Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buck's Mother: "Thou Shalt Be Flexible for Then You Will Never Be Bent Out of Shape"

My wife and I went to OKC Monday night with a couple of friends to watch the critically acclaimed movie Buck. It's the only movie I am aware of that has received 98% positive reviews on Flixster by those who've seen it. Buck Brannaman is a fifty year old Horse Whisperer, and the movie is a documentary, following Buck around the United States as he trains horses without using harsh techniques. Buck is compassionate and sensitive to horses' fears of being controlled and dominated. Buck himself was brutally abused by his alcoholic father growing up, and his understanding of fear--and how to overcome it--comes from his inner core. Buck uses a gentle tone and a  loving hand to break some of the wildest colts and predator horses known to man. He has what seems like a magic touch, but he explains throughout the movie that there is no secret. You treat a horse like you would a frightened human being.

My favorite part of the movie was when the movie's producer interviews Buck's foster mother. Buck's mother died when he was young, and when the local police were told by Buck's football coach of the whelps and bruises on Buck's back, sustained while being incessantly beaten by his father, the law removed Buck from his home. He was taken to a lady who was already caring for twenty other foster kids. Eventually this woman and her husband adopted Buck. Buck still calls her "mother," and during the interview, as Buck sat beside his mom, she described the commandment by which she lived her life and taught Buck to live his: "Thou shalt be flexible for then you will never be bent out of shape."

A great motto from a great movie. I highly recommend "Buck." Not too many theaters have picked it up yet, but it won the top three awards at last year's Sundance Festival. It's a must see for the entire family.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"My Kingdom Is Not of this World": New York's Law Recognizing Gay Marriage

By now I'm sure you have heard that the state of New York has decided to make gay marriages legal. New York's State Senate passed a bill over the weekend, and New York's Governor has said he’ll sign it. New York is set to become the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

Some Christians are distraught over this proposed law. It is evidence, say these Christians, that the United States is continuing its cultural and moral decline. Without doubt, the United States is changing. But unlike some of my Christian friends the new law causes me no distress. I am unconcerned with New York's proposed new law not because I believe gay marriage is of God. On the contrary, I believe the Bible teaches the Creator never sanctions homosexuality. The reason I am not distressed with a continuing movement of states toward recognizing gay marriage is because the kingdom of Christ has nothing to do with a political entity, including nations and states.

Dee over at Wartburg Watch has pointed my attention to an amazing quote by the erudite Christian thinker C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis wrote:

"There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

C.S. Lewis
I realize that some who wish to marry a person of the same sex will consider themselves Christians and believe themselves to be under the approbation and favor of God. The Bible, however, is quite clear, not just in specific passages but throughout the sacred text, that same sex unions are disapproved by God (i.e. God calls homosexuality "sin"), and unless God by His grace grants the homosexual repentance, the homosexual--like the adulterer, the thief, the pedophile, the liar, etc...-- will find himself facing the wrath of God upon death.

The issue in C.S. Lewis' day was divorce. Some Christians were very upset that the government was making it "easier" for men and women to divorce one another. C.S. Lewis wrote:

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. 

A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives."

The problem with political liberals and political conservatives who happen to be Christian is that they confuse the church with the state and vice-versa. Christ said, "My kingdom is NOT of this world" and the sooner His followers realize this, the less angry we Christians will be when the political world moves in directions opposite of the principles of Scripture. It doesn't mean we don't participate in the political process, it just means as C.S. Lewis brilliantly pointed out, that we cannot expect the majority of people in America to live Christian lives, for the majority of people in America may not even know the Christ of whom we speak.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Expression of Gratitude to God for the Gift of My Wife

This past weekend we had the privilege of celebrating our first wedding as parents. Rachelle and I have been married for almost thirty years and we have four children, only one of whom remains in the home. It is usually customary to express appreciation for one's wife on birthdays, anniversarys, or possibly Mother's Day, but I've chosen today to say a word of appreciation for my wife simply because as I reflect over the last weekend, I am overwhelmed at her accomplishments. I officiated the wedding, but Rachelle organized it (at least our part in terms of the groom's parents). I attended the wedding, but my wife

Monday, June 20, 2011

Militant Homosexuals: Loving Them to Christ Without Lambasting Them at Church

In November of 2002 I was elected President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. A militant group of homosexuals and lesbians in Oklahoma called SoulForce had been picketing SBC churches on Sunday during worship services, attempting to intimidate church members and disrupt services. These pickets were drawing a great deal of publicity. SoulForce leaders stated their goal was"to change the hearts and minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns." SoulForce turned their attention toward me and my church when I was elected President of the BGCO.

