#SBC21 is in the books and it’s a convention we’ll all remember for years to come. I went in unsure of what to expect, and came home encouraged. Here are eight key victories I believe we saw last week in Nashville.
1. Motion for convention-wide voluntary assessment of abuse
Leading up to the convention, most attention was on the Gaines/Parrott motion published in the lead up to the Annual Meeting and in the aftermath of the Russell Moore letters. See #2 for more on that motion. But behind the scenes, Todd Benkert had been working for months with counsel from survivor advocates on a plan to provide for a convention-wide “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC.”
Todd made his motion Tuesday morning. [Full text here.] This motion called for the ERLC to hire a 3rd party to receive voluntary reports of abuse and mishandling of abuse from churches, victims, and witnesses. This is much wider in scope than the Gaines/Parrot motion and has a different aim: “to provide broad-spectrum data and analysis on rates of abuse allegations, mishandling of abuse allegations, and patterns related to said allegations”.
Todd’s motion was well-received by victim advocates and has the potential to be a real, meaningful step forward for our convention in this area. In many ways, it’s us finally trying to follow best practices recommended by the survivor community. Many of our previous steps have failed to deliver the kind of transparency or action this issue demands.
This motion was referred to the ERLC for consideration because it requested action from the ERLC. Many times referrals of motions functionally have the effect of killing those motions. But here it was actually part of Todd’s strategy to prevent the Executive Committee, which has often been a roadblock for meaningful progress on abuse response, from being able to control or prevent this third-party assessment. In short, Todd meant for the motion to be referred and that was part of the plan all along. He explains this in more detail here.
This motion may not have received the most attention, but it’s quite possible that, if followed through, it could have a meaningful, long-lasting impact on our convention in the area of abuse response.
2. Motion for investigation into Executive Committee abuse response
As mentioned above, this was the Gaines/Parrott motion published ahead of the convention aiming to transfer the oversight of the recently initiated third-party review of the Executive Committee’s handling of abuse response. This third-party review (separate from the assessment mentioned above) is desperately needed. The messengers clearly said they were not satisfied with the Executive Committee overseeing this review and that it needed to be handled instead by a separate task force, named within 30 days by newly elected convention president Ed Litton.
Can't stress enough how important @toddbenkert's work was at this convention. Not only did he get his own motion passed, he singlehandedly got ours out of committee and onto the floor so it could be voted on. Todd, your heart and determination are incredible!
— Grant Gaines (@DGrantGaines) June 17, 2021
The motion was almost referred to the Executive Committee, but thanks to some quick thinking by Todd Benkert, he was able to overrule the chair and bring the motion to the floor for approval instead of having it be referred. A supermajority of 2/3 was required to do that, but even that threshold was exceeded easily. After that the actual motion passed by greater than 90-95%.
Many of us have been critical of the EC’s abuse response since 2019. It’s appeared that there was a real hesitancy to deal fully with the issue from EC leaders Augie Boto, Mike Stone, and others. This review, along with the strengthened guidelines the task force may likely implement, will go a long way toward answering questions about why some of the head-scratching steps have been taken over these past two years, and why in one specific publicly known case, there’s been so much obstinacy to apologizing or admitting obvious wrongdoing.
3. Election of Ed Litton as SBC President
“Take it from Fred, vote for Ed!” Alabama pastor Ed Litton was elected in a runoff against former Executive Committee chairman and CBN steering council member Mike Stone. Surprisingly, Al Mohler came in third on the first ballot. Mohler’s high name recognition and long-term prominent service to the convention gave him a strong advantage coming into the election, so most of us thought. But after the first vote Stone had 36% of the vote while Litton had 32%. A majority is needed, so a runoff election was required, which ended, thankfully, in Litton receiving a little over 52% of the final count. With the final vote being that close, a stellar nomination speech by former SBC President Fred Luter may have been what put Litton over the edge.
Litton said before the convention that he wants to make it a priority to unify the convention and continue in J.D. Greear’s emphasis on diversity in appointments. Ed has been on a few national media appearances so far and has represented the SBC and Great Commission Baptists well.
This was an especially important victory because the CBN and related groups had waged a two-year propaganda campaign and get-out-the-vote effort trying to convince people that the only way to oppose Critical Race Theory was to elect Mike Stone. Fortunately for the convention, messenger turnout was high across the board so one divisive group was not able to overwhelm the majority of messengers.
4. Significant shift in Executive Committee trustee leadership
The CBN has often successfully waged battle within the Executive Committee for several years now. When most people were not paying attention, they were able to put CBN steering council members and those sympathetic to them in a vast majority of the leadership positions on the EC.
