When I was a young pastor the church I served elected a person to serve as the moderator for church business meetings. When a dear, faithful layman by the name of Curtis Finch was elected moderator, he would always begin the business meetings by asking, “Is there peace in the flock?” He wanted to make sure that the meeting was conducted in a spirit of harmony and goodwill.
Peace and harmony are good for a marriage, a family, a business, a church, and a Baptist convention. During the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention the denomination was divided over theological lines – the moderates and the conservatives. In many cases there were theological conservatives who identified with the moderate side because of friendships and denominational loyalty.
Early in the Resurgence the conservatives were considered by some as usurpers that wanted to wrest the convention away from the establishment. People took sides and during the course of a 20-year struggle the conservative contingent won the battle. There were wounds and scars incurred by those on both sides of the conflict.
Even though the battle was won by the conservatives, some of the organizational strategy and a certain amount of politicizing remained in place. However, the lines of demarcation were unclear because conservatives were positioning themselves against conservatives and there seemed to be contests for convention offices without a legitimate cause. Some of the contests became contentious.
So, at the March Executive Committee meeting a motion was made and passed to create a “Peace Committee” to resolve all perceived conflicts and seek accord and unity among the brethren.
The men asked to serve on the committee were Convention President Mike Stone, Frank Cox, Don Hattaway, Bucky Kennedy, John Waters, Tommy Fountain, John Yarbrough, Fred Lodge, Fred Evers, Wayne Robertson, and Marcus Merritt (who represented the Mission Board staff). Dr. White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, was also present and provided great leadership and counsel. I had the privilege of chairing the committee.
Everyone who had been asked to serve on the committee were present for the meeting held at the Georgia Baptist Mission and Ministry Center in Duluth on July 24, 2018.
Dr. White and I both affirmed the men who were present, because we knew that they were men of integrity and character – men who loved God, loved the convention, and loved one another. And yet, we acknowledged that there had been a rift in our fellowship that we were all determined to address.
I believe everyone came with a desire to seek reconciliation and healing. The best of families sometimes have misunderstandings and severed relationships, but good families who trust God always find a solution to those problems.
It was noted that peace is an essential at this particular juncture in Georgia Baptist life for several reasons:
- We did not want the new executive director to come into a divided convention. Dr. White had to do this when he came into the same position in January 1993 in the midst of the Conservative Resurgence with two distinct sides pitted against each other.
- We wanted Dr. White to retire knowing that the Convention is united and ready to write the next chapter in her history.
- We wanted to see severed relationships and broken friendships restored.
- We wanted to see the Georgia Baptist Convention – the crown jewel of state conventions – not only leading the SBC in evangelism, church planting, higher Christian education, collegiate ministries, and stewardship, but also leaders in spirit, love, and unity.
- We wanted to see the kind of unity that brings revival and spiritual awakening.
When Bucky Kennedy started talking about the principle of dying to self and allowing Christ to live His life through us, and when Don Hattaway spoke of his willingness to be vulnerable and humble himself before the others in the room and join hands with each of them to build trust and focus on the main goal of reaching Georgia for Christ, God seemed to break through in the meeting and bring reconciliation and healing.
I would summarize the meeting by saying that God provided the grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation we all sought. We all left the room with a new love and appreciation for each other and so far as I am concerned, the problem is solved.
However, we all need to remember that peace is a fragile thing and the devil is alive and active and devoted to the proposition of destroying our fellowship, because he knows that a divided church and a divided convention will never be able to accomplish what God wants us to accomplish in the world.
Peace is not achieved in a meeting. It is not achieved in a day. It is not achieved in a week. It is not achieved in a month. It is not achieved in a year. However, it can be achieved each day as we come to understand God’s love, as we learn to prefer others above ourselves, and love unselfishly and sacrificially as He did.
In John 15:9 Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”
Continuing is the key! I am blessed to say that today I believe there is peace in the flock.