A Tsunami Warning for the SBC

A Tsunami Warning for the SBC

As Warren begins the appeal process and the decision heads to the SBC’s convention floor, the question is not one of proper biblical hermeneutics regarding women pastors. When Warren and other egalitarians advocate for female pastors, their position is solidly based upon strong emotion rather than sound exegesis. The SBC’s current challenge is that it has been shaken by pragmatism and a leftward cultural drift. Furthermore, the denomination has gone through a number of ideological earthquakes. Will the next tsunami wave be too much to handle? 

On March 11, 2011, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan. The center of the quake was said to have been in the North Pacific, 81 miles east of Sendai, the largest city in the Tōhoku area.

The Pacific Ocean is home to the largest seismic belt on the planet. Japan is accustomed to and prepared for earthquakes, much like its Pacific neighbor to the east, California. The rare tsunami accompanying an earthquake is often more damaging than the quake itself.

Those familiar with the region pay little attention to earthquakes. Due to their infrequency, many people ignore the warnings associated with tsunamis. Ignoring such warnings can have disastrous consequences, as more than 20,000 lives were lost on the Sendai coast.

For the past few years, many in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have disregarded numerous warnings of their own. Many in SBC leadership pay little attention to the cracks in the denomination’s core. The latest is Rick Warren’s decision to appeal the SBC’s decision to kick Saddleback Church out of the fellowship. This is a tsunami warning for the SBC. There are some in SBC circles who regard Warren’s commitment to installing three women pastors at Saddleback Church as a clear violation of Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

The crucial question is: Will the SBC heed the most recent tsunami warning and stand on the high ground of Scripture, or will a tsunami wave of egalitarianism destroy its shores?

The Earthquake before the Tsunami: MLK 50 & Social Justice

Long before the terror of a 500-mile-per-hour tsunami wave traveling ashore, the Tōhoku area’s residents would have been wise to pay attention to the early warning signs of a tsunami—an earthquake. Likewise, recent history will attest that the SBC has endured numerous quakes that should have served as an early warning sign for what was coming.

The first seismic event to hit the SBC occurred in 2018 during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. The Gospel Coalition collaborated on a joint event with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The MLK 50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop event occurred in Memphis, Tennessee. Speakers included Charlie DatesJackie Hill-PerryEric Mason, and others.

Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church in Philadelphia and author of Woke Church, took to the podium. Mason reflected on what he believed to be a pivotal time in history. Connecting the historical racism of King’s day with the present-day experience of blacks within white evangelicalism, Mason told the audience,

Multiplicities of Negros ain’t feeling evangelicalism…. Whites have to assume … that because there is offense … you need to press into that particular offense and begin to educate yourself on … not having reductionistic ways in which you try to cause racial reconciliation, like through hiring non-qualified African-Americans to be the multi-ethnic engineers in your local churches…. And you know they’re not qualified because Blacks haven’t hired them.

Eric Mason, MLK 50 (10:46)

The audience filled the air with laughter and numerous “amens.” Mason continued,

And it works against unity when you hire somebody that we not feeling. And you’re wondering why multi-ethnicity isn’t happening at your church? It’s because you have a person that is black on the outside but angloid on the inside.

Eric Mason, MLK 50 (12:06)

Charlie Dates, once one of the SBCs most popular and celebrated preachers, used MLK 50 to connect King’s social gospel to the economic, political, and educational needs of today’s black communities. In Dates’ view, it’s our “white evangelical brothers and sisters” who bear the responsibility to repair disparities within black communities. Dates reserved his sermon’s homiletic punch for the conclusion of his message, and he could not have been more explicit when he said,

This is what has frustrated many black churches with our white evangelical brothers and sisters, those of you who have a firm grasp on orthodoxy, who understand the finer tenants of the gospel, who launch coalitions, who sustain commissions, and who produce curriculum and lobby with Congress. We have expected you to be our greatest allies in the struggle against injustice. We wanted you to tell your churches and your congregations that God was never pleased with segregation and the systems that segregation has created.… We wanted you to end the long night of systemic injustices. We wanted y’all to cry about the public school-to-prison pipeline.… And we wanted you to shout it from your pulpit.

Charlie Dates, MLK 50 (20:25)

With Mason and Dates framing the foundation of their ideas on the San Andreas fault line of King’s social gospel, each speaker charged white evangelicalism with being responsible for and obligated to fix the disparities experienced in black America.

The Village Church pastor of Fort Worth, Texas, Matt Chandler, would join the chorus of speakers, describing what his church was doing to promote black empowerment in the pulpit.

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