Mike Stone’s time as chair was highly problematic, and as he rolled off and new chair Rolland Slade was elected, Stone still managed to get several of his CBN friends appointed as chairs of subcommittees last year. But this year, Rod Martin failed to be reelected to his subcommittee leadership position, and Tom Tucker was reelected to
his Vice Chair on Monday (before the convention) even though he wasn’t on the nominee slate to serve another term on the EC itself. An attempt to reinsert Tucker on the EC failed, so another CBN-friendly subcommittee chair EC officer position opens up.
This in addition to two years’ worth of new EC members coming on the board and the same number of previous members rolling off means that both the makeup of the entire EC board, as well as those in places of structural leadership is decidedly less oriented toward the CBN and its tactics. Being that the Executive Committee is where the CBN has been able to cause the most trouble, this sets up a much more positive direction for the Executive Committee under the leadership of board chair Rolland Slade.
5. Rebukes of recent Executive Committee direction
The messengers rejected the EC’s proposed Business and Financial Plan, and basically sent it back and said, “Try again.” It’s really unusual for a technical and detailed document like that to be rejected, but there were significant concerns about EC overreach, consolidation of power over the other SBC entities, and especially ramifications about accreditation for our 6 SBC seminaries.
The messengers, from the floor, as mentioned above, approved a motion for a third-party investigation into the EC’s handling of abuse cases. A sixth item, related to abuse prevention, was added to EC President Ronnie Floyd’s Vision 2025 initiative. Other EC recommendations, normally the kind of thing that would be rubber-stamped by the messengers were strongly questioned and defeated.
Ronnie Floyd looked off-balance and unsure of how to move forward. I don’t think he expected the kind of resistance the convention displayed. I don’t think a lot of the opposition was necessarily his fault, and there were moments I felt sorry for him trying to hold the line in what was becoming more and more clearly a losing battle. I’ve got some more thoughts on this I hope to publish later in the week. But it was clear the Executive Committee took one on the chin in Nashville.
And that’s not to speak negatively about everyone, or even most of the EC staff and trustees. But the EC leadership, particularly the CBN-affiliated previous chair and subcommittee chairs have not served the EC or the convention well – and the results of that were the tsunami backlash we saw this past week.
6. Strong work from the Resolutions Committee
James Merritt and the rest of the Resolutions Committee had a huge task. A lot of attention was on them because of (IMO unfair) criticism of the last resolutions committee. My hope ahead of time was that they would bring forward resolutions that would experience widespread support and avoid divisive battles. They succeeded in that task beyond what I could have hoped for, and did so without alienating many minority Southern Baptists.
Resolution 2 received a lot of attention, and some criticism the morning it was released. But it was another fair, balanced resolution and included a strong quote of the 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation:
RESOLVED, That, understanding we live in a fallen world, we reaffirm the 1995 Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention, which includes, “That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27),” applying this disposition to every instance of racism;
7. Refusal to let extreme CRT-critics control the conversation
There’d been a two-year propaganda campaign via social media, print, video, against Resolution 9 adopted at the last annual meeting in Birmingham. They promised to make an effort to rescind that resolution (which failed as out of order). They submitted anti-CRT resolutions. The resolutions committee declined to address the issue with the kind of specificity these extreme critics were demanding. They attempted to amend this year’s Resolution 2 as well, but a supermajority of messengers voted to call the question before those amendments were offered or discussed. Simply put, the 2021 SBC met ready to refuse to carry out the agenda of these loud critics.
The vast majority of those in the SBC have a view of Critical Race Theory that’s overwhelmingly negative. But for some that’s not enough. The anti-CRT critics basically take the position that if you don’t say it how they say it, and don’t condemn it with the same vehemence they do, then you’re not being faithful to God or Scripture. The 2021 SBC told these extreme critics, “We’re not buying what you’re selling.”
8. Leadership from J.D. Greear
For two years (and now a third, due the extraordinary situation of the COVID-19 pandemic) J.D. Greear has led Great Commission Baptists with a goal of keeping the gospel first, our mission central, and leadership makeup better reflecting who we are as a convention. He’s done so in spite of vicious attacks on him and Summit Church. He’s kept good humor and grace through it all. Nowhere was that more apparent than how he led last week’s annual meeting in Nashville. Southern Baptists owe him and Summit Church a debt of gratitude.
J.D. started off his time as SBC President by appointing a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. About 6 months later, the Houston Chronicle tore open the veil on how poorly Southern Baptist churches had often handled cases of abuse in the past. And I’m not here to say we’ve handled things perfectly since then. I know we haven’t. But I shudder to think of what our response might have looked like if not for J.D.’s leadership through this turmoil.
Five years ago when J.D. withdrew in a dead heat presidential election against Steve Gaines, who would have known that may have been exactly God’s providence to have J.D. lead us through 2018-2021 instead of 2016-2018. I’m thankful beyond words for Greear’s leadership through this time and now look forward to Ed Litton carrying on in the pathway that’s been set.