This post will be lengthy, but I hope to provide an accurate summation and overview of SBC happenings at present…
Things Going Well…
1 - A Really Strong President: Dr. Bart Barber.
-Since his election at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention, Bart Barber has proven himself not only to be a good leader, but solidly Baptist in his ecclesiology, and Baptist in his denominational leadership. More importantly, Barber has proven himself to be a convictional follower of King Jesus who is concerned with the reputation of Jesus in the world, the purity of His bride (the local Church), a seriousness about the struggles facing the SBC at this present moment, and standing up for the victims of abuse.
2 - Strong Cooperation across the Convention: A Hallmark of Baptist Life.
The hallmark of Baptist denominationalism is cooperation. “Better together.”
Even as struggles continue for the SBC, I am encouraged by the facts that our emphasis on shared mission continues.
The International Mission Board is training, equipping, and sending men and women around the globe with the good news of Jesus.
The North American Mission Board continues to focus on church planting and missions here in North America.
SEND Relief continues its work in bringing needed aid work to those in need.
Our Seminaries continue to see strong enrollment, and men and women are committing themselves to our studied faculties for the purposes of being equipped for ministry in God’s kingdom.
3 - A Strengthening Resolve: The Fruit of Righteousness.
-Across our Convention of churches, while struggles remain and difficulties stand to be worked through, there seems to be a strengthening resolve to right the wrongs and continue the work of Jesus’ Church and the historic work of Baptists.
As conventions do—especially the largest religious convention in the country—change comes slow. There is a process; there are layers; the trickle down effect takes time. But, on the whole, the status of our churches and shared values seems to be strong.
1 - Disgraced Pastors being “restored.”
-In the 2022 Guideposts Solutions report on Sexual Abuse in the SBC, Dr. Johnny Hunt was credibly accused of sexually assaulting another Pastor’s wife in a private beach condo. When the report was released, Hunt immediately resigned his position with NAMB, and several other SBC institutions have since taken steps to distance themselves from Hunt.
-Recently, however, a group of 4 pastors announced that Hunt had completed a process of restoration and was ready to be restored to full-time gospel ministry.
These four men state that “Pastor Johnny” has been through an intense process of restoration that took place outside of a local Church, under the supervision of this particular team. 4 men operating as Pastors without a connection to a local Church.
They use words like “intensive” over and over in an attempt to emphasize some gravitas they want to put forward.
-But, as our SBC President, Dr. Barber so forcefully and righteously stated, this is the action of a few (of Johnny Hunt’s friends), not the action of the Church or the many. And not only is the action of a few, it is entirely out of step with Baptist Ecclesiology. This is not how the Bible teaches us to seek restoration, nor does it automatically end with an abusive pastor stepping back into ministry. The whole thing reeks of power and the abuse of power.
I would encourage you to read Barber’s full statement, but I will quote the end portion here,
“It is best for people just to regard this pronouncement as the individual opinions of four of Johnny Hunt’s loyal friends. These four pastors do not speak for the Southern Baptist Convention. The voice of the Southern Baptist Convention is best found in the text of the resolutions adopted by the messengers and referenced above. Pastor Tate, his voice breaking with emotion, cited Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, saying that he didn’t want to be guilty of leaving Johnny Hunt wounded on the side of the road. The wounded person on the side of the road is the abuse survivor, not Johnny Hunt, and she received no mention at all by this panel—she was passed by, in a way, by this quintet. I do not know her, but I don’t want to be guilty of leaving her on the side of the road. I am praying for her, I have heard her, and I believe her.”
-Shockingly, a Church in Florida had already scheduled Hunt for a preaching slot at a conference. They have since withdrawn the invitation in the face of the mounting criticism of Hunt’s restoration. He was to appear alongside of names like former Exec. Committee President Ronnie Floyd and Pastor Jerry Vines.
I am disgusted, but not shocked that these men would have even agreed to appear with Hunt.
Timothy Pigg, the inviting pastor, is laughably quoted as saying, “In a stroke of naïveté, I did not in wisdom allow enough time to pass before inviting Dr. Johnny Hunt,” Pigg said in the statement. “Therefore, in light of this oversight of wisdom, I have asked Dr. Johnny Hunt to step aside from being with us at our 2023 Great Commission Weekend.”
-This was not naïveté, this was the good ole’ boys club doing what it does. But they got caught and called out.
God certainly forgives, redeems, and restores. But if recent history has taught us anything, it has taught us that forgiveness and restoration on this side of heaven doesn't always look like an immediate return to power and prominence, acting like what happened was no big deal.
Johnny Hunt should own his sins and stay far away from any recognized ministry.
2 - Credibly accused and Disgraced Abuser suing the Abused and Other Institutions.
-Baptist Press reported recently that disgraced former SBTS Professor, David Sills, along with his wife, are suing a number of SBC institutions and people alleging “defamation, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and wantonness concerning untrue claims of sexual abuse…”
The Sills’ name the following Names and Entities in their suit…
The Southern Baptist Convention at large
Former President Dr. Ed Litton;
Lifeway Christian Resources;
Jennifer Lyell (the woman he is credibly accused of abusing);
The SBC Executive Committee
Current SBC President Dr. Bart Barber;
Interim Exec. Committee President Dr. Willie McLaurin;
Chairman of the Exec. Committee Roland Slade;
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary;
Dr. R. Albert Mohler (President of SBTS);
-It is of great note that each of those named in the suit have stated their preparedness to meet these allegations head on in court. Baptist Press reports…
“A written statement from SBC special counsel Gene Besen said, “The SBC Executive Committee is still evaluating the specious allegations within the complaint. We intend to vigorously defend ourselves from this troubling attempt to recast an accused perpetrator as the victim of an imaginary conspiracy. We look forward to our day in court.”
