It’s no secret that this year at the Southern Baptist Convention is shaping up to be a contentious one, especially when it comes to resolutions. Several have already been released, and more are in the works. Anyone who is a member in good standing can submit a resolution to the SBC meeting, where a committee will decide whether or not to present it to the convention at large during the business sessions. The SBC has done a remarkable job of keeping track of all the resolutions ever presented at their website, with a very handy searchable database. My rough count shows somewhere over 600 total resolutions made in over 170 meetings. We’ve not had a convention every year, like last year, but it works out to 3-5 resolutions a year. Probably at least one of those per year is “thanking the host city” so we can throw those out as not that divisive.
On the site to submit resolution the SBC gives a helpful definition of what exactly a resolution is.
A resolution has traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed. Resolutions are passed during the annual Convention meeting.
This is a helpful distinction that the SBC makes, that the goal of a resolution is to communicate opinion, not direct the Convention or an entity to action. That’s why many motions are ruled out of order. Over the years the SBC has approved a wildly divergent array of topics. A quick search of the topics page shows that over 500 different topics are represented in our resolutions, although there is overlap in many of them. There has been resolutions on cigarette smoking, the Washington Monument, conscientious objectors, the liberty bell, and Vietnam. The SBC resolution system has become a platform for the convention to speak to current events and social issues. One person did a little bit of research over the past 50 years that demonstrates that fact.
I scraped fifty years of resolutions adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. It's quite striking how the SBC just stop talking about alcohol in the 1990's. Even abortion has tapered off. Homosexuality was a hot topic from 1990-2010 but has largely disappeared. pic.twitter.com/1gGpjOi5YG
— Ryan Burge ? (@ryanburge) July 25, 2018
It’s not surprising to see that as culture changes the “opinions” of the Annual Meeting changes. As different trends arise in culture, the messengers have chosen to speak to those things. Today the resolutions must be submitted before the meeting, but that wasn’t always an option. In years past the floor was open at the SBC Annual Meeting for both resolutions and motions. Look at this sample of some of what came forward at the 1970 Meeting in Denver. Topics ranged from hymnals and support of Seminaries, to statistics and the idea of convention issued ID cards. (Deep State, anyone?)
All resolutions that are properly submitted are given consideration by the committee. The messengers have a chance to review each submitted resolution in a list in the Convention bulletin. The recent book SBC FAQ’s does a good job of laying this out plainly. This a serious matter for the staff and committees of the SBC and they work hard to carry out their job with faithfulness and accuracy. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still conflict over the resolutions. Although there is much discussion over Resolution 9 from 2019, debate over resolutions is not new at all. Watch as Adrian Rogers moderates debate over the resolution of the priesthood of the believer in 1988.
Much to our shame, the SBC has passed resolutions in support of slavery, abortion, and other indefensible and evil positions. Even though there has been much discussion over past resolutions, it appears that one has never been rescinded. Jay Adkins discusses here just how that might happen and what the result was the last time it was attempted.
The most recent effort was in 1989 when Robert Parker of NC moved “that the Southern Baptist Convention rescind and reject its Resolution No. 5 – On the Priesthood of the Believer adopted at its annual meeting in San Antonio, TX in June of 1988.” (found HERE. Item #35 on page 39). According to the 1989 book of reports (items #97 & #128) that motion was pronounced out of order. The author appealed the rule of the chair and ultimately the ruling of the chair was sustained by the messengers of the Convention.
Even though a previous motion has never been rescinded, many new motions have been passed that contradict those previous ones. The SBC has passed many resolutions against abortion, slavery, and racism. In 2003 Baptist Press reported on just such an occasion when the SBC voted to “renounce statements and actions by previous conventions.”
This year, messengers to the 2003 SBC annual meeting decided to undo several resolutions adopted by the convention in the 1970s that expressed support for abortion in cases where the mother’s or infant’s health was in question. Messengers in Phoenix voted June 18 to “lament and renounce statements and actions by previous Conventions and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture” by embracing a resolution “on thirty years of Roe v. Wade.”
There is plenty of precedent for new resolutions that go against previous ones. This makes sense too, as Baptist’s are not a perfect people. As we fight to stay close to the Bible we will undoubtedly get some things wrong. Resolutions are not spoken “ex cathedra” and carry only weight for that year. In the recent history of the Annual Meeting, there has been several controversial resolutions as well. In 2016 the SBC condemned the use of the Confederate flag as a symbol of racist imagery. And in 2017 the SBC condemned the Alt-Right movement once the original motion that had been denied by the committee was brought again to the floor and passed by an unanimous vote.
This year there are already several resolutions that have been proposed, and more sure to come. Any of them that pass will only speak for the convention as it assembles this year. nevertheless it is important that we fight to make sure every statement we make is in full accordance with the Bible, and not merely responses to cultural trends. I’d encourage all Baptist’s to take a few minutes to peruse the past resolutions of the SBC. There are some that still stand strong, some that seemed wildly important at the moment but have since faded, and others that have become increasingly important over time.
As we approach the annual meeting in 2021 in Nashville, pray for the Resolutions Committee, that they would make wise choices that reflect Biblical values and loyalty to God’s Word. Pray for the messengers that we would remember the world is watching as we debate each other over the merits of the resolutions put forward. Let’s tell that watching world that the Southern Baptist Convention stands firmly on God’s Word, no matter what happens in culture. The hope of the convention is not built on resolutions, motions, or a wise use of Roberts Rules of Order. We could pass no resolutions this year and still be Biblically faithful and evangelism focused. Pray for the committee, pray for the convention, and pray for the messengers. Above all, pray that God is glorified through the work of the Convention and the world will see Christ through our actions.