Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Used to Be a Southern Baptist

I was baptized into a Southern Baptist church in April of 1973. Over the subsequent 36+ years, I have been a member of seven Southern Baptist churches. Both of my parents attended a Southern Baptist seminary. Two of my uncles pastored Southern Baptist churches. I have written for Southern Baptist publications.

My church is no longer a Southern Baptist church after this week's action of the Southern Baptist Convention. While the SBC never bothered to put a reason for its action on the record, the off-the-record and behind-the-scenes and blogosphere justifications for the SBC action all had to do with a disbelief of my church's testimony about itself and an assumption/interpretation by others about what my church affirms, approves, and endorses.

This is unprecedented at the national level. More than that, it is sad.

There are some who don't see much downside to the Convention's action. They don't see why my church should care that it is no longer affiliated with the SBC. They may be right. After all, the Southern Baptist Convention of today is a far cry from what it was in 1973. My church has many different priorities from those of the SBC. I personally am not enamored with many current convention positions.

Still, the history of the SBC has much to be proud of. Even in the current SBC, there are pockets - especially at the local level, where the national politics has not been able to ooze - of Christian service and discipleship that are worthy of support and acclaim. As my ability to support the majority of Southern Baptists in positions of power and the direction of the national convention has waned to almost nothing, I have focused on my support of these isolated areas. And if we (and by "we" I mean both my fellow church members and the Executive Committee of the SBC) are honest, we will admit that there is much that we have in common: we claim the promise of Christ; we seek to follow the Great Commission; we are active in mission work.

I am proud that my church has sought reconciliation. I believe that is the Christlike approach. Paul teaches that, as much as it is up to us, we should live in peace with all. We have tried to do that. The Convention has rejected our efforts and publicly disbelieved our testimony about ourselves. That leaves nothing for us to hold on to.

It is ironic that I write this blog immediately after having written a blog about how I am an optimist. I can see the good in the SBC (I know I sound like Luke Skywalker, seeing the good in Darth Vader) that still exists. I know that many who voted to oust my church believe that scripture is clear and that accepting certain people as church members is a de facto affirmation of their behavior. I believe them when they say that they have no problem ministering to everyone and opening the doors of the church to all people but that an extension of membership is a different matter.

That I understand them does not mean that I excuse them. It is, I believe, either dishonest or naive to conclude that all Southern Baptist church members are truly repentant for all their sins. As I say, I have been a member of Southern Baptist churches for over 36 years, and I know that our churches include many who commit sins for which they have no remorse and of which they have no intention of repenting. I also believe it is poor exigesis of scripture to conclude that the New Testament description of the local church includes only those who have repented of all sins, who have "arrived" at the ideal state of following Christ. Paul himself testified that he had not yet achieved his goal even as he approached his death. He continued to press on toward the high calling. So do we.

Do I think people should repent of their sins? Of course I do. Do I believe that unrepentant sinners are failing to meet the mark we expect of church members? Obviously.

It is a red herring to label my church as pro-gay or pro-sin or apostate or anti-repentance. I have never been in a church with a higher view of scripture in the worship service. I have been impressed with the respect for scripture that my church has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate in dealing with this very issue.

It is sad that we have yet another public picture of Christians who cannot get along. It is sad that the ministries of many good Southern Baptist churches who had nothing to do with the Convention's actions will be marred by the (deserved) bad publicity with which all who bear the name "Southern Baptist" will be marked as a result of this short-sightedness. It is sad that those who have firmly grabbed control of the name Southern Baptist have such little regard for the historic idea of what it means to be Baptist.

Go in peace, SBC. We no longer walk together - and that is sad - but we both continue to bear the name of Christ. I have little doubt that my church will continue on the path that God has laid out for us, and I have little doubt that you will continue on your own different path. I believe the loss is yours.


chris O'Rear said...


I understand what you are saying, however, I can only say that the SBC is NOT that 1973 SBC any longer. After witnessing the extreme hostility of the takeover at Southern Seminary when I was there, I lost all hope of finding common ground. I find common ground with people in the SBC and dialogue with other baptists in the SBC, but I no longer call myself a southern baptist. The SBC has very little connection with its historical roots and it seems there is very little room for dialogue in the organization. I only wish I could be a part of a church that was kicked out of the SBC. I continue to try to live a life that is a reflection of my own core beliefs and values and live for communion with others who are open to dialogue - whether they are Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Christian, Jew, or other. I have a lot to share with others, but I have a lot I can learn for others. It is sad to me that some are more focused on being right than being loving.

Lyn said...


You experienced things at Southern that I only knew vicariously. It is not surprising that, while we both recognize that today's SBC is not what we knew and respected, we have somewhat different emotional reactions to that recognition. Continue to press on to the mark as you are led - that is all we can do.

Charlie Johnson said...


The tone and spirit of this piece is reflective of the attitude of Jesus and Paul on the difficult matter of Christian reconciliation. You (and many others) are clearly disappointed in the breach of fellowship that has ensued. Every confessing Christian of any denomination ought to be! This is precisely your cogent point: that disunity and division in the Body of Christ is a matter of the utmost moral and spiritual seriousness. We have seen far too little regret and remorse this week. Instead, we have seen disdain, impudence, judgement, self-righteousness, and haughtiness-- all violations of the spirit of Christ.

You make another point that deserves greater reflection: the SBC refused to believe our direct, goodwill testimony. To my knowledge, this is unprecedented in our communion, and a huge moral stumblingblock. Instead of receiving our testimony (a central theme of NT faith, by the way), they chose to invest in hearsay, innuendo, and gossip-- things the NT clearly deems beneath the dignity of a follower of Christ.

Sad, indeed. And shameful.