SoulForce had listened to my exposition of Romans 1:22-28 and discovered that I believe those who give a vociferous defense of lesbian and homosexual sexual activity as conduct that is approved by God--similar to people who give a defense of adulterous, pedophilic or other sexually deviant behaviors as conduct approved by God--are giving evidence of 'reprobation.' A reprobate, by the definition of the word, means"one disapproved by God."  The actual Latin word was used in the Roman market place for the testing of precious metals. A "reprobate" metal was not approved as genuine and therefore not accepted. In a similar manner God declares as reprobate any sinner who continually embraces as normal and moral that behavior which God categorically calls abnormal and immoral.

Here is where it gets a little tricky for some. The question is not whether or not a sinner who struggles with same sex attraction and/or homosexual or lesbian sexual behavior can become a Christian. The most militant homosexual or lesbian can be redeemed by God for the gospel is all about God making the disapproved approved. Our just God is the justifier of the ungodly.  God performs the work of removing sinners from their state of reprobation through the work of His Son and His Spirit. It is God who justifies sinners, never sinners who justify themselves. This is why Paul instructed Christians to "examine . . . prove . . . and know . . . lest ye be reprobates" (II Corinthians 13:5). "Examine ... prove .. and know" are active words that direct us to a passive work. God saves. We examine to ensure that He has saved us. The question at hand is whether or not a Christian can continue to call his homosexual sexual behavior "approved by God."

The Evidence of God's Saving Grace

What is the evidence of God's grace?  The Bible identifies three major indicators that God has chosen to deliver us from a state of  just condemnation into a state of gracious approbation: (1). Faith in Jesus Christ. We come to believe that God has obtained our deliverance from condemnation at the cross. Our faith in Christ also happens to be a gift from Christ, for He is the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2). Our faith is NOT the basis of our salvation, it is the evidence of our salvation. God saves. We believe God has saved us. (2). Hope that those sins in our lives which required God to place His Son on the cross are being progressively removed from us by the power of the Holy Spirit and God's work of sanctification within us. The first indication we possess this hope is our ability to say "I have indeed sinned against God."  For without being able to call sin what God calls sin, there is no hope (or desire) for those sins to be removed from us. (3). Love for others. This "love,"--unconditional, personal, agape love--is the distinguishing mark of true Christianity (see I Cor. 13; John 13:35).

For the one who finds himself attracted to same sex sexual relationships, the evidence of God's grace is not the complete absence of homosexual sexual desires and/or behavior in the justified sinner, but the internal attitude of the justified sinner toward his tendencies of desire for and participation in homosexual behavior. The same could be said of the justified sinner who struggles with other sexual sins, addictions, and moral transgressions. Though God's grace finishes the condemnation of our sins for us, it only begins the battle over our sins in us.

I believe that the leaders of SoulForce, unless changed by God's grace, will die in a state of reprobation. They actively and aggressively approve of that which God disapproves. Yet I can no more change their minds about the appropriateness of their homosexual and lesbian sexual conduct than a man by sheer will or moral persuasion can rocket others to the moon. There is an inability in a reprobate that requires God's grace and goodness to remove. I am simply called, as a recipient of His grace, to love those in need of His grace. In other words, the grace of God is to be seen and felt by sinners through the graciousness of God's people. That's easy for me. How can I condemn the man living in an unreprentant homosexual lifestyle when my own sins would also justly condemn me were it not for God's saving grace?

When I became President of the BGCO my views on homosexuality didn't change. They still haven't. The only thing that changed is how people perceived me. In SoulForce's case I was now a "religious leader" that they could target for "a change of heart and mind" regarding my anti-homosexuality. Do you find it fascinating that militant homosexuals (or adulterers, or other sexually immoral people)--apart from the saving grace of God--press to change the hearts and minds of born-again Christians by aggressively confronting us? The only way we could ever agree with them about homosexuality would be if God removed from us His saving grace "which changes our hearts and minds" about sin. Ironically, if the militant homosexuals came to experience God's saving grace a "change of heart and mind" would be the precise thing that would come to them. But you can't yell at people, scream at people, or condemn people without grace--for such were you. We are to love them to Christ without lambasting them at church.

The Meeting with the Militant Homosexual Organization

As soon as I was elected BGCO President SoulForce asked  me to meet with them. SoulForce's previous requests for a meeting with the BGCO President had been denied. To the surprise of SoulForce, I agreed. I told them they could pick the time and the place and I would travel to meet with them. I only asked that Vice-President Buddy Hunt, a friend and fellow pastor, be allowed to accompany me. They agreed.

