NASHVILLE (BP) - Given the current upheaval race relations in the United States, Vance Pitman said the Southern Baptist Convention must seize the tumultuous moment to change. Pittman serves as senior pastor of Hope Church, Las Vegas. “We have to move past as a denomination being ‘not racist,’ to being anti-racist,” he said during a panel discussion June 9. “That’s got to become who we are,” he said.
Baptist 21, a pastor-led network of Southern Baptists that communicates through resources, content and gatherings, hosted the online event and its panels. The group had planned an event for the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. But, SBC leaders canceled the Annual Meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Baptist 21’s replacement online event featured two hours of conversation among separate panels of executives from SBC entities and state conventions, as well as a panel of pastors from across the SBC.
The panels discussed several topics. Among them, some conversations focused on how Southern Baptists could and should respond to current events. “This is a time to embrace the reality of what’s going on,” said Dhati Lewis, vice president of Send Network with the North American Mission Board. “If we’re going to make disciples in North America, we have to address the issue of race.”
Lewis and others called racism and injustice a Gospel issue. They discussed how they have been learning to listen and take action that shows Christ’s love. Though Southern Baptists have declared that they are “not racist,” Pittman said they need to demonstrate an anti-racism attitude in their lives. Demonstrations should extend “from the places we live to the people we elect and place in leadership,” he said. Juan Sanchez added: “This has been a long-term problem that has been developing, and it is going to require long-term solutions.” He serves as the senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
The discussions also addressed politics. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was asked about his recently announced decision to vote for President Donald Trump in November, a shift from his public opposition to Trump’s candidacy in 2016. Mohler described reluctant support, even as he continues to wrestle with some of the things the president says and does. “My evaluation of Donald Trump’s character has not changed, my understanding of the political equation has,” Mohler said.
But Mohler said Christians would have their own convictions regarding their vote. He also advocated that believers must allow room for civil disagreement. “I will extend grace and respect to Southern Baptist brothers and sisters who make a different decision than I,” Mohler said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask the same in return. Let’s pray for each other and with each other as we make these decisions.”
Kevin Smith said, because no perfect political choices exist, Christians must recognize politics as a secondary issue. He is the executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. “It is fine to say the most important [political issue] for me is the life of an unborn baby. But, it’s also biblically fine for me to say the most important for me is politicians who don’t call me the ‘n-word,’ and [who] don’t think I’m the ‘n-word,’” Smith said. He is an African American. “You can’t say, ‘Well, one is more image of God than the other.’ So, we need a little bit of liberty in how we come into these discussions of politics. ... They don’t have exegetical definites, and we need to act like that’s the case.”
Panelists also reflected on the ongoing SBC decline indicated by the recent 2020 Annual Church Profile statistics. SBC President J.D. Greear said the decline in baptisms should concern Southern Baptists. Greear also pastors The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, area. While noting numbers aren’t primary, he called for “soul-searching,” saying churches should self-examine a lack of fruit. We ought to take ownership of that and do some real soul searching and say, ‘Why aren’t we baptizing, why are we not having that fruit,’” Greear said.
Greear said calling for awakening is vital. But, he cautioned against using it as an excuse. He suggested that pastors consider changing things that could hinder their church’s ministry effectiveness. “It’s non-Gospel centered preaching. It’s not calling intentional response, not equipping our people through things like ‘Who’s Your One’ to be evangelists,” he said. “It’s the fact that some of our churches are more wed to their politics, their preferences and their traditions than they are reaching their neighbors and communities. We’ve got to be sober about that. I hope people will do some soul-searching.”
Greear said that in the early church, growth came through individual discipleship. He said it is within personal relationships that Southern Baptists will experience a resurgence of an evangelistic mindset.
The full panel discussions are available on the Baptist21 network YouTube page. Along with Mohler, Lewis and Smith, participants in the panel of SBC entity leaders included: Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. Nate Akin, associate director of Pillar Network, hosted the panel.
Along with Greear and Pitman, participants on the pastors’ panel included: SBC First Vice President Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia, and president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia; and Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. Jed Coppenger, lead pastor of Redemption City Church, Franklin, Tennessee, led the panel.