Missouri Baptists have been up in arms recently (okay, so it seems we’re always up in arms, but bear with me) about the “Save Our Convention” movement. I’ve wondered what they’re all about for some time now, but simply wasn’t sure what to think. I greatly respect the leaders of the movement that I’m familiar with, yet I’ve heard nothing but anger and discord over what they’re doing. So… I’ve been conflicted. I haven’t heard their presentation directly, and I wasn’t sure I could trust the accounts of others (perception jades our accounts, it’s a fact of life), so I’ve simply tried to abstain from developing a strong opinion one way or the other on the group.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear from them firsthand… I attended the “Save Our Convention” meeting in Kearney. I think it’s safe to say I now have an opinion… albeit not necessarily just about SOC. To state it in brief?
Why would anyone want to take an active role in Missouri Baptist Convention life?
Yes, I’m serious. I attended as an interested layman, curious as to what all the uproar was about… and left wondering how Missouri Baptists will ever accomplish anything together. I’m left wondering if the MBC is even worth saving.
You’re probably wondering how I can say that, so allow me to elaborate.
Just over nine years ago, while I was a college student, I was engaged to a beautiful girl from the small town of Battlefield, Missouri. Nancy had insisted that if we were going to get married, that we needed to start going to church. Being head over heels for her, I agreed to go.
The first Sunday at First Baptist Battlefield blew me away. Pastor John’s sermon cut me straight to the heart… conviction. God started working on me. Nancy and I started attending Sunday School, and the wonderful folks there in the College and Career class accepted me wholeheartedly… even though I really didn’t have a clue about faith in Christ. I can’t remember how long we had been attending… but around April of ’98, God had been working on my heart long enough. While driving back to school late one Sunday, I asked Christ to save me and committed my life to Him.
At the time, I didn’t have a clue about the Missouri Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention, conservative resurgence, etc… all I knew was that I was now part of something far bigger and better than I could have imagined in years previous. My sins had been forgiven… my eternal destination was secure… I had a Lord that was with me every moment of every day… I had a church family that loved and cared for me… all because Nancy wanted me to attend a Baptist church with her.
I know… my testimony is nice and all, but how does it relate to SOC? Keep reading, I’ll get there (eventually).
Since that point, I’ve heard the news, and I’ve read the articles… and all I’ve seen is controversy after controversy, political fight after political fight in our convention. Project 1000 and the battle vs. the moderates… the “renegade” agencies and the legal battle to win back control… the blow-up at last year’s convention… the controversy over the Journey… the investigative committee, culminating in our executive director’s dismissal… the theological review committee… now SOC vs. MBLA…
In nine years as a Missouri Baptist, these are the things that stand out in my mind. I’ve racked my brain since the meeting yesterday, and I honestly can’t think of one “Missouri Baptist” news story about a ministry, mission, or service project that stands out. Not one thing… just controversy after controversy.
Now maybe that’s just my ignorance of the convention and its activities, or my tendency to remember the negative… I don’t know. But it makes me wonder… if this is all I see when I think of the Missouri Baptist Convention, how many others are in the same boat? Even if it’s just one in every ten Missouri Baptists, it’s a sad statistic.
The question I have is this… when will everyone lay down their swords? If you were there yesterday, Pastor Ken Parker made a point… he asked a series of questions… who believes the Bible is inerrant… who believes abortion is wrong… who believes in the deity of Christ… etc. The point was that the commonalities of Missouri Baptists (SOC, MBLA, or other) far exceed our differences. When are we going to focus on our commonalities, stop all this ridiculous fighting, and move forward in a united fashion to tackle the issue that’s really important… reaching the MILLION plus lost folks here in Missouri?
As for SOC itself and the meeting yesterday? I didn’t get the impression that others had (see the Missouri Baptist list for more). It seemed to me the meeting went quite smoothly, with presenters doing as good a job as possible presenting their viewpoints in a calm and loving manner… but that the meeting went VERY far south when the question and answer period began and the fur started flying. That’s not to say that I approved of everything SOC had to say… simply that given the choice of things shared, they did as good a job possible in presenting their message. I wish I could say the same for the question / answer period… the dialogue… both sides… was truly disheartening.
Anyway, to me, once you’re able to put aside the problems in their presentation, SOC’s message is a good one. As I see it, there are six main points:
- We need change in our convention.
- We don’t need closely associated individuals (be it MBLA folks, SOC folks, individuals from the same church, individuals from the same family, or other) in positions of influence year after year after year.
- We need more strict rules prohibiting service on multiple committees, boards, and elected positions.
- We need to learn to agree to disagree on debatable matters non-central to the gospel.
- Missouri Baptists need to be better informed about convention activities.
- Missouri Baptists need to be more involved in convention activities.
The problem, as stated above, lies in the presentation. I see several issues:
- While generic descriptions of their concerns probably wouldn’t have been respected either (in a lot of ways, this group seems to be facing a no-win situation), pointing fingers at specific individuals as problems definitely detracts from the core message. Even if the things stated about MBLA and others are true, voicing them seems to me to create more controversy than it diffuses… it looks like a personal vendetta, no matter how many words are said to the contrary. In the end, it may work out, but I fear the cure may be every bit as bad as the disease.
- The lack of continual public dialogue on these issues detracts from the message. In today’s age, we have come to expect an abundance of readily available information, delivered nearly instantaneously. I’ve seen nothing online about SOC’s concerns, so this hurts their cause. There are several venues this could take place… interaction on the existing Missouri Baptist mailing list, blogging, web forums, web sites, etc. This lack of information allows the few media outlets that have covered it to dominate the public perception of the movement. The few meetings held to date simply provide an insufficient level of communication.
- The plan to address these concerns, showing 1100 messengers, makes the movement look very political (even if that’s not the intent). It’s most regrettable that this was included… if we want meaningful change in our convention (which is put in motion by the voting of messengers), pursual of a specific quota of messengers who will vote a certain way is politics at its very essence. Let’s simply make sure issues are known, and let messengers vote.
The bottom line? I left the meeting more discouraged about the Missouri Baptist Convention than ever… not because I view anyone in MBC life as having ill intentions for our convention, but simply because we’ve apparently got too much pride to reconcile our differences of opinion in regard to its direction.
I pray that God will break our hearts over the condition of our convention, drive us to our knees to seek His forgiveness for the time we’ve wasted fighting with each other, draw us together to reconcile our differences, and move us out in unity to push back against the darkness of sin and lostness that permeates our state.