One of my favorite lines from the film adaptation of The Hobbit is when the dwarves have all shown up at Bilbo’s house for their meeting with Gandalf, and they are ransacking the home. Gandalf arrives, and Bilbo immediately launches into a tirade on what the dwarves are doing to the house. He concludes by stating, “and you don’t even want to know what they’ve done to the bathrooms…they’ve all but destroyed the plumbing.” I just find the line hilarious. But I want to apply that line to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and not in a hilarious way. My family faithfully attends and is very active in an SBC church. I pastored this same church for several years. I would pastor an SBC church again if the Lord leads. I love so much of what we accomplish together. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have deep concerns about specific issues within the SBC.
- Concern about the sheer size of the SBC
This is the most general concern, and one reason I was intrigued by the candidacy of Mike Adams for the SBC presidency last year. Adams ran on a platform of bringing the convention back to the local church and on cutting down the sheer level of bureaucracy at play in the convention. I fear that the SBC has begun to mirror the bloated system that exists in Washington, DC. There is little transparency (I asked the Executive Committee for salary information for the head of the EC and was told that information is reserved for Trustees only). Transparency is a huge problem when we pay the salaries of these individuals with our giving. It can also be very hard for a local church to have any influence at all on the SBC. Relatively few churches send messengers. That could be blamed on the local church, but I think there are hurdles in place that need to be addressed. It can be very expensive for small local churches to send messengers, and once messengers arrive, how to make a motion and what motions imply can be very confusing. This can result in very legitimate concerns being ruled as “out of order” technically, while the underlying issue never gets addressed. I am trying to keep these segments relatively short, but for more on this, I would encourage you to listen to the interview with Mike Adams on the Baptist21 podcast. He lays out his concerns in this area clear and succinctly.
- Concern about the integrity of the president of the SBC
This is the most specific, and honestly, my deepest concern as far as the overall integrity of the SBC. Ed Litton was elected as our president. I wasn’t there and I didn’t vote. Had I been there, I would have voted for Al Mohler in the first election, and probably Mike Stone in the run-off (not because I have a strong affinity for Mike Stone). Concerns about our president became apparent almost immediately. YouTube videos began to surface of him preaching sermons identical to J.D.Greear and others. Not just the same outline and content, but the same illustrations (inserting himself into others’ experiences and claiming them as his own), and using the same mannerisms. Look them up…it’s deeply problematic for anyone with a high view of the pulpit and the text. There are some theological concerns as well, but I’ll touch on those in the next section. My issue with Litton has deepened since he became president. His church removed his sermons from their website after it was made clear that he was plagiarizing the work of others. This was suspicious at best. I didn’t lose all faith in him as a leader until I heard his response in front of the student body at SWBTS. See, I am a broken person. I fail in many ways. The way that we deal with our fallenness is confession, repentance, and change. This was all that was needed in Litton’s case. But it didn’t happen. Instead, he doubled down by claiming in front of an entire student body that he didn’t have a “plagiarism problem.” Instead, he “remembers sermons too well.” I was appalled. Is this what we are teaching the next generation of preachers? The response on SBC message boards has been deeply concerning as well, as many seem all-to-ready to justify this behavior. It smacks of Washington politics in the SBC.
- Concern about theological clarity within the SBC
The SBC went through a massive theological battle during the conservative resurgence. We are not at that point now, but cracks are forming in the foundation. See, if you follow the concept of theological triage (see writings by Al Mohler on this subject), we as Southern Baptists unify around level 1 AND level 2 issues. I see people state that something “is not a gospel issue, therefore we should not be fighting over it.” This is shortsighted and misses the nature of our voluntary partnership. I would not financially support a church with a female pastor or female preachers, but until recently, NAMB had church plants with female pastors and our president preaches together with his wife. This is a concern. It’s not a gospel issue. If you believe that women are biblically permitted to preach, then we disagree on a level 2 issue. We can call each other brothers and sisters, but there’s a level of partnership that we simply cannot have because of the level of disagreement. The same applies to infant baptism. Our convention needs some clarity on this issue. We also need clarity on how we will deal with Critical Race Theory (CRT). Again, you may believe that CRT is legit or is from the pit of hell. The problem is a total lack of clarity. Two years ago, the SBC approved a resolution labeling CRT as a legitimate framework for understanding the life experience of certain people. Last year, the SBC made a resolution condemning the use of worldly philosophy, but not naming CRT explicitly. This resulted in massive confusion about the interpretation of the SBC actions. This can be exemplified by two individuals within the SBC. After the meeting, SBTS Professor Hershael York tweeted that CRT didn’t have to be named in the resolution because it was implied. But Dwight McKissic didn’t think so. On the site SBCvoices, McKissic responded to a poster who stated that the SBC had denied the validity of CRT by stating that the SBC had done no such thing because nowhere did the SBC name CRT in their resolution. So, which is it? The confusion here is palpable.
- Concern about the handling of sexual abuse allegations
The biggest news to come out of SBC21 was the formation of a Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF). The purpose of the SATF is to investigate how claims of abuse within the SBC have been handled by the leadership of the EC. To be clear, the EC is not being accused of abuse, but of not properly handling accusations of abuse in the local church and SBC institutions. This whole issue has been swamped with problems. One was the issue of attorney-client privilege. There was so much political wrangling and misinformation about this that I’m not sure anyone knows what’s happening. Another issue is the definition of abuse. The term “abuse” has grown and grown in scope that it can be very hard to nail down at times. For example, a pastor who grooms and involves himself sexually with a minor in the church is sexual abuse. There’s no other way to look at it. What about a seminary professor who pursues an adult female student who is a pretty well-known and established evangelical personality in her own right? This is sinful behavior, but to label sexual abuse seems to indicate that the sin in the situation was only on one side. Some clarity is needed here. Another issue has been what will be done with the results of this investigation? There have been some calls for a registry of “convicted and credibly accused” pastors that Pastoral Search Committees can access in their pastoral search process. I don’t have a problem with the “convicted” part of this. But that would come up in a background check (I would assume). My problem is the “credibly accused.” What does that even mean? Who gets to decide what is credible? These are major questions that need to be answered and defined.
Alright, there’s a lot here. But these are important issues. I don’t have all the issues, but I have skin in the game here. My family gives sacrificially to the CP. We want to see our money go toward the advancement of the gospel and the clear teaching of the Word of God. I don’t believe that we need to jettison the SBC, but reform is needed. How? I don’t know. But it’s going to have to happen at the level of the member and the local church. When political groups grow large and powerful, they simply don’t just give that authority away. I believe it begins with information. You need to know what is going on, then make your own decisions about what to do about it. I also believe dialogue is needed. No more yelling at each other or talking past each other. Let’s ask good questions and have good conversations about the issues facing our denomination.