It is not likely that 2017 will be remembered as a great year for Southern Baptists – not our worst, I suppose, but not our best. We had a good time putting on the Pastors’ Conference and the Annual Meeting seemed to come off without a lot of controversy (we managed to reelect Steve Gaines on the FIRST ballot!) but there was a surfeit of unnecessary controversy – much of it manufactured within the ranks of the blogging community.
- There was a constant roiling over the role of politics in the life of the church. It boiled over earlier in the year as Jack Graham withheld a million dollars in CP funds for a time, then came to a head again during the Roy Moore election fiasco in December. This is not likely to go away – especially with 2018 being an election year.
- There were blogs that devoted themselves to manufactured controversies through National Enquirer-style journalism – no fact-checking, using innuendo as fact, insinuation and false accusation as their modus operandi.
- Several of our institutions continue to struggle financially and there have been some controversial decisions that have fed the fires of the aforementioned blogs.
- The ugly story at the end of the year about the lawsuit against some of our denominational icons puts us in a precarious place.
What can we do to make 2018 a better year? Some things are obviously out of our control, but there are things we can do on social media and in the convention as a whole to make our little world a better place to live and grow.
1. Responsible blog behavior.
Many professions have a code of ethics, a standard by which to judge behavior. Several times this year we have struggled with how to handle explosive information about our entities and leaders.
We received several leads on stories that could have been big. Some were ridiculous and we ignored them – we let the hate blogs handle those. But we were also given inside information on several issues that affected our entities. We struggled with the role of a blog in the Baptist world. What should we do with such information?
So we just publish what we have and let others sort it out? It is our responsibility to check facts and verify? Do we have any responsibility to contact those we will write about to get their response or to allow them to clarify the story? Is our role to expose and embarrass (or to improve the SBC?
Each time we discussed – at length – how to respond. If our goal had been “ratings” we’d have broken several stories that turned out to be huge. We did not do so. We decided to contact leaders in the various entities and found them all honest and forthright. In most of the situations, they dealt with the issues in ways that satisfied us completely. In another case (the Pressler story), there were enough anomalies in the lawsuit that we held off until a major news source broke the story. But we have found that attempting to balance providing information to Southern Baptists while also cooperating with our entities and their leaders is better than trying to be Woodward and Bernstein.
I don’t know the future of blogging – some say it is dying, others say it is just morphing. I’m old, what do I know? But it is probably long past time that major bloggers come up with a code of ethics for Baptist bloggers. Some will refuse to sign on and will not play by the rules, but there needs to be a standard.
2. Unity in Diversity is more than a cliche
There are those among us who seek to make the SBC monolithic. Believe like me, dress like me, think like me, vote like me, agree with me on everything.
There are things we should demand uniformity on. We should demand uniformity on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – they are under constant attack. The absolute inerrancy of Scripture. The Trinity. The deity of Christ. The Blood atonement. Salvation by grace through faith without any contribution of human merit or works. Here we stand, we can do no other. We ought also to stand as Baptists for our Baptist distinctives. We should not call those who disagree on these heretics, but we should hold these truths strongly. There was a lengthy debate on how to quantify Baptist Identity and we all got tired of the fight before we defined what a Southern Baptist is with any specificity. But we should not compromise on believer’s baptism by immersion and other clear Baptist doctrine and practice. It is who we are.
But in everything else, it is time we realized that we are stronger when we have a wide variety of Baptists under the same banner.
- We are stronger with large churches and small churches all cooperating.
- We are stronger when both large churches and small have a part in the LEADERSHIP of the convention.
- We are stronger with Calvinists and Non-Calvinists of all stripes (included the so-called Traditionalist camp) cooperate and work together instead of promoting schism and hostility.
- We are stronger when Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnicities are involved in both the life and the leadership of the convention.
- We are stronger when both cessationists and continuationists cooperate as Baptists.
- We are stronger when traditionalist churches and contemporary/culturally relevant churches work together for the cause of Christ.
- We are stronger when the Russell Moore wing of the convention and the Jack Graham wing agree to disagree, voice their views, but continue to participate in the cause of Christ.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
One of the biggest threats to the SBC today is the “you have to be just like me or you aren’t a real Baptist” contingent. If you believe differently than me, if you vote differently than I do, if you have a different philosophy of ministry, your fidelity to Christ is suspect.
