Archives For Reporter’s Notebook

A sunset in the rearview mirror of car as a races down the road

I recall researching an article a few years back on the actions messengers took at certain conventions. Some years were marked by insightful and course-altering votes; others had no discernable effect. With the advantage of hindsight, we ask, What actions from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will have lasting impact on our denomination and the effectiveness of our work in the world?

The vote on alt-right racism will be remembered; and the appointment of a task force on evangelism has the potential to change our direction. But there was one motion that could produce even greater, meaningful change—if it makes it past the Executive Committee. And there’s a second that I want to suggest.

Modest proposal 1: Shall we merge the mission boards?

A couple of years ago, a messenger moved that a merger of the North American and International Mission Boards be studied. When his motion was ruled out of order for parliamentary reasons, the messenger pleaded that exploration of the issue not be delayed because of procedural rules. He cited the emerging financial crisis of the IMB and cuts in missionaries on the field that had just been announced as motivating factors. At the time, it was clear that NAMB had plenty of reserves, and a merger could fix the money crunch. But rules are rules, and the motion was dead.

Until this year.

A similar motion was made at the 2017 meeting in Phoenix. Here’s how Baptist Press reported it, in a list of motions that were referred to the Executive Committee:

“A motion by Harvey Brown of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., requesting the president appoint a study committee to consider the feasibility of merging IMB and NAMB.”

There was no discussion this time around, or emotional pleading for the sake of missionaries on the field. And frankly, it seems some of steam has escaped on this topic.

IMB reported it is on firm financial footing. IMB President David Platt has weathered a couple of storms, and with the honeymoon over, he appears to be settling in for a long ministry focused on global missions. Platt still partners with NAMB, speaking at conferences about church planting in North America. But his heart beats for the peoples of the world.

And NAMB President Kevin Ezell has stopped making the offer, publically at least, for IMB to relocate from Richmond to Alpharetta. During Platt’s first year, Ezell said there was plenty of room at NAMB’s Georgia headquarters since his administrative staff had been radically downsized. Ezell still cheers for Platt’s presidency, but the pair aren’t making as many joint appearances. Maybe both have found their footing.

The question arises every decade or two: Is the distinction between “home” missions and “foreign” missions outdated (just as those terms are)? Should missions today be focused more on people groups and languages than geography—including in the United States? As the “nations” (translating ethnos as “nations” or “peoples”) have come to North America, should missionaries here share the gospel with them in the same ways they would back in their home countries?

And this: Should state conventions (again) lead church planting in their states, as the missions personnel most familiar with the nearby mission field and with the partner churches who can facilitate evangelistic church planting ministry?

Will one mission board focused on people groups, and state conventions focused on their own neighborhoods better achieve the evangelization of the world and the U.S.?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s a good time to explore the issue.

Modest proposal 2: Virtual messengers? In the next issue.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

The year of orange

Lisa Misner Sergent —  January 14, 2016

Larycia Hawkins, a Wheaton College professor, announced she would wear a Muslim headscarf throughout Advent as a way of showing solidarity with Muslims. In a Facebook post, the professor explained she’d wear a hijab to work, class, and church.

In particular, Hawkins, a Christian, said she wishes to express support for Muslim women. “I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity,” Hawkins wrote. “I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay.”

For some observers, her demonstration missed the mark. In 2015 we saw many Christians trying to identify with people in need: Some identified with Muslims in general as the American political rhetoric turned against them. Some identified with Syrian refugees, including Muslims and Christians, fleeing persecution. And for some American evangelicals, the fashion statement of the year was not a headscarf, but a jumpsuit.

As the Illinois Baptist editors discussed the images that characterized 2015, there was a strong case to be made for that grainy video freeze-frame we saw in February: 21 Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on a Libyan beach with knives held to their throats by ISIS-rebel captors. Gratefully, the image from just seconds later was not widely distributed by news services: 21 Christians beheaded.

This may have been the most horrific image any of us have ever seen.

It proved what we have heard all our lives. Christians will face persecution for our faith and some may be martyred. But not in our lifetimes has martyrdom seemed so possible, or even probable. No longer is it that Christians may be martyred. Christians will be martyred. The mass shooting in San Bernardino by a radicalized Islamic couple proves it can happen even here in the United States.

If we’re looking for someone to identify with, let’s consider again those men in orange jumpsuits. Their lives—and deaths—force us to confront the strength of our own faith. Jesus told us to lay down our lives and take up the cross.

In contemporary terms, are we ready to wear orange?

Editor’s note: Hawkins is on paid leave after her comments on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.  Wheaton administrators have recommended her termination from the college.

– DER