Is the SBC Headed Back Toward Theological Liberalism?

So you’re upset with the “liberal direction of the SBC?” You’ve heard talk of leaders endorsing homosexuality. You’ve seen Facebook videos and scrolled through Twitter feeds about Resolution #9, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality. You’ve interacted with blog postings about the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Just reading the words “social justice” or “gospel issue” exhume emotions from deep within – maybe positive, maybe negative.

Are we headed toward theological liberalism or are we finally waking up from a season of ethnocentric and misogynistic comatose? Are we denying our roots and veering off track or are we finally opening our eyes to real issues? What’s the story in the SBC today, really?

We live in the age of information, where opinions and facts are craftily entwined then readily circulated on social media platforms. The truth is in there somewhere, but is not always easily distinguishable. Some disheartened pastors and churches feel their only recourse is to pull out of the convention altogether. But there’s something I think we seem to be forgetting…

You are the convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is not a parachurch organization with an incorporated top-down org chart. The SBC is a fellowship of autonomous churches whose decision making power is vested completely in the collective body, from the bottom-up. The churches make the decisions, bringing their voices to the table at every annual meeting. They collectively decide on their leadership, their resolutions, their institutional frameworks, their doctrinal parameters, their governing structure, etc.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is not a parachurch organization with an incorporated top-down org chart. The SBC is a fellowship of autonomous churches whose decision making power is vested completely in the collective body, from the bottom-up.”

Much debate and confusion have arisen over some decisions made at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham. But here’s the reality: only 7% of SBC churches actually sent messengers to the 2019 Annual Meeting. At a most basic level, the SBC’s 2019 Annual Meeting shows us a voting majority’s opinion from 7% of SBC churches.

Let’s run Resolution #9 through this funnel, just for example. I was there (nope, not telling you how I voted). My estimate is that it passed by a margin of maybe 10% but we’ll use 15% just to be sure. So 65% of 7% of our churches passed Resolution #9. Put another way, 4.55% of SBC Churches passed Resolution #9 in Birmingham. Do the majority of SBC churches support Resolution #9? I believe that is impossible to either confirm or deny based on the voting representation present at the 2019 Annual Meeting. Maybe so. Maybe not.

The point of the matter is, I don’t think we can make a categorical assessment based on such a remote sample of the whole. No one can really say the SBC is going liberal, and no one can really say it is not. The good news is, you are the SBC. Regardless of what the buzz is right now, you have the power to influence the narrative moving forward.

“You are the SBC. Regardless of what the buzz is right now, you have the power to influence the narrative moving forward.”

Here are 3 steps toward your church having a voice and becoming a part of the positive forward narrative of the SBC:

1. Be sure your church gives sacrificially and regularly through the Cooperative Program. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s constitution allows for 10 messengers from every affiliated church, regardless of CP participation. However, the SBC’s messenger allocation is different. The SBC allows 2 messengers from every affiliated church, plus 1 more for every $6,000 given (or 1% of the church’s budget), up to 12 maximum. SBC messenger slates are determined based on a church’s giving through September of the previous year. If you want to have a voice in the direction of the SBC, you need to have a continual, sacrificial financial investment in the ministry of the SBC.

2. Church, set aside financial provisions for your leaders to attend national and state annual meetings. The vast majority (~85%?) of SBC Churches run 150 or less in worship services. In my experience, these are the churches that often feel like convention decisions are not representative of their convictions. However, they are often not actively participating in the decision-making processes of the convention. I know their pastors are getting by on a slim salary, and their budgets are strained in every way, every year (this is the kind of church I pastored). But if the direction of the SBC is important to your church you need to set aside provisions to get messengers to the annual meeting every year. Add a Convention Expense allocation to your leaders’ salary packages. Or add a Convention Expense line item to the church budget to cover travel costs for elected messengers from the church body. Don’t be frustrated with the direction of the convention while not making provision for having a voice in that direction. Churches of this size are not “small” in the SBC. They are normative. Your voice needs to be heard.

3. Send a full slate of messengers to every annual meeting. Call a business meeting and elect as many messengers as your church is allowed, plus 2-5 alternates just in case. Preregister them on the annual meeting website. Pray over them before they leave and hear a report from them when they return. If you are going to have ownership in the narrative of the SBC, you must have representatives in the decision-making processes of the SBC. Send messengers who will vote your church’s convictions. Send them all.

In my opinion, the SBC is still the most theologically conservative, most effective mission-giving and mission-sending mechanism on the face of the planet. We are a family of churches, and every family member has a voice. I encourage you to stop just speaking about the SBC and start speaking into the SBC. I wonder how the dynamics and decisions of the Southern Baptist Convention might be different if 50% of our churches sent messengers. Or 75%. Or 100%. Until we have more voices speaking into the decision-making processes, we will not have accurate conversations about the decisions being made in our processes. 

“Until we have more voices speaking into the decision-making processes, we will not have accurate conversations about the decisions being made in our processes.”

Is the SBC headed back toward theological liberalism? Impossible to say right now. But your church’s voice can either confirm or change the present direction. Come to the SBC Annual Meeting this year. I’ll see you there.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

  One thought on “Is the SBC Headed Back Toward Theological Liberalism?

  1. Roger Hollar
    January 29, 2020 at 2:15 PM

    Word!

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