Which Way Forward: Toward Unity or Division? graphic

The call to unity resonated with Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) messengers who convened in St. Louis earlier this summer.  Significant action toward racial reconciliation was taken with overwhelming support.

The presidential election went to a second ballot between two candidates who represented different views, styles, and emphases within the SBC.

The second ballot ended in a virtual dead heat, indicating the equipoise between these two groups within our Convention.  Then something quite extraordinary happened: for the sake of unity, one of the candidates withdrew conceding the election to the other.

This act sparked surprise, relief, gladness, and even celebration.  We witnessed an act of grace motivated by a desire for unity.

Grace and unity go together, and Scripture points us in the same direction:

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Jesus Christ, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6, NRSV).

God has shown favor on our Baptist community in New Orleans where men and women of all cultures worship and serve God in unity.  The racial composition of our association is evenly balanced.  Although pastors here don’t identify as being non-Reformed or Reformed, both comprise our association.

Because unity is highly valued among our churches, we are troubled by the critical editorials in our state Baptist paper against SBC agency heads David Platt and Russell Moore. This combative tenor is not new in our state. Within the past few years, Louisiana College was often in the news with stories about professors who were ‘let go’ because they were Reformed-leaning.

A few in our state have developed a reputation for being inhospitable toward Reformed pastors, professors, and denominational leaders, with assertions that they are prepared to split our Convention over this issue.

Do we want our Convention split in two? Do we want to continue to read editorials in our state Baptist paper critical of SBC agency presidents?  Do we want unity or division?

Leaders lead.  What kind of qualities do we want our leaders to demonstrate?

A similar question concerned the late Dr. Landrum P. Leavell, II.  As President of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he prayed that their graduates would be characterized by certain qualities.  He spelled out those qualities in a chapel message, Musings Along LA-1 and I-10, published in a collection of chapel sermons, Professors Can Preach.

As we reflect on the qualities that we expect in our leaders, Dr. Leavell’s admonitions are as apropos today as they were 30 years ago. He described the kind of leaders we want. Therefore, we quote at length and in italics this splendid Baptist statesman.

First of all, I pray that our graduates will be people persons. That’s pretty simple. I’m just saying those who graduate should be people who love people. Some of you don’t. I have observed it… If you’re interested in people,…you’re at least going to be friendly.

A genuine love for people can be spotted instantaneously and sham can be discerned just as rapidly.

There’s another characteristic.  I pray we’ll graduate peaceable people…I’m here to tell you today, up front, that the viability and the future usefulness of the Southern Baptist Convention is going to rest upon people who are peaceable, peace-making people (emphasis added).

Peace depends on every human being, under God, having a little bit of his own elbow room.  If you try to put me in a straight-jacket and make me believe what somebody else believes, simply because they believe it, or make me say it the way they say it simply because that’s the way its been said by others, you’re going to have trouble with me.  I wasn’t built that way!  You’re going to have to give me a little room.

By the same token, if I expect you to give me a little space, I’m going to have to give you a little.  There may have been injustices on one side or the other in the Southern Baptist Convention, but we’re not going to solve the problem by doing the same thing to another group that the first group says was done to them.  That’s where we are folks, and we may live to see the whole thing fragmented simply because there are not any peaceable people who are willing to live their lives, under God, and let other people have that same privilege.

We want leaders who love people, who are friendly. We don’t want leaders who only want Southern Baptists of a certain type in leadership, professorships, and pastorates.

We also want peace-making leaders who give elbow room to fellow believers and to sister churches.  We don’t want leaders whose metrics for participation is conformity to a certain view.

Dr. Leavell’s advice is spot on today.  The viability and future usefulness of the SBC, as well as our work in Louisiana, will rest on people who are peaceable.  Our focus needs to be on enlarging the kingdom not contracting it.  We need peacemakers not combatants.

We are a diverse community united by faith, practice, and mission. There are differences among us, but we can worship and work in harmony with one another. We want leaders who lead with grace toward unity.

What kind of graduates do we want to turn out—people persons, peaceable persons, then positive persons. 

Have you ever noticed the number of people who have what we could call “buzzard religion?”  Let me explain that to you. You’ve seen them, always soaring around, just looking for something dead and stinking…Always looking for something negative and off-beat and always quick to repeat it to the widest possible audience.

We want positive leaders who promote and encourage all of our churches, agencies, and missions.  Constant criticism is destructive—it discourages the faithful, depresses support for our work, and turns people off and ultimately away.

We tire of “buzzard” politics and editorials directed against our agency presidents.  We want them stopped.

We want unity and cooperation not division and discord.  We want leaders who love people and are friendly, leaders who are peacemakers not combatants, and leaders who are positive not negative and critical.

Let nothing hinder, separate, or come between us.

Wherever we are, in every place, hour,

and time of day,

let us continually, truly, and humbly hold in

our heart and love

the Most High, Trinity and Unity, Father, Son and

Holy Spirit.

