The Post-Convention Hangover

Well, we all kicked around writing reflections on the SBC’s 2018 Annual Meeting (#sbc18 #sbcam18 #southernbaptistconventionalannualmeetingannodominitwothousandeighteen), but that horse has been ridden, ridden to death, revived, ridden again, and then shot. I appreciate everyone’s look back and what they found as highlights and lowlights. I do wish we could be a bit more gracious in victory, which might help us also be more gracious in defeat. I know you want to celebrate the good that happened, and I understand applauding some results, but defeating someone’s heartfelt motion is enough. You don’t have to give a near-standing ovation to your side winning (or our side winning).  Assume that your fellow messenger did exactly what you claim to have done: followed the leadership of the Spirit and the Word of God, rather than cheering as if he (or she) was a fool that needed to be beaten at the polls.

If we can move our hearts away from the “I win/you LOSE!” mindset, we might just not need task forces on loving one another. I digress.

On topic, I’d like to take a look at the Post-Convention Hangover. The SBC Annual Meeting is, after all, more than just 2 days of preaching, business, and politics. Using Bart Barber’s phrasing, a good old “family reunion.” (Sonny Tucker, ABSC Executive Director described it as an old-fashion ice-cream social, and he’s right, too…we’ve got a smattering of nuts amongst us.) We get the opportunity to see people we haven’t seen since the last convention, to engage with ministry ideas and possible partners, and to fill the trunk of the car with free stuff from NAMB, IMB, Lifeway (wait, those Spurgeon Bobbleheads weren’t free?), and so on. I took five messengers, counting myself, and we came back with 6 Lifeway shopping bags, 5 NAMB backpacks, 47 OS Hawkins books, and some 3 Circles Fidget Spinners.

Plus promo cards for church planters in six states, business cards for A/V consultants that I know we can’t afford, and four different folks promising that they could solve our evangelism problems.

And now, I’ve brought it all home. We’ve sorted through the laundry pile from the trip (the whole family goes, so we have to catch up as a team). The yard desperately needs to be mowed (or I need to borrow a goat from someone), and the oil needs to be changed in the car. With all of that sitting around, I sit here in my study with a stack of “DO THIS NEXT!” ideas from the Convention.

Without anyone to go back re-process it with, and without the benefit of planned meetings like SBCVoices gatherings or serendipitous run-ins with old professors and friends. It leads to a challenge, and one that we need to overcome: The Post Convention Hangover.

Now, most of you are good Baptists, so you’re not familiar with “hangovers.” A hangover, traditionally, is the body’s response to having its hydration and electrolyte balance thrown out-of-balance by alcohol. It also comes from various medical ailments and medicines which can have the same effect. If you do not prevent such a problem, you have to solve it the next day by restoring that balance.

So, knowing none of you are hungover from alcohol at the SBC, let’s apply the idea to how you may be feeling (if you’re like me, that is. Some of you are rational people, and I’ve got nothing for you normal folks). We’ve had an intense batch of business with immediate results, we’ve heard how great mission trips have gone, we’ve gotten overfilled on seeing fellow ministers, and been around folks that care enough about our cooperative work to deal with Dallas traffic. Then, like the easy breeze of the HOV lane coming out of Arlington fades back into I-30 East, all that has faded into the thump of daily life. A few tips may help you recover:

First, remember that friend you saw and said “We should talk more often than every June?” Call him, email her. Make contact. I remember having to wait for the weekend for the long distance rates to go down, a concept my children do not grasp. It’s not a problem: grab your cell, make a call. Send an email, write a postcard. Something. Why? Unlock a liquor hangover, what you just had was like water for the perpetually thirsty. You had community and relationships with some of God’s people that you need. Grab hold of that, make it part of your plans. Look them up, make the connection.

Second, take that stack of stuff that you think you’ll do, and throw it away. Or at least most of it. If you’re in one of the 33,000 churches that run fewer than 250 in church, you probably lack the resources to partner with every church plant everywhere. Put all the cards on the prayer wall, and then pick one and pursue it as a partnership. Don’t let what you cannot do, in the face of the needs and possibilities, hamstring you from doing something.

Third, no, you don’t need duplicates of a dozen books you’ll never read. Pick one you’ll read, distribute (as loan-outs) the rest of them into your church, and give others away to pastors and church leaders who couldn’t go. Back when I could not make the SBC, one thing I was always jealous of was the book stack I kept seeing friends post on social media. And they had doubles! Give stuff away to encourage others. (Especially CSBs. Honestly, how many free CSBs do you need? How many is Lifeway going to give out?)

Fourth, find as many as three people in your church to communicate a portion of what you are feeling guided by the Spirit of God through the Word of God to do, and ask for their help. Don’t sit on the ideas until you sort it out perfectly, but start the ball rolling by involving your congregation. That may be a challenge, but there are opportunities inherent in it.

In all, the post-convention hangover is the result of going from ideas, fellowship, relationship, and chaos back to the normalcy of life. Unlike a liquor hangover, the cure is not to avoid those items in the future, but to find ways to work them into your weekly engagement.

 

What is next? Some ponderings for the SBC as we move forward

Well, in case you missed it, there has been a rather massive shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ll not rehash the waters gone by about the events at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There’s about four million blog posts, tweets, and Facebook streams about it (give or take a few million). Something I’ve been trying to think through is what happens next? Where do we go from here? I’d like to offer my musings on that, and you can do with them what you will.

First, we need to pay attention to the fact there are very likely more victims who will come forward. And the instinct in some may be to dismiss additional statements as people who are just “piling on” or “kicking a man while he’s down.” In all honesty, they are not. These are people who have felt marginalized and ignored, perhaps for decades, who now see that we might just be listening. So let us make a priority of listening.

Second, while there aren’t enough characters in every tweet to make mention of the fact that very real people are innocent victims in this, we need to not forget that. It will be very easy to move on to “What is the future of the SBC?” “What is the future of SWBTS?” and put “What is the future of Mrs. Lively?” “What is the future of the other victims?”…now that we, as Southern Baptists, are aware of the damage done in our name to these folks.

Along those same notions, it might be the better part of compassion to save the “God will grant us revival through the exposure of sin!” statements for a few more weeks. We sound like someone showing up the morning after a tornado and saying “Well, look, we get to rebuild the community better!” without any compassion for the losses in the process. Seriously, if I came by your house as the fire department pulled away from the ashes and said “I can’t wait to see the new one,” you’d rightly think me an insensitive buffoon. Let’s not be insensitive buffoons, here. This is not primarily about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is about the damage we have done to other people.

As we remember that, we have to also realize that some of the victims will have taken different trajectories with their lives which might, normally, hurt their credibility in our own eyes. We might typically suggest that a Methodist or liberal Anglican or someone who has left involvement in the Christian faith is not a good source for what we should be doing, but we need to consider that our institutions drove some of those choices.

Third, we should be wary of scapegoating Dr. Patterson. Obviously, the SWBTS trustees feel that enough blame is warranted on Dr. Patterson to terminate him. Based on the evidence in public, I don’t disagree–but we stand at a decision point. We need to consider whether what we see here is the result of a systemic failure of all of us as Southern Baptists to do what is right, with varying levels of involvement, or simply one or two bad behavioral choices by a few people. In a rush to “move forward” we can blame the one or two without asking ourselves hard questions.

What hard questions? How about “How did we allow our seminaries to be a place where sexual assaults are covered up?” All this time, we’ve been haggling each other over Abstracts of Principles and name changes and relocations and curriculum, and the apparent case is that at least two of our seminaries, at various times, were hostile enough to a sexual assault victim that she had no recourse. The other stories that are percolating through, about missions boards and state conventions, suggest that we cannot pass this off as a problem “over there” or one that “true Southern Baptists” would have put a stop to. The reports are from everything from associational-level, which you can bike to so money isn’t a barrier, through the national-level. We’ve all looked off to one side.

And from there, “Are we still looking the other way because it’s too scary to consider the possibility that we are deeply down the wrong path?”

Fourth, we need to take a long, hard look at our doctrine. And, no, I don’t mean we punt complementarianism over this. While I do think we need to look hard at the fruit and see if we are misapplying Scripture, doctrine should still be rooted in Scripture. What we do need to do is reconsider how we are applying the texts that we see in Scripture. How do we work through the idea that 1 Corinthians has instructions about how a woman should speak in church…and speaks of women being silent? We need to dig into what it means to have “authority” in the first place, and whether or not we are trying to assign to men (or people in general) something that belongs to God through His Word alone.

