At the SBC 2009 in Louisville, there were far more highlights than there were lowlights, as seen in my previous post. However, there were some significant moments and observations I came away with from my first SBC Annual Meeting that were rather discouraging. Here are some that I jotted down:
1. Morris Chapman
What Morris Chapman did as a part of the Executive Committee report should be enough to bring about his resignation. It was that bad. Seriously. Whether he claims ignorance or spoke with such ill-informed knowledge, the level of incompetence and grandstanding for political agendas as the most influential bureaucrat in the SBC is appalling. There is too much power and pulpit for one man among a convention of autonomous, local churches to continually say such things without accountability to the convention he is positioned as the Executive Committee CEO.
2. Motions & Moralism
It has been pointed out already by several that motions can be made by any credentialed messenger at the SBC and that the motions do not necessarily represent the common voice of the SBC populace. While that is true, I do believe the motions reveal a lot about the ongoing need for the recovery of the gospel in the SBC. The Pastor’s Conference centered a great deal on gospel unity, passion for mission, and a commitment to seeing renewal in our local churches. The motions, however, focused on education, boycotts, homosexuals, drinking, cussing, flags, etc., all of which leads me to the next lowlight.
3. Cultural Fundamentalism
The Southern Baptist Convention has embraced the religious forms of the South in many ways that has pushed cultural fundamentalism at odds with gospel-centered churches. This fundamentalism emphatically embraces the culture war and bemoans the sinful actions of secular society, calling for radical separation and denunciation of things aforementioned in #2 (homosexuals, drinking, cussing, etc.). More attention is paid to the cultural imperative than the gospel indicative, thereby leading to a moralism or religion that fights for cultural values and even sometimes elevates them to a higher degree than the gospel. Although I agree that some of the issues are important, the presence of this cultural fundamentalism is quite disconcerting, especially as this past convention revealed the level of importance placed upon them. I would much rather see us deal with being “of the world but not in the world” than being “in the world but not of the world.” We need the fight the war with sin the camp before we fight the war with sin in the culture. And for the record, I have never had an ounce of alcohol in my life, nor smoked, nor do I cuss – but that’s besides the point. 😉
4. Roger Moran & Anti-Driscollism
For those who do not know who Roger Moran is, he’s the guy in Missouri who was after Darrin Patrick and The Journey, crusaded against dually affiliated Acts 29/SBC churches and eventually got them de-funded, and served in the past on the Executive Committee of the SBC. It was announced prior to the convention that Moran was going to pass out his hit piece against Driscoll, Acts 29, and SEBTS, calling out specific Southern Baptists (e.g., Ed Stetzer and Dr. Danny Akin) for their affinity for gospel-centered church planting within the Acts 29 network. When Moran was not allowed to pass out his propaganda on the convention floor, Dr. Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell, opened his booth to spread the information. I predicted among some of my friends that Moran would take the MO crusade national at the SBC meeting, but I did not expect that he would have such an elaborate game plan.
In all, there were five motions made against Mark Driscoll, making him the most influential and most talked about person at the SBC meeting. What most people do not know is that this was in large part staged by Moran and his supporters. It was an attempt by a select few to win over the masses by talking about drinking, cussing, and talking about sex in church–all of which cultural fundamentalists can rally around. Fortunately, The Committee on the Order of Business (COOB) not only rejected the particular motions but also rebuked the attempts to smear Southern Baptist leaders in such an illegitimate way.
I agree with my friend Tim Ellsworth who rightly pointed out,
We have lots of churches where nobody could possibly be saved because they’re not hearing the message of salvation, and yet we have messengers at the SBC annual meeting who want to launch a personal crusade against Driscoll because they’re uncomfortable with his language.
Give me the choice between Driscoll and his emphasis on the gospel (despite his faults) and many Southern Baptist churches where the language is perfectly appropriate and pristine and yet devoid of the gospel’s wonderful words of life, and I’ll take Driscoll every time.
For other helpful takes, consider the words of Danny Akin and Michael Spencer, or better yet, take some time to listen and read the man himself who, unlike some Southern Baptists conferences, puts everything out there for FREE.
There were three instances of anti-Calvinism, none of which I believe were well-received by Southern Baptists (Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike). The main occurrence, of course, was Morris Chapman’s diatribe which was supposed to be an entity report. The other two occurrences came during the discussion about motions, most notably during the GCR Task Force debate where Calvinism was blamed for the decline in evangelism and said would split the convention. Dr. Frank Page winsomely and plainly spoke against the anti-Calvinism as a non-Calvinist in favor of the GCR Task Force, and I had the privilege of catching him the convention hallway to express my appreciation for his leadership and irenic spirit. The good news is that anti-Calvinism rhetoric is losing ground in the SBC, in large part through the increasing influence and involvement of younger Southern Baptists who are more Calvinistic as well as the non-Calvinist leadership who are tired and increasinly intolerant of the misrepresentations and straw men leveled against their Reformed brothers.
6. White Convention
There’s no way of getting around it, not even by color-coordinated choir outfits. We are a white convention. While there may be work done among ethnic minorities, they are clearly not involved or interested in Southern Baptist life on a national level. Again, I think this to some degree goes back to the Southern enculturation that we have assumed in our methodology and not carefully critiqued in light of our calling as Christians in racial diversity and outreach.
7. Doughnut Sales
I know this may sound silly, but it needs to be mentioned. A couple tweeps (here and corrected here) found out that over 20,000 doughnuts were sold at the SBC meeting. Recently, I read how one blogger was proud that the bar at their hotel had to be shut down due to slow business (presumably because Southern Baptists occupied the majority of the rooms) and this is good, but no one seems to wonder why we can’t cause the doughnut shops to close down. Southern Baptists have much more to be concerned when it comes to our waistline than being able to “walk the line.” I appreciate the example of men like Ed Stetzer who, through a disciplined lifestyle and eating healthier, lost over 120 lbs. in the past year. May his example inspire many other Southern Baptists to do the same.
8. Music without Transcendence
There was some good times of worship through song at the convention, but what surprised me was that there were no modern hymns sung by any of the worship leaders (at least that I could recall). Many if not most of the songs were testimonial with very little transcendence, little about who God is and what He has done. Instead they were about who we are what we are going to do. I just like singing about Jesus more than I do me, and I would have liked to have been able to do that more with my fellow Southern Baptists.
9. Baptist Press
While I plan on writing about the role of Baptist Press soon, they should be included in the lowlight section of the SBC meeting because it’s agenda in making the news rather than reporting the news. The four-part series by Will Hall just prior to the convention coupled with the Mark Driscoll article by Don Hinkle was really disappointing. It is very hard not to see that Baptist Press has an agenda, one that is quite contrarian to the direction of many SBC leaders today.
10. Makeup of GCR Task Force
I put the GCR Task Force in the lowlight section not because I disagree with it (!) but because I think the makeup of the 18-member group could have been better comprised. When I first heard the names, it sounded like a lot of megachurch pastors and “insiders”–kind of like the “king-makers” in pre-Frank Page days. I believe Southern Baptists would have been better served with more diversity in this task force. Nothing huge, but a disappointment no less.
All in all, I left Louisville greatly encouraged. I know that the negatives tend to get more press than the positives (just look at the front page of any newspaper), but it is evident from the testimony of many elder brothers who have attended these things for decades that this was the best, most hopeful convention they have ever attended. I do believe there is a new day dawning, and I look forward to praying and participating in the efforts to focus on the gospel, the mission, and the local church for the glory of Christ and His fame among the nations.