SBC Speaks On Immigration In a Romans 13 Moment

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” – Romans 13:1-2

How do we reconcile Romans 13 with speaking out on Immigration policy that differs from current law or what the government proposes? How can we be “subject to the governing authorities” while also calling for our government to behave differently than it has when we believe it to be wrong? And, how can we affirm the role of the government in providing an orderly society and secure borders while fulfilling the prophetic role of the church in speaking and working on behalf of the vulnerable, for children and families, and for the poor? I think it can all be done.

The recent SBC 2018 Resolution #5 On Immigration gives us an opportunity to consider this question and consider how we can fulfill both perspectives. After thoroughly explaining God’s commands regarding human dignity and how immigrants are to be treated from Scripture, Resolution #5 shifts into some direct statements. A couple of them:

RESOLVED, That we desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families …

RESOLVED, That we encourage all elected officials, especially those who are members of Southern Baptist churches, to do everything in their power to advocate for a just and equitable immigration system, those in the professional community to seek ways to administer just and compassionate care for the immigrants in their community, and our Southern Baptist entities to provide resources that will equip and empower churches and church members to reach and serve immigrant communities;

Read the rest of this resolution. It is important.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, last week, appealed to Romans 13 when he spoke to his “church friends” and he encouraged us to stand down in our criticism. This was two days after Resolution #5 On Immigration passed. Catholic Bishops also spoke against the practice of family separation, as did many other denominations and Christian groups. It is not out of bounds to think that he was speaking to us.

How does the church approach the government when we believe it to be in error? Let’s consider some examples.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Legalized abortion has been the law of the land ever since. Is it wrong for Christians to oppose this? To call for a change in our abortion laws?

Race-based Slavery was legal. It was the law of the land written into the Constitution via the Enumeration Clause, or the 3/5 compromise, and the Fugitive Slave Clause, which required that escaped slaves to one state be returned to their owners in their state of origin. Slavery was affirmed and written into the Constitution. Was it wrong to oppose this, even after it was written in?

Indian Removal was legal. Jim Crow Segregation was legal. Japanese Internment was legal. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1920. We can go on and one with one law after another that was opposed, advocated against, and ultimately changed. We even see apologies taking place over past wrong laws. Should Christians ever speak out against unjust laws?

People like Jeff Sessions and Robert Jeffress who use Romans 13 wrongly, would invoke it against the act of simple criticism or the expression of a different opinion on immigration law. While immigrants are subject to the laws of the land, U.S. citizens surely have the right to speak about those laws and policies and call for them to be changed according to Biblical convictions. It is right and just to ask that consideration be made regarding the priority of family unity in the midst of securing our border.

The reality is that the church has every right to speak to the government about the law and how the law is being carried out. We have both the right and responsibility to advocate for better laws, for more just laws, and to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. Proverbs 31:8-9 says,

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

We are in a False Romans 13 moment when the church is being told by the Attorney General and certain pastors that the law is the law and it has to be followed and there is nothing that can be done. And, that law requires that desperate families be split up. That is wrong. This is not an empire or a monarchy. We live in a democratic republic. We are not subject to a Caesar or an Emperor or King. Our government is different. “We the people.” We can speak from a Biblical perspective on behalf of people. We can ask that people be treated fairly, humanely, and that children stay with their parents as their asylum claims are worked through. It is right and just for us to ask that laws be improved and that people be treated in a more Biblical fashion than is currently happening.

Yes, we are told to submit to the governing authorities, but our governing authority is not a man – not permanently. In America, it is the Constitution and that rule of law also calls us to participate and to speak and to take part in our own governance. If anyone were calling for the breaking of the law, that would be inappropriate. But, calling for laws and policies to be changed to better care for the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, and the sojourner is right, just, and the Biblical thing to do. It is also what our government asks us to do through our governing processes. We aren’t to try and control things as this is not a theocracy. But, we are to influence and WITNESS the reality of the Kingdom of God to the nations of the earth.

Ultimately, we have a higher authority than Attorney General Sessions, President Trump, or the Constitution. Our higher authority is God and His Word and He places us here as His Church to represent and witness to the truth and reality of His Kingdom breaking in through the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, who is reconciling all things to Himself. That life is manifested most clearly in the church, but the light of Christ is to shine upon the larger world as well through us proclaiming the Better Way of Jesus wherever we go. Because of the kind of government we have, we have the right and responsibility to speak and to say that actions of the government are sometimes wrong and to call for righteous and just responses toward the afflicted, the poor, and the needy while we model sacrificial love and those righteous responses through our ministries and personal lives.

