I’ve had the opportunity to attend 11 SBC Annual Meetings. This year was different than all the rest. It was the largest in 25 years with over 15,700 messengers. This was an historic meeting and I’m glad I was in the room. If you weren’t there and you followed along in the media, online, or on social media, it’s easy to find varying opinions and feel confused as to what transpired. At times it’s hard to tell what happened when you have to wade through the bias and perspective of the author. That being said, here is my perspective on what happened this week.
1. On Monday evening we commissioned 64 new missionaries to serve overseas! It was moving to see these precious people share where they were going and what they would be doing. It was a privilege to pray for them collectively. This is why we do what we do as Southern Baptists. We are a group of 48,000 churches working together to get the Gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Sending out these missionaries to join over 3,500 others is why we exist.
2. Throughout the meeting there was a sweet spirit of unity, peace, and love. Sure, folks have their opinions. There are areas of disagreement. However, we worked through our business time without being disagreeable. Among people who voted differently on issues, there was friendliness and a sweet spirit among the vast majority of the messengers. Along with the business, we had powerful times of prayer and worship. We heard incredible sermons, especially from J. D. Greear, Tony Evans, and Willy Rice.
3. The SBC is unified in our core doctrinal beliefs. There is no debate there. That was settled years ago. Every single one of the 15,700 messengers believes in the full inerrancy, full authority, and full sufficiency of the Scriptures. We all believe in the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. This is certainly true of every entity head, seminary president, committee member, and trustee in the Convention. There are points of disagreement over how we accomplish the Great Commission and how we apply certain texts, but there is full agreement on the sufficiency of Scripture to get the job done. The areas of disagreement are small in number compared to our areas of agreement.
4. The presidential election was the most anticipated part of the meeting. There were 4 candidates. Each one is conservative. In fact, the whole convention is conservative. This year there was a good bit of mudslinging prior to the meeting. That is unfortunate. I don’t think it reflects the thinking of most southern Baptists. In fact, I sat by a sweet group of folks who are part of a church that sent 10 people to the meeting. They were told, “the convention is going liberal, you have to vote for ________ to keep that from happening.” These folks didn’t follow along social media and the blogs. They just knew they were coming to vote for their guy who would save the convention. Unfortunately for them, their guy didn’t win. But fortunately for them, the convention isn’t going liberal! I am happy that Ed Litton won. I believe that the SBC needs a local church pastor to serve as president. In this moment, I believe we need one with a track record of uniting and reconciling. We have that.
5. This week it was evident that SBC has a major issue of trust with the Executive Committee. In the past two years they have made decisions, blunders, and missteps that cause many to question their motives. They have recently been accused of mishandling sexual abuse claims. To my knowledge, no one is claiming that anyone on the Executive Committee committed abuse, but the questions are about how they have handled claims of abuse over the past two years. The messengers voted by about a 95% margin to have a task force oversee a third-party investigation instead of the EC overseeing the third-party investigators. This makes sense and is needed. We all want to know the truth. It seems as if the EC has had a hard time letting the truth come out.
The Executive Committee was also roundly voted down on their new Finance and Business Plan. The major concern was that it would give control of CP funds to the EC if they felt any entity wasn’t acting as they should. This would give the EC the power of the purse. In the SBC, that power belongs to the messengers of the convention when we vote on a budget, and the churches when we send money to the Cooperative Program. This new plan was voted down by about 99%
I hope that we see an increase of transparency from the EC. The Chairman of the EC, Rolland Slade, has worked to right the ship. I pray for God to continue to grant him wisdom in the days ahead.
6. This year the convention passed a resolution on racial reconciliation. It was a good resolution. Some were not happy with it because it didn’t specifically reject CRT. But, it was broader than that. It “rejected ANY theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic.” It says “we reject any theory or worldview that sees the primary problem of humanity as anything other than sin against God and ultimate solution in anything other than redemption found only in Christ”. I believe this is a good statement.
Some said that in 2019 the SBC approved of CRT. That is false. I was there. There are some in the past two years who claimed the SBC seminaries are teaching CRT. It was made clear that it is taught, but not espoused. Our seminaries also teach Islam and Classical Liberalism…they do not espouse those either. The schools work to fully educate their students.
It was a good thing to see more minorities in the convention than ever before. In fact, 23% of our SBC churches are predominately non-white. 60% of the churches planted by the SBC in the past decade are predominately non-white. These are very encouraging signs.
7. We were reminded this year that the SBC is a “bottom-up” convention. It is not a “top-down” convention. The messengers on the floor control what happens. Control is not ultimately with any hierarchy or board. It is with the messengers. There were several times, more than I can remember in any other SBC meeting, where the messengers voted to overrule a committee. It takes a 2/3 vote to do that. It happened several times.
A unique aspect of the SBC Annual Meeting is that it is a business meeting. It’s a business meeting with 15,700 people. There were 12 microphones that any messenger could go to and speak. With a room full of pastors, that is a big temptation. Most fought the temptation to speak at every opportunity, a few didn’t. And that’s ok. That’s how the process works.
I am thankful that I had the chance to be at the meeting. It was a historic meeting. I am as proud as I’ve ever been to be a Southern Baptist! I believe we have positive and fruitful days ahead. We have issues to work out, we always will. But I believe we are moving in the right direction and dealing honestly with our issues. This can only help the convention and each of the 48,000 to be most effective in carrying out the Great Commission.
Jon Glass serves as Senior Pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, AL. He has been in vocational ministry for over 20 years. He is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Matthea have 5 kids.