I had the privilege of attending the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis MO. I must confess that the events in Orlando affected my experience and my ability to participate. We returned early for a prayer meeting on Wednesday. Nonetheless, I do have some thoughts on what happened and what I experienced.
First, I was encouraged to see a rebound in attendance with an increase of more than 1800 messengers to a total of more than 7,000. The contested election between Steve Gaines, J.D. Greear, and David Crosby must have played a part in the upsurge. I also think that there is a lot of interest in our convention’s direction again. The interest is not rooted solely in doctrinal conflict but in agency directions. The changes at NAMB, IMB and ERLC have been implemented under new leaders with a lot of discussion and some concerns.
The Election of the SBC President
Second, the election process was mystifying. The first vote did not conclude with a clear winner. A runoff between Dr. Steve Gaines and Dr. J.D. Greear resulted in no one receiving a majority because more than 100 votes were disallowed for being improperly cast. Steve Gaines was three votes short of the majority counting these other votes. I found it mystifying because it allowed a small group improperly voting to prevent the runoff from finalizing the decision and delayed the final vote one day. The delay meant that many, including the messengers from our church, were going to miss the decisive vote. The delay also placed the two candidates in a terrible position that I believe was unfair to them. They both struggled with continuing. The Convention should be able to decide a winner in a run off. The voting needs to be fixed. Either function under a different rule for a run-off and do not allow improperly cast votes from counting or change the way that votes are cast and counted so that we can do it quicker.
On Wednesday, Dr. Greear withdrew his name and Dr. Gaines became the President in a powerful moment before the Convention of honor, humility, and unity. Dr. Greear’s decision seemed to please everyone.
Racial Harmony and Diversity
Third, the Convention had a wonderful theme of racial reconciliation and diversity. The theme was highlighted by an entire session on racial reconciliation, a resolution to discontinue the display of the Confederate flag, and the most diverse set of Committee on Committees’ nominees in history. A significant change has occurred as evidenced by the amendment James Merritt recommended to the resolution to cease display of the Confederate flag. The Committee on Resolutions had soft language about the use of the flag as a racist symbol and the Convention agreed with Merritt that the language should clearly express our condemnation of the Confederate flag. The Convention overwhelmingly adopted the new language.
Our Convention is made up of such a diverse group of churches and people. Our Conventions, however, does not often properly express our diversity. This Convention experience was a step in the right direction.
Fourth, the Convention as a whole is on decline. We have 1000 less international missionaries this year. Our membership has shrunk to under 16 million. Our baptisms remain on a downward spiral. We need a movement of God.