Instead of joining the throng of commentators now that the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting is over, I thought I would share two articles that you need to read. If you, or your church, participate with the Southern Baptist convention in any way, and if you are even mildly interested in the events that took place this year in Phoenix, then these articles will provide you with insight into the last couple of days.
The first article is by Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University. Nathan recounts the events surrounding the critical vote concerning the condemnation of the Alt-Right movement and white supremacy as someone who was in the room. Nathan’s account is accurate. I can vouch for it, because I was also in the room. With the nature of media today, social and mainstream, commentary is the new journalism. During the 24 hours that led up to the overwhelming vote against white supremacy, Twitter and major news outlets were pouring out pontifications, and entirely too many of those were coming from a distance. Nathan is, in fact, a historian. He does well to point out that a story is best told by those who were in the room. Simply commenting or critiquing from a safe distance is not influence and is often not even accurate.
The next article is by Keith Whitfield and Micah Fries. Keith is the new dean of graduate studies and vice president for academic administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Micah is the pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church. These men do an excellent job speaking to the atmosphere at the convention, especially during the events surrounding the resolution mentioned in Nathan’s article. Again, there is a familiar refrain: “a ballot is more powerful than a tweet.”
Keith and Micah discuss the significance of participation versus the ineffectual nature of commenting from a distance. They write, “allow us to provide some friendly push back for those of you who were not there, yet questioned priorities of a committee who did not present a resolution you thought should have been presented and questioned the priorities of messengers who did not affirm a vote that you thought they should have passed. One thing this year’s annual meeting taught us is that when it comes to Southern Baptists who care about the decisions and statements of our deliberative body, the priority starts with participation.”
The article enforces the idea that we can accomplish significant things when our churches are willing to cooperate together. For instance, over 45,000 churches just said with one voice that they denounce the Alt-Right movement and white supremacy in our nation. That is a big deal, but it only happens when people show up. Instead of distancing ourselves from cooperation at a national level, perhaps for fear that we may be identified with others, Keith and Micah call readers to understand that influence can only happen through participation.
Only the people in the room have a say in what happens.
One Final Thought
While most of the media coverage and Twitter kerfuffle surrounded voting and resolutions, I do not feel it fair to conclude a discussion of the annual meeting without at least a word about why we were all in that room in the first place.
Many things happen at the annual meetings. Important decisions are made concerning the cooperation of these churches for the next year. Public statements are made on behalf of the churches concerning important social issues, such as denouncing white supremacy. But, there is one primary reason why thousands of people gather every year for this annual meeting. There is, in fact, a primary reason why this coalition of churches exists at all, and that was witnessed Tuesday night as 5,000 people gathered around a crowd of missionaries and commissioned them to the nations. In the midst of convention business, it is important to stop and remember why all the hassle is worth the effort.
For all of its dark spots, the Southern Baptist Convention shines brightest when it turns its face toward the Great Commission. We were, after all, founded for the cooperative sending of missionaries, and we have been doing that ever since our beginning. The commission Tuesday night served as a reminder of the foundational reason for our cooperation. If you ever catch yourself wondering why cooperating with the convention matters, look no further than our missionaries. Together, we can send further and proclaim louder the glorious gospel of our King Jesus.