Reflections on the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans
I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, where we elected our first African-American SBC president: Dr. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Ave. Baptist Church in New Orleans. Dr. Luter is an outstanding pastor, preacher and Southern Baptist leader. He took a congregation of 65 people and built it to thousands of members, only to see the membership decimated by Hurricane Katrina. He returned to rebuild the membership to over 4,500 in weekly attendance today. His church is a leading supporter of Southern Baptist missions. I am very excited that we have elected Dr. Luter, and I hope you will join me in praying for God to bless his leadership of our convention.
The convention also voted on changing the name of our denomination. By a 54-46% vote, messengers approved the proposal to keep the legal name Southern Baptist Convention, while at the same time encouraging anybody who wants to use a different name to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists.” I voted against this. The name “Southern Baptist” has come to stand for who we are. Changing actions is more important than changing our name. I felt that it was an unnecessary proposal, since churches do not have to use the name “Southern Baptist” in their local church name anyway to be affiliated with us, and even though the other name is just an alternative option, I feel that it will be confusing for us to be using two different names to refer to our denomination.
The convention passed nine resolutions and declined to bring forward some proposed resolutions. Resolution #3 was a hotly debated resolution affirming the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to express repentance and faith. Some people, such as David Platt, have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer” to give people a false hope that they are saved simply by saying a prayer, even when they have not repented of sin. The resolution affirmed that the Bible often speaks of crying out to God in faith, and that there is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat a “sinner’s prayer” of faith, as long as it is not used as manipulation or an incantation that does not include a full explanation of the gospel and expression of repentance. Makes sense, right? However, two amendments were proposed to this resolution, both of which failed. One amendment tried to completely delete the term “a sinner’s prayer.” This amendment was defeated. The other amendment tried to add specific language saying that salvation is available to all who hear and all may respond. This amendment was also defeated, since the resolution already said the gospel is offered to anyone who repents and trusts in Christ. Then the overall resolution was adopted. Apparently, the two amendments that were offered came from opposite camps in the debate over Calvinism. Some Calvinists have criticized the use of a “sinner’s prayer,” since they feel it is manipulative, and cannot bring salvation to a person unless that person is first chosen and called to faith by God. The other amendment, which stressed the availability of the gospel to all to hear and respond, seemed to be a direct attack on the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (the belief that Christ only died for the elect), since it was stressing a general appeal to all to believe. It is very interesting that both amendments were defeated; despite the controversy, the convention and most convention speakers seemed to desire to steer a middle course that is inclusive to both Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Resolution #5 spoke out against the Obama administration’s violations and potential violations of religious liberty on several issues, such as the health care mandate for that violates the consciences of the Catholic church and other religious groups that do not wish to pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, and the threat to the ministry of military chaplains who do not believe in homosexuality, now that homosexuality is being approved by the military.
One resolution was of particular interest because it was not brought up for a vote. Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor in Texas, had proposed a resolution against the racist statements in Mormon source documents. He was concerned that Mormons have been evangelizing people of color, without those people knowing that passages in the Book of Mormon such as 2 Nephi 5:21, Alma 3:6, 14 say that people with dark skin are cursed by God. An African-American member of the Resolutions Committee (I failed to get his name), said that the SBC has not been in the habit of speaking against specific religions, and implied that we didn’t want to set that precedent. He also said that since the Mormon church now allows people of color to be elders, we want to make sure we get our facts right before speaking on this issue. McKissic insisted that he still wanted the resolution to be brought up for a vote, because he said the Mormon church has never repented of these passages in their books, and the racist implications remain in Mormon “scripture.” However, the convention defeated Rev. McKissic’s motion to bring up his resolution.
Overall, it was a lively convention, attended by a little less than 8,000 registered messengers, full of inspirational reports from our International Mission Board and North American Misssion Board, great preaching and music. And of course, since it was a Baptist business meeting, there were as many different opinions as there were people in the room.