Ultimately, I believe that the collective voice of the church in America made a difference as Trump seemed to reversed course today under pressure when he issued an Executive Order to keep migrant families together pending their hearings. That is a good first step to solve a problem that should not have existed in the first place. We’ll see how this situation unfolds and I hope that the church continues to speak on behalf of vulnerable, needy sojourners.

Leviticus 19:33-34 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Breaking the SBC’s Addiction to the Wrong Kinds of Power

How big is your church?

Small? Medium-sized? Large? Mega?

How many baptisms? How much money do you take in? How much money do you give? How much money do you give to the Cooperative Program? How many were in church last Sunday? What kind of impact are your making? How many have you led to Christ? How hard are you working? What are the results? The measurables? How effective is your leadership?

We did everything “right.” Why didn’t we see the same success as the church down the street? Why are they “stealing” our people? Who do they think they are? They’re just growing because the preacher waters down the gospel. We’re staying pure. But, why did my friends leave my church to go to THAT church? Maybe we need to change?

We need to reach people for Christ. We used to have kids here, but now we don’t. We need to reach young people so they can help the church be strong. We need “good families” who will work, serve, and give. Why don’t they work and serve like we did? We need a better pastor. A younger pastor. An older pastor. We need to grow. But, not that way. Not too much. Not too little.

I want a church that is good for me and my family. We need a church that reaches families. That reaches people like me. That reaches people in the community, but not too much. Not too fast. But, big and like before. Like years ago. But, for the future. Like I like. But, like my kids will want to come. And the grandkids. And, everybody. But, like I like.

And, we all need to do everything through the Cooperative Program and our State Conventions and entities. But, we’re not changing those. And, they aren’t doing anything different. But, we still need to work through them. Or, we need to do our own thing.

Why isn’t this working? Why have Southern Baptists lost 1.1 million members since 2010 when the majority of our churches are in the fastest growing, most populous region of the country, the US South? What can we do to grow? How do we have revival? Maybe our current struggles will finally be the springboard to the revival we need so we can get back to what we once were?

All of these questions are related to a deeper question: How do we get our power back? While we talk about good things, our motives can easily be more focused on self-preservation than loving people sacrificially.

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These are all things I’ve heard A LOT over the past 15-20 years in ministry across the country with Southern Baptists and other evangelicals. People say it and they see nothing wrong with it. It all makes sense. The great danger in “ministry” is that we can talk about evangelism, church growth, revival, church effectiveness, ministry, leadership, and church planting without ever having an ounce of love for people or desire for Christ. It can all just be social maintenance for ourselves. It can be arranging church, our own lives, our finances, and our politics so we protect, promote, and preserve our own “way of life.” And, a desire for power and control is at the root of it.

I’ve been pushing hard over the past few years for greater ethnic and racial diversity in SBC leadership. Writing, speaking, submitting motions and resolutions, recruiting candidates … all kinds of things. My friend Brent Hobbs and I have started the SBC Leadership Diversity Initiative to provide a user-friendly way for people to nominate ethnically diverse leaders for trustees and other committees. When I heard that 67 of 69 trustee nominees this year were white, I was really disappointed because I really want to see access to leadership expand to all Southern Baptists. Lots of discussion erupted over why this happened. Some were claiming that racism was still alive and well in the SBC. Others, in defense, were saying that the issue was just that those nominating were not aware of who others were nominating and they just nominated who they knew. The problem, it was said, was a lack of relationships.

But, I think the problem is deeper. I think that we often nominate leaders based on who we think will preserve the status quo, keep our hard-fought gains from being lost, protect us from our enemies, and be loyal to “us” and the institution. That all makes sense and is a normal motivation on a human/tribal level, but when those are the things we think about, and we only have confidence in people we know, we end up nominating leaders that we believe will promote, protect, and defend our own agendas and perspective. Choosing almost all white people for leadership doesn’t necessarily mean that we are racists. It might just mean that we have confidence in people who are “like us” and whom we’ve known well for long periods of time. Again, that makes sense from a human level. But, it is all totally contrary to the Mission of God. And, that perspective leads to death.

