By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Messengers from across the Southern Baptist Convention will travel to Music City in June (COVID-permitting) for their annual meeting to be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
The last time the SBC annual meeting was held in Nashville in 2005 , it drew 11,641 messengers. That number likely will go unchallenged in 2021, primarily because a large number of people probably will be hesitant to travel due to uncertainties about COVID-19.
Still, with a large number of Southern Baptists who live within a six-hour drive to Nashville, attendance could be better than expected. A number of Tennessee Baptists will be involved as volunteers at the annual meeting. We will have information in an upcoming issue about Crossover Nashville which takes place on June 13. So, with the SBC looming close, my thoughts have been more on the SBC than normal.
The Baptist and Reflector serves Tennessee Baptists and we focus primarily on what churches and Baptists in our state are doing to further the Great Commission. However, we can’t ignore the national convention completely, nor should we. Nearly half of the money given through the Cooperative Program in Tennessee is forwarded to the national convention.
And, a good portion of the money that is forwarded to the SBC goes to fund our national and international missionaries. I recently met some of our international missionaries who had to return to the United States last year after the pandemic begun. I wish I could tell their story, but the IMB has a policy that conflicts with my journalistic convictions. After talking with the missionaries, I know they are passionate about Christ. Pray they can return to their fields of service soon.
Our missionaries are the No. 1 reason I support the Southern Baptist Convention portion of the Cooperative Program. These are men and women who give their all for Christ. Many of them leave behind good jobs and salaries to go to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” They leave parents who weep, knowing they won’t see their children or grandchildren for months and years at a time other than through technology.
Most Southern Baptists give through the Cooperative Program because they, like me, believe in the work and ministry of our missionaries. In recent months, some Southern Baptists have expressed displeasure with some SBC leaders. An example can be found on page 8 regarding a study on the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission conducted by a task force of the SBC Executive Committee.
The ERLC has caused a lot of consternation among Southern Baptists in the last few years. As recently as last year, the ERLC filed an amicus brief in which they stated there is a hierarchy in the Southern Baptist Convention. That is simply not true and could not be left unchallenged. Every Southern Baptist church is autonomous and does not have to answer to any other entity. Because Southern Baptists believe in cooperative missions, they choose to belong to local associations, state conventions and the national convention, so they can cooperate together to fulfill the Great Commission
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, made his position clear after learning of the ERLC amicus brief. “There is absolutely no denominational hierarchy when it comes to the Southern Baptist Convention,” he wrote in an article published in the Dec. 16 issue of the Baptist and Reflector.
In addition, ERLC president Russell Moore (and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler) have upset many Southern Baptists with their views and comments on politics and political leaders.
There are some instances where Moore or others in those positions need to comment on policies or decisions of politicians if they are contrary to Scripture. If you can make your case with Scripture, do it. If not, it might be best to be silent.
The Executive Committee task force made six recommendations that the EC will consider in February. Unfortunately, most of the recommendations carry little weight. Just as the ERLC cannot tell churches or other entities what to do, neither can the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee can only “suggest.” I hope the ERLC trustees will consider the suggestions, especially the one which encourages the trustee boards of SBC entities to institute a policy of submitting legal briefs on topics related to Southern Baptist polity for review by the SBC’s attorneys before being filed. That provision is needed to protect Southern Baptists in the future.
The ERLC or any other SBC entity needs to be held accountable for actions that are detrimental to the ministry of Southern Baptists.
Pray that SBC leadership will listen to its constituency. After all, these entities would not exist were it not for the sacrificial giving of Baptists across this nation through the Cooperative Program. May God be glorified in all that Southern Baptists do in His name to advance His kingdom. Ultimately, that is what matters.