We met in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The executive officers of SoulForce included three women and two men. Buddy and I arrived and we introduced ourselves to those present. There was some coffee and the seven of us gathered around a table and visited for a while. I won't mention the names of the five from SoulForce who were present, but I spent several minutes asking personal questions about the background, families and careers of each one. I learned that one of the ladies had 'discovered she was a lesbian' while attending Oklahoma Baptist University, and she was instrumental in starting a a gay/lesbian support group on the campus of OBU in the 1970's. I listened patiently and earnestly, never interrupting any of the stories I heard except maybe to ask another personal question formed out of my own interest. The get acquainted time was genuine, not forced. I learned of some mutual friends that we shared and was delighted to be able to converse on a personal level. I think my interest in their lives caught them completely off-guard.

Then, SoulForce got down to business. They asked me my views on homosexuality. I spoke clearly, articulating what I believe the Bible teaches, laying out for them in a calm and steady voice what I have written above. When I finished one of the men began to question me if I believed he would be going to hell because he was sexually involved with another man. I patiently explained that the Bible teaches hell is God's just judgment for sin, and unless Christ died and atoned for his sins, he would be experiencing God's just judgment in hell. He said he did not believe it was sin for a man to have sex with another man. He went on to say that what would be sin for him would be violating his vows of sexual fidelity to the male lover with whom he had chosen to be in union. In other words, sex with multiple men was sin to him, not sex with one man.

He told me about reading "Batman and Robin" when he was just a boy, and knowing that he would one day be Robin to his own personal Batman. When he was in college he met his personal Batman. His male lover became his spouse. The SoulForce leader explained to me that he now loved this man more than life itself. This relationship that had brought him so much happiness, so much comfort, and so much security was the very thing that Southern Baptist pastors were saying would send him to hell. Amazingly, this man began to weep as he spoke to me. I sat silently as the man attempted to regain his composure. He then went on to explain that his lover was very ill, possibly dying. He hated Southern Baptists because we condemned people like him and his lover to hell.

Loving the Homosexual Who Hated Southern Baptists

Some of my Southern Baptist pastor friends might ridicule me for what I did next, but bear with me, there is an amazing end to the story.

I asked the homosexual man if I could pray for him and his lover. Puzzled, the group of five from SoulForce asked me "Pray for what?" I said I wanted to pray for the physical healing of this man's lover. I then stood and asked them if we could hold hands. As we joined hands in a circle I asked the Great Physician to bring healing to my new friend's lover. I prayed that God would grant mercy and grace to raise him from his sick bed and allow the restoration of his health. I was specific in my prayer, and it was similar to the requests I have made of the Lord during hundreds of hospital visitations. When I said "Amen" we all sat down in silence.

Emmanuel, Enid
For a while, nobody said anything. Then the President of SoulForce said, "Wade, we wanted to meet with you today because we know your views on homosexuality. It is our intention, if we cannot change your mind about homosexuality, to inform you that we will picket  your church every Sunday as long as you are President of the BGCO."

I explained that they were welcome to picket our church, and that if their members were driving a long distance to come, we would provide a meal for them after church. In addition, if SoulForce intended to picket after the evening service and wished to remain overnight, I was positive we could provide for them some accomodations.

They sat with their mouths agape.

Finally, the Vice-President of SoulForce said, "But we don't think you understand. We will be shouting, holding signs, demonstrating against what we believe is "homophopia" in the Southern Baptist Convention. We don't think you will like us coming."

I said, "Look, I have already spent an hour visiting with you, and not only do I like you as people, I love you enough to pray for you the way I pray for my own church family. If you are coming to picket Emmanuel, we will welcome you with open arms. You are my friends. Do what you feel led to do. I can't speak for my entire congregation, but I've been pastor at Emmanuel long enough to know that most of them, and I would hope all of them, would respond the way I am. You are welcome to picket our church. Know that not only are we not afraid of you, we love you."

Astonishment filled the room.

The Million Dollar Question

I was then asked the following question: "Don't you wish to convince us that what you have said about homosexuality is right and what we are saying is wrong?"

I then said, "To be candid, I don't think I am the one with the agenda. You asked me to meet. You have stated it is your desire to change my mind. You are planning on picketing the church I pastor to convince our people that we are homophobic. My only agenda is to get to know you and to love you. If you ask me what I believe about homosexuality, which you did earlier in our meeting, I will tell you. But it is beyond my ability to convince you that what I am saying is true. Only God can convince you that what feels so right to you is in reality disapproved of by Him. I am simply called by Heavenly Father to love you where you are and that is precisely what I intend to do."

