(Editor’s note: New Orleans in Rear View. Now that we’re back home, our Illinois Baptist news team reflects on the question: What is the lasting value of the 2012 SBC?)
Posted by Eric Reed
Descending the escalator on the final day of the convention, I watched on the floor below me as a four-year-old had a meltdown. He wasn’t alone. His sister, a couple of years younger, perched in a carrier seat atop a stroller, teared up, and eventually wailed.
I felt the same way. We were all tired. The only difference between us was, I couldn’t get away with a meltdown.
Landing at the foot of the two-story escalator, I was suddenly in a sea of small children. “Don’t run!” the father of one said futilely. “There are grown-ups here.”
Not as many grown-ups as children, it seemed at times. This was a convention of young people. Once the domain of people with hair in various shades of gray and blue, this gathering was marked by a large percentage of young adults, many of whom bought their families. (There were strollers everywhere, even a “stroller section” roped off near the platform.) And their presence was felt in all the proceedings of the convention.
Perhaps the Pastors Conference foreshadowed a shift we should notice. Opening on Fathers Day, the line-up included sons introducing their better-known fathers as conference speakers. “Dad’s gonna bring the heat!” one son said before his father preached. But in one notable reversal, it was the father, a former convention president, who introduced his up-and-coming son. There was a changing of the guard, it seemed.
The most challenging and emotionally gripping moments among the pre-meeting sermons came from the youngest preacher, in his early 30s.
The debate over use of “the sinner’s prayer” started with young people, as an older generation’s tried and accepted method is challenged.
And it is young people who raised debate over Reformed theology and Calvinism. A young pastor (age 40, son of a past SBC president) drafted a response and coined the phrase “Traditionalists” to describe his (and many elders’) Southern Baptist theology.
Many messengers speaking from the floor mics during the business sessions were younger pastors.
This emergence of young people in SBC life was clearest at the Baptist 21 panel discussion (and turkey po-boy lunch). “21” in the name refers to 21st century, but it might have characterized their age. Fully half the people in the SRO crowd of nearly 1,000 were in their 20s and 30s.
For watching the panel discussion, the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s was ancient history. Like WW2. Many of them were not born at the time today’s senior convention leaders stopped what they described as a left-leaning drift and returned the denomination to biblical inerrancy. For these young people, Judge Paul Pressler and Dr. Paige Patterson are historical figures to be honored (which they were at the luncheon).
For a few minutes in New Orleans, the convention’s past met its future. And it was clear in that moment that this is not your grandfather’s SBC.
Or even your father’s.
It belongs to the kids.