Happy Friday, readers! I am back from 3 days in balmy Birmingham, Alabama, where I (along with 3 friends) represented our church in the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention.
This year, there were several serious issues to address, and some contentious dust-ups online, leading up to the 2-day convention. What were my thoughts on the affair?
Here are my 5 key takeaways from #SBC19:
- The main thing needs to stay the main thing. One of the most important moments of the convention was the International Mission Board’s commissioning/sending ceremony. Twenty-six people shared some of their testimony and why they were leaving the US to become international missionaries. Some of them had already spent 2 years as part of the SBC “Journeyman” program and were going back for full-time mission work, while others grew up in missionary families or went on trips as a teenager and felt the call then. Several of the missionaries are going to dangerous or challenging parts of the world, so their faces weren’t shown as they spoke. Then, after a time of recognition for their stories, they carried lighted banners with their region of service into the crowd, and groups of people prayed over each one of them. Standing there in that darkened arena, I was reminded that this is what the SBC Annual Meeting is really about. Not the squabbles, not the posturing–reminding ourselves that we have a mission to fulfill, and then honoring and being inspired by those who are ready to risk all to fulfill it.
- We need to learn how to disagree well. This theme kept cropping up, both in the mouths of people in my theological “sub-tribe” and people who get the side-eye on my Twitter feed. Mark Dever, during the “State of the SBC” discussion at a 9 Marks at 9 event said, “You younger folks do a lot of things well, but you just don’t know how to disagree.” Al Mohler agreed, adding that the younger generation of Baptists online need to learn how to do theological triage and distinguish between differences of practice and disagreements on what characterizes our denomination. Russell Moore, during the Baptist 21 panel, quipped, “There needs to be more than just ‘I would do that differently’ and ‘Die, heretic!'” This repeated exhortation to learn how to argue and disagree well, how to represent your rhetorical opponents fairly, and how to treat brothers and sisters as such–it struck home with me. This is something I still need to grow in.
- True diversity begins at the dinner table. Something Dhati Lewis said during the racial reconciliation panel caught me up. I’m going to mangle the quote, but: the question was about representation of people of color in conferences, panels, church leadership, etc. Lewis said the way you achieve real diversity on a conference stage or in an elder room was to start at your dinner table–who do you know, who do you have a real relationship with. But that caught my attention and made me think about my typical dinner guests, and how often they look like me. Now, I know, you may scoff at the thought, but it’s something I have started thinking about. One of the ways I can teach my daughters to love and honor all people equally is to model that before them, both in the weekly gatherings of the church and, as we have opportunity, in our home. This isn’t about diversity quotas in my friendships; it’s about widening my circle and learning from my brothers and sisters in Christ whose experiences are different than mine.
- The sexual abuse crisis is urgent and must be addressed wisely and decisively. This is the deep dark shadow that has hung over the SBC for even longer than the last 4 months. We were reminded that a group was commissioned last year at the annual meeting to address this issue. However, in recent months, as more and more survivors of abuse within Baptist churches have come forward, it has only emphasized that this is a moment of unique challenge, a valley of decision, in which this ragtag network of cooperating churches must decide if we truly believe that our God is a God of righteousness, justice, and holiness. I was glad to be part of the first big steps toward dealing with this terrible sin in the camp, as we voted to amend our constitution to make way for churches that do nothing about abuse or cover up abuse to be removed from fellowship with us. This is essentially church discipline on the macro level, and I think it is an appropriate step. Furthermore, the realities of sexual abuse and its destructiveness were addressed head-on, and survivors were given opportunities to speak and to challenge the denomination to listen. There is much work to do, but there is a clear passion from the executive leadership down, to press in and fight for those who have been abused.
- There are still some big questions to work through. One of the major discussion points involves how churches can encourage, equip, and support women to use their gifts and serve in every way the Bible allows them to. What that looks like is still being wrestled through, and there are going to be a lot more discussions and debates as we decide as a denomination where we draw clear lines and where we show grace. Another flashpoint of debate is over the SBC’s stance on specific elements of the social justice conversation, like Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Some say that these are useful frameworks for understanding secular perspectives and that they can be considered while still submitting them to the authority of Scripture. Others argue that these frameworks are built on secular and anti-Biblical worldview assumptions that render them counter-productive or even harmful when trying to address justice concerns. This debate will continue, as the implications and after-shocks of Resolution #9 play out (if any). Suffice it to say, #SBC2020 will be a wild ride.
