The 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will be recorded in the history books for the election of Fred Luter.
Luter, a descendant of slaves, became the first African American to be elected president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
It is no secret that founders of the Southern Baptist Convention supported slavery, so Luter’s election is a signal that the denomination has come full circle.
But as I wrote before the convention, race should not have been an issue for Luter’s election. He deserved to be elected president because of his past service and his genuine love for and commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Luter promotes Southern Baptist missions and ministries and his church supports those as well through Cooperative Program giving.
He will be an ambassador for the Cooperative Program.
But there was plenty of other noteworthy items during the two-day meeting in New Orleans. Following are some observations.
I admit it. I was dead wrong on this issue. I honestly thought that this was a non-issue because the committee that studied a name change for the Southern Baptist Convention did not recommend a name change. They did suggest a “descriptor,” — Great Commission Baptists for those churches that felt the need for a name other than SBC for geographical or other reasons.
I expected most Southern Baptists would go along with the committee report because of the respect most people hold for Jimmy Draper, former president of LifeWay Christian Resources, who chaired the committee.
I really missed the boat on this one. It soon became apparent that a lot of Southern Baptists not only wanted to keep the name the same, they saw no need for a “descriptor.”
Even though Draper stressed repeatedly that no church had to use the descriptive phrase, messengers opposed it with a passion.
When the vote was taken, it was close enough that a ballot vote was called for by the parliamentarians and SBC President Bryant Wright.
When the vote was tallied, it had passed by only 314 votes out of more than 4,000 that were cast.
And a lot of people who voted for the descriptor told me later they did not want the name changed, but they understood how the descriptor could help new congregations in pioneer areas.
During the discussion, messengers also made it clear they expected SBC entities to keep the SBC brand and not use the descriptor.
It appears Southern Baptists are passionate about their name and what it represents. I can only imagine the debate that would occur if an entity chose to use the new descriptor. We have accomplished what some folks desired by giving new churches in pioneer areas an option. The overwhelming majority of current Southern Baptist churches no doubt will keep that name.
The elephant in the room
Calvinism. There it is. I said it. I have said it before and have “paid the price” with criticism and attacks. That’s part of the job.
I have my beliefs and Calvinists have theirs. I am not smart enough to say that I am right and they are wrong. That’s something that I hope to learn when I get to heaven some day. I do know that I have friends who are of the Calvinist persuasion and I have tremendous respect for them. We don’t always have to agree on everything in order to be friends.
I admit to a rather simplistic view of salvation, but it is one that is biblically sound.
John 14:6 says it plainly. “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”
I know Calvinists believe that Jesus saves as well, but we basically disagree over how it comes about. Those who call ourselves traditional Southern Baptists (where I fall) believe we all have a choice while Calvinists believe God has already chosen those who will be saved and there is nothing we can do to change it.
Calvinism is an issue that has been brewing “under the table” for several years. It is controversial and it has divided churches across our convention, both nationally and in Tennessee.
Finally, the issue was brought to the forefront at the annul meeting by both Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and Bryant Wright, outgoing SBC president.
Give the two men credit. They tackled the issue boldly.
In his convention message Bryant said the “elephant in the room” is the tension that exists between “traditional” Southern Baptists and Calvinists or those who hold to “reformed theology.”
Wright had these words for both groups.
“To our Calvinist friends, a bit of humility would be most welcome. Anytime there is spiritual pride or intellectual pride or theological pride — it is always a sin. And an attitude of superiority ... is never going to build up the church of Jesus Christ. A little humility would be appreciated.
“To those who call themselves traditional Southern Baptists, the time for being judgmental is over, because judgmentalism quickly moves into slander. And to lump all those who have a strong biblically based theology that is a more Reformed theology into hyper-Calvinism is not only misguided, but it ends up causing you to break the ninth commandment on false witness.”
Wright also said “it is time to show some respect to those who have differing views when it comes to election and when it comes to salvation.”
Page tackled the Calvinism issue during his Executive Committee report.
“Calvinism is an issue amongst us. You may or may not like that, but it is a real issue. I don’t want to shock anyone in this room, but I am not a Calvinist. I am not. I know that shocks you. But I want to tell you this: A lot of our people are.”
Page noted Calvinists and non-Calvinists have worked together for decades and must continue to find ways to do so. He plans to assemble “a group of advisors” to address Calvinism and find ways “to work together better.”
Amen. Neither traditional Southern Baptists or Calvinists are going away. For the good of the kingdom, we must work together to bring men and women and boys and girls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Attendance at the annual meetings continues to be low. We did not even register 8,000 messengers in New Orleans, a city that is a popular tourist destination and one that is within a reasonable driving distance of thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptists.
For years I have advocated for the annual meeting to be held every two years. Think of the millions of dollars that could be saved and sent to the missions field. One messenger (Daniel Palmer of North Carolina) made a valiant attempt to get this motion to be considered on the floor of the convention, but to no avail. It was referred to the Executive Committee. I hope the Executive Committee will seriously consider this proposal. We keep saying we want more money to go to missions. Skipping a meeting every other year is one tangible way to do that.
All in all, the 2012 annual meeting was well worth attending. History was made and the hidden “elephant in the room” is now in plain view.