It was very quiet for what seemed like a long time. The five from SoulForce looked at each other and then one of them shrugged as if to say, "We are not really sure what to do next." The discussion turned toward the possibility of a future meeting, and I told them I would be happy to meet again if they would like.

We stood and Buddy and I personally hugged all five of them and then we suggested we close in prayer. I prayed for each of the men and women by name and for the Lord's blessings on their lives. I acknowledged our differences of belief, but I prayed that our new friends might feel and experience the love of God through Buddy and me. I further prayed that to whatever extent our Southern Baptist Convention practiced homophobia and minimized the deep internal struggle in the hearts of those who felt themselves created by God as a homosexual or lesbian, that God would wake us Southern Baptists to the reality that His kingdom is only expanded by speaking the truth in love, and that truth without love is in reality no truth at all.

My prayer was closed with a hearty round of "Amens." I later received three very cordial letters of thanks from individuals who attended that the SoulForce meeting.

The Rest of the Story

Emmanuel, Enid was never picketed by SoulForce during my entire two years of service as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

In June of 2004 Buddy Hunt and I were walking together outside the Convention Hall at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. SoulForce was picketing the SBC. It was a very large protest and people were shouting at SBC messengers as they crossed the street to enter the Convention Hall. All of the sudden, I head my name shouted loudly. Not once, but several times. I looked over at the protestors and saw our five SoulForce friends from Oklahoma. Buddy and I went over to where they were and gave them all warm greetings and hugs. All the protestors grew silent as they watched two SBC pastors with messenger tags on their suit coats converse with the five leaders of the SoulForce Oklahoma outside the Southern Baptist Convention. During the entire ten minutes we spoke with one another, there was no protesting taking place. Buddy and I later laughed at what SBC pastors must have thought when they saw us being hailed and called over by the group that had staged multiple protests at the SBC. It was in Indianapolis that I saw the power of actually loving militant homosexuals. We are really good at passing resolutions of condemnation against homosexuality, but it was at Indianopolis I saw the results of actually accepting the homosexual.  I don't believe my five homosexual friends have yet come to faith in Christ, but I know that God may very well use my goodness and kindness to them to help them understand the grace of Christianity.

I offer this post as a response to some of my fellow Southern Baptist pastors who have gone ballistic over Dr. Al Mohler's comments regarding homosexuality at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Mohler had the audacity to propose that Southern Baptists have practiced a form of homophobia and have often "lied" about homosexuality by using the language of "choice" without acknowledging the deeper internal conflict (the sin nature) at work within. Dr. Mohler believes we could do more to love militant homosexuals while we share the gospel with the world. I agree with Dr. Mohler.

I also think that those SBC pastors who disagree with Mohler's views have never attempted to love a militant homosexual to Christ. If I'm wrong, I'd like to hear how they've done it. I know Dr. Mohler has ministered to militant homosexuals. I know I have. I would much rather be in a Convention where pastors actually love the sinner while speaking the truth in love than where pastors hate the sinner while shouting the truth in anger. 

God closed the mouths of the carnivores in Daniel's den millenia ago. I sometimes wish God would staple shut the mouths of certain SBC pastors today until they actually demonstrate love to people in need of God's grace. If we would be as concerned with practicing the gospel of grace as we are preaching the gospel of grace, we might be surprised what God does in the lives of those who consider us their enemies.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day to a Father that Taught Me All I Know about Grace

Today I would like to honor my father, Paul Burleson (pictured here on his 70th birthday), who is the most wonderful father any person could ever hope to have. Most people know my father for his over five decades of leadership in the Southern Baptist circles, including pastoring some of the largest and fastest growing SBC churches in the 1970's and 1980's. His ministry to Southwestern Seminary students and professors during the time he was pastor of Southcliff Baptist Church in Forth Worth, Texas is legendary. His pastors and wives marriage retreats, co-led by his wife of over 50 years (and my mother) Mary Burleson, have been instrumental in strengthening, healing and restoring hundreds of marriages. I know him, however as dad. Whatever theology I have is due to his instruction. Whatever understanding of grace in relationships I have is due to his example. Whatever success I have in life is due to his influence. Sure, I know my heavenly Father is ultimately my Source, but it helps when one's earthly father makes it easy to comprehend the love of the heavenly Father. Happy Father's Day dad. You and mom are the absolute best. Rachelle and I hope we are half as good-lookin and half as energetic as you two when we reach 70! P.S. If you (the reader) would like to be encouraged and strengthened by the writings of a man who "gets it," I would encourage you to read my father's blog VTM BOTTOMLINE. You will be blessed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

