Every June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) convenes its annual meeting for two days. Thousands of registered “messengers” from SBC churches worship together, hear reports from denominational entities such as mission boards and seminaries, and conduct business. In addition to the convention proper, dozens of auxiliary meetings take place. As a convictional Southern Baptist and a historian of our tradition, I look forward to the convention every summer.
I attended my first annual meeting in 2006 and have returned almost every summer since then. My wife, Leah, often attends with me. The 2022 annual meeting will be in Anaheim, California, next week. For the first time, our four kids will be attending with us—Leah and I have mixed feelings about this.
We’re excited that our whole family will be in Anaheim. Our kids have wanted to attend the annual meeting for years. They’re thrilled their first convention will be in Southern California, a place they’ve never visited. They’ve been looking forward to this experience for months. We delight in their anticipation.
But we’re also concerned. Our kids have been involved in healthy churches. Many of the adults they most love and respect are SBC pastors, youth ministers, professors, and missionaries. They’ve hardly ever seen a church member, let alone a pastor, act out in ungodly ways. They know it happens, of course. But with other people, in other churches, in other places. To this point, their experiences with Southern Baptists have been great.
Our kids have been involved in healthy churches. Many of the adults they most love and respect are SBC pastors, youth ministers, professors, and missionaries.
In the next few days, Leah and I will sit down with our kids to talk about this year’s annual meeting. Of course, we’ll talk with them about the sermons and the singing, the motions and resolutions, the entity reports, and the missionary sending celebration. We will also talk about the inspiring auxiliary events and the booths in the exhibit hall. We’ll make our plans and look forward to them.
But the conversation won’t all be good. We will have to talk to our kids about the horrific sex abuse scandal that has rocked the SBC. They’ll be shocked, heartbroken, and angry at gross sexual sin, cover-ups by key denominational leaders, and the mistreatment of some sexual abuse survivors by those same leaders. They’ll learn some of these abuse survivors are our friends. Sadly, they’ll also learn some of the abusers are our friends. They will want to know how Southern Baptists will respond and what it all means.
In addition to the sexual abuse scandal, Southern Baptists, like most denominations, are divided over the question of how Christians should engage with the culture—especially secular politics. At times, these debates can be acrimonious. We’ll have to explain to our kids that they will likely see and hear things at the SBC that don’t honor Jesus. They’ll likely hear or read false accusations made about adults they know and respect. They’ll likely witness bickering. They’ll likely witness hypocrisy.
Trouble of Our Own Making
It grieves me that we have to talk about these matters with our kids. But as a father who seeks to raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, I don’t know what else to do except be honest with them. The Southern Baptist Convention is not in a good place. Unfortunately, much of it is our own fault.
For years, some Southern Baptists who have talked about our need for revival have acted in ways that evidence just how much we really do need revival. Some Southern Baptists who have laudably championed conservative theology have also acted like carnal situation ethicists when it comes to their political machinations within the convention. Some Southern Baptists who have emphasized missions and evangelism have pointed us outward while also covering up grievous sin in our own camp. Some Southern Baptists who were called to shepherd God’s flock have abused their authority and preyed upon, fleeced, and misled the sheep. Some Southern Baptists who like to talk about changing the direction of the SBC are also aligned with the discredited leaders who set us in our present direction. Some Southern Baptists who claim to affirm that Scripture is fully trustworthy also bear false witness about widespread progressive drift within the SBC.
Lord, help us.
My Prayers for Anaheim
My prayer is that Southern Baptists will act like Christians when we gather in Anaheim. I pray this is true not only in the decisions we make but in how we make them. I pray we evidence the fruit of the Spirit, even as we debate any number of issues during our business sessions. I pray we demonstrate the fruit of repentance and respond faithfully to the findings of Guidepost Solutions and the recommendations of our Sexual Abuse Task Force. I pray we celebrate what God is doing, in spite of our sins and shortcomings, to reach the nations with the good news of Jesus Christ.
For years, some Southern Baptists who have talked about our need for revival have acted in ways that evidence just how much we really do need revival.
I’m also praying that my kids have a good experience in Anaheim. As I write these words, they are at best only vaguely aware of some of these issues. I’m especially grateful that they’re still totally unaware of SBC Twitter. I know that is about to change, and as their father I grieve for the loss of innocence about our denomination that awaits them.
I’m praying they resist the temptation to cynicism. I’m praying they choose hope over despair. I’m praying they are present to witness the beginnings of authentic spiritual awakening within the SBC that results in greater love for God, for one another, for the spiritually lost, for the hurting.
When all is said and done, God loves my kids more than I ever could. I can trust him with this.