James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., speaks to reports in his role as chairman of the 2021 SBC Resolutions Committee. Photo by Eric Brown
By J. Gerald Harris
Nashville, Tenn. – Serving on the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is a demanding and challenging task. The responsibilities of this group appointed by the SBC president are often conducted in a fashion similar to the work and deliberation of a sequestered jury.
This year James Merritt, chairman of the Resolutions Committee and pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA, and his committee received forty proposed resolutions for their consideration and deliberation.
The resolutions receiving the most attention seemed to be one protesting the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would make American taxpayers complicit in funding abortion. A second resolution receiving considerable notice pertained to the Equality Act which would bring “sweeping and historic changes to religious liberty” and likely infringe upon the free exercise of religion.
A third resolution recommended that churches understand that anyone who has committed sexual abuse should be permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor. A prepared resolution on Christian Citizenship denouncing the Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021 was not presented.
William Ascol from Owasso, OK, offered a resolution on “abolishing abortion”, but it was declined by the committee because they contended that the issue was sufficiently addressed in the resolution regarding the Hyde Amendment. Ascol subsequently made a motion requiring the Resolutions Committee to include the resolution on the abolition of abortion. The motion passed and the committee was compelled to present the resolution as submitted. Although some objected to the unequivocal language of the resolution, it was adopted calling for “the immediate abolition of abortion without exception or compromise.”
However, resolution 2 “On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation” attracted the most attention. Many messengers were concerned that the resolution did not mention Critical Race Theory and in essence refute the controversial resolution 9 adopted at the Birmingham convention in 2019.
In January 2021 Brandon Showalter of The Christian Post was making reference to Resolution 9 when he wrote, “that the nations’ largest protestant denomination is (becoming) increasingly “’woke’ and drifting from biblical orthodoxy.” CRT has also been described as “a philosophical framework that has come to dominate progressive activist thinking.”
In giving his committee’s report, Merritt obviously knew that he would be facing a massive number of Southern Baptists with a variety of very strong beliefs and convictions. He prefaced his remarks by stating that he was seeking to build unity and accord with the resolutions his committee agreed to present.
He stated, “We are here to build bridges and tear down walls, not to tear down bridges and build walls. One stick of dynamite can destroy a bridge, but it takes hard work to build a bridge.”
At the resolution committee’s press conference Merritt indicated that the world is often more focused on Southern Baptists during the annual convention than throughout the remainder of the year.
No one would argue that we would like for the world to think well of our convention, because we want to be able to win that world to faith in Christ; and indeed, Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
While love may be an overriding virtue, biblical love must be predicated on trust and truth. The prophet Amos questioned the ability of two walking together without being in agreement” (Amos 3:3). We want to be winsome and attractive to the world, but we must not do it by conforming to the culture or fearing to stand on God’s precepts and principles.
With unity as the guiding principle governing the work of the committee, ten resolutions were presented to the convention messengers. However, the committee failed to address critical race theory (CRT), an issue that had created the most angst and apprehension among many Southern Baptists because of the adoption of a resolution on CRT and intersectionality at the Birmingham convention in 2019.
Tim Rogers, pastor of At The Cross Fellowship, Monroe, NC, concluded, “The resolutions committee seemed to have a bias toward releasing resolutions. The bias stems from what they want to put out for the secular media to see.
“As the chairman stated in one of his impassioned pleas, ‘We must remember that the world is watching.’ While that is true, we must be cognizant that God is watching as well. It was very evident the committee did not want to entertain anything associated with the CRT/Intersectionality issue.
When a resolution is presented to the committee with 1300 signatures and that doesn’t make it to the convention for debate, it’s obvious the resolutions committee is an independent entity unto itself.”
Merritt explained at the committee’s press conference, “We did not reject resolution 2, but we combined all the related resolutions into that particular one. One of those resolutions had 1300 signatures, but 65 percent of them came from five churches.
“I understand people’s concern about Critical Race Theory, but I refuse to be divided over that. Every problem is rooted in sin; and CRT is not in the Bible. For those who are upset about resolution 2, I drove this resolution; and I am not going to judge what the 2019 resolutions committee did.”
It became obvious that Merritt “drove” the resolution, because when messengers voiced their objections to it, he exclaimed, “If we were as passionate about the Gospel as CRT we would win this world to Christ tomorrow.”
Dr. Robert (Bob) A. Pearle, pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tx., added, “Southern Baptists came from all over the country to denounce Critical Race Theory as evidenced by a resolution signed by 1300 messengers sent to the resolutions committee. The committee, however, denied the resolution and the chairman angrily denounced messengers when asked why CRT was not even mentioned in their resolution. The committee failed to bring clarity to a watching world.”
Joe McGee, Consolation Association’s Mission Strategist in Baxley, GA, commented, “We have always taken strong, convictional stands on issues like abortion and same sex marriage, so why should we suddenly be concerned about offending the world when we resolve to oppose CRT as an analytical tool to help us understand the Bible.”
Dr. Phil Roberts, currently Director for International Theological Education with Global Ministries Fellowship, commented, “The resolutions committee has left me wondering why it is considered not Christian to identify a blatantly Marxist racist concept like CRT by name especially when it has already been documented in SBC resolutions.”
Georgia Pastor Mike Stone, who was narrowly defeated in the contest for SBC president stated, “It is a failure on the part of this convention’s leadership to not expect Southern Baptists to address an issue that secular school boards are addressing, that secular state legislatures are addressing.”
While resolution committees often speak clearly and decisively on important spiritual, moral, political and ethical issues, some left the convention wondering if non-binding resolutions are more problematic than redemptive. One thing seems certain: the report of resolutions committees either reflect who we are or who we are becoming.