To Some Southern Baptist Preachers Jesus Is Just Another Southern Baptist Preacher

Some Southern Baptist pastors have created an image of Jesus that is purely cultural. Jesus is a white male who loves grits, buttermilk and cornbread. He eschews beer with the boys, but he loves Nascar and football. He's in church on Sunday morning and night, visitation on Monday night, and prayer meeting on Wednesday night. He gives ten percent of his income to the church, and refuses to be friends with any church member who doesn't. He's a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association. He hates homosexuality (homos) more than he does adultery (people who have an 'affair'). He is silent about obesity caused by the overindulgence of food but loudly condemns anybody who even thinks of drinking one glass of wine. He speaks with sappy spiritual sentimentality about loving the world, but he is quick to grab a microphone and loudly condemn any person who doesn't see the world like he does.  He wants everyone to look like him, act like him, talk like him, be like him. In short, Jesus is a  Southern Baptist pastor to many Southern Baptist pastors.

We have lost any concept of the transcendence of God. Transcendence is defined as "a state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience."  Jesus is, by virtue of His personhood, way beyond our experience. When we try to mold Jesus into our image, we get a "holy" and "righteous" anger with fellow pastors who don't look like us.

Some fellow Southern Baptist pastors are trying to make an issue of Al Mohler's statement that Southern Baptists have "lied" about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced "homophobia" (fear of homosexuals) in years past. These Southern Baptist pastors are in a frenzy (see here and here). What is absolutely absurd about this entire situation is that Dr. Al Mohler has written over 200 articles clearly detailing a sound, biblical view of homosexuality, and even has gone on Larry King to stand for biblical truth. The disagreement going on is not over whether or not homosexuality is sin (the Bible is clear that it is), but how Southern Baptists should relate to sinners who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. Those Southern Baptist pastors who see Jesus as a Southern Baptist pastor are demanding Al Mohler explain how Southern Baptists have lied about homosexuality and how Southern Baptists have been homophobic.

Dr. Mohler is capable of answering for himself, but allow me to point out just one example of homophobia in Southern Baptist circles. In 1992 the Southern Baptist Convention  changed Article III of the SBC Constitution (change is emboldened).

Article III. Membership: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the Convention as follows:
 1. One (1) messenger from each church which: (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.
2. One (1) additional messenger from each such church for every two hundred and fifty (250) members; or for each $250.00 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.
3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than ten .
4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.
Do you see the homophobia? The issue of homosexuality becomes the defining factor of whether or not a church is in cooperation with the SBC. Why did we not change the consitution to say the following?

Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse adulterous behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse pedophilic behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse gluttonous behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse drunkenness behavor.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse addictive behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse arrogant behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse gossiping behavior.
Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse hateful behavior.
We all are in need of a Savior. Yes, homosexuals fight hard to try to convince themselves their actions are not sin. So too do gossips. So too do the proud. So too do adulterers. So too do gluttons.
Oh well. You get the picture. Why the homophobia? The problem we have right now in the Southern Baptist Convention is Southern Baptist preachers who honestly believe that Jesus would never sit down with a militant homosexual and have a cordial conservation with him over dinner (think Zacchaeus), or that Jesus would ever care to be in the presence of a loud-mouth radical lesbian who is known throughout the city for her activism much less offer to help the lesbian with repairs on her home or pay for her groceries (think woman at the well), or that Jesus would ever go to the homes of homosexuals and open the Scriptures and teach them about Himself. They don't think Jesus would EVER do that because THEY would never do that. This kind of legalism becomes the death knell of any spiritual vitality in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Jesus is not just another Southern Baptist preacher. Thank God He is not, and thank God He is God. Maybe Al Mohler has caught a glimpse of Jesus in ways his critics have not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Al Mohler Publicly and Verbally Spanks Peter Lumpkins at the 2011 SBC in Phoenix, Arizona

Very few people know that former Southern Baptist Convention pastor Peter Lumpkins has taken to his blog to attempt to personally denigrate and shame a fellow Southern Baptist pastor named Jonathan Merritt for being "soft on homosexuality." Now they do. Peter Lumpkins attempted to humiliate Jonathan Merritt and Al Mohler on this very issue at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Merritt, son of former SBC President James Merritt, has written that Southern Baptists could do more to minister to homosexuals rather than simply condemning them. Peter Lumpkins has taken exception to Merritt's statements. What has particular drawn Lumpkins' ire is an article that Jonathan Merritt wrote where he interviewed  Southern Seminary President Al Mohler.

