By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
During Summit, Chris Turner, the TBMB’s director of communications, and I were having a conversation with TBC president Bruce Chesser and vice president Chuck Groover. The issue of statesmen and statesmanship in the Southern Baptist Convention came up. The general consensus was we have few if any. What a shame.
When I think of Baptist statesmen in my era, the names Hershel Hobbs, James Sullivan, Adrian Rogers, Jimmy Draper, Arthur L. Walker and Keith Parks immediately come to mind, just to name a few.
Though used primarily to describe political leaders, the word basically means “wise, skilled and respected leader” and that can apply to the religious world as well.
As we talked about the SBC, no names immediately came to the forefront, at least for me. In Tennessee, however, it is a different story. We do have statesmen and I consider both Chesser and Groover to be in that category. Both have been strong, effective leaders in the TBC for many years. Chesser was incredible as he navigated the annual meeting with humor and wisdom. There was a great spirit of unity, even with some potentially divisive topics. I believe that was achieved primarily because of the leadership he provided.
I consider the TBMB’s own Randy C. Davis to be a statesman, as is former Southern Baptist Convention President and Bellevue Baptist Pastor Steve Gaines. There are others as well, but for the sake of space issues and inadvertently leaving someone off my list who should be there, I will stop here. The point is Tennessee Baptists are blessed to have such leadership across our convention and in the pulpits of our churches. We’d do well not to take it for granted.
The question we need to ask is, “Why are there so few statesmen in our larger denomination?”
My simple and short answer is that in today’s SBC culture, too many emerging “leaders” are more concerned about public opinion and building personal brands. A true statesman, at least in the religious world, is more concerned about God’s Kingdom and works to build God’s Kingdom in God’s name rather than his own kingdom in God’s name.
As individuals and as a denomination, we must beware of who we follow until we are certain of the kingdom to which the road they’re on leads. B&R