In my two previous articles on Resolution 9, I have pointed to cultural diversity and the definition of terms as two areas that have contributed to the divisive debate that it has generated. Let me throw out a third item that makes our conversations more challenging: we are Baptists. The Priesthood of all Believers and our congregational polity that is based upon it grants to every professing Christian the right to their personal opinion. When we are Spirit-led the results are unlimited and God-honoring. When we are leading in the flesh the results are devastating and our witness is tarnished. An old preacher’s story depicts the latter:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Who is your god?" He said, "I am a Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What church?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!" Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, you heretic!" And I pushed him over.
This story depicts the reality that when three or four Baptists are gathered together there will be five or six strong opinions on every topic. But the one thing I have observed in Baptist life that IS UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED, and will CAUSE CONFLICT EVERY TIME is when our clearly defined processes are not followed or when they fail us. The history of Resolution 9 seems to indicate that our resolution process failed us, and as the debates became heated, the process of inclusive decision-making was skipped at a critical point.
Resolutions are a non-binding way for Southern Baptists to express their opinions on key issues. It seems that every year at least one of the approved resolutions brings major criticism from the secular press. In 2019, Resolution 9 quickly generated a heated debate and criticism from within our own family. I paused to ask myself a series of questions about the resolution process itself.
Healthy processes don’t invite debate on complex topics in the midst of a two-day tightly scripted meeting of the world’s largest deliberative body where there is limited time for debate. There are other times and places to have those kinds of conversations—and yes, they DO need to take place. But resolutions historically deal with issues to which “family members” can give a hearty AMEN! And as stated previously, there will be resolutions that those outside the SBC family will not like, but this one drew immediate fire from within.
But as the debate continued, the Council of Seminary Presidents felt like a time came when they needed to respond to criticisms they were facing. In case you haven’t figured it out, our predominantly African-American churches appreciated and affirmed Resolution 9 as approved. The optics are not good when six white seminary presidents opine that Resolution 9 was not strong enough in its denunciation of CRT/I. Setting that aside, my point here is that they did it without having conversations with African-American leaders in SBC life. After the fact, the Seminary Presidents met with African-American leaders and the following is part of the public statement they issued: (emphasis added)
All of us acknowledge that conversations of this nature should have happened ahead of time. The Council of Seminary Presidents regrets the pain and confusion that resulted from a lack of prior dialogue. Together, all of us are committed to condemn and fight racism in every form, personal and structural, in consistency with the 1995 SBC Resolution on Racial Reconciliation and the Baptist Faith and Message. We commit to working together to serve the cause of and to further the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. We will continue these conversations. We are committed to listen to one another, speak honestly and to honor our common commitment to the inerrant Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I do not share this to be critical of our seminary presidents, but rather to challenge ALL OF US. Jesus’ exhortation on His way to the cross echoes through my mind: “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31) Some general leadership principles apply here. One is if we as a leader do not include those who will be deeply impacted by the decisions we are considering, then we will have skipped a critical step in our decision-making process. Another is that groupthink within our leadership team will always generate blind spots. This is magnified by a third principle: if we become overconfident of our position and are continually unwilling to seek honest input from those whose opinions are different, then we have sentenced our ministry to a slow, painful death.
I am thankful that conversations are continuing. My prayer is that we will all step back, take a deep breath, and let God provide all of us with perspective. In the grand scheme of fulfilling the Great Commandments and Great Commission it is possible for us to win a battle but lose the war!
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
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.