Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Southern Baptist Convention Lookback Part 2

One of the annual aspects of the Southern Baptist Convention is the report of the Resolutions Committee. This report is presented to express the opinion of the Convention on various issues. Important to remember, though, is that resolutions of the SBC have no real power. They are statements of current opinion.

Typically, there are some no-brainer resolutions. One of these is always a resolution expressing appreciation to the host city and the volunteers that made the convention meeting happen. Unless a city rioted and tried to use the National Guard to keep us out, we’d express appreciation in a resolution. Unfortunately, too many convention attendees think that resolution covers the 15% that the waitress should have gotten. That’s, however, another story.

Then there are resolutions on religious issues. This year there were a couple of those. One of them related to the recent book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. This book, along with a few other writings and preachers, casts doubt toward the traditional teaching on hell as eternal torment. Southern Baptists are committed to a fairly literal understanding of Scripture, such that if the Bible says there’s a hell, we’re certain this is true. The SBC passed a resolution affirming that belief and encouraging Baptists to not purchase or endorse materials, including  Love Wins.

Another resolution that dealt in the religious issues area was one calling for “civic public discourse.” This one is in response to two things: the nut that burned a Koran and the Westboro Baptist Church. The behaviors of these groups are beyond disgusting, and it’s a good thing for the SBC to take a stand against them.

My one fuss is a combined complaint about these two resolutions. I don’t disagree with either of them, but I would have liked to see us call out Westboro by name. We were willing to call out Rob Bell by name, but weren’t willing to take the hit and call Westboro what they are: unChristian, unBiblical, and just plain wrong. We stated that people that engage in those behaviors are wrong, but we should have named them. Especially since they have “Baptist” in the name and people tend to confuse that church with the SBC. It might have been newsworthy.

The next mega-issue with a resolution came with a resolution on immigration. This resolution was crafted by the committee and was not submitted---typically the committee’s report comes from resolutions written by individuals and sent in. This one was written by the committee. It went into several statements about aspects of governmental policy on immigration. There were several people who were concerned by the statements relating to providing a “path to legal status” for immigrants in this country illegally. Some were concerned this would be viewed as encouraging illegal immigration by setting up an amnesty program. Others felt that changing this resolution (or dropping it) would show that we were uncompassionate or disinterested in the welfare of immigrants.

The difficulty with this one is two-fold for me. First of all, the purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention is to coordinate the efforts of like-minded churches to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, Congress doesn’t really listen to us anyway.

So why did we risk alienating both immigrants and people that are concerned about illegal immigration all at once? I understand the need to express that we’re concerned about taking the Gospel beyond good ole’ boys in the South. We need to be more concerned with spreading the Gospel than we are with green cards. In fact, unless you work for Immigration or are the hiring manager of a company, it really shouldn’t cross your mind.

The only concern you should have for the ethnic background or country of origin of someone in the sphere of ministry and witness you have is if there are cultural communications barriers. If someone comes to your church and doesn’t speak English your only concern should be finding a translator to share that you love them and that Jesus loves them too.

The other concern I have is this: there are people that we as Southern Baptists could reach, and should reach, that have strong opinions about immigration. Especially negative opinions. Here’s the deal: that guy who sounds (and might be) xenophobic and anti-immigrant? He needs Jesus too. We’re leaving some of these people behind, and one of the big problems with that is that these are our family members.

This is what happens when we go past declaring the Gospel and delve into politics. It may be perfectly legitimate to call your Congressman and ask for a border fence or for amnesty for illegal immigrants. It is fine to express your political opinion, and it’s a good thing to do.

But as a collection of churches our statements should be focused on spreading the Gospel and encouraging people to live as disciples of Christ. There is nothing Gospel-oriented about a secure border or an amnesty (or a “not amnesty”) program. There is about loving all people regardless of origin or ethnicity. That should be our focus.

Ok, this has gotten long enough. Next post will talk about the resolution on the NIV2010 and on Religious Liberty.


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