Reflections on the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

This is the tenth article released in a series entitled, “Tensions: Navigating Current Issues as a Kingdom Citizen.” This article is by Pastor Rickey Primrose.

The 2022 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) took place June 14-15 in Anaheim, California. Our own church family sent nine messengers to the convention which, as far as I know, was the most ever sent by MacArthur Blvd. There are indeed a lot of conversations and issues currently being addressed within the SBC that has the attention of many church members within Baptist life and beyond.

I wrote a Tensions article this same month last year following the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting entitled, “The Southern Baptist Convention: What is it? What’s going on? Why do we cooperate?” In that article I took time to explain the nature of and purpose behind our cooperation with the SBC; I also addressed what was one of the primary topics at last year’s meeting—Critical Race Theory (CRT). I would encourage anyone interested in these topics to go back and read that article.

In this edition, I would like to report on a few important matters coming out of this year’s Annual Meeting as one of the nine messengers from our church who attended the convention. If you did not see or hear of all that transpired in Anaheim, here are five points I believe you need to know.

First, you need to know that the International Mission Board (IMB) of the SBC commissioned 52 new missionaries. As I mentioned in last year’s article, the primary reason the SBC exists is for churches to cooperate together in order to train, send, and support missionaries all over the world. This was indeed on full display in Anaheim as we had the privilege of being a part of the IMB’s sending service. It is powerful to see 52 brothers and sisters stand on stage and each share about the ministry assignment God has given them to be a gospel witness in various parts of the unreached world. These spiritual siblings are obeying God’s call on their lives by leaving their homes and moving into new countries, including some where Christians are often persecuted, entrusting their lives and livelihoods into the hands of our Heavenly Father. Our church plays a part in sending these missionaries by giving approximately $125,000 each year to the Cooperative Program, which funds, among other ministries, our SBC missionaries. The IMB’s commissioning service truly was a display of the SBC at its best.

Second, you need to know that the messengers of the SBC voted to take some important first steps to address how sexual abuse is handled within our convention. An important motion was made and approved at last year’s Annual Meeting to form a Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) to direct a third-party investigation of the SBC Executive Committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. The third-party firm, Guidepost Solutions, released its report just a few weeks ago. The report revealed patterns of ignoring, or in some cases hiding, sexual abuse claims by victims, as well as failures by SBC leaders to report sexual abusers in the appropriate ways. I recorded a response to that report for our church family, which you can access here.

The SATF brought their own report to the messengers in Anaheim, which included their recommendations for how the SBC should respond to Guidepost’s report. You can read their formal recommendations in their entirety here ( The report included two formal recommendations that needed approval by the messengers at the Annual Meeting. The first was for the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) that will operate year-to-year as needed and be renewed at each subsequent Annual Meeting. Sexual abuse reform in an entity as vast as the SBC requires significant resources and expertise in order to implement systems to improve how sexual abuse is addressed in our convention. The ARITF will help navigate the formation and implementation of these systems so that long-term and substantial reform can truly take place on national, state, and local levels.

The second recommendation was for the creation of a “Ministry Check” website where records of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse can be kept and accessed by churches. In other words, this would be a database of sexual abusers that churches can access to help prevent abusers from jumping from one church to another.

Both of these recommendations were overwhelmingly approved by the messengers, which I believe demonstrates that SBC churches are taking this issue seriously. The SATF messaging was clear that these are merely initial steps of many more that need to be taken in the coming years to better protect the vulnerable within our churches and SBC entities. I am thankful that we are taking these first steps and appear to be moving in a healthy direction regarding sexual abuse reform in our convention.

Third, you need to know that Bart Barber was elected President of the SBC. Bart Barber was the candidate that we voted for as messengers of MBBC, and I truly believe he is the right man to serve in this capacity in such a time as this. There were a total of four candidates for SBC president, but this was narrowed to only two in a runoff after no candidate received at least 50% of the vote in the first round. Barber won the runoff over Tom Ascol by receiving approximately 60% of the votes.

Barber and Ascol represent two differing evaluations of the current state of the SBC. There is a segment of the SBC who believes that the convention is moving in a leftward direction, citing concerns over CRT among other issues, and believes a significant change of direction is needed within SBC entities. This was the viewpoint of Ascol, who ran on the platform of “changing the direction” of the SBC. I made the case in my article from last year that I do not believe this is a fair or accurate evaluation of the SBC. I have seen no evidence that CRT has invaded SBC entities or of any compromise of the doctrinal convictions articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message among our SBC entities.

I believe Barber is a better option for the SBC in this season for two primary reasons. First, he has been a leading voice for taking issues related to sexual abuse seriously as demonstrated during his service as a trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Second, Barber conveys a Christ-like spirit and tone that I believe will unify an increasingly fragmented convention. Barber pastors a smaller church in the rural community of Farmersville, TX (FBC Farmersville). Many of his presidential addresses take place on his farm with the sounds of cattle and tractors in the background. Barber is a man of humility and integrity that I believe will serve the SBC well over the next 1-2 years.

