FIRST-PERSON: Southern Baptists are not perfect people, but we are a movement making a positive difference

Southern Baptists are transforming lives, healing communities, responding to disasters, caring for hurting people, and funding countless ministries – all at record levels.  This may be surprising news since Southern Baptists are often decried for their shortcomings.  Because of our desire for transparency – meeting every summer for two days in an open meeting to publicly discuss our problems – there is no shortage of negative stories to support the false narrative we are corrupt and declining.

In contrast, our most recent annual report shows nearly 13 million Southern Baptists contributed more than $10 billion to and through our churches to fund need-meeting ministries in communities across the United States.  We sent more than $800 million to support mission causes – in the United States and other countries.  More than 4 million people gathered weekly in Southern Baptist worship services (about four times more than combined NFL attendance on any weekend in the Fall).  Millions of children safely attended Sunday Schools, recreation activities, and outreach events.  Thousands of families received free counseling, childcare, clothing, and food from churches committed to meeting local needs.  Hundreds of everyday Southern Baptists worked on disaster response teams – showing up when tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and fires have done their worst.

All of these efforts contributed to a sharp uptick in the statistic Southern Baptists value most – baptisms.  Every public immersion symbolizes two things – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the renewal he brings in a person’s life.  Southern Baptists practice conversion theology – meaning people are transformed by the Gospel.  We believe salvation brings new life – radical new life in Jesus – and baptism publicly marks that dramatic event.  That’s why a 26% year-over-year increase in baptisms excites Southern Baptists.  It speaks to the core of who we are and why we exist as movement – people finding new life in Jesus Christ.

But what about our problems?  Since our theological convictions include believing all humans are sinful, we readily admit our sinfulness expresses itself corporately and systemically.  We struggle with major issues like eradicating racism and stopping sexual abuse.  We debate national politics and social justice issues.  Among ourselves, we discuss doctrine and wrestle with leadership decisions, including the allocation of resources.

We are a fractious, willful, sinful bunch and we sometimes act like it.  When we do, media and social media reports are often instant, vicious, and unbalanced (with no reference to positive aspects of our movement).  It often seems the only story worth reporting is the negative story.

But the more accurate and positive version, for the typical Southern Baptist, is we are everyday Christians doing our best to live out our faith.

  • We care about people who are hurting,
  • We patiently support our leaders,
  • We serve selflessly through our churches,
  • We work to improve our communities and country.
  • We pray, read our Bibles, and give countless volunteer hours serving others.

Southern Baptists are a force for good.

We are not perfect people, but we are a movement making a positive difference in our world and our most recent statistical reports underscore this reality and motivate us to press forward.  Yes, we are still – and always will be – working on our shortcomings.  But more importantly, we will continue to do our best to join God’s global mission of transforming lives and communities.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president-elect of the SBC Executive Committee. Reprinted by permission from The Tennessean newspaper.)

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