Fighting racial injustice and shepherding Southern Baptists through the upcoming presidential election were among topics addressed during a Baptist 21 panel discussion Tuesday, June 9. Screen capture from Baptist 21 YouTube
By Tess Schoonhoven
NASHVILLE (BP) — Given the current upheaval race relations in the United States, Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, said the Southern Baptist Convention must seize the tumultuous moment to change.
"We have to move past as a denomination being ‘not racist,’ to being anti-racist," said Pitman during a panel discussion June 9 hosted by Baptist 21. "That’s got to become who we are."
The online event was hosted by Baptist 21, a pastor-led network of Southern Baptists that communicates through resources, content, and gatherings. Originally scheduled to be held at the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it featured two hours of conversation among separate panels of executives from SBC entities and state conventions, as well as pastors from across the SBC.
Though several topics were discussed, much conversation focused on how Southern Baptists could and should respond to current events.
"This is a time to embrace the reality of what's going on," said Dhati Lewis, vice president of Send Network with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). "If we're going to make disciples in North America, we have to address the issue of race."
"This is a time to embrace the reality of what's going on."Dhati Lewis
Calling racism and injustice a Gospel issue, Lewis and others spoke of specific ways they have been learning to listen to each other and move forward in taking action that shows Christ's love. Pitman said while many declarations about being "not racist" have been made by Southern Baptists through the years, it’s time to action steps that demonstrate an attitude of anti-racism in every area of our lives: from the places we live to the people we elect and place in leadership.
Juan Sanchez, senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, added: “This has been a long-term problem that has been developing, and it is going to require long-term solutions.”
R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was asked about his recently announced decision to vote for President Donald Trump in November, a shift from his public opposition to Trump’s candidacy in 2016. Mohler described reluctant support, even as he continues to wrestle with some of the things the president says and does.
"My evaluation of Donald Trump's character has not changed, my understanding of the political equation has," Mohler said.
But Mohler said Christians will have their own convictions regarding their vote, and said there must be room for civil disagreement over the proper course.
"I will extend grace and respect to Southern Baptist brothers and sisters who make a different decision than I," Mohler said. "I don’t think it's too much to ask the same in return. Let's pray for each other and with each other as we make these decisions."
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said because there are no perfect political choices, we must recognize that politics is a secondary issue.
"It is fine to say the most important for me is the life of an unborn baby, but it's also biblically fine for me to say the most important for me is politicians who don't call me the n-word, and don’t think I'm the n-word," said Smith, who is African American. "You can't say, ‘Well, one is more image of God than the other,’ so we need a little bit of liberty in how we come into these discussions of politics because they don't have exegetical definites and we need to act like that’s the case."
SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area, said the decline in baptisms, as reported in the recently released 2020 Annual Church Profile, should concern Southern Baptists. While noting numbers aren’t primary, he called for “soul-searching,” saying churches should self-examine a lack of fruit.
"We ought to take ownership of that and do some real soul searching and say, 'Why aren't we baptizing, why are we not having that fruit?'" Greear said.
Greear said calling for awakening is vital. But he also cautioned against using it as an excuse, and to consider changing things that might be hindering the effectiveness of a church’s ministry.
"It's non-gospel centered preaching, it’s not calling intentional response, not equipping our people through things like ‘Who's Your One’ to be evangelists,” Greear said. “It’s the fact that some of our churches are more wed to their politics, their preferences, and their traditions than they are reaching their neighbors and communities. We've got to be sober about that. I hope people will do some soul-searching."
Greear said that all the way back to the early church, growth has come through individual discipleship. He said it is within those individual relationships that will see a resurgence of an evangelistic mindset.
The full panel discussions can be found on the Baptist21 network YouTube page.
Along with Mohler, Lewis, and Smith, participants in the panel of SBC entity leaders included: Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. The panel was hosted by Nate Akin, associate director of Pillar Network.
Along with Greear and Pitman, participants on the pastors’ panel included: SBC First Vice President Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.; and Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was hosted by Jed Coppenger, lead pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tenn.
Tess Schoonhoven is a Baptist Press staff writer.