In that interview Jonathan Merritt quoted Al Mohler as saying to him, "We've (Southern Baptists) lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as homophobia... We've used the choice language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice."

After Al Mohler made his Southern Seminary report at the SBC in Phoenix, Peter Lumpkins grabbed a microphone and publicly addressed the Southern Baptist Convention at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time to try to trap Southern Seminary President Al Mohler and embarrass Jonathan Merritt. Lumpkins went into a five minute tiff over Al Mohler's "alleged" quotes (see above).

Mr. Lumpkins said to Mohler, "I am interested if in fact these words were spoken by you in the interview. If so, how have Southern Baptists lied? How have we practiced homophobia? If not, has Jonathan Merritt lied?"  Does anybody else find it strange that Peter has the answers to these questions, given to him privately by Jonathan Merrit himself, but Peter insists on making the issue "public?" The only reason Peter would try to trap Mohler and shame Merritt is because he doesn't like what Merritt and Mohler have said about ministry to homosexuals, and in Peter's narrow framework, "if you don't think like I do, you are not legitimate Southern Baptist!"

The President of the SBC interrupted Lumpkins as he was speaking and told him that he had spent all his alloted time to speak. The President then called upon Al Mohler to respond.

Mohler left no room for any misunderstanding. "I made those statements. They are not alleged statements. I made them. "

He went on to say, "When I was asked that question, I believe then and now, that we are to speak the truth about homosexuality, but we are also called to minister to even militant groups of homosexuals. The reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue. If we do not admit that it is to our shame."

Mohler went on to explain how Southern Baptists have been homophobic. His words were riveting, his passion was clearly for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of seeing homosexuals converted, and when he was through the convention gave loud applause.

He verbally spanked Peter Lumpkins for his question. And well he should.

Peter Lumpkins and his ilk (Fundamentalists with a capital F) take pride in attempting to publicly humiliate men like Al Mohler and Jonathan Merritt because of theological or philosophical differences. It is because of the critical and harsh spirits legalists possess, demonstrated today at the Southern Baptist Convention, that young pastors flock from the SBC instead of toward the SBC.

The best thing that can be said of the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention is that at least one legalistic, shame-filled attack by Fundamentalists who are killing any future growth of the SBC was emphatically put down by an erudite theologian with a round of applause from convention messengers.

May it continue to happen.

Hang in there Jonathan Merritt. Southern Baptists need pastors like you. Critics may be loud, persistent, and sometimes irritating, but thankfully, they represent a minority view in the SBC. Were they to ever be a majority, I would join you in leaving.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Now Is the Summer of Our Discontent: The 21st Century Demise of the SBC

The 2011 Annual Meeting for the Southern Baptist Convention officially begins next Tuesday morning, June 14, 2011. Membership in SBC churches has decreased for five years in a row, dropping 500,000 members since 2005. Attendance at this year's Southern Baptist Convention will be the lowest in nearly five decades, struggling to reach 5,000 in attendance. What has happened to the SBC?

There may be as many postulated reasons for the precipitous decline in the SBC as potential messengers in Phoenix next week. From my own personal experiences with the inner workings with the SBC I offer five reasons why the SBC is perilously close to becoming purely irrelevant. It is possible for changes to occur to prevent the SBC from her imminent and ultimate demise, but it will require immediate and effective leadership, something not yet demonstrated at any level of the SBC. The five reasons for decline are:

(1). The demonization of disagreement.

When we conservative evangelicals spend more time defining why other people are theologically wrong rather than powerfully living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, we construct our own platform for decline. The fanatical attempts to demonize other evangelicals who express a desire to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention in church planting and missions--a demonization due to perceived disagreements over secondary issues--guarantees the demise of the SBC. The stronger and more shrill the demands for absolute conformity on all things, the faster and fuller the free-fall into irrelevance in all things. Pay attention to the number of recommendations and resolutions at Phoenix pertaining to the Acts 29 Network in Phoenix. Watch who makes them, who backs them, and who votes for them. You need go no further to see the reason for the SBC decline.

(2). The crystalization of methodology.

Our national convention refuses to launch satellite electronic annual meetings to allow greater and more economic participation, though the technology is available. Our seminaries refuse to offer on-line degrees, and continue to decline in enrollment when compared to other schools who see their future in on-line education. Our national agencies refuse to listen to our missionaries on the ground for the development of their missions' ministries, and instead continue to send out "memos" and "directives" from Richmond as if we were living in the 1860's. Our state conventions refuse restuctering archaic methods of child care, senior adult care, and other important ministries because we are afraid of change.

