During my two years as president, I have often said that in this role you go from rookie to lame duck instantly. Of course, none of us knew that my time as Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President would continue due to the cancellation of our annual meeting this year in Orlando and an extended lame duck year.
At my first annual meeting as president in Birmingham, Ala., the Executive Committee president handed me a gavel to use, so I used it. Knowing that it was the Broadus gavel and his views on race, I must admit that while we stood there in Birmingham, I felt a sense of unease.
To be fair, John Broadus did seem to change some of his positions later in life, and for that I am thankful. But the reality is that given the role that slavery played in the formation of the SBC, mixed messages were still being sent.
Here we were, a convention of nearly 48,000 independent autonomous churches, meeting in a city that has been filled with horrific history of civil rights abuses making historic moves in the areas of diversity, abuse, and mission, using a gavel named after a Southern Baptist who owned slaves and was deeply involved in our founding.
Yes, we thank God for His grace, and that apart from the blood of Jesus, none of us have any hope of heaven. And yes, we celebrate that even in those dark days there was still an understanding of the urgency of the gospel and the need to get it to the ends of the earth. Still, standing in that city, holding that gavel, left me deeply conflicted.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know I had a choice.
Some months later, I was made aware that this gavel wasn’t the only gavel that past presidents had used. As a matter of fact, at many meetings there were multiple gavels used for different sessions of the convention, often depending on what was being discussed at that time. The Broadus gavel is the one that has been used continuously to open the convention since 1872, but others were incorporated as well. I discovered that all of these gavels had been used before, and that it was the choice of the president as to which one to use.
Southern Baptists, I think it is time to retire the Broadus gavel. While we do not want to, nor could we, erase our history, it is time for this gavel to go back into the display case at the Executive Committee offices.
As my friend, and Guidestone Financial Resources President, O.S. Hawkins said, “We need to be less about 1845 and more about 2025.” This moment in our country requires us to proclaim with absolute clarity that truth we all grew up singing in Sunday School: all races are “precious in his sight.” We are united by a common humanity, a common problem – sin, and a common hope of salvation – the blood of Jesus. We are each equal, beautiful members of his body, created in his image.
There are different options that I will consider using next year in Nashville at our annual meeting. The Annie Armstrong gavel more accurately represents the spirit of why we come together. She was known for not only being a pioneer advocate for missions and church planting but fought to send the first female African-American missionaries.
The Judson gavel, named after Adoniram Judson, was one of the first missionaries to travel to Burma, working there 30 years translating the entire Bible into Burmese and planting numerous Baptist churches. Oh, and my son is named after him.
As we continue coming together for the sake of missions and church planting, keeping the gospel above all our secondary and tertiary issues, and uniting in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, retiring the Broadus gavel sends a symbolic yet tangible message that we are a convention of all people, made in the image of God, and who matter deeply to God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C.)