Fifth, at some stage, we have to re-evaluate our response to accusations. I have seen some suggest that Jesus, in Matthew 18, meant for a rape victim to privately confront her rapist–after all, aren’t we supposed to go privately to the sinner first? Again, we have to bridge the gap between what the text says, how the context informs it, and how we apply it today. I would suggest that we might be misunderstanding Jesus if we put that barrier in front of someone, just as we might be misunderstanding having “everything established by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5, and others) in a similar fashion. Due process matters, yet how dare we tell a victim of sexual assault that we will do nothing because she did not have the courtesy to bring witnesses to her assault?

Again, we have to deal with what the text says, but if our systems intimidate people into silence, we have to deal with that. We have to empower people to speak, even if they are speaking against our heroes.

And there’s nothing wrong with having heroes, as long we do not let them become idols. I have heroes in the faith, and it is on me to admit that even those great ones can make mistakes. The same is true of my friends: if I do not have the relationship with them that they can point out my sin, I don’t have friends, I have fans. You may not be the friend of your hero, but they need one–and when we keep some of these folks so busy running from one speaking engagement to the next, one book promo to the next conference to the next church, that they cannot build rooted relationships, maybe we should get out of the way and let them be at home some. It is entirely possible that someone without a book on the shelf at Lifeway can preach your revival, your evangelism conference, etc…

Sixth, we need to keep those in our prayers who are the side-effect victims of these moments. In some cases, this includes the spouses of the guilty. In others, it will include young men who had been taught to fear and follow their elders and so made decisions that probably horrify them now–but that there’s no changing now. Again, there may be necessary consequences, but in 1999, I don’t think anyone had a read a sexual abuse survivor blog and learned from it.

Finally, at least for now, we need to examine how we can do better. What can we do in terms of prevention? As Baptists, we have no centralized educational requirement, so while adding a class or seminar in seminary will help some, it won’t catch every new minister, and certainly won’t catch all of us graduated ones. Further, we do not require continuing education or recertification or anything like that, so how do we educate ourselves to do better? I do not have an answer, just that question among many. What do we need to adjust in our structures and systems? How

(Yes, I know, some folks think a database will deal with it…but that database is only as good as the information put into it–and our problem right now is people who should have reported information to the POLICE didn’t. What makes us think they’ll put information in a database? Tell the average Southern Baptist-affiliated church they “have to” do something, and watch the non-denominational Baptist-like churches multiply everywhere. Without even changing their names…we don’t own “Baptist.” Just one logo.)

We need to start by listening. Listening to people rework how they were hurt, what happened, and what they think might have helped. We need to look at whether we did not follow procedures and methods that would have helped, or if we did not have anything in place that would protect these. It’s a long, slow road–one that we are starting to travel too late for some, but we have taken some steps. We need to take some more.

From that, then, what shall we do?

Pray that God would forgive us our neglect and seek His guidance, the wisdom He has put in the Word and in other people, about prevention. Seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed, and find ways to try and restore them.

And then, maybe, we will start to show that love for our neighbors and for each other that is part and parcel to living out the Word of God.

What is next? Some ponderings for the SBC as we move forward

Well, in case you missed it, there has been a rather massive shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ll not rehash the waters gone by about the events at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There’s about four million blog posts, tweets, and Facebook streams about it (give or take a few million). Something I’ve been trying to think through is what happens next? Where do we go from here? I’d like to offer my musings on that, and you can do with them what you will.

First, we need to pay attention to the fact there are very likely more victims who will come forward. And the instinct in some may be to dismiss additional statements as people who are just “piling on” or “kicking a man while he’s down.” In all honesty, they are not. These are people who have felt marginalized and ignored, perhaps for decades, who now see that we might just be listening. So let us make a priority of listening.

Second, while there aren’t enough characters in every tweet to make mention of the fact that very real people are innocent victims in this, we need to not forget that. It will be very easy to move on to “What is the future of the SBC?” “What is the future of SWBTS?” and put “What is the future of Mrs. Lively?” “What is the future of the other victims?”…now that we, as Southern Baptists, are aware of the damage done in our name to these folks.

Along those same notions, it might be the better part of compassion to save the “God will grant us revival through the exposure of sin!” statements for a few more weeks. We sound like someone showing up the morning after a tornado and saying “Well, look, we get to rebuild the community better!” without any compassion for the losses in the process. Seriously, if I came by your house as the fire department pulled away from the ashes and said “I can’t wait to see the new one,” you’d rightly think me an insensitive buffoon. Let’s not be insensitive buffoons, here. This is not primarily about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is about the damage we have done to other people.