It has to stop. The name-calling has to stop (labeling people liberal because they don’t agree with you, etc). Dividing over things that are not essential to the Baptist faith simply must stop.
The response to this is always, “We have to discuss these issues.” Maybe. But as long as the discussion has the accusatory and divisive tone it has had in recent years, it will tear down and not build up. Let’s discuss Calvinism (you can, I have little interest). Let’s discuss issues of the Holy Spirit. Let’s discuss political issues. But let’s commit to an intentional appreciation of diversity in all these discussions.
3. Fighting for Unity.
Yes, I realize the irony of that.
I believe in the importance of unity in a church and I believe that the SBC must prize unity as one of the greatest values in Scripture. Jesus died to build ONE body and unity matters to him. To divide the body is a serious thing. There is more teaching on love, gentleness, unity, kindness, and such teachings than just about any other teaching in the Epistles.
I also realize that there are people who are simply enemies of unity, people who through bitterness or anger or pride or whatever other spiritual failing do not value unity. They seek to tear down and not to build up. They are active in the SBC. They often justify their ungodliness as “taking a stand,” as moral and theological courage. But it is contrary to Christ.
And such people must be opposed. We who value unity have to stand against the enemies of unity.
The problem is, and I have struggled with this, it is hard to fight for unity without becoming contentious myself. It is easy to cross that line. I have to constantly guard my spirit to avoid being sucked into the anger and bitterness vortex of the hate blogs.
I have struggled with this and have several suggestions.
Take a clear and unequivocal stand. Paul called out those who threatened the unity of the Body in no uncertain terms. Titus 3:10 tells us to have NOTHING to do with divisive people after they’ve been warned if they continue in their ways.
STOP frequenting the hate blogs, those that simply promote anger and strife. Marginalize them. They have the freedom to write whatever ungodly thing they wish, but we have the right to not read it. People send me links to articles or comments from the two main hate blogs saying, “Did you see this.” I want to respond, “No, if I wanted to read that, I would.” Why read and interact with people who are devoted to promoting schism? What good comes from that? Have any of you ever interacted with those blogs and accomplished anything? Just say no.
Guard your spirit and have friends who hold you accountable. I have written articles and submitted them to my group of buddies and they gently (or not so gently) said, “That might not be a good idea, Dave.” But we need to constantly review our writings and interactions to see that the bitterness we fight is not overcoming our own souls.
It is an important fight, but the battlefield is littered with the detritus of the souls of those who entered the fray with pure hearts and gradually grew caustic, bitter, and angry. It is something we have to fight.
4. Include the average church at every level
We had two main goals at the Pastors’ Conference last year. First, we wanted to bless the pastors who attended with an encouraging walk through the book of Philippians. Our second goal was to demonstrate to the powers-that-be in the SBC that small church guys were not defective leaders who need to be fixed and led by the hand of the megachurch pastors.
The SBC has been a convention of small churches led by about 25 huge churches. I am not against those men or angry with them, but I think it is time that the leadership of the SBC broadens.
I hear whisperings about running a smaller church pastor for SBC president. It has been done. I don’t know if it is practical or if the job would tax a man who didn’t have a huge pastoral staff to pick up the slack at home. But there are lots of ways to divide the duties.
If the mega leadership looks at the 2017 PC as an anomaly and just goes back to business as usual – the megas running the show and expecting average churches to simply sit and cheer – I believe we have reached the point where we can and will organize more actions for the future.
5. Properly prioritize politics
The Trump era has been controversial and divisive in America, but it has been an absolute wedge in the SBC. Many of us were unable by conviction to vote for Donald Trump and many believe that the failure to vote Trump was a betrayal of America. The feelings are sharp and harsh. Few of us have changed our feelings of Trump’s character but “NeverTrump” has become a sort of bogeyman epithet in some circles.
And now we head into an election year when political issues are not likely to fade.
We need to find a way to do better this election cycle than we did the last. We need to keep first things first and not let politics become a point of fellowship.
I have to get to bed and I will be in the air most of the day on New Year’s Day, headed home from frigid Boston to frigid Sioux City (20 below on Sunday – welcome home). There’s more to say, but this is all I have time for now, and this is long enough – probably too long. If it gets any longer, William will make fun of me.
Happy New Year, SBC Voices. May 2018 be a year of grace and blessing.