What I saw at the 2018 SBC

Dallas city skyline, Dallas, Texas, the Dallas part of the Dallas/FortWorth Metroplex

I’ve attended nearly every SBC annual meeting since 1982 and the experience of it coming to your home county is very different than travelling hundreds of miles to attend. On the positive side, the convention gives local ministry a boost and gives Southern Baptists a little notice in the media. This year’s meeting was unusually interesting because of several issues the messengers discussed and considered both during our business sessions and in hallway conversations. Even before the last-minute announcement that Vice President Pence would speak, attendance by non-Baptist media was higher than it has been in years. Our business was on public display well before we convened in Dallas. Here are some thoughts on some of the more prominent issues that we considered.

The presidential election-This has been the biggest issue for many years of our history. It was not this year. Although this race was a true campaign and both candidates really wanted to win, the distinctions between them were minor compared to the races of the 1980s. Both men are inerrantists, practice missions and evangelism, and have demonstrated an ability to lead. Ken Hemphill and J.D. Greear were gracious and dignified in their comments about each other, though some of their partisans struggled with this. It was an important election but the outcome was neither the end of the SBC nor the assurance of our future.

Crossover Dallas-This was a big deal. Hundreds of Dallas-Ft. Worth Southern Baptists went door to door in hot weather to share the gospel with their neighbors. Our seminaries provided 175 students and professors to help with this effort during the week before the convention—Southwestern Seminary provided 100 of those. These volunteers knocked on nearly 20,000 doors and recorded 340 professions of faith. Saturday events and an enormous rally Sunday night added strength to this earlier effort and brought the total professions to 4,229, the largest number recorded during the history of Crossover efforts. Lives, families, businesses and communities were blessed because the SBC came to Dallas and God used our people to preach the gospel across the region. This is puzzling, maybe boring, to outsiders looking on but it should never be to us, and it certainly is not to the people whose lives God transformed.

The SBC #metoo moment-The issue of respect for women was intermingled in nearly everything we did. It was mentioned in sermons and reports, was a frequent question of SBC leaders, spawned a leftist rally outside the convention hall, and was the subject of panel discussions and resolutions. Clearly, the churches of our convention have struggled to teach both biblical complementarianism (the doctrine that men and women are equal before God but assigned different roles in church and marriage) and equal respect. As often happens, a cultural moment is helping us examine our own hearts. But I would add that this is not a moment wherein our churches or their cooperative ministries are reconsidering our convictions about women pastors. Our new president made clear during his press conference that this was no part of the agenda, for his part. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary also drove home this point during his report. Abandoning complementarianism is a completely different discussion, and one we’re not having.

Mike Pence-In a surprising dust up, a significant number of messengers favored disinviting Vice President Pence the day before he was to speak to the convention. Reasons varied from the company he keeps to sensitivity toward minorities to the disruption the visit would cause for our Wednesday morning session. Mr. Pence did speak but I doubt any national political figure will speak to us live again for a while—if for no other reason than its significant impact on our program. While many who opposed honoring the invitation said this pushback was not personal, it did appear to largely be just that. It’s one thing to say, “Let’s not do this in the future”; it’s another thing to be churlish and disrespectful after the matter is decided.

The firing of Paige Patterson-This was probably the most uncomfortable aspect of our convention discussions. It was present from the first introduction of business until the last session of the convention. Multiple motions were introduced calling for some members of the SWBTS trustee board to be removed from service. The Committee on Order of Business scheduled debate on a motion to remove the board’s Executive Committee for Wednesday afternoon. The motivation for the motion was the committee’s May 30 termination of Patterson and revocation of all titles and benefits granted by the full board on May 23, following a marathon 13-hour meeting. It was a tense but clarifying conversation that ended with an overwhelming vote against the motion. This action completed the general discussion of the Patterson firing. Though many things about this event are grievous, the seminary’s response to the accusations against Paige Patterson, and the convention’s response, is behind us.

Many have said silly things about our Dallas meeting. No, J.D. Greear is not going to remake the denomination (no one does that during a two-year presidency). Neither did convention messengers do anything to signal that they wanted to resign from the culture war, as one outlier suggested. We came out of Dallas committed to missions and still committed to biblical doctrine–including doctrine related to sexual morality, order in our churches and a biblical understanding of gender. Our convention has challenges, big challenges in our future, but those who were committed to our common mission going into that week came out of the week with some reasons to be encouraged.   

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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