The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met this week in Nashville, Tennessee.
Good Faith Media’s partnering organizations covered the event with careful and thoughtful reporting. In particular, Word&Way, Baptist News Global and Religion News Service provided excellent detailed coverage. With the convention sufficiently covered, Good Faith Media decided to watch the live broadcast, providing a few reflections on the event.
Several themes were paramount in the opening deliberations and conversations between messengers (voting members at the convention). While the usual business of the convention was addressed, the themes of sex, race and power appeared to be on the minds of many messengers.
On June 11, the SBC’s Executive Committee president, Ronnie Floyd, announced an inquiry investigating claims leveled against Executive Committee members for the mishandling of sexual abuse allegations. The inquiry is being conducted by an independent company, Guidepost Solutions.
Revelations from the former president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Russell Moore, spurred the inquiry. Moore claimed there were efforts to cover up sexual abuse allegations and racist behaviors conducted by some Southern Baptist leaders.
As the convention opened this week, messengers were eager to address these claims.
On Monday, the SBC’s Executive Committee, the body that acts for the convention when it’s not in session, declined to expand the scope of an external review. Critics of the inquiry would like to see a broader expansion of the investigation.
In 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published stories revealing the numerous cases of sexual abuse leveled against SBC leaders and pastors.
Religion News Service interviewed a critic of the committee’s decision, Rachael Denhollander.
Denhollander, an abuse advocate and former gymnast who was the first to accuse former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of abuse, called to expand the mandate given to Guidepost to include a full written report and a review of all paid staff and elected officials. She argued these provisions would allow Guidepost to conduct their review more thoroughly.
Some Executive Committee members balked at the expansion, claiming it would be a “horrific thing” for the SBC to give an independent investigator the authority and freedom to work outside SBC parameters.
By controlling the parameters and rejecting the expansion of the investigation, the SBC appears to be leaning into its patriarchal theology to protect its male leaders and institutions.
In addition to sex abuse allegations and the mishandling of those claims, messengers also wanted to voice their displeasure with Critical Race Theory. The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 by Southerners in the United States supporting slavery.
Critical Race Theory (CRT, as it’s also known) is an academic movement by civil rights scholars seeking to critically examine laws that intersect with issues of race and challenge mainstream understandings of racial justice.
In addition, it critically analyzes history and systems providing distinct advantages to specific groups of people while causing disadvantages for other groups. Knowing the SBC’s history on racial issues, CRT sounds like a line of thinking to embrace instead of reject.
However, SBC President Rev. J.D. Greear denounced CRT in his convention sermon as a worldview in opposition to the gospel.
He did not provide an explanation for his claim but did acknowledge the historical evils of racism inflicted upon African Americans and the need for Black leaders to remain in the SBC. The irony of this statement should not be lost.
Later in the meeting, James Merritt, a former SBC president, scolded messengers, saying he wished some Christians were as passionate about the gospel as they were about eliminating CRT.
He said that he read the Bible numerous times and it only mentioned race once: the human race. His argument seemed to indicate that racism cannot exist since there is only one race; therefore, the real issue is sin and the remedy for that is salvation.
Recently, African Americans in the SBC have been critical of white Southern Baptist leaders.
Executive Committee members had allegedly made racist and bigoted remarks. Moore revealed the remarks after he left the ERLC.
One member of the SBC’s Executive Committee, according to Moore, uttered these words while discussing Black victims of police violence, “Only those with guns would prevent Black people from burning down all of our cities.”
In addition, Moore claimed white supremacists and nationalists threatened him and his family while he was president of the ERLC.
While the SBC acknowledged its racist past, it is doing very little to address the questions and concerns of some of its Black members.
Instead, leaders always want to rush to reconciliation without pursuing reparations to achieve this outcome. Acknowledgment and repentance are not enough to bring about reconciliation.
Reconciliation can only be achieved when justice surfaces through reparative actions. At this time, the SBC seems unwilling to do the hard work.
Another interesting development occurred in the presidential election. Messengers select a person to lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, who can serve up to two one-year terms. Three viable candidates emerged when the convention started: (1) Albert Mohler, (2) Ed Litton and (3) Mike Stone.
Mohler was a significant figure when conservatives took over the convention during the 1980s and 1990s. However, he was unable to gain enough votes to make the run-off.
After the final count, Litton beat Stone by a vote tally of roughly 52% to 47%, respectively. Litton is seen by messengers as a bridge-builder, while Stone is part of the new Conservative Baptist Network that believes the SBC is drifting left theologically.
Furthermore, the SBC’s 2021 annual meeting is its first large meeting since the pandemic began in 2020; it’s also the first since the news broke about the membership of the convention declining by 2.3 million members since 2006.
Critics of the SBC point to the decline as clear evidence suggesting the rejection of conservative theology by Christians and non-Christians alike.
With the SBC embroiled in yet another internal rift and its numbers on the decline, a question of relevance emerges. While some SBC critics welcome and celebrate the decline, the SBC remains a significant and influential entity.
The Southern Baptist Convention remains a powerful organization because of its size, resources and political influences.
Therefore, people of good faith must continue working hard to provide an alternative perspective.
While the SBC remains a predominantly white, patriarchal and very conservative organization committed to a rigid and exclusive faith, other faith movements are attempting to do the hard work of love and justice.
While we may be witnessing the decline and possible demise of the SBC, we must also continue advocating for a faith that promotes freedom, love and justice for all.
We must model egalitarian beliefs and practices so that men and women are treated as equals in the home, church, workplace and world.
We must hold leaders accountable when they commit egregious acts of sexual abuse.
We must do the hard work of racial justice and reparations before we can move toward reconciliation.
We must demonstrate a faith that embraces human responsibility as climate caretakers of the earth.
We must make certain that LGBTQ+ Christians are welcomed and affirmed as God created them with inalienable rights.
We must make certain church and state remain separate in order for religious liberty to thrive.
We must advance a gospel that does not destroy and dominate other cultures but respects culture and empowers it with the message of love and justice.
We must see the poor, hungry and refugees of this world with compassion, treating them with dignity, hospitality and generosity.
As a people of good faith that follow the teachings and examples of Jesus, we must continue offering a fresh understanding of the living gospel that speaks to an ever-changing world.
I do not pretend to know the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. I left its fold many, many years ago.
However, I do know that people of good faith can transform the world by taking seriously the words and actions of Jesus, especially his call to love without strings attached.
Therefore, as the SBC wraps up its meeting this week in Nashville, I will not revel in its difficulties and strife.
On the contrary, I will continue advocating for the love and justice of Jesus, as I understand them reading the Gospel.
The world is tired of religious fights and turmoil. People need to be loved and given justice, for the common good will be determined by our ability to make this world a better place for everyone.
CEO of Good Faith Media.