Reflections on the 2019 SBC, Birmingham, AL

My wife, Summer, and I attended the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention. This was our first experience of attending a national convention. We enjoyed the time together, exploring a little of Birmingham, taking in all of the exhibits at the convention, seeing friends, and being able to participate at this level as Southern Baptists. Thinking back on the convention, here are a few highlights and concerns.

HIGHLIGHTS. First, the theme was “The Gospel Above All.” It’s always good to be reminded as believers that the gospel is primary – period. As Southern Baptists, with all of our differences, we unite around the gospel of Christ and the promotion of His gospel around the world. 

Second, seeing new missionaries commissioned to serve all over the world is a moving and inspiring service. 

Third, I was happy to see J.D. Greear re-elected for a 2ndterm as President. He is a gifted leader and accomplished much in his first term responding to the sex abuse reports that rightly rocked the SBC into action. 

Fourth, it was good to see the SBC taking action to prevent sex abuse in our churches. For too long victims have been silenced and even made to feel responsible for the behavior of predators who have disguised themselves as pastors and leaders. 

Fifth, the issues of abortion, race, and women in ministry are pressing issues of our day in the world and in evangelicalism. It was good to see these issues addressed. 

Sixth, the panel discussion on persecution was excellent. Essentially, each participant, all of whom have experienced persecution, were calling on us as a convention to prepare our churches and our families, because persecution is coming. 

CONCERNS. First, while there were some good statements made during the panel discussion on women in ministry, some of the discussion was centered around language borrowed from the culture rather than from Scripture, there was a lot of attention given to assumption and feeling and perception rather than fact and reality, and many answers were generalized talking points that garner applause but in the end, without specifics, are just not helpful. 

Second, the panel on race relations was much the same. A few very helpful points were expressed, but largely one-sided, generalizations, and perceptions, and what often sounded much like contradictory responses. On both of these issues, I pray we keep discussing and mostly, we keep turning our discussion back to Scripture and solid, biblical application. I’ll be the first to admit, there is much for me to hear and learn. At the same time, relation can only happen if both sides are talking and listening to one another. Even more importantly, we must keep encouraging one another to go back to Scripture to root and guide our discussion, language, and theology.

Third, I felt two of our messengers were mistreated during the open mic sessions. One was sharing a heartfelt plea for the crisis in Sudan. While I understand parliamentary procedure and the motion for amendment would not be accepted, the response did seem harsh and more like “procedure over people”. Couldn’t we at least have paused the session and prayed for Sudan? Another messenger put a straightforward question to the leader of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission about his position on women in ministry. Clearly, he has moved in his position over the past few years, but rather than give an honest, upfront answer he skirted the question and even turned it into a joke for the rest of his segment. Very disappointing.

Fourth, during the resolutions segment, an amendment was put forward to the resolution on critical race theory and intersectionality. Both of these ideologies have pagan roots and form an unbiblical worldview. The resolution states that these may be used only as analytical tools in Southern Baptist life and must be subordinated to Scripture. The proposed amendment simply further stated the biblical identity of humanity in general as image bearers of God and believers’ identity as in Christ. The amendment was rejected, which makes one scratch his head in frustration and confusion. Turns out there is a back story…surprise! 

Fifth, the resolutions segment needs adjustment. Messengers need more time to read through and consider the resolutions and the time slot and allotment need to be changed to allow for thorough consideration, input from the floor, and explanations from the committee.

Overall, it was a great convention as the SBC continues to keep the gospel central and is bold enough to address current, pressing issues. However, we must be careful that when we address current, pressing issues, we do so from a clear, biblical worldview and stance. Borrowing language and ideas from the culture and from our feelings and perceptions easily become dangerous trajectories. 40 years ago we fought the conservative resurgence for Scripture. We must be sure to not allow progressive, liberal ideas to take hold on social issues in our convention. That’s an easy door to open with the good intention of listening and trying to correct error. But you can trade error for error. We must stick to Scripture when analyzing, addressing, and seeking to change wrongs with regard to the ills of our day.