More than 1,100 Southern Baptists gathered early the morning of June 14, just prior to the opening gavel of the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, for a breakfast rally sponsored by the Conservative Baptist Network.
The CBN launched in February 2020 as “a partnership of Southern Baptists where all generations are encouraged, equipped and empowered to bring positive, biblical solutions that strengthen the SBC in an effort to fulfill the Great Commission and influence culture.”
The event featured numerous speakers who rallied the crowd to support CBN initiatives and candidates for SBC leadership positions.
Erwin Lutzer, pastor emeritus of Moody Church — a nondenominational, evangelical church in Chicago — offered a multi-faceted message, punctuated multiple times with applause from the crowd. Regarding the gospel, he said that the “social gospel is no gospel at all. The gospel is not what we can do for Jesus; the gospel is what Jesus has done for us.” Christians “must guard the gospel” and “keep it from contamination,” he said.
He urged “unity in the midst of diversity” and also touched on Critical Race Theory, saying CRT “continues to tear apart what Jesus died to bring together,” and LGBTQ concerns, saying, “We must be welcoming, but … we cannot be affirming. … It would be better … to be seen as hateful and tell the truth rather than tell lies with loving whispers of compassion.”
Lutzer encouraged attendees to focus on raising their children, rather than letting the “culture” raise them, and to be intentional in evangelistic efforts. Christians are not evangelizing because they aren’t “walking in victory,” he said.
Those in attendance also heard short messages from Mark Harris of the Family Research Council and Todd Starnes, host of The Todd Starnes Show, who encouraged them to trust God and speak up boldly with their Christian witness. Harris called on attendees to “recognize the emergency that we’re in … rely on God and His power … and be relentless in our efforts.” He said, “It’s time” for Christians “to stand on the authority of God’s word” and “say, ‘Enough is enough … thus saith the Lord God.’”
Starnes stated that secular media outlets have described Southern Baptists in various terms, such as “bitter,” “clingers” and “deplorables.” He is “still … proud,” he said, to be known as a “gun-toting, Bible-believing son of a Baptist and I’m not bitter; I’m blessed.” He followed with a word from theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Many tactics used denominationally today, he said, have been used in secular politics and Washington, which is “absolutely unacceptable” in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“If you have a beef with a brother, you take it up according to the gospel … and not the Washington Post,” Starnes said. “As the Southern Baptist Convention goes, so goes the nation. We have a great responsibility … and we must share the gospel. That’s the answer to all our problems.”
Carol Swain, retired professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, then invigorated the early-morning crowd with a three-word question: “Are you woke?” The author and speaker described being “born into systemic racism” and how she has watched “it collapse.”
She said she believes “CRT is racism” because it puts “all responsibility” on what happens in the world on “white people,” describing the theory as “white supremacy.”
It teaches that racial and ethnic minorities are “victims.” CRT, she said, is “a different gospel. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.” She added, “I have lost count of how many times the Southern Baptists have apologized [for racism]. I think it’s about time for someone to receive the apologies … and move forward.” She concluded, “The church has everything it needs to lead in the area of race, so let’s lead.”
‘Gospel is about reconciliation’
Former Executive Committee officer Rod Martin, who helped organize the CBN, encouraged all messengers to not leave the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting “until the closing gavel” because of multiple “critical votes” scheduled to occur. “Don’t leave; don’t leave; don’t leave. We have to have you,” he said. “This is the time to stand.”
The CBN’s “opponents … want you to believe there is a permanent ‘underclass’ that is suffering under the oppression of this permanent ‘overclass,’” he said. “They tell you that one group can never repent and the other group never has to. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about reconciliation.”
While expressing confidence that CBN would “prevail” in its goals for the meeting, he promised that the group would persevere in future years.
“We will not be divided by these people … we will not go gently into that good night; … we will not walk away; we will not let them have it. … The ‘resurgence’ generation didn’t give up; they didn’t stop fighting. My goodness, all the apostles but one went to a martyr’s death, and we’re going to be unnerved by a few mean tweets? No! … We are here to the death! We will not stop; we will not stop; we will not stop,” he said.
Three men who were candidates for SBC 2021–2022 offices then took the stage, one at a time, to express their Christian convictions. Javier Chavez, pastor of Amistad Cristiana Internacional in Gainesville, Georgia, described his love of living in America as a Christian, preacher, family man and citizen. On June 16, Chavez was unsuccessful in his bid to become second vice president of the SBC. Ramon Medina, global pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, was elected to the position.
Lee Brand, vice president of Mid-America Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, talked about growing up poor with hard-working parents in Mississippi.
‘Grace and an opportunity’
“All I’ve ever needed in my life is God’s grace and an opportunity,” he said. “My heart hurts because of our actions as a convention,” Brand added because he believes Southern Baptists are calling into question the word of God.
“Today we will decide whether or not we’re [going to hold to] the authority and sufficiency of the Bible alone. Or, are we identifying ourselves as the next group that has gone to the Bible-plus? … We are here today to do business; let’s get the business done.”
On June 16, Brand was elected first vice president of the SBC.
Finally, Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, took the stage to a standing ovation, saying that his journey to be a candidate for SBC president began on a “back stage” in Birmingham, Alabama, at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting.
There, a “powerbroker of the Southern Baptist Convention,” concerned that Stone was “fighting progressive woke-ism that was infiltrating and infecting our Southern Baptist Convention,” told him that “leaders in Nashville do not know how to take you.”
Stone said he replied as “humbly” as he could, “You don’t have anything in Nashville that I want, and I don’t have anything in Blackshear (Georgia) that you can take. You don’t know how to handle somebody that doesn’t need a foreword for their book, a cover letter for their resumé or a recommendation to some cushy denominational job.”
Stone said he had undergone “unprecedented slander” as a candidate for SBC president and stated that the SBC must focus on evangelism, the sufficiency of Scripture and greater involvement of Southern Baptists in convention business.
“We (the Southern Baptist Convention) are not a hierarchy,” he said. The SBC is not “an umbrella organization” that governs it churches, he said. “We are a convention of 47,000-plus autonomous, local New Testament churches. The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is not here in Nashville unless you are pastoring a church here in Nashville. The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is the local New Testament church.”
Later that day, Stone was unsuccessful in his presidential bid, as Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, won the highly contested race in a runoff with Stone. Litton garnered 6,834 votes, compared to Stone’s 6,278 votes.