 The Southern Baptist Convention is like the Titanic; the iceburg is seen, the warnings are shouted, but nobody can turn the ship quickly enough because we still function as a convention as if we were living in the 1800's. The only way that change occurs is through clear direction, vision and leadership from SBC executives who have been hired to lead. However, when the International Mission Board trustees hire a replacement for President as old as the former President who retired because of his age, then we have been plagued by the curse of crystalization--we don't know how to do anything except the way we have always done it. Young, visionary leadership is available, but those messengers at the microphone proposing resolutions of condemnation in Phoenix have a difficult time understanding the difference between theology and methodology, and only want leaders who've done it the way they think it should always be done.

(3). The evaporation of interest.

Read carefully what is said next. I am NOT referring to the evaporation of interest in the SBC--I am referring to the evaporation of interest in SBC leaders in young pastors and young people. Those who plan, orchestrate, and participate in the politics of the SBC annual convention need to be more interested in young people.

If one is able to observe the SBC in Phoenix via the Internet take note of two things: the gray hair in the hall and the number of empty chairs. Why?  The SBC Convention is uninterested in making our annual meeting relevant and pertinent to young pastors and young people. Oh, sure, there will be a few hundred of our alleged 16 million SBC members who are under the age of 50 at the SBC in Phoenix, but most young people are not as interested in the politics of a convention as much as they are the people of a their cities. Somehow the SBC and her leaders have got to realize that these young people do not exist for the SBC, but that the SBC exists for them. How can we help them do ministry in the inner city? How can we make it both convenient and edifying for them to participate in our annual conventions? How can we encourage them to love people and not lose focus of the main thing? Sure, business must be done at the SBC, but workshops, worship conferences, small group training, and free resources would increase attendance of young people because the SBC is ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING for them.

I would propose we cancel two of the six annual trustee meetings of the IMB (a quarter of a million dollars per meeting), at least one annual trustee meeting for every other SBC agency, for a total savings of close to $2 million dollars and INVEST in young people through creative, innovative training and resource giveaways at the Southern Baptist Convention. It can be done.

(4). The perception of puerilism.

Puerilism is defined as "childish behavior in an adult." The public knows very little about the Southern Baptist Convention, but the one time the media focuses on the SBC is at the annual meeting. Here is what the public perceives.

(a). The SBC has the ability to boycott Disney World, but the inability to establish a data-base to track child abusers.
(b). The SBC will not allow women to teach men the Word of God, but will give a standing ovation to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice when she teaches men about terrorism and how to deal with terrorists.
(c). The SBC has the ability to remove from fellowship churches that protect homosexual members, but will do absolutely nothing about churches that protect pedophiles in the pulpit and men who sexually exploit women and remain in the ministry.
(d). The SBC can condemn the act of drinking an alcoholic beverage for all members but remain deadly silent on the overindulgence of food and the enormous obesity of our SBC pastors.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The general public sees us like the little kid who is always pointing the finger at other kids and whining about the problems they cause us. One of these days we might learn that the best thing to do is shut up when it comes to the sins of the world and start shouting from the rooftops our own sins. Adults take responsibility for their own actions.

(5). The flatness of the earth.

It used to be to get the gospel message to Africa you sent Livingstone on an expedition and learned years later of his success. Now, one man with a computer in his basement can reach the world for Christ.

For this reason, churches, pastors and people are beginning to understand that they can accomplish as much or more by themselves than they can together (That little pun will only be understood by a few hardcore Southern Baptists). Because the earth is flat, it's time the Southern Baptist Convention flatten with it. The flattening can begin when we acknowledge the reasons for the decline and take steps to correct them.

If not, the SBC will continue its fast and perilous push into irrelevance.

Monday, June 06, 2011

"Baseball Is Heaven's Gift To Mortals" - A Lesson in Humility, Grace, and Redemption

Columnist George Will once wrote: "Baseball is heaven's gift to mortals." Though I'm sure heaven's greatest gifts  far transcend the mere game of baseball, George Will is right one sense: Baseball illustrates for us some of life's greatest lessons.

Case in point. On a Friday night, June 3, 2011, I witnessed the most exciting baseball game I've ever seen. The Madison College Wolfpack from Madison, Wisconsin played the Western Oklahoma State Pioneers from Altus, Oklahoma in the semi-finals of the Division II National Junior College World Series. The winner of the game would go on to play in the World Series National Championship Game against Jones County Junior College in Ellesville, Mississippi.