As we remember that, we have to also realize that some of the victims will have taken different trajectories with their lives which might, normally, hurt their credibility in our own eyes. We might typically suggest that a Methodist or liberal Anglican or someone who has left involvement in the Christian faith is not a good source for what we should be doing, but we need to consider that our institutions drove some of those choices.

Third, we should be wary of scapegoating Dr. Patterson. Obviously, the SWBTS trustees feel that enough blame is warranted on Dr. Patterson to terminate him. Based on the evidence in public, I don’t disagree–but we stand at a decision point. We need to consider whether what we see here is the result of a systemic failure of all of us as Southern Baptists to do what is right, with varying levels of involvement, or simply one or two bad behavioral choices by a few people. In a rush to “move forward” we can blame the one or two without asking ourselves hard questions.

What hard questions? How about “How did we allow our seminaries to be a place where sexual assaults are covered up?” All this time, we’ve been haggling each other over Abstracts of Principles and name changes and relocations and curriculum, and the apparent case is that at least two of our seminaries, at various times, were hostile enough to a sexual assault victim that she had no recourse. The other stories that are percolating through, about missions boards and state conventions, suggest that we cannot pass this off as a problem “over there” or one that “true Southern Baptists” would have put a stop to. The reports are from everything from associational-level, which you can bike to so money isn’t a barrier, through the national-level. We’ve all looked off to one side.

And from there, “Are we still looking the other way because it’s too scary to consider the possibility that we are deeply down the wrong path?”

Fourth, we need to take a long, hard look at our doctrine. And, no, I don’t mean we punt complementarianism over this. While I do think we need to look hard at the fruit and see if we are misapplying Scripture, doctrine should still be rooted in Scripture. What we do need to do is reconsider how we are applying the texts that we see in Scripture. How do we work through the idea that 1 Corinthians has instructions about how a woman should speak in church…and speaks of women being silent? We need to dig into what it means to have “authority” in the first place, and whether or not we are trying to assign to men (or people in general) something that belongs to God through His Word alone.

Fifth, at some stage, we have to re-evaluate our response to accusations. I have seen some suggest that Jesus, in Matthew 18, meant for a rape victim to privately confront her rapist–after all, aren’t we supposed to go privately to the sinner first? Again, we have to bridge the gap between what the text says, how the context informs it, and how we apply it today. I would suggest that we might be misunderstanding Jesus if we put that barrier in front of someone, just as we might be misunderstanding having “everything established by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5, and others) in a similar fashion. Due process matters, yet how dare we tell a victim of sexual assault that we will do nothing because she did not have the courtesy to bring witnesses to her assault?

Again, we have to deal with what the text says, but if our systems intimidate people into silence, we have to deal with that. We have to empower people to speak, even if they are speaking against our heroes.

And there’s nothing wrong with having heroes, as long we do not let them become idols. I have heroes in the faith, and it is on me to admit that even those great ones can make mistakes. The same is true of my friends: if I do not have the relationship with them that they can point out my sin, I don’t have friends, I have fans. You may not be the friend of your hero, but they need one–and when we keep some of these folks so busy running from one speaking engagement to the next, one book promo to the next conference to the next church, that they cannot build rooted relationships, maybe we should get out of the way and let them be at home some. It is entirely possible that someone without a book on the shelf at Lifeway can preach your revival, your evangelism conference, etc…

Sixth, we need to keep those in our prayers who are the side-effect victims of these moments. In some cases, this includes the spouses of the guilty. In others, it will include young men who had been taught to fear and follow their elders and so made decisions that probably horrify them now–but that there’s no changing now. Again, there may be necessary consequences, but in 1999, I don’t think anyone had a read a sexual abuse survivor blog and learned from it.

Finally, at least for now, we need to examine how we can do better. What can we do in terms of prevention? As Baptists, we have no centralized educational requirement, so while adding a class or seminar in seminary will help some, it won’t catch every new minister, and certainly won’t catch all of us graduated ones. Further, we do not require continuing education or recertification or anything like that, so how do we educate ourselves to do better? I do not have an answer, just that question among many. What do we need to adjust in our structures and systems? How

(Yes, I know, some folks think a database will deal with it…but that database is only as good as the information put into it–and our problem right now is people who should have reported information to the POLICE didn’t. What makes us think they’ll put information in a database? Tell the average Southern Baptist-affiliated church they “have to” do something, and watch the non-denominational Baptist-like churches multiply everywhere. Without even changing their names…we don’t own “Baptist.” Just one logo.)

