Note: all times referenced are Central Standard.
DALLAS, TX — Georgia Baptists gave a mixed review to the surprise announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address Southern Baptists tomorrow at their annual meeting.
Practically all those speaking with The Index extolled Pence’s stance for Christian values and his place to represent those values in Washington. However, some expressed concerns over the message it would send in Southern Baptists’ alignment with the Republican Party, not to mention the logistics required for messengers.
Talks had been in progress for Pence to appear, but were not confirmed until 4 p.m. yesterday. The change necessitated additional security steps for his 11 a.m. address. Security checkpoints are scheduled to open at 5:30 a.m., with messengers told to expect delays of up to two hours before entering the convention hall. Furthermore, the list of prohibited items include: spray containers/aerosols; containers of any type such as glass bottles, water bottles, and cans; backpacks and other large bags of any type, including Messenger bags; and large purses or handbags.
A resolution this morning in the form of an amendment to tomorrow’s schedule proposed that the time allotted to Pence be replaced with one of prayer. Ultimately, the amendment was voted down. A second attempt at an amendment this afternoon failed as well.
Georgia Baptists commenting on Facebook, by and large, approved Pence’s visit and were dismayed a resolution had been introduced that would prevent it.
“This makes me sick on my stomach that this was even considered,” wrote Ernie Jones, pastor of Faceville Baptist Church. “Praise God for spiritual minded messengers who did not allow such foolishness to prevail.”
“Praise God for spiritual wisdom in this matter,” agreed Joey Taylor, pastor of Springhead Baptist Church in Adel.
Georgia Baptist Association state missionary Andy Perryman expressed being “totally surprised” an amendment had been introduced effectively disinviting Vice President Pence.
“It’s awesome that he will be speaker for us,” said Wayne Todd, pastor of New Beginnings Community Baptist Church in Hephzibah, attending the annual meeting with his wife, Nancy. “It speaks volumes that he stands for his Christian beliefs. We need to keep up with the political world somewhat because it does affect us as Christians.”
Concerns over political alignment, logistics
Gainesville pastor Javier Chavez, of Amistad Cristiana Church, noted the honor of Pence addressing the Convention while wondering about its long-term effects among Southern Baptists of color.
“I believe his invitation was a hallmark for our Southern Baptist Convention. However, in a moment in which political talk on sensitive issues such as immigration or racial profiling in this government is increasing, Pence’s visit could be seen by many … as siding with a particular political expression,” he said.
“My personal opinion is if we are to invite Mike Pence to address the SBC, it will set a precedent that next time we should do the same in case a politician is from a different [party in the White House].”
Incoming SBC President J.D. Greear, in a press conference following his election, was asked about Pence’s visit and Southern Baptist disagreement over the issue.
Greear chalked it up to a difference of perception on the vice president’s address. “Some say his appearance is a way to honor those in authority … and not meant to be a partisan endorsement. Others say you can say that all you want, but it still looks like a partisan endorsement.”
The North Carolina pastor said empathy toward those who have a different political view, yet are staunch Southern Baptists, ought to be considered going forward.
“We need to show empathy to those who hear a different story and a different narrative,” he stated, “and understand why they see this as endorsement no matter what’s said.”
Calling the decision “tone-deaf,” Waycross pastor Ben Smith worried about the additional security required for the vice president and its effect on the Convention proceedings. “At the end of the day, it draws our attention to something temporal when we ought to be focused on the eternal,” he said.
“On a practical note, it takes away from the messengers’ ability to do their business,” added Smith, of Central Baptist Church. “If there are any decisions schedule for Wednesday, I fear many will not be able to participate.”
However, he pointed to what he considers a positive in the disagreement.
“The SBC is changing. Our convention isn’t homogenous, and that’s a good thing. A byproduct of that is we may not see eye-to-eye on everything.”
Meansville Baptist Church Pastor John Blackmon echoed Smith’s concerns on logistics.
“My greatest concern is for the simple nature of logistics for messengers who are here to participate in the business of the convention,” he stated. “The prohibition of bags and items on a day many will check out of hotels will also be an issue. While I recognize the importance of praying for national and political leaders, I do not personally think they’re speaking to our convention’s messengers in our best interests. His address to our convention sends mixed signals to a watching country and world as to which Kingdom we primarily identify with.”
Invitation ‘a very good thing’
Pastor David Mills of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens offered a different take on Pence’s visit.
“His invitation is a very good thing,” Mills said. “First, Scripture says to honor leaders. This was said when Nero was on the [Roman] throne. Second, he’s a brother, a human. Opposition to him dehumanizes a brother God created and Christ died to save.
“Consequently, opposition to Pence speaking is probably a naïve, inadvertent, anti-gospel effort. We can hear Vice President Pence and pray in much the same way Georgia Baptist President Mike Stone and [Executive Director] Dr. [J. Robert] White led us to pray Monday evening.”