A hot and humid day in Indianapolis did little to warm my soul as I walked around the Southern Baptist Convention exhibit hall. I felt lost and lonely. Where were my Baptist friends with whom I have worked with and through the Baptist World Alliance for over 20 years?
With my first love being youth ministry, I checked out the display area for youth and student ministry material. This used to be such an important area of SBC life, but I could find few resources, and none of the people with whom I have worked in the past.
Where was the drama guy who has meant so much to Baptists around the world? What about the clown who interpreted Scripture at a Baptist Youth World Conference? Where were the writers who produced great youth discipleship material for many of our youth conferences over the years?
Not being allowed to have a Baptist World Alliance booth in the exhibit hall, one was put up on a walkway, well away from any delegate who might stray!
Large exhibition halls are never the best place to hold a convention, and Indianapolis is no different from many others. A flock of Southern Baptist worthies sat on a dais, a gigantic American flag was draped behind an enormous massed choir, and between both was what appeared to be a TV studio set. If you had been a million miles away, you might have felt more a participant in the proceedings.
The vote to quit the Baptist World Alliance went ahead, despite rumors that it might be postponed. No mention was made of an April meeting between the SBC’s BWA committee and Baptist representatives from around the world. The spirit of tolerance and understanding at that meeting was thrown aside by Paige Patterson’s introduction of yet a further accusation against the BWA. Not content with not substantiating many of the earlier complaints made by the SBC about the BWA, Patterson played his trump card and introduced the gay issue.
There really was no need to do that. Everyone knew that if the proposal was presented it would be approved overwhelmingly. There was no need to go for the jugular.
I had always thought that we Baptists discerned the will of God in the gathered community. The SBC community was gathered, and some delegates wanted to speak either for or against the proposal. Wouldn’t it have been good for the delegates and the waiting media throng to hear points for and against the proposal. But no, the guillotine fell after just one speech from the floor, and so the debate was over, the proposal approved and the appropriate by-laws changed. A clean and decisive maneuver, but little to do with witnessing our Christian faith to a world so desperately in need of His grace and peace!
I was sad as I walked quietly from the room: Sad that the Baptist world family that I have loved and worked for over the last 40 years had been split asunder. Sad at the implications for Baptists around the world, and sad that those left in the hall had chosen to separate themselves from their family.
Hopefully the lost sheep will come back into the fold one day.
Paul Montacute is the director of Baptist World Aid in Falls Church, Va.