‘Tis the season for looking back over the past year and remembering significant moments. I thought I’d review a few of what I thought were great moments in the SBC in 2017. These are my own observations from my limited scope, but were to me evidences of grace in the denomination I call my home.
- Gateway Seminary and Lifeway dedicate new buildings
A small but bright point for me: Southern Baptists making fiscally sound decisions and moving to facilities that are progressive and make economical sense. After years of struggles with zoning boards and other obstacles to growth, Gateway finalized a move to their new Ontario Campus in 2016. This year, they dedicated a new satellite campus in Fremont, keeping a promise to maintain a presence in the Bay area. In another relocation, Lifeway moved a few blocks away to a more streamlined facility and one that met the changing needs of the organization. Others can opine on the specifics, but these were a couple of denominational bright spots my book.
- Russell Moore apologizes
One of the low periods in SBC life this year was the controversy surrounding Dr. Moore’s opposition of Donald Trump during the 2016 election and remarks that offended those who voted for him. Moore apologized for his remarks during the election cycle which resulted in a show of support from the ERLC trustees. Key SBC leaders were pleased with Moore’s apology and statement of unity and eased the denominational crisis.
- SWBTS demonstrates a unity across soteriological lines
This one is not a news item and is totally anecdotal but, again, this is my personal list. Here at Voices, we have already reported Southwestern Seminary’s gracious hospitality toward the 2017 Pastor’s Conference. The preaching colloquium led by Dr. Allen and SWBTS and NOBTS faculty was excellent. The preaching slate for the PC covered the spectrum from Traditionalist to Strict Calvinist and all were warmly welcomed by Dr. and Mrs. Patterson and the SWBTS team. In the presentation, Dr. Allen quoted from all sides of the soteriological spectrum in his passion for text driven preaching. Never once did we sense that Calvinism/Traditionalism was an issue at all by anyone at Southwestern. But the really cool “shining moment” for me was a month later seeing SWBTS exhibiting at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Indianapolis. Far from treating the TGC crowd as Reformed bogeymen, Southwestern was handing out t-shirts and actively engaging and recruiting TGC attendees to come and study at SWBTS. Kudos to Southwestern!
- The Caskey Center debuts on the national denominational stage
One of the added blessings of having the Caskey Center at NOBTS sponsor the pastor’s conference last year was the opportunity to introduce the center to the denomination as a whole. Before SBCPC17, most Southern Baptists had not heard of the Caskey Center, whose emphasis is on equipping bi-vocational and smaller-membership pastors and churches in gospel ministry. Every session of the PC included a presentation by the CC, including data on smaller membership churches gathered in partnership with Ed Stetzer. I’m thankful for this ministry and that it was introduced to many Southern Baptists in 2017.
- Passing the Alt-Right Resolution at the SBC Annual Meeting
While this also made the list of negative moments in 2017, in the end, Southern Baptist passed this timely and pointed resolution. Yes, as a whole we didn’t “get it right.” The Convention meeting was marked by a lot of confusion and it looked really bad for the SBC. More significantly, our brothers and sisters of color for a tense few hours weren’t sure whether they had a true home in the SBC. To be sure, the messengers had no racist motive in not initially supporting the resolution and most had never heard of the Alt-Right before Phoenix, much less read any of the truly horrific tweets by racist Alt-right trolls. Yet, when the leadership realized what had happened and what was at stake, they used every obscure parliamentary trick they could find to get a resolution back to the floor – in the end, the resolution passed in a virtually unanimous vote. We didn’t handle it at all well but, in the end, we passed the resolution and made a definitive statement against racism and the alt-right (and educated Southern Baptists about Alt-right racism in the process).
- Dwight McKissic’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post
Pastor McKissic wrote the original resolution that got rejected initially by the committee and failed a subsequent vote to be considered on the floor. If any minority pastor had reason to be hurt and desire to leave the SBC, he would be on the top of the list. Indeed, after the resolution debacle, an African-American pastor wrote a pointed piece for the New York Times and gave all the reasons he could no longer be part of a denomination complicit in the rise of racism in America. But that pastor was NOT Dwight McKissic. Pastor McKissic showed himself a true statesman as he wrote a counterpoint op-ed for the Washington Post, “I’m a Black Pastor. Here’s why I’m staying in the Southern Baptist Convention.” (Honorable mention: McKissic later hosted a multi-denominational worship service and panel discussion on race and the Alt-Right which included SBC president Steve Gaines). Dr. McKissic’s friendship and his leadership on this issue was a bright spot for me.
- State Conventions Renounce Alt-Right Racism
What Southern Baptists bungled at the national level, we got right at the state level. Multiple state conventions passed resolutions about Alt-right racism. Some were newly written resolutions, others closely followed the wording of the national resolution, but the message was clear: Southern Baptists denounce alt-right racism.
- Minorities represented at the Pastor’s Conference
Here at SBC Voices, we have called for a greater representation of non-Anglo Southern Baptists in the life and leadership of the SBC. We have called for an accelerated and intentional appointment of trustees and other leaders from among our brothers and sisters of color. While we did not make much of it at the time, we very intentionally sought out preachers across the racial and ethnic spectrum of SBC life. In the end, half of the twelve preachers at the SBC Pastors’ conference were men of color. By design, the team and speakers spent much time together before and during the conference and enjoyed great spirit of fellowship and unity. As icing on the cake, Rev. Dr. H.B. Charles was elected the first African-American president of the SBC pastor’s conference.
- Rev. Shane Hall’s reminder that “Christ is Enough”
The theme of last year’s PC was “Above Every Name” and that theme was brought home in the final sermon of the conference. Pastor Shane Hall preached from the closing verses of the book of Philippians, recounting his battle with stomach cancer and passionately proclaiming that whatever happens, that Christ is Enough! That sermon was the most profound moment of 2017 for me. If you haven’t heard the sermon I commend it to you – go watch it!. (Please continue to keep brother Shane and his family in prayer in his ongoing battle).
I’m thankful to be a Southern Baptist and see God to continue to be at work in us. These, for me, were nine shining moments in the SBC in 2017. I look forward to seeing what God will do in the coming year!
Feel free to share in the comments additional glimpses of grace you saw in the SBC last year.