The Way Forward for the Southern Baptist Convention: A Very Personal Word from Albert Mohler

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
June 2, 2021

Southern Baptists will soon be gathering in Nashville, and the one big question looming over the Convention will be this — how do we move forward?

This meeting comes as several issues have been building in intensity for years, while others have erupted more recently. Some of the intensity is because the issues are genuinely important. But the fact is that many Southern Baptists left the Convention meeting in Birmingham in 2019 with real concerns about the future. It did not help the SBC that there could be no annual meeting in 2020. We must pray for Southern Baptists to show up in Nashville and deal with difficult issues and emerge stronger, and we must do so in a way that honors the Lord.

Back in 2019, I had been approached by many Southern Baptists, who asked me to be willing to be nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. After prayer and conversation over several months, I came to the conclusion that allowing my nomination would be the right thing to do. I have spent my life serving Southern Baptists, and I will never decline an opportunity to serve Southern Baptists.

The crucial factor in my decision was the case that many people made to me about why I should allow my nomination at that time. I said yes, in hope that I could offer statesmanship, a steady hand, denominational experience, theological conviction, and a calm spirit to all Southern Baptists. I love Southern Baptists, and I think my decades of commitment make that clear. I love the way Southern Baptists work together. I love the basic common sense and bedrock beliefs that mark Southern Baptists as a people. I believe in our doctrine, I believe in our polity, I believe in our mission, and I believe that God has a great purpose for the SBC going forward.

Much has changed in our world in the last two years, but my willingness to be nominated as SBC president remains. I do not have to serve Southern Baptists in this way, but if I can be of service to Southern Baptists at this critical juncture, I will consider that service to be a great honor and a precious stewardship. If I did not believe I would help in a unique way, I would not allow my nomination. I move ahead in the sincere hope that I can help Southern Baptists to be faithful in our generation and ready to be even more faithful in the generations to come.

How? Beyond the formal responsibilities of the SBC president as detailed in our constitution and by-laws, there are several steps I would take, if elected, to help move Southern Baptists forward, together.

First, I will call Southern Baptists back to our bedrock convictions, not just in a general affirmation, but in a way that will highlight the beliefs that we share and that we must not compromise. The sad fact is that we have neglected giving adequate attention to doctrine since the adoption of the Baptist Faith & Message revision in 2000. We must affirm our beliefs out loud, in public, together. Our beliefs need to be platformed, not just filed away for future reference. There has been no real emphasis on our beliefs in almost a generation. Should we wonder that questions have arisen and clarifications are now necessary? The Baptist Faith & Message is our statement of doctrinal unity. Let’s embrace it as a statement of our living faith and faithfulness.

Second, I will use the convening influence of the SBC president to call Southern Baptists to talk to each other about the issues of strain and stress. For some reason, it seems that Southern Baptists have developed an allergy to talking to each other, openly and honestly, about difficult issues. How would that work for your family or your church? The times in which we live make certain that difficult issues will arise. I intend to put Southern Baptists in rooms with each other, talking to each other. I mean putting people who may disagree on some issues talking about how to move forward. This process will not be easy, but we are much better when we are working together in a room than when we are shouting at each other from afar.

Third, I will encourage Southern Baptists to avoid gathering in separate corners as if we are waiting for a fight in the ring. Baptists have a right to form whatever organizations they wish, but if Southern Baptists withdraw to talk only with an inner ring of those with whom they agree about disputed issues, there is no way to move forward. We must not be the U.S. Congress divided into caucuses. I will make sure that every Southern Baptist is represented at the table.

Fourth, I will seek to represent Southern Baptists before the watching world with fidelity and respect. I want Southern Baptists to be proud and confident when they know the SBC president is speaking. I will do my utmost to make certain that the SBC is represented well, thoughtfully, winsomely, and confidently, as I have for over 30 years in denominational life. I will tell the world what Southern Baptists believe, and why we hold those beliefs, and I will do so with pride.

Fifth, I will seek to make SBC leaders more accessible to all Southern Baptists, starting with the messengers to the annual convention. There is not enough time in the business sessions for more than a few questions to be asked of any entity president. There is no reason why our presidents should not make themselves available during the days of the convention for some kind of forum that would allow Baptists to ask questions and just get to know leaders personally. I think that will build trust, and trust is the currency of our cooperation.

Sixth, I will seek to draw the work of Southern Baptists at every level into closer conversation and cooperation. There is no earthly explanation for the fact that SBC leaders—all of us—and state convention leaders do not meet together annually. We have to invest time together if we are going to work together. I really do know that state convention leaders and national leaders want to work together in greater cooperation and energy. But we cannot be too busy that we do not spend time together.

Seventh, I will hope to lead Southern Baptists to avoid embarrassment. That may seem unnecessary to say, but we have been embarrassed by leadership failures and behavior that has brought disrepute upon the Convention. We are better than this, and the work of the gospel is at stake.

Eighth, I will do my best to convince Southern Baptists to talk to each other rather than to tweet at each other. Social media have their place, but media platforms invite a snarky and angry discourse that poisons our ability to work together. Let’s not communicate on Twitter any differently than we would communicate face-to-face. And, where possible, let’s communicate with each other before we communicate at each other.

Ninth, I will tell Southern Baptists the truth. We face real challenges within and without. We can handle the truth. We have to face the reality that faithfulness in ministry, evangelism, and missions will require more of us than ever before. Add to that the headwinds of an increasingly hostile culture. We must face the truth and that task starts at home, but it extends to an honest understanding of what it will take for Southern Baptists to continue to be faithful as a Great Commission people.

Tenth, and finally, I will commit to leading the Southern Baptist Convention with joy. I love Southern Baptists, and our meetings and work should be marked by the deep and irrepressible joy that marked the early church. Joy comes from Christ, and Christ’s people must follow the command of the Apostle James, “count it all joy.” (James 1:2)

It will be my great joy and privilege to serve Southern Baptists through all my days. If Southern Baptists ask me to be president in Nashville, that will just be added joy. But in any event, I consider serving Southern Baptists to be the great privilege of my life. Let’s work to make certain that the SBC inherited by our grandchildren is marked by truth, courage, cooperation, and joy.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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