One of the four changes I mentioned in my opening article in this series is that Southern Baptists have become the most ethnically diverse convention of churches in America. The good news is that we have done a great job of celebrating that reality. The bad news is that we have struggled to embrace it. If you have not read my previous articles, let me ask you to stop right now and read the first two before you move to the next paragraph. For the sake of time and space, I will not repeat the significant provisos I laid out in those articles.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ parables. In it Jesus describes a young man at a low point in his life: “He began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate” (14b-16a). My question for you is, “What caused him to be in such dire circumstances?”
Having grown up in a culture that exemplified the Protestant Work Ethic, my answer has always been that “[He] wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (13). A few years ago I heard a missionary talk about how other cultures understand the same parable. It was only then that I was able to see that the parable actually contains three distinct reasons for his circumstances.
In SBC life, we increasingly find ourselves engaged in debates and at times divisive conflicts because of the differences created by our diverse cultural views of issues. I believe that a significant portion of the debate on Resolution 9 that was passed at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting has been caused by our cultural diversity.
When I was sixteen, my family moved from northeast Wyoming to northeast Oklahoma. I had already accepted Christ and was an active church member and practicing young Christian, but I was quickly told that some of the things that were part of the social fabric in Wyoming were pagan and unacceptable activities for a Christian in Oklahoma. That experience and the privilege of serving the culturally diverse churches of Heartland Church Network have helped me to see that culture plays a significant role in how we view life and do church.
Resolution 9 specifically addresses two sociological theories: Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. For some of us, these were terms we had never heard before we read the resolution. For others, they were terms we had heard, but not topics that we have actually studied. For yet others, they are terms that evoke deep feelings; however, those emotions can be found at opposites ends of the debate. Cultural differences have generated vastly different definitions for the terms and thus reactions to the resolution.
But before I jump into the already heated debate, let me remind you how we got to where we are today.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
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Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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