This year’s Southern Baptist Convention was overshadowed by its initial failing to bring to a vote a resolution condemning alt-right and white supremacist ideology. It should have been a simple process. But it got held up over concerns that some in the Southern Baptist community could be seen as being targeted by the language of the resolution.
The next day, the resolution was revised, put to a vote, and approved overwhelmingly. But not before secular publications such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Associated Press picked up the story and blasted across the interwebs that America’s most influential Christian denomination would not pass a resolution condemning racist ideology. White supremacist provocateur Richard Spencer even got in on the act, ironically mocking Southern Baptists for not reading their Bibles.
If it were not for the internet and the hyper-connected global society that we live in, it is likely that the resolution proposed by Pastor Dwight McKissic would have been shuffled off into a file somewhere and be collecting dust today. Instead, the social media storm that ensued cause SBC leaders to realize that they had made a grave mistake and to do what was necessary to get the resolution to the floor for a vote.
This recent example reminds us that Christians no longer live in a vacuum. The church is not an entity unto itself. We are steeped in the push and pull of society. When we do something or say something, the world could be watching.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, is encouraging churches to keep in mind that the public is watching them:
In a world on social media steroids, we need to rewrite part of our playbook to consider the cultural context as we conduct our church business.
So, how should we have a conversation that acknowledges that the wider world is watching and perhaps even intentionally misunderstanding what we are discussing?
That is a vital question for the church today. Stetzer provides four things churches should do. They are as follows. (You can read his full article here.)
- First, manage denominational realities more like you would in a local church.
- Second, create a specific way to help find a less public way to hash out disagreements as denominations.
- Third, apologize (and act) promptly.
- Fourth, face the reality that there are some things the world is not going to understand.
As the church, we are called not only to witness to the public, but to show the public, by example, what it means to live in a Christ-like manner. And that includes how we handle church business.
by Paul Montague