We need to start by listening. Listening to people rework how they were hurt, what happened, and what they think might have helped. We need to look at whether we did not follow procedures and methods that would have helped, or if we did not have anything in place that would protect these. It’s a long, slow road–one that we are starting to travel too late for some, but we have taken some steps. We need to take some more.

From that, then, what shall we do?

Pray that God would forgive us our neglect and seek His guidance, the wisdom He has put in the Word and in other people, about prevention. Seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed, and find ways to try and restore them.

And then, maybe, we will start to show that love for our neighbors and for each other that is part and parcel to living out the Word of God.

From the Voice that Matters Most: Ephesians 5:1-5

We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.

Passage:

Ephesians 5:1-5:

Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:1–5, CSB)

Expositional Devotion:

Paul starts his sentence with a “therefore,” as he tends to do. That means you need to take a minute and re-read Ephesians 4, especially the paragraph or two at the end. Pay close attention as you reach Ephesians 4:32 where Paul reminds the Ephesians to forgive “just as God also forgave you in Christ.” That’s an important starting point before we go further: Paul is not in the midst of some angry diatribe where he wants everyone, everywhere, doing anything consigned to the outer darkness. He is instructing the church to live with forgiveness as their primary response to life.

However, the “therefore” gives us a turn from the idea, the internal attitude, into the start of practical application of those ideas. And the first command, “Be imitators of God” could fill a thousand sermon DVDs with applications alone.

“Imitators of God” should challenge us as we seek heroes and mentors in the faith. While acknowledging that human help goes a long way, our goal should be our growth in being like God and not like people. Our greatest ambition should be that we are compared to Christ, not compared even to the greatest of the holy people we know. And, as a corollary, the question we should ask of those in church leadership, be it local or universal, is not how they compare to the last person in the job but how much they are like God in their work.

Too often, we make something less our evaluation. And, honestly, if you’re picking a landscape designer or a chef, then perhaps being an imitator of God is not the final decision. But that should be our primary expectation of ourselves and our church leadership.

“Walk in love” is drawn from the Greek verb which refers to general walking around, not just walking to get somewhere. In other words, Paul is putting forward that we need to be showing love to those around us at all times, not just in specific moments. For example, yes, you should be very careful about being demonstrably loving at the Cracker Barrel right after church on Sunday, but when you’re at the Waffle House at 2 AM on Thursday, you should not act any different toward the people there!

That love, further, is like unto the love Christ has for us: self-sacrificial and giving, not self-serving. If your love for others is a means to an end, then it is not love.

Then, we get to the hard part: Paul begins a list of sins that show someone does not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We struggle to balance that idea with the grace of God and that we should not “judge” one another, but you cannot throw away the text simply because it is difficult. Paul is clear here: sexual immorality (the same word that gives its root to pornography), impurity (filth, moral corruption), greed (demanding more than is rightly yours) are all evidence that our hearts are not with Christ. They are evidence that we are idolaters and not servants of the One True God.

So what about us? Greed? Surely we have no good Baptists who are greedy, right? All of us are satisfied with the material wealth and political power that we have, and we would never compromise God’s standards to attain more, correct? Our churches would never trade preaching the Word of God for profitable entertainment, would we?

Impurity? Filth, moral corruption? These are not things we would entertain, because we know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and so we would follow 1 Corinthians and expel the immoral one from among us, right? (1 Corinthians 5, remember?) And this corruption is not merely the actual practices but those who tolerate or look the other way when it happens.

That’s part of the meaning of sexual immorality here: those who watch it and do nothing.

So, what shall we do? Certainly, we cannot simply joke about it or make foolish, obscene statements that make light of the problems. Instead, we need to purge from our lives those things which drive us to tolerate wickedness. Let us pray about how we can best go about that, first in our own lives and then in our churches. Because, keep in mind, this is a command to churches. We so often try to apply church commands to society, but it’s not society’s job to act Christian.

It’s the Christian calling to draw society to Christ.