There you go: my five key takeaways from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention.
…But I have so many more thoughts! So here’s a rapid-fire list of observations from my first SBC experience!
- I love free stuff, but man, I really had to check myself on this trip. There were so many freebies that, even being selective, I still added about 10-15 pounds to my luggage–and that’s just free stuff; I didn’t buy anything. Most of what I brought home was (big surprise) books. I told my wife that I’m making a challenge to myself: I’m going to read all the books I got from the 2019 SBC before I (Lord-willing) go to the 2020 SBC. (Considering I’m still not done with many of the books I received at the 2012 T4G, this may be a tough task!)
- Picking up free stuff from exhibit hall booths is like an advanced-level version of grabbing a grocery-store snack sample. Feigning interest, awkward small talk, names and handshakes exchanged. I’m going to be really honest here, folks, and I know I sound plain mercenary, but sometimes I just would like a free coffee or book. That’s probably wrong of me, but there it is.
- Getting to see old friends is a joy. I got to talk for a few minutes with a dear brother I served with at a previous church for 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, so it was a sweet thing to get to catch up.
- That said, seeing old acquaintances who apparently didn’t recognize you: less joy, more awkwardness. More on that some other time.
- The exhibit hall floor is a roaming multitude of people, and it became overwhelming really quickly.
- One of the ways the in-person experience of the meeting is so different from watching it online is that I found myself caring about all the reports a whole lot more (for the most part). And I have to admit, when people streamed for the exits during some of the prayers or presentations, I became a bit judgmental in my heart. (I’m sorry, y’all.) Watching these conventions from home, I can dip in and out while on Twitter or working, but being there in person is such a cool experience, because you’re reminded that you’re part of something bigger. All these believers around you, representing tens of thousands of churches, all together working toward our singular mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to all people. It’s thrilling in a way you just can’t appreciate from a distance.
- I think my favorite part of the convention activities was the “9 Marks at 9” event. The vibe was very relaxed and familial, and the panelists (Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Al Mohler, and HB Charles) were relaxed and open. They were able to speak off-the-cuff and joke with each other, and at one point Mark Dever even opened up a can of worms that left Dr. Mohler flustered and caught off-guard, but he was able to take it in stride. It was just refreshing to hear these faithful men speak candidly about the issues of the denomination, disagree with each other, and still demonstrate respect and friendship. I’m thankful I was there to witness that.
- One of the things that frustrated me greatly was that some of the people who beat the drum against misrepresenting your opponents on social media were more than happy to make straw-man arguments in their talks. I’m not going to name any names, because I don’t want to rustle up any more controversy. But it was irritating.
- JD Greear repeatedly making the “deep state…of unity” joke got old. That said, as I noted on Twitter, evidence of the so-called “SBC Deep State” came out when Dr. Mohler accidentally claimed during the seminary report to have been president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the last 27 years. (I, for one, welcome our bow-tied overlords.)
- Birmingham was NOT ready for us. Long lines, crazy waits. At least 4 of the 6 restaurants in Terminals A, B, and C of the Birmingham airport ran out of food on Wednesday night, before 7:30pm. That said, Birmingham was a neat town, and I’m sorry I didn’t schedule an extra day or two to experience more of it than the four square blocks or so of downtown where we stayed and convened.
- Eugene’s Hot Chicken in Birmingham, y’all. Don’t sleep on it. It’s gooooooood.
- I spent almost all my time with my fellow elder Travis. Two and a half days of fellowship with a brother I admire and am encouraged by was one of the biggest blessings of the week.
- You never appreciate your own bed so much as your first night back from a trip.
I’ll stop there for now, but may have more to say later. If you have specific questions (for example, about the B21 panel and Matt Chandler’s interview), let me know in the comments.
Suffice to say, it was a great experience and I look forward to going back in the future!
If you were at #SBC19 as well–first of all, why didn’t you TELL me?!? We could have hung out!!!–or you watched it online, let me know what you thought in the comments below.
If you have questions about the SBC in general, I can try to answer those as well.