Southern Baptists on social media may immediately discern my title is a response to today’s statement by Baptist 21. You can find it here. sbc-2023-a-time-for-clear-complementarianism-wise-cooperation I am thankful for my brothers at B21 and respect their thoughtful comments. They make many good points in their article.
I agree that this is a critical time for Southern Baptists. We are discussing sex abuse reform, female pastors, and yes, the very nature of our cooperation. B21 writes, “Nuance is difficult. Yet, that is exactly what we need.”
I believe nuance is exactly what we do not need. Rather we need clarity. Now, I know that by “nuance” my brothers do not mean “compromise.” They even use the word “clear” in part of the title for today’s article. And by “clarity” I do not mean “narrow fundamentalism” as the critic may suggest. I really do mean, “clarity” and I specifically mean it as opposed to “nuance.”
As on so many issues, now is not the time for nuance but for gracious Biblical clarity.
1. Southern Baptists Should Clearly Affirm Our Complementarian Convictions: Rejecting Saddleback’s Appeal
This action point is quoted directly from the B21 article. Their thinking is so sound I cannot improve on it here. I wholeheartedly agree with my B21 brothers on this.
2. We Can Affirm The “Mike Law Amendment” This Year And Ratify It In 2024
Article 3 of the SBC Constitution addresses what it means to be “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC. And it does not require full affirmation of the Convention’s statement of faith. Rather it requires a church to have a faith and practice that “closely identifies” with the Convention’s statement of faith. Of course, that is The Baptist Faith and Message. The wording of Article 3 means that somehow, some way, someone will have to determine if a church’s faith and practice “closely identifies” with our statement of faith.
I believe that “somehow, some way, someone” is simple: the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention.
As issues arise, culturally or theologically, the Convention has the right in its own sphere of autonomy to interpret its own documents and to determine its own parameters of cooperation. That is, we already have a mechanism in place to answer the question of cooperation. The mechanism is: The Southern Baptist Convention.
Our friends at Baptist 21 suggest there are three options before us in New Orleans. They write:
- We can bring clarity to what line 3.1 means so as to provide clarity to how the BF&M2000 will govern our cooperation.
- We can leave it as it is, with the ambiguity, and let the credentials committee (and then potentially the messengers) be the enforcer year after year.
- We can remove line 3.1 and go back to how things were.
I respectfully submit and recommend messengers consider a 4th option. Leave Article 3.1 of the SBC constitution as it is. There is nothing wrong with it. But provide clarity, thereby instructing the Credentials Committee and the Executive Committee as to the Convention’s interpretation of the Baptist Faith and Message and Article 3.1. In other words, affirm the Mike Law Amendment by adding it as Article 3.1.6.
This amendment would not mean we consider a female pastor to be “on the same level” as sexual abuse, racism, or homosexuality. Rather, it would indicate we believe it to be a clear example of a violation of the parameters of cooperation. While I believe our governing documents in their current form should be sufficient, I also believe this is a case where needed clarity will serve us well and protect our unity of faith in the future. Two quick stories have shaped my view.
3. Two Personal Anecdotes
On September 16, 2019, the new credentials committee met in Nashville, TN. It was our first in-person meeting since the reformation of the committee. On the agenda was a church in Georgia that had been referred to the committee for accepting practicing members of the LGBTQ community into full membership, with all rights and privileges of membership.
It should have been a simple matter. After all, it was a homosexual-affirming church.
The chair introduced the referral, and by previous agreement, asked me to address the issue. As the only member of the committee from Georgia, I had knowledge of the church and its unacceptable position affirming homosexuality, an affirmation recently codified in the church’s bylaws.
I concluded my remarks with something like, “In light of these matters, I move that we place this church under inquiry of being in violation of our parameters of cooperation.” To my great surprise, a short but uncomfortable debate followed. I know many Southern Baptists will find that hard to believe. But it is true.
Most notably, one member said, “This is going to hurt our NAMB church planting efforts, especially in the Northwest where our planters work hard to build bridges to the gay community, only to constantly have their own Convention give them bad press.” (I am not at all suggesting this is NAMB’s position, but this is what the committee member stated).
After picking my jaw up off the table, I pointed out several things I won’t mention here. The relevant item is simple and it informs my view on what should happen in the present complementarian debate. Remember it was September 2019. At that time there was one, and only one, item in the SBC Constitution that gave a specific example of what it means to NOT be in friendly cooperation.
Even though we had approved Articles 3.1.4 and 3.1.5 as constitutional amendments in 2019, they had yet to be ratified by a second vote of the annual meeting. We did not actually need the ratification to disfellowship a church on the basis of abuse or discrimination, but a simple fact remained: At that time, only ONE item was in the SBC Constitution that gave an example of an issue that would make a church not be in friendly cooperation. And it was the issue of affirming, approving, or endorsing homosexual behavior. The very issue before the committee.
Thankfully, Biblical wisdom prevailed, the church was placed under inquiry, and it was eventually removed at the February 2021 meeting of the Executive Committee.
On another occasion, churches were submitted that had a female senior pastor. There was open discussion from at least one member that while a female senior pastor was a violation of the Baptist Faith and Message, affirmation of the BF&M was not a requirement to be in cooperation with the SBC. The brother was technically correct. But this is the very kind of issue that ought not be decided by a 9-person committee. This matter should be decided by the messengers through a constitutional amendment.
PERSONAL EDIT: Since originally posting this article, I have been asked, “If we disfellowship Saddleback and the other church(es) with female pastors, won’t that prove that our current documents are sufficient?” That’s a great question. Our current documents SHOULD BE sufficient but they obviously are not. Just last year, our Credentials Committee chair, Mrs. Linda Copper (one of the finest Southern Baptist ladies to ever serve us) expressed the desire of the committee for clarity on this very issue. It is also true that we removed churches over the issues of sexual abuse and ethnic discrimination before those amendments were ratified. From time to time, an issue is so timely to our identity as Southern Baptists that it warrants, even requires, additional documentation. The very nature of an amendment (2/3rds vote in 2 successive meetings) means we are merely codifying what was already the overwhelming belief of the Convention. That has always been true.
4. Not A Time For Nuance
On these and similar matters, neither the Credentials Committee nor the Executive Committee should be the ultimate decision maker. The authority of these bodies should be administrative, simply applying the governing documents of the Convention as ratified by, and at times interpreted by the messengers. The passage of a constitutional amendment will provide clarity of interpretation. It will clearly tell our administrative committees that the messengers have decided that having a female pastor is an example of no longer having a faith and practice that “closely identifies” with our statement of faith.
I appreciate the brothers at B21 and am grateful for their thoughtful recommendation. But I respectfully submit that nuance will lead to ongoing confusion and will breed further division in the future.
Support the EC’s decision to remove the churches with female pastors.
Support the constitutional amendment.
Let’s be clear on our doctrine and clear on our parameters of cooperation.