After some plane delays on an early morning, I arrived in New Orleans for the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. I had a great conversation with my Uber driver about the state of the NBA and his life in New Orleans before he asked an interesting question.
“So, what will you exactly do at this meeting?”
My mind begins to think about all the looming conflicts and ongoing controversies. Will we walk out more unified or not? Is it going to be nasty bickering or helpful progress? I’m traveling this horrible schedule because I believe in what is happening, but I am also overwhelmed by all that is ahead.
“Well, I’m going to gather with a bunch of other people where we are all trying to figure out how we can best bring hope to the world.”
“Mos def. That’s legit, man. I hope it goes well.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
That might have been the most gracious or diplomatic answer I could have given, but I believed it going in the convention center, and I believed it when I left.
I write this post for church members who weren’t in the room with me. I write it for those interested in what is happening and only hearing soundbites and reading headlines.
The people gathered in the room truly want to give hope to the world, but there are disagreements on how to do it best. It’s 50,000 churches. It’s 19,000 people in the room. It’s about 2 microphones that worked for the whole time. The system is challenging to work through issues, but the good is worth it.
If you are outside this tribe, you will read the updates on a small percentage of what happened without context and disregarding the other 99% of what transpired.
If you were inside the room, you graded the success or failures of certain decisions and moments based on the lens you brought to the convention. I did too. And yet, some of it is challenging to assess. Some is just challenging to get your head around given the limited format we work through as a convention of churches.
There are task forces mobilized.
Some decisions will be revisited next year.
There are sacred and secular sources alike making judgment calls on what happened.
So, while you may see some headlines, can I give you some things that some people aren’t reporting?
- A stage that once was only filled with white men had young and old, men and women, and leaders from numerous ethnicities in prominent leadership positions.
- The president is a pastor of an average-sized church but was able to connect with churches of all sizes.
- Testimonies were given by people who have been impacted by our collective work from all walks of life all over the world.
- A passionate father asked for help with a discipleship curriculum to help his autistic child, and the president of the publishing company asked to connect with him over his great ideas.
- The work of confronting abuse in churches led to people getting counsel, abusers being challenged so that they cannot continue, and churches being called into accountability.
- We are helping Ukrainian refugees in amazing ways.
- We sent 79 missionaries to 33 countries to offer hope to those in need.
- We graduated 14 new inmates who have received theological education and will serve incarcerated men in the prison system.
- Chaplains and churches have been the first line of response to meeting with people after tragedies like school shootings.
- We are so pro-life that we continually step up our adoption and foster care efforts.
I could go on for a long time, but I will stop at those top ten from my recollection. Are there challenges? Yes. Do we have a long way to go? Absolutely. But be careful of reading headlines without talking to people in the room. I think people love to throw stones and what is happening and take snippets and run away with them.
If you aren’t a part of the tribe, ensure that you don’t feed the media monster and misrepresent what happened in there due to outside agendas.
If you are a part of the tribe, let’s keep working together to figure out how best to offer hope to the world.
I wondered if I would see my Uber driver again. I didn’t. But if I did see him, and he did ask me how it went, I would tell him, “We are struggling a bit, but it is because there are a lot of people in there who really want the best thing, but we sometimes disagree on how to make it happen. Honestly, it was less hostile than I anticipated. I believe that the majority in that room want good, significant change, and I’m sticking around to do whatever I can to see it happen.”
The world needs hope, family. Let’s keep trying to figure out how to make it happen.