In a moving moment during this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, SBC President J.D. Greear invited victims of sexual abuse to stand as he and others led in a prayer of lament, repentance and sorrow over the instances of abuse that have taken place within our convention.
As many women and men stood courageously, a spirit of brokenness and repentance filled the arena of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center. One day earlier, messengers in attendance overwhelmingly approved proposed changes to the SBC’s constitution and bylaws that would deem sexual abuse and racial discrimination as grounds for a church to be declared not in friendly cooperation with our convention.
In Birmingham, Southern Baptists took a strong stand and made a definitive statement that said to the world that we are not going to tolerate any form of abuse or racism. While we acknowledge what has taken place and repent over what has happened, we are not going to let it continue. Southern Baptists, the greater Christian community and the world at large has a right to expect and demand better from individuals in leadership positions. Most importantly, scripture demands we take these actions.
I’m thankful for the work of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group that was appointed by President Greear last year. The group, along with the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has developed a resource titled Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused that is now available to every church at no cost. You can access the resource at churchcares.com.
During this year’s meeting, SBC leaders encouraged every church to take the “Caring Well Challenge” by committing to work through the resource as a church. You can learn more at caringwell.com. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina also has dedicated resources to assist our local churches to recognize, report and respond to cases of abuse. You can learn more about these resources by contacting state convention staff member Cheryl Markland at [email protected].
As President Greear noted, issues of abuse and racism are gospel issues and aligned well with this year’s meeting theme of “Gospel Above All.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ cared for the weak and the vulnerable, and He warned against those who would cause them to stumble.
Every single person possesses infinite worth because they are made in the image of God. There is no place for discrimination on the basis of gender or ethnicity within the body of Christ. Also, we must do all that we can do to equip and encourage our brothers and sisters to serve the Lord in places of leadership that are affirmed by scripture.
Among the highlights of the SBC annual meeting for me each year are the reports from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB). NAMB reported on progress being made in church planting and baptisms in some challenging places for ministry. Once again, the IMB, under the leadership of the new president, Paul Chitwood, held a moving celebration for missionaries who are being commissioned and sent to the mission field. These things remind us as Southern Baptists of our commitment to get the gospel to the nations.
Although I am deeply troubled that the number of baptisms showed another year of decline across the SBC, I celebrate every new convert who has come to faith in Christ. I pray that every Southern Baptist will wake up to the condition of lostness in our state and nation and prioritize personal evangelism and discipling new believers.
As our convention continues to emphasize the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism initiative, I challenge every North Carolina Baptist to begin praying for, spending time with and having gospel conversations with someone they know who does not know Christ.
During the NAMB report, Johnny Hunt shared that if just 10 percent of all Southern Baptists led one person to Christ in the next year, we would see the highest number of baptisms in the history of the SBC.
May we all prioritize our lives so that the gospel is supremely above all we do.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV).