Baptist Press released news about an hour ago that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will address the SBC Annual Meeting on Wednesday morning at 11am. My heart sank when I read the news.
Not because I dislike Mike Pence. He’s a good man who professes faith in Christ. I understand it would be a kind of honor to have the Vice President of the United States address the convention. A kind of honor. But not the kind we should be seeking. The focus of our meeting should be brokenness and repentance. A theology of the cross – as opposed to a theology of glory. Many have called for an extended time of prayer so that we can mourn and lament. I don’t know if that will take place or not. But does a visit from the Vice President fit that spirit? How can it? How does it send any other message than, “Look at us! The power and prestige of Southern Baptists – who have the friendship of those in our nation’s highest office!”
Now I’ve heard from several friends that the Vice President’s office called us and asked us if he could address the convention – not that we contacted him and asked him to come. I believe that fact, if true, tempers some of the concerns I have, but not all. And ultimately the SBC would be better served this year by having graciously declined to have him speak. Here’s why.
The Message It Sends
One year President Bush, another year Secretary of State Condelizza Rice addressed the SBC Annual Meeting by video. There is precedent for this. But not one that should be followed. I remember back during those times some people pushed back and said we should not have those in the president’s administration address the convention. Even though I was politically supportive of both of them (Bush & Rice) I was uneasy, but not yet convinced it was the wrong decision to allow them to speak. I was wrong.
I can’t see any way for a member of a President’s administration to address the convention without our convention being seen as supportive and politically tied. When Mike Pence enters, he’ll receive a standing ovation from a (likely vast) majority of the messengers. This will alienate those in our own family who by conviction do not or cannot support this administration. Instead of standing together in unity over the gospel, our political differences will be put on display for an extended ovation.
The Message He’ll Bring
The BP news release says that Pence will “express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation.” I’m sorry, Mr. Vice President, but that’s not the message our convention needs to hear right now. We have one former hero who’s accused of abusing children. Others, far too many, who have resigned in recent months because of sexual immorality. Claims are being lodged against some of our entities and state conventions about covering up the abuse of children. We don’t, at this moment, need to be congratulated for holding our culture’s moral compass.
The Better Message of Jesus
Jesus calls his followers to take up their cross and die to this world. Our pursuit of power and influence, whether in the real world or in our little Southern Baptist world has created a real mess for us right now. This year, maybe more than any other meeting ought to be a time of making it clear our hope of in Christ alone. Jesus turned down the kingdoms of this world – and in doing so won a great victory. I fear having Mike Pence address this year’s convention moves us in the opposite direction.