Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Southern Baptist Convention Part 2

Time for a summary of the business motions at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting 2009:

First, a quick primer. The annual meeting consists of business sessions interspersed between "Theme Interpretations" and sermons. The sermons are obvious. The "Theme Interpretations" are basically sermons, but topically driven based on the year's theme. Also, there are various music points, either of congregational singing or special presentation.

The business is of 4 types: agency reports, committee reports, officer elections, and open mic motions. We'll take each of these in turn.

Agency reports: This is where each SBC entity reports on what it's been up to the past year. Generally the president of the agency delivers it, such as Dr. Al Mohler for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or Dr. Thom Rainer for Lifeway Christian Resources. These reports come in two parts. The first is a printed report in the paperback "Book of Reports" and contains such things as the numbers from audits and official legalese. The other part is the live report, and is usually an upbeat presentation. These run 15-20 minutes, and may include video or an additional individual at the discretion of the agency reporting. At the close of their own presentation, the agency representative is expected to accept any questions from the floor. This is a time that individual messengers can express concerns or ask about the direction of an agency. There were some questions for Dr. Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, regarding the individuals that had been involved in a conference at the school.

The longest item in agency reports is the presentation from the Executive Committee. They have 2 time slots, one for an hour and one for 30 minutes. The Executive Committee is the central point of contact for the SBC, they are the day-to-day mangers of convention actions between conventions. As such, they are also responsible for the promotion of the Cooperative Program, and a large part of their report shows how and where that money goes, and what it is used for once it gets there. That was the highlight of their report. I'm a big fan of the Cooperative Program. In fact, it's one of the main reasons I have remained a Southern Baptist as an adult. There are other groups with similar theology and a firm stand for Scripture, but I've never found a better way to meet the needs of churches and missions as the CP. There was some frustration that Morris Chapman, who is president of the Executive Committee, seemed to be blaming Calvinism for the issues of decline in the SBC. Given that the theology he was describing does not match the Calvinists I know, since he was speaking of an anti-missionary, anti-evangelistic theology, I can't see he was blaming the Founder's Society, Al Mohler, or even John Calvin. Further thoughts are also findable here on my blog. While there were vicarious apologies later, I'm still not sure they were necessary. Chapman's right, that any theology that removes our responsibility to obey Christ's command in Matthew 28:19-20 is bad for us.

The other portion of the Executive Committee report was a recommendation related to Broadway Baptist Church in Texas. As an organization, SBC churches have determined that a church which endorses homosexuality cannot be considered as a partnering church. There has been some question about what can be considered "endorsing" homosexuality. The recommendation was made to break ties with Broadway Baptist over this issue. The primary evidence of "endorsement" was that Broadway chose not to picture families together in their church directory so as not to have to allow or disallow the open homosexual couples to be pictured as couples, as well as allowing openly homosexual members of the church to serve on committees. While there was no controversy about this during the meeting, there is some criticism from within SBC and from other Christian groups. The questions to be answered are these: Is homosexuality a worse sin than others? Why do we break ties with a church over homosexuality and not other sins? Do we not want homosexuals to be in church? Where else will they hear the Gospel? How much open sin should a church tolerate? How much open sin in a neighboring church should we tolerate before we quit hanging out together? The decision here was that the tolerance of open sin, by placing people openly living a sinful lifestyle, was enough to end the relationship.

Note that there is a legitimate question about why we single out this one sin. We have churches that one could argue "endorse" divorce, adultery, theft, and a myriad of other sins, but we take no such action. We also have churches that will employ ministers that have left prior churches over allegations of child abuse, yet we take no action there. Why? It seems we've found one thing to elevate above others, and probably shouldn't have. Was the action regarding Broadway legitimate? I think so. I think the legitimate question is not "Why are Southern Baptists so critical of homosexual sin?" but instead "Why are Southern Baptists so uncritical of open sin except homosexual sin?"

This is getting long, so part 3 will cover more of the business.


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