Jacksonville College

Is the SBC Returning to Theological Liberalism?

February 2nd, 2020 / By: Tony Wolfe | SBTC Director of Pastor/Church Relations / comments

So you’re upset with the “liberal direction of the SBC?” You’ve heard talk of leaders endorsing homosexuality. You’ve seen social media posts about Resolution #9 on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. You’ve interacted with blog postings about the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. Just reading the words “social justice” or “gospel issue” evokes emotions from deep within you—maybe positive, maybe negative. 

Are we headed toward theological liberalism or are we finally waking up from a season of ethnocentric and misogynistic comatose? Are we denying our roots and veering off track or are we finally opening our eyes to real issues? What’s the story in the SBC today, really?

We live in the age of information, where opinions and facts are craftily entwined then readily circulated on social media platforms. The truth is in there somewhere, but is not always easily distinguishable. Some disheartened pastors and churches feel their only recourse is to pull out of the convention altogether. But there’s something I think we seem to be forgetting… 

You are the convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention is not a parachurch organization with a top-down org chart. The SBC is a fellowship of autonomous churches whose decision-making power is vested in the collective body. The churches make the decisions, bringing their voices to the table at every annual meeting. They collectively decide on their leadership, resolutions, doctrinal parameters, governing structure, etc.

Much debate has arisen over some decisions made at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham. But in fact, only 7 percent of SBC churches sent messengers to the 2019 annual meeting. The SBC 2019 annual meeting shows us a voting majority’s opinion from 7 percent of SBC churches.

Run Resolution #9 through this filter, just for example. I was there and estimate it passed by a margin of maybe 10 percent but we’ll say 15 percent to be sure. So 65 percent of 7 percent of our churches passed Resolution #9—that’s 4.55 percent of the SBC. Do the majority of SBC churches support Resolution #9? We can’t know based on the voting at the 2019 annual meeting. No one can really say if the SBC is going liberal or not. The good news is you are the SBC. Regardless of today’s buzz, you can influence the narrative moving forward.

Here are three ways your church can become part of the positive future narrative of the SBC:

1. Give sacrificially and regularly through the Cooperative Program. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s constitution allows for 10 messengers from every affiliated church, regardless of CP participation. The SBC’s allows two messengers from every affiliated church, plus one more for every $6,000 (or 1 percent of the church’s budget) given, up to 12 maximum. SBC giving is measured from the end of September of the previous year. If you want to have a voice in the direction of the SBC, make a continual, sacrificial financial investment in the ministry of the SBC.

2. Set aside money for your leaders to attend national and state annual meetings. The vast majority of SBC churches run 150 or fewer in worship. In my experience, these churches may feel like convention decisions are not representative of their convictions. But they often don’t participate in the decision-making processes of the convention. I know their pastors are getting by on a slim salary, and their budgets are strained in every way, every year (this is the kind of church I pastored). But if the direction of the SBC is important to your church you need to send messengers to the annual meeting every year. Add a convention expense allocation to your leaders’ salary packages. Or add a convention expense line item to the church budget to cover travel costs for elected messengers from the church body. Don’t be frustrated with the direction of the convention while not making provision for having a voice in that direction. Churches of this size are not “small” in the SBC. They are normative.

3. Send a full slate of messengers to every annual meeting. Call a business meeting and elect as many messengers as your church is allowed, plus 2-5 alternates. Preregister them on the annual meeting website. Pray over them before they leave and hear a report from them when they return. If you are going to have ownership in the narrative of the SBC, you must have representatives in the decision-making processes of the SBC. Send messengers who will vote your church’s convictions. Send them all. 

The SBC is still the most theologically conservative, effective mission-giving and mission-sending mechanism on earth. We are a family of churches, and every family member has a voice. I encourage you to stop just speaking about the SBC and start speaking into the SBC. I wonder how the Southern Baptist Convention might be different if half of our churches sent messengers. Or 75 percent. Or 100 percent. Until we have more voices speaking into the decision-making processes, we will not have accurate conversations about the decisions being made in our processes.

Is the SBC headed back toward theological liberalism? Impossible to say right now. But your church’s voice can impact the present direction. Come to the SBC annual meeting this year. I’ll see you there.