Looking forward, optimistically

A number of people have already presented their recap of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans. Our dearly beloved editor, Gary Ledbetter, will give you a more detailed review in his column. Of course the historic moment was the election of Fred Luter, the first African American president of the SBC. Because of this I want to take my comments to the future rather than the past.

The Southern Baptist Convention is at a defining moment. White, rural Southerners who founded the convention and personified it for over 165 years will no longer be the future. The ethnic mix of our nation has permeated every community. Projections show that in a few decades America’s population will have no racial majority. Texas is already experiencing this diversity. We are no longer rural. The urbanization of America is a reality. While local tribalism and regional identification might exist in some corners, it is rapidly being replaced by the MacDonald’s-ification of the world. I have Hindus living in my subdivision. There is a Buddhist temple in my town. Resist it if you wish, but the world is here.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not subject to a Southern culture or a truncated worldview. We are to represent our Lord to all peoples everywhere. Having an African American president is the first step but is only a first step. The SBC welcomes as leaders all who share our biblical convictions regardless of race, color or language.

SBC entities established the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as a minimalist doctrinal statement. Entities can and should be able to establish other necessary criteria for service. Behavioral practices such as use of tobacco, alcohol or appropriate apparel are not addressed directly in the BF&M but ministries can set their own standards. Good practices for mission boards are to consider the health, family conditions and other personal assessments of candidates for appointment. These go beyond the BF&M but rightly so. Doctrinally, Calvinism, non-Calvinism and other positions that fit in the BF&M should be welcomed. There will always be some issue that rises to the top every so often. Controversy sells newspapers. Actually, in many circles it makes you read blogs. There is nothing like a little dust up to get the attention of preachers and others. The future of the SBC will be healthy if we can keep most of the discussion in the hallways and appropriate forums. As long as advocates accept the validity of the other’s position within the BF&M, then we will have continued unity.

Streamlining the program is the future. Multiple business sessions may fade from view. A young pastor attending his first convention commented to me that the sessions seemed “clunky.” I think he meant that while much of the SBC has progressed to the 21st century, the business apparatus of the SBC is somewhere in the Byzantine Era. Because of our polity we must allow time for messenger involvement. Yet, much of what takes place in the form of business could be done in one session. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has moved in that direction over the last couple of years. Those who want to participate can. Those who prefer the more inspirational or informational times might stay for business with the new format. Many of churches have gone to fewer business meetings. I wish that had been my life experience. The first 15 years of my pastoral ministry I faced the dreaded monthly business meeting. Today’s pastors and people care less about the details. Just give them the big picture and debate only the weighty matters.

I left New Orleans more optimistic about the Southern Baptist Convention. I also left several pounds heavier due to Drago’s oysters and Café Du Monde’s beignets. The SBC must change as our entire existence is changing. Some change is not good but much is. I believe we can change for the better. The young pastor attending the convention for the first time told me he felt like he had a family. The sense of belonging is important. Sure, there are a few crazy uncles in the family. Families squabble from time to time. But there is nothing sweeter than the love you find with family.

Put it on your calendar to attend the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, June 11-12, 2013. You can help shape the future.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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