Thanks to all who commented or sent messages about my recent article here at Between the Times. I don’t write on SBC issues as often as I should, but felt a need to respond to a few friends and the concerns they expressed.
I had a pretty simple point: Southern Baptists are primarily a traditional people. The vast majority of Southern Baptist institutions and entities are led by traditional Southern Baptists. The traditional SBC member and leader are not marginalized. As one state exec friend told me, “Thanks for being the king of obvious.” ;-) Obvious? Yes. Needed to be said anyway? Yes.
Some people tried to have a few other discussions with my blogpost, even taking the liberty to move in some odd directions from what I actually wrote-a sort of postmodern hermeneutic, if you will. That’s fine. It’s part of life in the SBC blogosphere now. But, I will say it again so we don’t miss it (and it might not be bad to read what I actually wrote anyway):
I can tell you with a high level of certainty, “traditional Southern Baptists” are not being pushed aside. By simply attending these events [state and SBC convention meetings], it is easy to see that those who label themselves as “traditional” are still well respected voices (and the majority) in our convention, the accompanying conferences, and our entities.
I have learned that, in Southern Baptist life, telling the truth can be controversial at times. But, once more: traditional Southern Baptists are not marginalized. There are some groups that are marginalized, and I would include non-Anglo churches, small churches, and others. But, it is a false start to the discussion to say that the traditional are marginalized-and the truth is, that view has real consequences. We are a convention of primarily traditional churches, and it is reflected in our entities-and rightly so.
I want to encourage that we not succumb to any potential backlash against non-traditional churches that actually want to cooperate in our global mission endeavor, particularly if that backlash were based on a rumor they are “taking over” and marginalizing the rest. It’s not reflective of reality, it is the wrong place to start discussions about our denomination, and it will end badly. We need young and old, traditional and contemporary, and young traditional and old contemporary, all working together for the cause of Christ. We do not need another round of divisive talk geared toward contemporary churches– we are still reaping the harvest of the last round.
Let me say again, as I did last time, that we need to appreciate and be thankful for who we are as a convention-and that is a convention of small, rural, and mostly traditional churches. And, we can thank God for the great work He is doing in those churches. As I have done research on churches, we’ve seen, celebrated, and published on these churches in Comeback Churches, Transformational Church, and other writings. We do not need to forget who we are… but we also do not need to be afraid of keeping that base and adding to it those who are within our confessional consensus and want to cooperate together to spread the gospel.
My first post was responding to several people who commented to me about the SBC Pastors’ Conference and the perceived marginalization of traditional Southern Baptists. I’ve heard back from a few of them and they now agree-one pastors’ conference doth not a marginalization make (and there are traditional voices there as well).
As I said in my last article, we need to have important discussions about the SBC’s future, but starting with the idea that traditional Southern Baptists are marginalized is a red herring that keeps us from talking about the real issues. In the comment stream last time, the conversation seemed to move from “yes, but what about _________,” which is fine. Those are important issues. But, my point was about the perceived marginalization of traditional SBC churches. The conversation moved other directions, I assume, because it was agreed that this was not the real issue. Yet, there are real issues!
One of those is the Cooperative Program. Another is how far our methodological diversity should go. And, another is how we prioritize the nations while maintaining our denominational structure domestically. We should discuss these three issues but without the bluster of arguing about who speaks during an 18-hour window this summer in Phoenix. We should have that conversation as fellow believers and co-denominationalists, looking to work together rather than looking to find a reason to divide.
So, since lots of people now seem to agree that either: 1. They have changed their mind, or 2. That is not what they meant… I’d be happy to move on. I am sure not everyone will be ready (grin), but it seems the point is clear. There ARE issues, but a contemporary takeover (with a traditional marginalization) is not one of them.
I will talk more about each of the three issues I’ve listed in the coming days to try to make some suggestions about how we might address the issues involved.
I’m encouraged that many Southern Baptists are asking the right questions. I’m hopeful we can have the right discussions about the right issues without being sidetracked. We are at a crossroads, but God is still on his throne and still has a plan. And, as I have shared both inside and outside of the SBC, I think denominations remain an important tool in God’s plan.
I believe we can have the right conversations that draw us together for the cause of the gospel. The vast majority of Southern Baptists I talk to think we can as well. We can disagree-like I needed to tell you that-but let’s do so with the desire to fulfill the commission of disciple-making. And, let’s start with the facts. Then, let’s wrestle through the issues together, using the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as our confessional standard, and all the while learning to cooperate with all kinds of SBC churches. Don’t let a few strident voices derail the conversation about how we can work together for the gospel. Let’s figure it out… as Southern Baptists… together.