The current issue of the Christian Index, the public relations journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, features an article praising former Southern Baptist Convention president Bobby Welch, now employed by the SBC as”Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations.”
Index editor Gerald Harris touted Welch as the SBC’s “ambassador of goodwill to Baptist and evangelical bodies around the world.” That’s quite a task, considering that the SBC alienated itself from most of the world’s Baptist bodies in 2004 by withdrawing from the Baptist World Alliance in a very public snit. When it became evident that the BWA’s 200+ member bodies would not knuckle under to the SBC’s demand that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship be refused membership in the global organization, the organization’s biggest donor decided to take its cash and go home.
Not willing to participate when it they could not dominate, SBC leaders persuaded convention messengers to approve a recommendation to withdraw from the global body, justifying their actions by charging the BWA with a “leftward drift,” tolerance of homosexuality, and pronouncements of “anti-American” sentiment.
The charges were bogus then, and they’re bogus now. Many BWA member bodies are very conservative — some more fundamentalist than the SBC itself. Some have more moderate tendencies, and a very few border on liberal. BWA members recognize, however, that unity does not require uniformity. Attend one meeting of the BWA General Council and you’ll hear lively debate, different opinions, and both yeas and nays when votes are taken. Attend a worship service, and you’ll observe a great harmony of spirit, a commitment to a common Lord and a common mission.
Yet, Harris’s feature continues to beat the dead horse of deceit: four of the first five paragraphs repeat the SBC’s misbegotten justification of its decision to go it alone. By keeping alive the tired aspersions, though, Harris illustrates how badly the SBC needs an ambassador of goodwill. I know Baptists from many countries on several continents, and few of them feel kindly toward the SBC, whose top-down missions strategy is often at odds with the goals of local Baptists.
Bobby Welch is an extrovert’s extrovert who, I believe, really wants to do good things. It’s hard not to like him. What I fear, however, is that his goodwill efforts in promoting the SBC will be directed primarily toward those bodies or local leaders who are most in tune with the SBC’s brand of theology, and that the end result will be to take the SBC’s intra-family power struggle global.
We live in a world that needs all the good will it can get: we all would do well to be “goodwill ambassadors” to all we meet: a worthy goal for this year, and every year.