By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
For a number of years the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention has come and gone without a lot of fanfare, a far cry from the late 1970s to the early 2000s when annual meetings were national news during the years of the “Conservative Resurgence.”
Attendance has dwindled dramatically at annual meetings but there could be a major uptick in numbers when Southern Baptists gather June 9-10 in Orlando, Fla. Yes, the location will be a factor in more attendees, but so will recent developments in the Southern Baptist Convention.
A dissatisfaction with some current leaders in the SBC is becoming more prevalent among pastors and churches throughout the SBC, including Tennessee. Here are just a few examples.
- In mid-February the formation of a new Conservative Baptist Network was announced. According to a news release from the organization, “The network is the product of a grassroots movement that developed organically in the hearts and minds of devoted Southern Baptists who have become concerned about the current direction and perceived future of the convention.”
- Just last year, messengers passed a resolution affirming the use of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as “simply analytical tools.” Many Southern Baptists strongly opposed the resolution. At the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in November, messengers overwhelmingly adopted a resolution denouncing CRT and Intersectionality.
- Another example of unrest in the SBC has been an increasing number of blogs and commentaries on the internet critical of SBC leaders. Granted, some of these are not substantiated by facts, but we live in a day where “if it’s on the internet, it’s got to be true.” That’s a complete falsehood, but it is reality.
Anyway, the unrest in the SBC gained the attention of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee during its meeting in Nashville Feb. 17-18 (see summary article here). The EC voted unanimously to forward to the annual meeting Vision 2025, an initiative of new EC President Ronnie Floyd that focuses on evangelism, missions and stewardship.
The EC also took actions on recent developments in the convention. They approved a task force to “review the past and present activities of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the fulfillment of its Convention-approved ministry assignments and … assess whether the actions of the Commission and its leadership are affecting Cooperative Program giving or the further advancement of the Cooperative Program.” That is significant.
The EC made it clear the task force will not make personnel decisions about the ERLC. That’s up to the entity’s board of directors. EC Executive Committee chairman Mike Stone says the committee has heard reports that churches are withholding CP allocations “related to concerns with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” Some of those concerns have surfaced in Tennessee as well.
On Feb. 20, the trustees of ERLC responded by objecting to the task force and instructed the entity and its leadership “not to comply” with the inquiry. That could lead to serious discussions in Orlando. The EC is within its rights to act upon behalf of the convention between annual meetings.
The EC also voted to allocate meeting space for the 2020 Pastors Conference in Orlando if conference president David Uth amends the program. I can’t recall that happening during my 30-plus years of attending SBC annual meetings.
According to the Baptist Press report, the “speaker lineup and the choice of musical guests have generated both disapproval and applause among Southern Baptists.” Baptist Press reported some Baptists are critical of invitations extended to Hosanna Wong, a spoken word artist who also is a teaching pastor at a non-SBC church near San Diego, Calif., and David Hughes a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida whose church has received attention for various performances in its services as well as sermon series with sensual themes.
The days leading up to the annual meeting are crucial. Southern Baptists need to bathe this convention with prayer as never before. Satan would like nothing more than for this meeting to become a huge media circus. Southern Baptists must not let anything distract us from the main thing — proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pray for our annual meeting and for SBC leaders who will be making some key decisions in the coming months that could keep our convention on track. The witness of Southern Baptists will be tarnished if we allow distractions to keep us from fulfilling the Great Commission.