Southern Baptists have always been in conflict with ourselves. On the one hand, we have the person and work of Jesus, the gospel, mission, evangelism, God’s Word, loving God, and loving people. Those are real influences and are real things at work in our midst. But, the other side, with us from the beginning, manifests in getting our own way, dividing from others, disagreement, turf battles, self-protection, building platforms, triumphalism, pride, arrogance, rejecting any criticism, power plays, etc. It is right to say that the SBC was founded BOTH on a defense of the right to own slaves as a “way of life” as well as a desire to cooperate in mission. The desire to protect our “way of life” has remained with us, though it obviously manifests in different forms from in the past. And, the desire to engage in mission together remains with us as well. One, as Martin Luther would say, is a theology of glory meant to exalt and defend ourselves, while the other, is a theology of the Cross that throws ourselves upon Jesus as our only hope.

Southern Baptists are at a crossroads. That has been said ad nauseum. But, I hope that there will be no talk of “revival” or “our best days are ahead of us” at this time. I hope that we will stop with the triumphalism, the talk of evangelism just in the realm of numbers, and that we will put aside the clamoring for “ministry effectiveness.” All of that can be good if it comes from union with Christ and love for others, but it is deadly when it is rooted in a desire to be powerful and significant again. Only the reader can know what his/her motivation actually is. I accuse no one specifically. I can’t know individual hearts. But, I can see trends and these two competing forces are always at work. We desperately need to turn to Christ and to our neighbor in sacrificial love.

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Matthew 16:24-26  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

As my friend, Pastor K. Marshall Williams says, what we need most is a Great Commandment Resurgence – a resurgence of love for God and neighbor that will transform us. We need to learn again, in humility, how to love God deeply and love our neighbor sacrificially. That means that we lay our lives down in love for others with no thought of how we will gain from it, no positioning for power, and no desire to increase our platform for future ministry effectiveness. We just love one other and others and even our enemies because Christ loved us first. We need to learn to lament. We must break our addiction to power, size, numbers, and grasping for influence and for a “seat at the table.” Doing this causes us to compromise our own lives for anyone who promises us access to power, no matter how compromised they themselves might be. We must forsake “the end justifies the means” theology and seek the true End, Jesus Christ. And, we must actually lay our lives down and love our neighbor, even if we utterly fail at building a great church or ministry or recapturing cultural power. We must love our neighbor and our enemy because we know that God loves them, they have inherent worth and value, and because we cannot imagine any other way to follow Jesus.

Southern Baptists have to stop living and ministering with strings attached. We have to stop trying to save our reputations and protect our “hard fought gains” and hoping that revival will come so we can quickly get to where we want to be. We need to stop idolizing the Conservative Resurgence as history and get on with living out the truth of God’s inerrant Word in how we treat the people that Jesus died for. We need to see women as co-heirs with Christ and as vital to the Mission of God being fulfilled. We need to see all people from every tribe, race, people, and tongue as essential and vital to us ALL being the church that Jesus died for – TOGETHER. Leadership needs to be defined by those who take the lesser seat, go outside the camp, and lay their lives down rather than who has the biggest ministry and platform and speaks at all the conferences. Dear God, does that grasping for power and platform need to end!

And, if we look around the room and we don’t see brothers and sisters from all backgrounds, walks of life, regions, and ethnicities, we need to grieve because it is a sign that we are not preaching or living the gospel of the Kingdom that calls all people to Christ and knits us all together in one body. And, if members of the body are missing, for whatever reason, we need to know that we are all weaker.

The Mission of God has to take precedence over preserving our own “way of life.” The Cross has to win out over a desire for glory. Love for God and neighbor has to be greater than our addiction to power so we can make a name for ourselves. This battle has raged within us since 1845. It has raged since the Garden of Eden. Fortunately, Jesus loves us enough to call us to Himself and He calls us to lay down our lives for Him who died for them and to compel us by love to go to them. May we listen.

The only thing that can break our addiction to worldly power is the Cross of Christ. We need Jesus. And, the right and good kind of power that we need comes from God as we die to ourselves and is to be used to build people up in their faith and strengthen them for the good work that God has prepared in advance for them to do. May that be our focus.

