“There arises defining moments in our personal lives, our churches, and our
denomination. I believe we are at one of those crossroads. In the
final analysis we must trust our process, our common goal of bringing the Gospel
to the world, and each other.”
Who was the Southern Baptist statesman who uttered these words and what was the context within which they were said? None other than Dr. Jim Henry, former Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando and a former two-term President of the SBC, in his endorsement of the GCR. During his tenure as President of the Convention, Dr. Henry had occasion to visit Southern Seminary and stay in the Seminary’s Guest House. At the time, my wife and I were the hostess and host of the Guest House. During our 2 1/2 years in that position, we saw many chapel speakers, prospective professors, trustees, and former, current, and future SBC Presidents stay in one of the four rooms in this two-story colonial home which served as a kind of bed-and-breakfast for really special guests of the Seminary.
I full-well remember Dr. Henry’s visit because my wife and I worked extra hard to make sure that the Guest House was spotless and that Dr. Henry’s had everything he needed to make his short stay as comfortable as possible. The one thing that we failed to do was to make sure that the Guest House television, which had been sent out for repair, was back in time for Dr. Henry’s first night with us. That generally wouldn’t have been a problem, but the Atlanta Braves were in the World Series that year and one of the games was on that night.
While other guests may have been perturbed that there was no working television on which to watch the game, Dr. Henry was the epitome of grace. Even after our mortifying (at least to us) mistake, the next morning in chapel Dr. Henry took the time to publicly thank us for our hospitality. Not that we were looking for public recognition, but Dr. Henry was the ONLY person to so publicly thank us. I say all that to say this: Dr. Henry, in my mind, is one of the real deals. Whether interacting with him in person or watching his Deacon training material (like our Deacons and I did Monday night), Dr. Henry is one of the SBC’s true statesmen, a Godly man who walks the walk and talks the talk and treats all people with grace, dignity, and respect.
Another statesman is Henry’s fellow Florida Baptist pastor, Bobby Welch, former Senior Pastor of FBC Daytona Beach and also a two-term President of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I served as an Associate Pastor at FBC Poinciana, FL, we took a group to Daytona Beach for FAITH Training. While there, I had the opportunity to meet Pastor Bobby. Later, when I was serving as Pastor of Grundy Baptist Church, a church affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia, Bobby Welch, on his Presidential “Everyone Can” tour, stopped by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in Richmond to meet with BGAV Executive Director John Upton. It would have been easy for Pastor Bobby to avoid talking to Dr. Upton, the leader of a state convention that many SBC elites have open disdain for, but he took the time to encourage the churches of the BGAV, churches which continue to support CP and the SBC Missions Offerings with millions of dollars each year. With his passion for evangelism and his strong support of the Cooperative Program, Bobby Welch is another man who is not afraid to take principled and courageous stands, despite the cost.
There are undoubtedly other senior SBC statesmen who I could name, but both Jim Henry and Bobby Welch exemplify the very best in Southern Baptist leadership, from the local church pastorate to the Presidency of the nation’s largest Protestant body. If there was ever a time when we needed statesmen-leaders to take to the stage in the life of our Convention, it is now! Apart from his GCR endorsement prior to the June 2010 Orlando Convention and his interview with Baptist Press in the days leading up to that same Annual Meeting, Jim Henry and Bobby Welch, respectively, have been silent, at least publicly, about the ever-expanding radical changes that threaten to divide the churches of the SBC.
During 2010, both Jim Henry and Bobby Welch saw the Convention at a crossroads. The GCR crossroads will be minor compared to the crossroads we are headed for in New Orleans. What sets GCR Part I apart from GCR Part 2 (a.k.a., the Name Change “Study” Task Force)? Quite simply, the current process has been abused in an unprecedented and unconstitutional way by the ruling elites within the Convention who do not think that the rules apply to them. Those in power, who have apparently forgotten that they were once part of the rank-and-file, now believe that they can bring about unity by trampling upon the rights of grassroots Southern Baptists. Perhaps they need to be reminded what Bobby Welch said just last year:
Without a doubt, when churches have that wide, deep and sacrificial level of support overall — they will, of course, respond more favorably and quickly to things that process by way of their base and commitments. Understanding this fact is exactly why I, for two years, practically lived out in that huge SBC environment via bus, car, plane, foot, etc. That, in turn, created an extraordinary grassroots groundswell for something near and dear to their hearts. It was also directly helpful immediately to their personal calling and task at their local church for reaching and discipling lost souls. To most on the field, this grassroots path is viewed and appreciated as a very sharp contrast to what they consider to be the so-called “top down – our idea” approach. The grassroots road is a road less traveled but it is the only path to our only hope — which is “unity of purpose” for the sake of lost souls! (emphasis added)
When our leaders use a “top down — our idea approach” to implement an illegitimate process which will likely result in a recommendation — after only nine months of “study” — to change the name of the SBC, grassroots Southern Baptists will not only distrust the process, but will distrust those who have so irresponsibly forced more radical changes on an already weary people. We stand at the crossroads once again. It is far past time for the SBC’s statesmen-leaders to rise up publicly and say to those in power, “Enough is enough! For the unity of purpose for the sake of lost souls, stop the mad rush towards the radical redefinition of the SBC before the division is too far gone!” So far, the silence is deafening. But, the grassroots Southern Baptists are waiting. Which statesman will speak up before it’s too late?