By Todd E. Brady
Vice President For University Ministries, Union University, Jackson
In mid-June, I was one of the 15,726 Baptists who attended the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville — the most attended convention since 1995 and the first large gathering in Nashville since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having done research this past year in high school for a research paper and learning about the SBC’s deliberations at an earlier convention, my son Jack asked to attend with me. In all the years of going to Southern Baptist Conventions, I learned that it is a much better experience when your son goes with you.
Heading into the SBC this year, there were contentious conversations among Baptists about the matters of women in ministry, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and the allegations of the SBC Executive Committee’s mishandling of sexual abuse claims. (The Executive Board is the 86 member body charged with acting on the SBC’s behalf between annual meetings.) Before the convention, Bryan Kaylor wrote in The Tennessean, “Leaders of the SBC will come to Nashville and spend their time demonizing others while defending their narrow interpretation of the Bible.” While I did not know all to expect this year, I was hopeful that my son would in fact experience for himself that Kaylor is misguided and mistaken.
Reflecting on this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, I am encouraged for primarily four reasons: Mission, Trust, Transparency, and Unity.
From beginning to end, it was clear what the SBC is about. The theme, plastered on walls throughout the convention center was “We are Great Commission Baptists.” Each messenger (what political conventions call “delegates”) was given a bag emblazoned with the slogan, “Together on Mission.” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention says, “Sending missionaries is the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Our mission is clear. This is what we are supposed to be about. This is what we want to be about. This is what we are about. For me, the highlight of the Convention took place on the evening before business sessions began when the International Mission Board held a Sending Service. Baptists joined together to commission sixty-four new missionaries, a majority of whom could not be publicly identified due to security concerns in their locations of service. These missionaries will join 3,631 other Southern Baptist missionaries in taking the Good, Life-giving News of Jesus Christ to others around the world. Baptists realize that this mission is a matter of life and death.
At the end of the day, Bible-believing Baptists want to do what is right.
Over 15,000 messengers took action to protect sexual abuse victims and to hold leaders accountable, overturning decisions of convention committees — even those of the Executive Committee.
Messengers defeated the Executive Committee-produced SBC Business and Financial Plan.
It was a desire for trust that caused Baptists to tell their leaders to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan.
Messengers also amended the Vision 2025 plan of the Executive Committee, in essence saying that it was good, but not good enough. Baptists added a sixth plank which communicated the SBC’s intent to eliminate all incidents of racism and sexual abuse. Baptists want to do the right thing and trust one another. Baptists realize that it is impossible to operate without trust.
The Executive Committee faced opposition from messengers who claimed their leaders had too much authority and needed to be held accountable.
After a motion to create an independent third-party task force to oversee allegations of the Executive Committee’s mishandling of sexual abuse claims, the motion was referred to the Executive Committee by the Committee on Business. Messengers then overturned their ruling, brought it back out to the floor, and overwhelmingly adopted the motion.
Responding to this, Floyd stated, “Today’s decision, in whose outcome we are confident, will have the ultimate blessing of removing all doubt in the minds of our community of Southern Baptists allowing us to chart a more confident future, together.” Baptists realize that truthfulness and transparency yield confidence.
The capable and gracious spirit in which SBC President, JD Greear presided encouraged unity. Unity was obvious in the sessions and in the hallways outside the Convention Hall.
The public exchange on Wednesday morning between Alabama pastor, Dr. Ed Litton (now president of the Southern Baptist Convention) and Kentucky Seminary President, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (a candidate for president this year) was heartwarming and hopeful. It was a fine example of the good and gracious way in which we all should talk with and about one another. May their gracious speech be replicated among Southern Baptists in the year ahead.
While differences of thought and even opposition existed at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, the messengers were kind and gracious in their communication with those leading on the platform, and those on the platform were in turn kind and gracious in their responses with the messengers.
New SBC President, Ed Litton said that Southern Baptists “are a family, and at times we may seem dysfunctional. But we love each other.” If you merely go by what you read in the papers, (and you can’t believe everything you read in newspapers) you will think that Southern Baptists are dysfunctional people. None of us is perfect, but if you get to know a real Baptist, I guarantee that you will experience a love for God and a love for people.
Sure, I am Baptist by conviction, but with Jack attending this week I’m glad he met many of my people and saw both the foundation and fruit of our Baptist beliefs.