When Brothers Dwell In Unity — Thoughts On The Recent Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting
Yet another annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention has come and gone and with it, another highly controversial fissure threatened to fracture the community.
The controversy centered on the highly personal and deeply ingrained topic of racism.
The storm rose quickly. Words of anger, warning, and concern thundered and flashed across news feeds from a variety of sources – and rightly so.
A resolution and opportunity for the convention to decry an issue that has smeared not only the SBC’s past, but is at the cultural forefront of a hateful and despicable group of people who take the name of Christ in vain (the self-labeled “Alt-Right”) was not put before the convention for affirmation.
For many in the convention, and the media, these clouds arose as a simple here we go again.
Reporters raised their axes before the SBC’s roots and many began to react harshly with veiled threats of leaving the denomination or labeling it as a dead entity.
Mistakes were made. People were hurt.
Then something happened.
In less than 24 hours, the resolution was taken up and adjusted to wield the most pointed and defiant language against the evil of racism and white nationalism. It was then unanimously passed by around 5000 brothers and sisters across racial boundaries resulting in a burst of ovation and applause.
This was a moment of both struggle and strength for the SBC. In this moment we saw both the difficulty of fallen men bonding together for a common goal in a fallen world and the glory of reconciliation through Christ by the Spirit of God.
What makes me proud today to be a part of the SBC is not that we are the biggest or brightest organization on earth (we aren’t). It’s not even that we always get things right (we don’t).
As Christians, we are professing to be broken people in need of a Savior who have found the blood of Jesus to cover our sins. We are a people united not by musical style, geographic locale, or a human authority that tells us what to think or believe.
We are a people united by the fact that in His grace, we know God is God and we are not – yet we strive to faithfully and obediently follow His Word in His power for His glory.
The events of this year’s SBC bear that out well.
In Psalm 133, David extolls, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” If you have been in the church for long, however, you know unity is not the default position. We do not land on unity by simply allowing ourselves to be driven by the current. We must fight for it.
And so it has been in the church from the beginning. From Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Phil. 4:2), to the apostles Paul and Peter in Antioch (Gal. 2:11), to the call for humility and unity to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:11-28), the nature of our calling in Christ to display the Gospel as one body has transcended even the most personal or heated of fractures.
Was anything accomplished by the passage of this resolution on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention to label racism in all forms as evil and anti-gospel?
We will see.
It is not the wording of resolutions or press releases that truly matters in our churches; it is the living out of this truth that we who affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ affirm our call to live out the Gospel by seeking racial equality, justice and brotherhood.
Time will tell whether this resolution is truly resolved in our hearts or simply passed in our minutes.
Will there be mistakes? Yes. Will people be hurt by word and deed? Yes. But what I again hope to see in any and all of these situations is the same thing we saw displayed this year in Phoenix: forgiveness, reconciliation and unity for the sake of the Gospel.
It is no surprise this year’s situation caught headlines in national media such as CNN, the Washington Post and a host of other agencies documenting the actions of Southern Baptists from a distance. This can be dangerous, and I admit I scrolled through my Twitter feed today with hesitation.
What caught my eye in these articles, however, was not the headlines or discourse on either side, but the images used to portray the events. Most of the publications accompanied their headlines with a picture of (mostly white) people with microphones singing songs with hands raised and suit jackets unwrinkled.
It was the prototypical image the world thinks of when they think of Southern Baptists.
The picture that speaks volumes to me, however, and I believe most accurately displays what we should hope to be known for in the SBC, was not lit by stage lights or accompanied by the Gettys.
It is a picture of Dwight McKissic (author of the original resolution) who stands as a tall, strong, well-dressed African American man close to Barrett Duke (chair of the resolutions committee), a shorter white-haired gentleman in a baggy suit. They stand face to face not on a podium – not for a press opportunity – but as brothers in Christ who stand at the center of a great wound while Duke says, “I apologize, I genuinely apologize,” and receives the forgiveness of his brother.
Let this be our identifier as Christians, as well as brothers and sisters, united together in cooperation and purpose for the sake of the glory of God.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).