And from Dr. Mohler, “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has followed best practices in this matter and has nothing to hide. We will make this truth clear in any forum necessary and we will do so vigorously,” Mohler said.”
The unfolding of this situation will demand that we watch. Until then, we must pray for justice and integrity.
3 - Women in the Pastorate?
This issue has been in the periphery for some time, but Rick Warren and Saddleback Church have thrust the issue front and center for the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, the Convention has held the Biblical position that God retains the role of Elder (also referred to as Pastor and Overseers in the NT) for men only. For more on this, see here.
The fact that only men are permitted to the pastorate is reflected in our SBC Statement of Faith, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
Dr. Albert Mohler weighed in on the issue at this past Convention saying,
“Southern Baptists are now, yet again, at a moment of decision. This is no longer a point of tension and debate. These moves represent an attempt to redefine and reformulate the convictional foundation of Southern Baptist faith and cooperative ministry. The theological issues have not changed since the year 2000 when Southern Baptists spoke clearly and precisely in the Baptist Faith & Message. More importantly, the Holy Scriptures have not changed and cannot change.
The convictions of the Baptist Faith & Message — all of them — describe the doctrinal basis for our Convention and for our cooperation together. Any use of the term “pastor” for women in church leadership is, at best, unwise and confusing. In an increasing number of cases, it is now clear that some churches, including quite large and well-known churches, are placing women in the office of pastor in direct violation of our confession of faith. Further, a number of churches that are at least listed as Southern Baptist welcomed and advertised women preaching in the morning service.
The Southern Baptist Convention must not be unclear about our theological convictions and the ground of our cooperation. We cannot afford to be. Attempts to deny the issue will not work. Right now, Southern Baptists will decide if we will redefine the doctrine of the Southern Baptist Convention. I do not believe that Southern Baptists will allow this to happen. I do not believe that Southern Baptists will retreat from the truth.”
Recently, a Pastor from Arlington, VA, Mike Law, submitted a letter to the SBC executive committee urging the committee to take action on this issue. The letter (which you can read here) has been signed by 800+ pastors (including me).
Saddleback has continued along its path of ordaining women, and it is sure to be a big issue going into the 2023 Convention meeting.
4 - A Struggling Seminary.
-While the details remain unclear, one of our largest Seminaries—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Dallas, Texas—is struggling after being plagued by scandal and mismanagement under Paige Patterson.
With the recent departure of Dr. Adam Greenway— after a short 3-year tenure—the seminary seems to be in financial peril, and the temporary leadership under Dr. David Dockery has called for prayer while also embarking on a series of layoffs.
-The future of that school remains to be seen.
5 - Churches leaving the Convention.
-In the midst of all of this, there has been some movement among the churches of our convention. Some churches are taking stock of the situation and are making the choice to cut ties with the SBC, going their own way.
This is certainly part of Baptist polity. We are a convention of cooperating Churches. The Convention has no authority over local, autonomous churches.
On the other hand, it seems to me to be premature at best. I find there are far more reasons to stay, to stay involved, and remain a faithful presence in the SBC for now. The day for separation may come, but today is not that day.
I appreciate what Dr. Barber has said on this point…
-I am thankful to be in a National Convention of Churches (the SBC) that believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ and cooperates to the best of its abilities to take great strides for the Kingdom of God.
I am also thankful to be a part of a local association that cherishes Baptist Ecclesiology/Polity and seeks to work out that polity among the faithful Churches and pastors in the association.
-At this point, I think the exodus of Churches will be small and will quickly come to an end.
What Does this All Mean?
1 - Overall, I think the SBC is in a strong position given everything going on.
We have solid leadership across the board — particularly our President, and in our Executive Committee.
I am also very confident in our Seminary Leadership and the direction they are leading our schools.
2 - Abuse and its effects remain an issue, and most likely will be an issue for the foreseeable future.
-Not only is the SBC coming to grips with the realities of abuse and coverups, I think most churches are on the same path.
Lifeway Research noted recently that 98% of pastors believe their church to be a safe haven for abuse survivors, while only 8% of clergy abuse survivors found their church to have been helpful after the abuse took place.
That stands in stark contrast the helpful writings of Darby Strickland and others...
I think the Convention is looking the issue in the face and seeking to respond as it can with the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).
And as we have seen, there are still those who desire to rush the process to guard names, fame, power, and platforms. Victims must take priority over abusers, and I believe we are seeing the Convention slowly begin to move in that direction.
I hope the massive pushback against this Johnny Hunt stunt will continue and help turn the tide.
3 - As we have in the past, I think the SBC will take its time and work out the implications of our Doctrinal statements, holding firmly to the Biblical positions articulated in our Confessions.
But with the nature of the beast, it may take a few years, and this will perhaps cause more churches to part ways.