The game was superbly played. At the end of nine innings there were fourteen hits for each team, six runs for each team, and no errors in the fiield. Western Oklahoma scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game in heart-stopping baseball at its best. Madison then loaded the bases in the top of the tenth inning, but Western turned an amazing double play to end Madison's scoring threat. The game is now Western's to win in the bottom of the tenth inning.

The first Western batter hits a double. Coach Kurt Russell of the Western Pioneers inserts a pinch runner at second base, a 20 year old young man named Francisco Rosario, a freshman who had not played much in the World Series. Coach Russell wanted Rosario's speed at second base representing the winning run.

The next Western batter walks. Francisco then attempts to steal third base, and as the catcher throws from home to third to catch Francisco,  the runner at first base advances to second. Francisco is called safe and now runners are at second and third with nobody out. The next Western Pioneer batter is intentionally walked to load the bases. Surely Western will win the game, right?

The next Western batter strikes out.

One out. Bases loaded. Bases loaded. Francisco Rosario at third base representing the winning run. A Western hit or sacrifice fly will score Francisco and the Pioneers will play for the national championship.

Then, the unthinkable happens.

Pioneer shortstop Wes Schill, a career .400 hitter and a player the San Francisco Giants wish to draft, hits a line drive into centerfield. Wes hits a line drive single up the middle! Game over! Right?


What happened next seemed like it all took place in slow motion. Francisco Rosario, put in the game for his SPEED hesitates in his run from third to home. In fact, he retreats back to third a couple of steps.Why? Nobody is for sure. He may have been thinking he did not wish to be doubled off by the center fielder if the were caught in the air, but had Francisco watched closely he would have seen that that the line shot off the bat of Schill had hit the ground immediately after passing second base. The ball bounced to the center fielder. After Francisco hesitated, he realized  he needed to make up some ground because the outfield was playing abnormally close, knowing that a deep fly ball would end the game anyway. Francisco kicked it into high gear and began running as hard as he could toward home. He then stumbled. He didn't fall, he just stumbled. It nmade it look as if Francisco was moving, but his feet were stuck in molassis.

Meanwhile, the center fielder picked up the ball--let me repeat that part of the sentence again--the CENTER FIELDER picked up the ball off of Schill's base hit and threw a rope to home plate. The ball arrived to the catcher a split second before Francisco Rosario reached home. Francisco Rosario, the player put in to pinch run for the Western Pioneers, was thrown out going from third to home by the centerfielder after a base hit up the middle.

I have never seen that happen in almost forty years of either playing or watching baseball. Head Coach Kurt Russel later told the newspaper that he had never seen anything like it either.

My wife and I watched Francisco as he walked to the dugout. Disappointment is too mild a word to describe the look on his face. Disbelief, shock, maybe shame would be a better word. How could this have happened?

Western Oklahoma went on to win the game and the following night the Western Pioneers won the national championship.

On Sunday morning, instead of driving home, the entire team and their coaches stayed in Enid and came to our 11:00 a.m. worship service at Emmanuel Baptist Church. We recognized the national champions and gave each of them a leather bound devotional book. However, I called up Francisco Rosario during the service (the young man in the middle) for special recognition. Francisco came up with his close friend Jhiomar Veras (who interpreted for Francisco) as I told them that of all the plays during the 2011 NCJAA World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, Francisco being thrown out at home plate will be the one I remember. Why? Though I did not go into as great of deatil in the service, the lessons Francisco's play illustrates are:

(1). No matter how hard you try, you will sometimes fall short of your expected goals.
(2). Surprising failures and stumbles in this life are often observed and commented on by complete strangers.
(3). The criticism that comes from others will often be loud, personal and intense.
(4). Responding appropriately to the embarrassment and shame will make you stronger.
(5). One's true friends are discovered in the midst of your adversity, and there is no friend who sticks closer to you than than He who died for you, Jesus Christ.
(6). Jesus Christ is active in your life, not passive, never wasting any one of your circumstances, both the good and the bad, working all things for your ultimate good and His ultimate glory.
(7). Some of life's finest blessings are often directly correlated to our greatest failures.

Francisco Rosario has the talent to play shortstop or second base in the Major Leagues. I hope he makes it professionally, but whether or not he plays another inning of baseball, it is his run from third base to home on June 3, 2011 that illustrates for me George Will's statement, "Baseball is heaven's gift to mortals."