By Randy C. Davis
President & Executive Director, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
What will become of the Southern Baptist Convention?
That question hangs above our denomination like an ominous cloud. The question is especially germane given the unprecedented decision by SBC Executive Committee Board members to waive attorney-client privilege in the third-party investigation of how the EC handled sexual abuse claims.
The discussion has become strained at times. People have gotten aggressively hostile on social media to the point nothing in their comments resembles the Christian love we are commanded to extend to one another. Attitudes toward board members have become like chum in the Amazon River, feeding a frenzy of piranha. These EC board members are people; brothers and sisters in Christ who stepped out from our churches to serve. They are not the enemy.
The issue at hand, sexual abuse, is a serious matter that deserves rigorous consideration and a thoughtful response guided by the Holy Spirit whose counsel must be sought through rigorous prayer. And not just prayer by EC board members and members of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force. The work that lies before these men and women should be a prayer concern for every Southern Baptist. We should be praying for them much more than Tweeting at them.
Unfortunately lost in the storm of negativity is all the great service being done for others. I agree with a statement recently made by my counterpart in Georgia, Thomas Hammond. He said, “I promise you, America does not want … Southern Baptists to go away. We’re the ones feeding the hungry, clothing the poor. We’re the ones helping young women escape human trafficking. We’re the ones coming alongside hurricane victims to get their lives back to normal.”
He made the comment to pastors in Georgia about how Georgia Baptists are serving. I echo the same report about Tennessee Baptists. Right now, Tennessee Baptists are walking with the people of Waverly in the wake of tragic loss of life and property after recent flooding. Right now, Tennessee Baptists are giving generously through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions and that enables ministry like providing an ultrasound machine for a crisis pregnancy center because Tennessee Baptists stand for life. Right now, Tennessee Baptists are feeding the hungry, serving foster children and caring for the sick. This list goes on and on, and through it all, Tennessee Baptists are faithfully sharing the life-giving, burden-baring, soul-healing Good News of Jesus Christ. This year has been full of miraculous stories of how Tennessee Baptists, working cooperatively, are reaching Tennessee, and reaching the nations with the gospel.
We mustn’t lose sight of that even in this challenging moment for our convention of churches. Southern Baptists have had difficult times throughout our 176-year history. Adversity is not new, but the best of who we are rises to the surface when we work together in unity for the common cause encapsulated in the Great Commission.
I understand the frustration many pastors and churches feel in these days of division. Don’t forget I served as a local church pastor for nearly 40 years, and I experienced frustration many times. But I was resolved to stay the course because I truly believe we actually can do more together than we can individually.
Think about this. I’ve talked to dozens of pastors over the past several months about all that is going on with the SBC Executive Committee and I’ve probably talked to hundreds more over the past few years about all that has gone on with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Many talk about pulling the plug on their Cooperative Program giving. In my opinion, that’s a nuclear option, especially given that the SBC EC only receives 1.5 cents for every $1 of Cooperative Program funds that your church gives. The ERLC distribution is ¾ of one cent out of every dollar, or 78 cents for every $100. Pulling away from the Cooperative Program more negatively impacts missions on the local, state, national and international levels and how we as Southern Baptists prepare students for ministry through our seminaries.
There is a lot at stake in our denomination and now is the time to rally together. The SBC EC and the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force have an important journey ahead. I’d like to thank each person on each of those entities for giving of their time and for serving all Southern Baptists.
What will become of the Southern Baptists Convention? The outcome of that question can only be determined by how we individually and collectively respond to that question by our actions. May the Lord use this time to rebuild lost trust, cultivate unity and continue to use Southern Baptists to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
It is my joy to be on this journey with you. B&R