When I stepped off the plane, the wave of heat hit me! Wow, it is hot in Dallas. But the breeze of the Spirit was blowing across the city as over 9,000 Baptists from around the nation gathered for worship, preaching, reports of God’s work and decision-making for America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. That included at least 31 people from New England who traveled to Dallas to represent our churches and voice the New England perspective.
Though it was a business meeting, it had some funny moments, such as when a man with four daughters asked what the denomination could do to help his daughters find godly husbands. The president of one of our colleges said “just enroll them in any of the schools, and they will come out married.” It might not have been the answer that father was looking for, but the comment was met with joyful laughter around the room. There was also a light-hearted moment when a nine-year-old boy, who had been dually elected by his church as an official messenger, made a motion that the SBC consider adding a Children’s Ministry Emphasis Day to the denomination’s annual calendar. The moderator invited him to come present his idea to the Executive Committee in the fall.
But those light-hearted moments faded quickly as twenty different motions were presented and dealt with. Many of those motions dealt with very challenging issues, such as the firing of a seminary president over the poor handling of a sexual assault case and whether political leaders should be allowed to address a religious gathering. Though there were tense moments when not everyone in the room was in agreement about various issues, I thought that everyone conducted themselves in a Christ-like manner and was respectful of the various opinions displayed, a quality often lacking in today’s highly polarized culture. It was good to see that Christians could discuss matters in which they had profound differences in opinion and still walk away as friends.
Perhaps the highlight of the meeting for most people was the election of J.D. Greear as the new President. He represents a wave of young leaders rising up in the SBC ranks. Many younger pastors cheered his election because they believe he will bring fresh ideas to the forefront of Baptist life. We should all be praying for J.D. as he steps into this challenging role.
In addition to all the business, it was also good to see friends, fellow pastors and mission partners from around the nation. It was hard to get through all the exhibit areas because people would see old friends and stop to talk causing perpetual traffic jams. But that is one of the side benefits of going to such a meeting, the people you meet along the way.
Many of the New England contingency gathered on Wednesday night after the final session closed, for a dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. We enjoyed the fellowship together and several remarked at how several at the table had to travel across the nation to have dinner with a pastor who just lived across town. Most went away determined to invite another pastor over for dinner long before the next SBC meeting.
Dr. Terry Dorsett is the executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England.