As I reflect on what the Southern Baptist Convention has become, I can’t help but believe that my father would be grieved. Once the music ended, it became difficult to discern who the message was supposed to be about.
When I was a child, I found myself accompanying my father many times as he would go to preach. One of my earliest memories is of him preaching somewhere about the sheep and the goats that Jesus describes in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Through the limitations of my 5-year-old perspective, I understood that the people who meet the needs of the hurting, the broken and the bound are actually displaying a caliber of love that shows they belong to Jesus. I knew I did not want to miss out on heaven, so I walked down the aisle and accepted my father’s right hand of fellowship.
As I grew and matured, my understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” also grew and matured. So when I see our leadership showing a greater concern for the well-being of its power base than for the protection of the vulnerable and abused whom God entrusts to our care, the implications frighten me.
In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul encourages us through his message to his young protégée Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. As we handle the necessary business of running the denomination, so much of our agenda seems to be driven by fear.
Too many of us are more motivated by the ill-informed hyperbolization of a plausible cure than we are by the awareness of the nature of the disease that so perilously plagues us. The bogeyman that gets resurrected and exploited consistently to distract us from the power of applying sound judgment as we pursue godly justice has got to be one exhausted fellow.
C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape” must be delighted to see us so willing to be driven and motivated by fear that we animate and magnify things we can’t even define, let alone comprehend, in order to preserve our status quo comfort.
From the night before Jesus faced the Cross, we are blessed to be able to eavesdrop on a most intimate conversation with his father in the 17th chapter of John. In this critical bottom-line prayer for his beloved bride, does Jesus pray that we get right on all the issues, or that we convince the world (or ourselves) of our moral superiority, or that we successfully pursue an agenda driven by our own power, prosperity and protection? No, Jesus prays that his followers be one and thus demonstrate such a beautiful divinely illuminated unity that the world would be convinced by the integrity of our love.
“Jesus prays that his followers be one and thus demonstrate such a beautiful divinely illuminated unity that the world would be convinced by the integrity of our love.”
As the world so desperately needs the light of Jesus’ love clothed in truth and truth clothed in love, we display and broadcast mean-spirited name calling, cloak-and-dagger political jockeying, and the power-obsessed tendency to compromise what we say we believe. And although we may attempt to comfort ourselves by saying it is all in pursuit of spreading the truth of the gospel, too many of us also swear upon the truths of our favorite political heroes with just as much fervent devotion. A political cult is still a cult. If one truth proves to be lacking, why should the world believe the other?
My father, Sid Smith Jr., served the Southern Baptist Convention for decades with integrity, brilliance, wisdom, discipline, courage and an unwavering commitment to biblical truth. But he is not the first Father that comes to mind when I reflect on our grievous behavior.
Sid Smith III is a music ministry consultant and serves at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. His father, Sid Smith Jr., was a pioneer Southern Baptist Convention leader credited with starting more than 400 predominantly Black SBC churches.