Resolution on the 100th Anniversary of Women as Messengers to the SBC (Kathy Litton & Susie Hawkins)

 On The One Hundredth Anniversary Of Women as Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention
2018 – Dallas, TX

WHEREAS, May 15, 2018, marked the one hundredth anniversary of the invitation for women to serve as messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention; and

WHEREAS, women have served in a variety of ways throughout the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, including elected offices, service on committees and boards, missions education, ministry through entities and agencies, positions in higher education as well as within our local churches; and

WHEREAS, the Scriptures (Mark 16:1-8; Luke 2:36-38; 8:2-3, 24:10; John 4:39, 11:20-27, 20:18; Acts 1:14, 16:40, 18:24-26; 2 Timothy 1:5) consistently demonstrate that women played a significant role in gospel proclamation, evangelism and disciple-making; and

WHEREAS, God calls and gifts women for a variety of roles within the biblical framework of complementary gender relationships,

WHEREAS, we desire for women to continue to robustly serve within the Southern Baptist Convention; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 12–13, 2018, honor the immeasurable contribution of women to our cooperative mission of Great Commission work; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we thank God for women who have contributed in biblically appropriate ways through discipleship, missions, education, evangelism, service, leadership, and working for advocacy and justice: be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm the gifts of women in their distinctive God-assigned roles, even as we continue to witness to Scripture’s teaching (Gen 2:18, 21-24; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Pet 3:1-7)in a culture increasingly confused in matters of gender and sexuality; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon women to serve in diverse capacities to advance the gospel in their homes, local churches, communities, the marketplace and within our denomination; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call upon older women to invest in younger women, for the sake of developing them into godly followers of Christ consistent with Paul’s admonition in Titus 2:3-5; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we call upon all Southern Baptists to celebrate and welcome the diverse gifts, callings, and contributions of women.

SBC Resolution On Praying for the Plight of Arab Christians

Guest post by K.V. Paxton, Lead Pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Quinlan, Texas.

The following resolution “On Praying for the Plight of Arab Christians” will be submitted to the Resolutions Committee to be considered at this year’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. Allow me to share the heart behind this resolution, then you can read it for yourself.

Last year at the annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, I submitted a resolution I titled, “On Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem”. The intention of that resolution was to bring attention to the fact that we have brothers and sisters in Christ amongst the Palestinian people who feel isolated and alone by fellow countrymen, by Israel, and by American Christians. That resolution did not make it to the floor.

This resolution has a broader scope: to cause us to pray and consider brothers and sisters in Christ all throughout the Middle East, including amongst the Palestinian people. As a Palestinian-American and a SBC pastor, my heart is with the plight of Arab Christians in hostile lands. My desire is for our denomination to consider the difficulties of being an Arab Christian, and to recognize them as family in Christ. My hope is that this will communicate to them that they have our prayers, that we are praying for them, and that they are not forgotten.

With that in mind, here is the resolution that the committee will consider, and hopefully, the messengers in Dallas will affirm:

On Praying for the Plight of Arab Christians

WHEREAS, Christians are called, as we have opportunity, to do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10), and

WHEREAS, God is cultivating a people for His possession from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9), and

WHEREAS, Arab Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ who often have friend in neither their fellow countrymen nor the theocratic governments under whom they live, and

WHEREAS, A majority of Arab Christians live under oppressive regimes where Christianity, worship gatherings, and evangelism is often times illegal and punishable by imprisonment or even death and

WHEREAS, Arab Christians feel alone and forgotten by fellow brother and sisters in Christ in America and around the world, now therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 12-13, 2018, commit to pray for and offer a hand of support to Arab Christians in the Middle East and worldwide; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we will pray for all fellow believers in the Middle East and worldwide, who feel isolated, alienated, and alone; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we make it known to our Arab brothers and sisters that they are not alone or forgotten and that we do love them and consider them our family in Christ, and

RESOLVED, That we desire that our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ know that we are sympathetic to their plight and hardships; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we will pray that God would use them and us to reach the nonbelieving Arabs and Muslims in the region; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we will pray that God will empower Arab Christians in difficult circumstances to endure, overcome, and be a witness to the life-changing power of the gospel to their context; and be it further

RESOLVED, We commit to support, love and encourage Arab brothers and sisters wherever possible both at home and abroad; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we call for Southern Baptists to pray and remember our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ that God would strengthen them and give them patient endurance as they use their lives as a light of the gospel to a darkened world.