The 2009 SBC meeting: Good work!

The 2009 Southern Baptist Convention meeting Louisville was anything but dull. Usually there will be one or two items that spark some interest but this year was different, mainly because so much of the program, from pastors’ conference on, was orchestrated to highlight the president’s theme. It was touted by some as a convention of change, a watershed. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Give everything a few years before calling it historic.

The interpretations of this year remind me a little of the 2006 convention that elected Frank Page. That convention was also seen as a grassroots uprising by some. But this “revolution” was more positive (I mean than the 2006 convention, not more positive than Frank Page’s term as president) and broadly endorsed by former, current, and future convention leaders.

Let me emphasize that. The Great Commission and Johnny Hunt’s statement on it were endorsed by convention insiders and newbies. It was affirmed by those who initiated reform in the SBC 30 years ago and by their grandchildren in the Lord. Convention messengers approved the appointment of a task force to enact what President Hunt calls “the teeth” of his Great Commission statement by a landslide. It was not passed by a huge crowd of never-before messengers who showed up to save the convention but by those who show up every year.

The revolution was not against people or even the vision of a generation, but against the sense of dread that has permeated the convention for the past five or ten years. Others may describe it differently, as the defeat of one party by another, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what SBC leader or former leader should have gone home despondent as a result of anything that actually occurred in Louisville.

2009 was a revolution of morale perhaps. While messengers didn’t really do anything too out of the ordinary, there was a transition from “our numbers are bad; we are doomed,” to “let’s do the things we know to do.” It was heartening for reasons most can’t put into words but “heartening” is a good thing. Good morale is a force multiplier.

The Great Commission Resurgence-This was the real convention theme. It came up in one way or another in sermons and reports beginning in the pastors’ conference through the convention sessions. Actually, only one of the nine GCR axioms was addressed by the convention when messengers overwhelmingly approved the appointment of a task force to study “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together.” The large and mostly regional (11 of 19 members represent three southeastern states) committee President Hunt appointed is still diverse enough to have a fair chance of making some helpful suggestions to the convention. We’ll see what develops but we should all pray for their deliberations. The cooperative work of Southern Baptists needs frequent evaluation and reform. I pray they will find God’s best guidance as they look at all that our people do denominationally.

Johnny Hunt missed an opportunity when he reversed himself on the openness of the task force meetings. While, as he says, task force members might be occasionally embarrassed to see their words in print, they shouldn’t be. That little problem has more than one solution. One thing that open meetings would accomplish would be to keep the discussions deliberate and circumspect. Ask yourself if it would be positive or negative for committee members to be motivated to say only things outsiders will know they said. A second advantage to task force transparency is that Southern Baptists will more likely trust a process that is less rather than more secretive. I’m wishing for still another reversal here.

Broadway Baptist Church-This is the third church from which the convention has withdrawn fellowship for affirming unrepentant homosexual members. Liberals are saying that Broadway would have had to pass a motion favoring homosexuality to run afoul of the SBC constitution. That’s absurd. The behavior of churches and individuals is quite often inconsistent with official statements. An adulterer cannot escape what he is by insisting that he loves his wife. The SBC did not reinterpret its standards for fellowship to persecute this Ft. Worth church.

Although it doesn’t come up every year, or even every five years, the fact that the SBC, state conventions, and associations have repeatedly had to deal with churches that affirm this particular sin indicates something threatening about our culture, especially religious culture. In the name of evangelism, compassion, tolerance, or some other thing, some SBC churches will continue to push the boundaries on this issue. Our denominational fellowships will be more often forced to decide if they should wink at homosexual sin to avoid a bad public relations image.

Miscellany-A small slate of resolutions included two with abnormal impact. One was based on two resolutions submitted to celebrate the election of our nation’s first African-American president. While the resolution was quick to point out our wish that this particular president would take a more positive stand on social and moral issues, it rightly noted a positive cultural milestone. Pastor Dwight McKissic of Arlington submitted one of those two resolutions and served Southern Baptists well in doing so. A second resolution, on adoption, was also timely and appropriate.

Perhaps the most incongruous moment of the convention came during the first report of the Executive Committee. EC President Morris Chapman addressed a variety of issues, some unrelated to his entity’s work, and managed to bruise the feelings of nearly everyone in the room by the time he finished. At a luncheon following the session, Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin reportedly apologized to Calvinist attendees for some of Chapman’s remarks. The full text of Chapman’s manuscript can be found at A few observers mistakenly assume that Chapman was speaking for those old timers who did not favor Johnny Hunt’s revolution. I’m not sure who those contrarian oldsters were, in the first place. I also perceive that Morris Chapman was speaking his own opinions from his own heart. To read more than that into it is unsupported by any evidence.

Lottie Moon received some special attention during the convention meeting. In addition to the special gift that our convention made during the International Mission Board report Tuesday night, Johnny Hunt mentioned that his church had slated a day for a special summer offering for international missions. In less public settings other pastors are reported to have similar plans. It would take a miraculous outpouring for these spontaneous gifts to cove the $20 million shortfall in our 2008 offering for international missions but these responses might prove contagious among our churches. Perhaps this sets the stage for an enthusiastic and generous response to the offering in 2009. The annual offering provides 50 percent of funding for our international missions efforts. A greater commitment to Cooperative Program giving would also address the need. We can’t really maintain our thorough missionary enterprise unless we support it with more than words.

It’s always a significant convention when we show up to do the business of the worldwide work we share. We passed a budget, heard reports, acted on motions and resolutions, sang and prayed and listened to inspirational sermons. Those are the things that we always do. Sometimes it’s boring, just like everything else we find necessary in life—sometimes it’s boring. But this was a good convention, a stand out. It was generally more interesting than most. Some of the business will echo in coming years; that catches the imagination. We acknowledged the current difficulties of our work but didn’t wallow in despair or cynicism. Much of the credit has to go to Johnny Hunt. His candor and enthusiasm are winsome. There haven’t been many conventions that made me look expectantly toward the next one. This one did.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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