Several times at this Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, it has been stated that where you have two of us, there will be at least three different opinions. As expected, laughter followed the remark. I cannot remember a time when I have used that statement when people have not laughed because we all recognize how ridiculously true this is. I honestly think this is what attracts so many to our SBC ranks — even though those numbers are dwindling at what I believe is a disturbing rate. Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church, so no one can tell us what to do. As long as we give to the Cooperative Program and stay within the bounds of biblical doctrine, we can remain among those named as Southern Baptists. (Sadly, even those boundaries have been pushed back in recent years.) So even if a vote is taken at the convention on an item of business, no church can be forced to follow in agreement. Even less binding are the resolutions that are passed. So good news, Southern Baptists. You will not be excommunicated if you refuse to give up your Confederate flags or if you vocally reject our support of Israel or if you speak out against our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s support of religious liberty in the case of a group of Muslims wanting to build a mosque. In this SBC meeting, all of these items were discussed passionately, and with the approximately 7200 registered messengers, there were probably a million different opinions in the room, but I believe at the end of the day, we got it right.
Now before you stop reading and lose your cool as one of our senior statesmen did in our meeting, let me briefly explain myself. I am a son of the South, born and raised in Florida. My family before me came from Kentucky by way of the Carolinas. I was raised to be proud of my Southern heritage, so much so that I proudly proclaimed to everyone, “I’m a little rebel,” which at times came out as, ” I’m a little devil.” That may have been more accurate in the long run. I was taught to call the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression, and I have never viewed the Confederate flag(s) as a symbol of hate but as a symbol of heritage. However, there are many, both black and white, who are offended by this powerful symbol, and my Bible tells me that if my actions, other than those required by God’s Word, are offensive, then I must immediately cease and desist. It does not mean that I stop loving my heritage; it means that I love people more. And especially heinous are those actions that prevent lost people from seeing the love of Jesus in me. Jesus Himself said that if we prevent one of the least of these from coming to Him it would be better for us to tie a large stone around our necks and jump into the ocean. Or as Dr. James Merritt stated from the floor of the SBC, all the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one human soul.
Then there was the conversation about the support by way of an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court supporting the right of a Muslim congregation to build a mosque. Those who know me know that I do not believe the lies out there that claim that Islam is a religion of peace. I have researched the topic in-depth and I know the violence that the Quran espouses. I see the evil going on in our world at the hands of radical Islamists, and I question those who claim to be peace-loving Muslims as to why they remain silent and refuse to repudiate, denounce, and stand against these terrorists. However, one of the tenets that Southern Baptists have held to from our founding in 1845 is the belief in religious liberty. For all people. For ALL people. As soon as we condone the government’s actions at any level to prevent one group from building a place of worship on the grounds that they disagree with its teaching, we open the door for these powerful forces to act against all religious groups — even our beloved Southern Baptist Convention. And while I believe we are not far from the day when this will happen, we must be wise in all we do so as not to hasten that day. So in response to Muslims wanting to build a mosque, our response should be to pray for them and love them into the Family of God. Of course, that will require us to befriend them and tell them about Jesus.
As for our support of Israel, even though we were told that it was offensive by one of our Arabic Christian pastors, we are commanded to pray for and support Israel because of God’s eternal covenant with them. That doesn’t mean the Old Covenant is still in effect or that all Jews go to heaven, but it does mean that the nation still plays an important roll in the world and God’s plan for the last days. So even though we have offended some, we must follow the Bible.
And just because the LGBTQ (and whatever initials are supposed to come after) believe that Southern Baptists hate them, we still prayed for those in Orlando affected by the mass murderer that killed 49 and wounded 53 others. Why? Because we love them. Just because we preach the Bible and its condemnation of their lifestyle doesn’t mean we hate them any more than it means we hate adulterers and liars. We hate neither group. In fact, we are commanded to love people, not hate them. I know that some project hatred towards them, and for that I am profoundly sorry. When I preach God’s Word, my only intention is to proclaim His love — love that says I refuse to let you die in your sins without having an opportunity to hear Truth and allow God to change you.
It was a great convention– the best in years. It was spiritually powerful and personally uplifting. Our focus was on getting back to the main thing of loving people to Jesus. But as Dr. Ted Traylor preached in the Convention Sermon, no one can make us do it. But we can ask. And we can show you how. And we can even teach you what the Bible tells us to do. But it is your choice, Southern Baptist. Will you be obedient to God’s Word?
So yes, we Southern Bapists are an interesting bunch. You might even call us peculiar, but that’s okay. God intended it to be that way!