Leaving the Music City Center in Nashville, TN two weeks ago, my wife and I along with long lines of literally thousands of other Southern Baptists paused at the first street corner to wait for the walk signal. Only a few yards away from the curb were five men bearing a Black Lives Matter banner and blaring over their microphone, “Southern Baptists are racists and hypocrites.”

I wish that the five men had been inside the vast convention hall where the Southern Baptist Convention had just wrapped up its annual meeting. I wish they could have seen the Black singers, Black preachers, and Black speechmakers, particularly Pastor Fred Luter, the first Black president of the SBC (2012-2014) as he nominated for President the candidate who was elected.

More importantly I wish the profane, accusatory men could have seen 15,726 Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians from all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico slip from their chairs, kneel uncomfortably in limited space, and pray for each other, the nation, and the world. It might also have been of interest to the five protestors, though maybe not, to hear from two of the six SBC seminary presidents that their seminary enrolments are now over 50% non-Anglo.

Any way you cut it, church is sociology. Birds of a feather flock together. Even so, Southern Baptists for some time now have been convicted that their congregations and denominational gatherings should look more like heaven is going to look: “saints from all the nations.”

Americans have always been a religious people. Churches are everywhere, 47,000 of which are Southern Baptist. Hospitals, schools, colleges, orphanages, and rehab centers have been built and funded by America’s church goers of all denominations. It’s indisputable that wherever the Christian faith has gone schools and hospitals have followed. (Full disclosure: I have not researched to find out how many schools and hospitals have been built by American Atheists or the Atheist Alliance.)

Southern Baptists, with over 14 million members, are still the largest Protestant group in America. Like other Protestants and Catholics, Southern Baptists often disagree with each other. Much has been made of a “split,” “division,” and “turmoil” amongst Southern Baptists. Don’t believe it. Never has there been an annual meeting without internal disputed issues. The Nashville gathering, however, was a typical prayer-bathed business meeting and a time of worship. The new president, Pastor Ed Litton of Saraland, Alabama and his losing opponent, the silver-tongued orator/seminary president/activist Al Mohler evidenced their grace and Christian charity with respectful words for each other.

On the evening just after Litton was elected president, he appeared on CNN’s Erin Burnett show. Gleefully, Burnett gave the setup: “The Southern Baptist Convention has just elected a moderate as their president. He’s coming right up.” Right up, though, Litton kindly but forcefully corrected Burnett. “I’m not a moderate. I’m a theological conservative.” Burnett, visibly stunned, wrongfully suggested that because Litton has spoken out for racial reconciliation and works with a multiracial group of pastors in the Mobile area, he must not represent the rank and file. How insulting.

Litton’s defense of his conservative creds brought to my mind the fact that as much as Southern Baptists and other evangelicals disagree with each other at times, they are all strong on the fundamentals of the faith: the virgin birth, the sinless life, the substitutionary/sacrificial death, and the literal resurrection, not to mention Christ’s great commission to share the Gospel. That’s why some refer to Southern Baptists as Great Commission Baptists.

The SBC is a voluntary fellowship of “co-operating” churches. It is totally non-hierarchical and each church is totally autonomous. To refer to “problems within the SBC” is absolutely vague and misleading, though individual churches certainly do often have problems.

Interviewed by the National Review, Litton stated, “The SBC did not inch left. My views of marriage, gender identity, and homosexuality have not changed nor are they going to change. They’re bound by Scripture and there I stand.”

The Wall Street Journal also got it wrong: “The SBC is at war. Internal fissures have exploded.” No, and no, Donald Trump has not divided the denomination, as the WSJ foolishly suggested. Newsweek, CBS, and ABC also joyfully celebrated the supposed “leftward turn” that Litton himself has denied.

This stir will not stop evangelicals from spreading the Gospel or from speaking out on social issues. Keeping quiet on abortion, injustice, perversion and moral degeneracy would dishonor the cries of the Old Testament prophets; the Methodist, William Wilberforce; the Lutheran, Dietrich Bonheoffer; and two great Baptists, Martin Luther King and Billy Graham.

I doubt that the Great Commission Southern Baptists will ever keep quiet and I pray that they won’t.

Roger Hines is a retired English teacher and state legislator who lives in Kennesaw. His email is rgrh555@gmail.com.

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(4) comments

George Don Spruill

Roger, thank the Lord for your in-person report of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists in Nashville. The left-leaning media (95%+ of all media) was — as you said — “gleefully” reporting a split in beliefs along the lines of a General Conference of United Methodists or a General Assembly of Presbyterian USA members. Further, you would think from those reports that Pastor Ed Litton was emblematic of a move toward non-Scriptural practices and beliefs, when I seriously doubt he and Al Mohler differ greatly in the way they “divide Scripture”. Your report makes this Believer breath a sigh of relief. Shame on the media for being Satan’s handmaidens. Many of us were misled by lies, but thanks to you, we’ve gotten a truthful report.

Oliver Halle

"(Full disclosure: I have not researched to find out how many schools and hospitals have been built by American Atheists or the Atheist Alliance.)" With reference to your comment, which I put in quotes, more than half the money religious hospitals take in is from taxpayers, which would include atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians. I didn't look it up but it seems that the Jews have provided for a disproportionate number of hospitals considering their small number in the United States, but again, hospitals that also receive public money to include monies from atheists. To turn your comment around, how many Christian hospitals are there in Muslim countries? In Israel? Just maybe the numbers of Christians in those countries is too small to fund any, just like there are insufficient numbers of atheists to open hospitals.

Just trying to balance your comment, Roger, especially in light of your claim how the media has been so unfair to the SBC.

Roger Hines

Oliver, I can guarantee you that Southern Baptists' International Mission Board would be besides themselves with joy if Muslim nations would ALLOW them to build hospitals within their borders.

Oliver Halle

Roger, I'm sure they would. But considering that just locally Baptist Hospital closed some years ago, and more recently St. Joseph's was taken over by Emory, it would seem there is a money problem as I pointed out. The taxpayers are heavily subsidizing religious hospitals, and without fact checking further, I would ask how many new religious hospitals have opened in the USA in recent years?

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