Top church leaders say divisions, including on race and politics, are detracting Southern Baptists from core mission
Top church leaders urged Southern Baptists to stop focusing so much on the contentious issues that divide them and instead put their energy into their core mission of spreading the gospel.
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told the denomination's executive committee assembled Monday evening in Nashville that the coronavirus crisis did not create these fissures and failures, but it did expose them.
"The last year has revealed areas of weakness in our beloved convention of churches," said Greear, who is wrapping up an unexpected third term as president after the coronavirus canceled last summer's annual meeting. "But I have to believe in all of this that God is up to something because who the lord loves he chastens."
Executive committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd also pushed Southern Baptists to unite around their primary purpose.
Floyd followed Greear's address with his own during Monday's meeting of the executive committee, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session. As he addressed those gathered in the hotel conference room, Floyd said Southern Baptist culture is out of control.
"Each of us needs to be very careful with the words we write, speak, tweet, or post. As SBC leaders and followers of Jesus, our public behavior matters. Our words matter. Our tone matters," Floyd said. "For the greater cause, our SBC executive committee members need to lead the way in helping create a Bible-based, Christ-centered and Spirit-controlled culture in the SBC."
Greear named some of the current tension points within the convention, including the critical race theory fight spurred by the Southern Baptist seminary presidents' recent rejection of the complex concept used to analyze the effects of race.
"We should at least ask why our blanket condemnation of CRT was so devastating to our brothers and sisters of color. We at least owe them that and we should commit that they should be at the table thinking through this as we go forward," Greear said. "We have to be clear as we evaluate ideas like CRT against the Bible – and we should – that we will never protect the feelings of closet racists in our midst."
Scripture does not explicitly speak to every issue. Those instances should not be turned into litmus tests for who can stay and who has to go, Greear said.
"Do we want to be a gospel people or a Southern Republican culture people? Which is the more important part of our name? The Southern or the Baptist?" Greear said.
Greear also pointed to the slate of lies that have swirled throughout his three-year presidency, like those accusing him of trying to change Southern Baptist doctrine and being connected to liberal politicians.
"These kinds of accusations have become the norm for many of our leaders. The result has been a breakdown of partnerships and whole segments of our convention that feel unwelcome," Greear said. "I'm not as worried about how it affects me personally. I’m worried for our future."
He said putting the Gospel first means engaging everyone. Greear said most Southern Baptists just want to see the gospel spread across the globe.
"It is often people that have dominated the conversation that are not representing the Southern Baptist people and God has put you and me as leaders in a moment like this so we can say that is not what the conversation is going to be about," Greear said. "Southern Baptists are ready to walk into the future, but we're spending a lot of time dealing with people that are trying to rip us apart."
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in America. It is headquartered in Nashville and its next annual meeting will be held in June in the city.
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