I earned two degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was a member of and pastored Southern Baptist churches for decades.
Today, as I read this thread on Twitter and think about the situation facing the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), my heart breaks. I feel deep sorrow for a denomination that has much to celebrate and emulate.
The SBC is a wonderful denomination with deep, historical roots in evangelizing the world and preaching the Word. While the SBC and SWBTS are not perfect, their overall strengths outshine their weaknesses.
There are many, many fine men and women serving in the SBC–both in seminaries, churches, and various agencies–some of whom I call friends and highly respect. Today, though, my heart is sunken.
I’ve watched as a chasm slowly grew within the SBC. Maybe I’ve contributed to it and, if so, I sincerely apologize. That chasm, however, is not irreparable. By God’s grace it can be repaired!
What’s caused it, though?
Southern Baptists have debated many issues over the denomination’s lifetime ranging from practical issues (i.e., how to do things) to theology to moral issues. Over the past few years, though, it appears that regardless of the specific topic being debated, individuals on both sides have allowed pride to rule rather than love.
Evidence for this pride is that when someone disagrees, they are demonized, called the “enemy,” and the persecution card is played. Critiques, even honest and helpful ones, are considered personal attacks while the critic, regardless of his or her beliefs, is sometimes called anti-SBC or even anti-Christian.
In many cases, animosity has replaced love. Fellow believers refuse to associate with each other because one considers the other anti-gospel or anti-evangelism. Positions are misrepresented, people are mischaracterized, and ministries and reputations are damaged.
During my morning Bible reading today, I read 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18. I think it needs to be read by every Southern Baptist and every Christian. Here it is:
15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
What this passage teaches, ultimately, is that we should act out of love and grace, never out of vengeance or retribution; we must seek Christ and live out his ways in all we do. Yet, I’ve watched (and experienced) as people mistreat one another and lash out at those who dare to have a different opinion. The reasoning: protecting the institution.
Sadly, though, pride often blinds us to the truth, keeping us from seeing that which drives us. Sin blinds us to our own sin.
Will Southern Baptists agree on everything? Never. Nor should they. Honest disagreement is healthy and should be embraced. Honest critique should be encouraged, never silenced. Although the SBC should seek unity, there are some (even many) who seem to prefer conformity.
Only through honest critique can people and the SBC grow. However, over the past few years, and moreso now, it seems that pride has led some to place individuals and institutions above criticism. Individuals and institutions are promoted and protected–sometimes in Jesus’ name, unity, or some other justification–from those who might have a different perspective, opinion, or interpretation. Whether it’s a theological, practical, or moral issue, disagreement and honest debate devolved into prideful diatribes and demonization.
Idolatry has taken root in the heart of some: they have placed the institution or men upon a pedestal reserved for the gospel and God. Self-worship has taken hold, and all in Jesus’ name.
This can be fixed, though. But it will take courage.
I pray for those who face backlash or punishment for daring to speak out. I pray for those who lash out and harm those who dare criticize the hallowed SBC or its exalted leaders, even if the criticism is necessary.
Jesus said his people would be known by their love for each other. I pray the SBC returns to the gospel and once again exemplifies God’s love.
God loved his enemies (Rom 5:10). Do we?