Fourth, you need to know that the SBC has important decisions to make regarding where lines should be drawn in our cooperation. Aside from the matters related to sexual abuse, the most discussed issue coming out of the Annual Meeting was the conversation regarding the SBC’s relationship with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, pastored by Rick Warren. The question relates to whether or not Saddleback Church should be removed from the SBC after having recently ordained female staff members as pastors. The Credentials Committee of the SBC serves the convention by determining whether or not a church should be removed from the convention due to a faith and practice that no longer aligns with the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), which is the official statement of faith for the SBC.

According to Article 3 of the SBC Constitution, churches are considered to be in friendly cooperation if they have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith” (emphasis added). The article of the BF&M in question is Article 6 on “The Church,” which reads in part, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The Credentials Committee originally brought a recommendation to the messengers of the convention that a study group be formed to help clarify the meaning of “the office of pastor” within the BF&M. Their reasoning was that some churches, including Saddleback Church, believe this phrase refers only to the Senior Pastor of a church or a body of ruling Elders depending on the church’s polity. These churches often make a distinction between the office of Pastor and the gift of pastoring, arguing that while the office of Pastor (i.e., Lead Pastor or Elder) is biblically limited to men only, the gift of pastoring can be given to both men and women. Thus, they would argue, giving a female staff member with the pastoring gift the title of “pastor” does not contradict the New Testament or the BF&M.

This was indeed one of the more eventful moments of the Annual Meeting. Southern Seminary’s President, Al Mohler, took to the mic to argue against this recommendation, contending that the word “pastor” in the BF&M clearly refers to any person with the title Pastor (not just the Senior Pastor), and therefore no study group is needed to help us interpret the phrase. Southwestern Seminary’s President, Adam Greenway, then took to the mic to bring a motion to amend the recommendation of the Credentials Committee. Rather than study the meaning of “office of pastor” in the BF&M, Greenway suggested that the study group work to bring clarity around the meaning of the phrase “closely identifies with” in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution. The goal of this proposed amendment would be to determine how much alignment with the BF&M is required for a church to be considered in friendly cooperation. Rick Warren himself then took to the mic, sharing his heart behind Saddleback’s involvement within the SBC.

At the end of all this, the Credentials Committee withdrew its recommendation and no decision was ultimately reached. The Credentials Committee has until next year’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans to determine whether or not Saddleback Church will be removed from the SBC. They can reach that decision at any point between now and next year.

What do I think? While I do not agree with the theological conclusions or polity of Saddleback Church, I would be very hesitant to remove them from the convention. This move has historically been done only in instances of significant departure from the BF&M, for example when a church ordains homosexual clergy.

I do believe the question at the heart of this issue is: How much alignment with the BF&M is required for a church to cooperate in the SBC? The SBC must bring clarity to this question as these issues are not going away. For example, there are many churches in the SBC that adhere to a position known as “open communion,” which means that any Christian, whether they have been biblically baptized or not, may participate in the Lord’s Supper. This position actually contradicts the BF&M. Are we then going to disfellowship all of these churches? Is the purpose of the BF&M to police churches within the convention or to provide boundaries for SBC entities supported by the churches of the convention? I tend to believe it is more of the latter. Churches establish a faith and practice based upon their understanding of the Bible. Those churches must answer to God for their faithfulness in doing so. I think it is dangerous to say that they must also answer to the convention regarding their adherence to every line of the BF&M, which seems to be more of a creedal than confessional form of association. Is there a degree of doctrinal deviation that would require churches in our convention to formally disassociate with a wayward church? Yes, I believe there is. Where is that line? That is the question Southern Baptists must answer.

Finally, you need to know that the SBC continues to take steps to help churches in the biblical pursuit of racial reconciliation. One of the interesting features of this year’s Annual Meeting was the almost complete absence of debate and concern over CRT, which dominated the conversation at last year’s Annual Meeting in Nashville. I only remember the phrase being spoken once at this year’s convention, during a presidential nominee speech. I believe this was a good development because, as I have written before, I believe the fear that CRT is invading our convention is not only inaccurate, but is also a smoke screen to keep us from having honest conversations regarding racial reconciliation.

While CRT seems to have at least temporarily faded into the background, I praise God that the conversation regarding racial reconciliation has not. The attendees, leaders on the platform, and members of the various committees that were elected at the Annual Meeting were as diverse as I can ever remember seeing. Former SBC President Ed Litton, along with Pastors Fred Luter and Tony Evans, also announced a new initiative called the “Unify Project” that will help “churches working toward racial unity together so the world will encounter the hope of Christ.” This conversation continues to be biblically driven and gospel-centered, and I am excited to see how the Unify Project may serve ours and other churches within our community.

Concluding Words

There were plenty of other topics that were debated and discussed at this year’s Annual Meeting, but I think these five points are the key items you need to know. If you made it to this part of the article, I assume that is an indication that you genuinely care about the health and direction of the SBC. Praise God for that! I will remind you again, as I have before, to use a high level of discretion when reading about the state of the SBC online. The information you read will be shaped and portrayed according to the presuppositions and agenda of whatever outlet you are reading. I want to reiterate that I do not believe there to be any “leftward drift” within the entities of the SBC. Read primary sources for yourself. As a good brother or sister in Christ, let’s give the benefit of the doubt wherever we can and seek to listen well for the purpose of gaining understanding of the perspectives of others. And, as always, do not hesitate to reach out to any of your Pastors if you want to discuss more about what is happening within the SBC.

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