiveness that annual meetings provide, but that’s not the case this year. It will be a welcome sign that life is returning somewhat to pre-COVID days even though messengers should exercise caution. The risk for catching the virus is still real, especially since not everyone has been vaccinated. But at least we are gathering again.
One last word. No matter how you feel on any topic facing Southern Baptists or whoever you choose to support for the presidency, remember that the world will be watching. How we act will reflect on the Lord we serve. May the world see Jesus in all of us as we gather in Nashville to conduct His business, not ours. B&R