Jack Hunter, Executive Director, New Orleans Baptist Association

Fred Luter, Pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church

David Crosby, Pastor, First Baptist Church of New Orleans

Mike Miller, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Kenner

Geovanny Gomez, Pastor, La Viña Spanish Baptist Church

Page Brooks, Pastor, Canal Street Church

Chad Gilbert, Pastor, Edgewater Baptist Church

Larry Johnson, Pastor, Crossroads Community Church


19 responses to “Which Way Forward: Toward Unity or Division?”

  1. C.J. Adkins says:

    Excellent article.
    Christlike message.
    Hope ALL will read and heed.

  2. Field Thigpen says:

    Gentlemen, your words are timely, truthful, and worthy of support. Thank you.

  3. Johnny B. says:

    Someone pointed out a couple of Calvinists who are in over their heads and now we’re gonna criticize them back and somehow be more holy? I for one am glad to see the LBC taking the bull by the horns and getting to the heart of the issue. The SBC isn’t going to move forward while blindfolded.

    The above article is an appeal to the naive and these pastors should be ashamed of themselves. When reality is too painful to confront… appeal to unity? “Unity” is an abused concept used to manipulate. How many times have we seen rouge pastors call for unity when they get caught with their pants down? Do we want to be united in error?

    The article says: “Within the past few years, Louisiana College was often in the news with stories about professors who were ‘let go’ because they were Reformed-leaning.” What’s wrong with that? If you don’t want reformed leaning students, reformed leaning pastors, and reformed leaning churches then what else are you supposed to do?
    How many guys at Southern does Mohler have that ARE reformed leaning? Why the double standard?

    Like it or not, many of us have had experience with Calvinism that cause us to regard it as a cold religion of academic arrogance and our churches have the wounds and scars to prove it. While these 7 guys hold hands and sing Kumbaya their innocent Calvinist buddies are busy working behind their backs erasing congregationalism, missions, and alter calls. Let’s face it Young, Restless, and Reformed has turned out to be Inexperienced, Inconsistent and Intolerant. Calvinists and Non-Calvinist don’t even agree on who Jesus died for. (Limited Atonement) These two beliefs are like water and oil. They do not mix and they certainly do not enhance one another.

    Crosby, Luter, Hunter etc, if you’re okay with the Reformed movement in your churches then that’s your prerogative. Not everyone shares that opinion though. Instead of slamming the convictions of the non-Calvinists as you did in this article why don’t you consider accepting their opinions and seeking unity with them as well?

    • Matt Tipton says:

      Thank you Scott Shaver for validating your voice in this needed discussion by including your name. You sir are a real person.

      I know and have great respect for each man who “signed” this article. Each of them love the church, love the SBC and desire unity in Christ’s body. These men affix their names to this document because they long for mutual respect and togetherness in our Gospel mission.

      Leaders and Godly influencers lend their voices in gracious ways to move the church to image Jesus. To fail to do so when there is an obvious issue is cowardly and neglectful. I’m grateful these men have done so in such a gracious way. They are working to see the image of Christ in our denomination shine brighter.

      Agree or disagree… but do so with grace.

      • Scott Shaver says:

        “Grace”?

        Within the new SBC, one man’s “grace ” sounds more often like another man’s direct insult. You can opt for Pollyanic rhetoric, I think I’ll stick to obvious and demonstrated facts.

    • Randall Cofield says:

      And here we find evidence of the wisdom of this call for unity only three comments deep into the thread…

      • Scott Shaver says:

        Some might say “evidence of wisdom”.

        Others will say “evidence of naivete”

        Proof is in the pudding.

  4. Jon L. Estes says:

    Thank you for a well written article. One which needs to be read, respected and referenced in our behavior.

    Praying God will use it to open eyes and mend hearts.

  5. Guy Williams says:

    Well said. Internal divisions are the last thing we need when the world is so desperate for our good news.

  6. Scott Shaver says:

    Want in one hand and spit in the other.

    See which one fills up faster.

    SBC “leaders” like Moore deserve every ounce of scrutiny they receive with their arrogance and race-baiting. Thank God for news editors like Will Hall.

    Arrogant and demeaning speech toward other baptists is the hallmark of the guys being criticized. However, when they exhibit such behavior they’re being “prophetic”.

    When the Will Halls of the world speak truth, they’re being divisive. This call for unity rings as hollow as some the heads being defended.

  7. D. Morgan says:

    there needs to be a final settlement between traditional Baptists and reformed Baptists. I do not think that coexisting is the answer.

  8. Brent Hobbs says:

    I’m really thankful for you publishing this statement. The list of names here is highly respected and they don’t deserve their motives being questioned.

    In fact, they’ve modeled here what they’re calling for: principled disagreement expressed in a healthy manner.

  9. Scott Shaver says:

    “Principled” disagreement by attacking the motives of folks who disagree with SBC party lines/tactics (and for good historical reason).

    “Principled” opposition to open discussion among Southern Baptists is more like it.

    Good luck with that one.

  10. Scott Shaver says:

    Not sure if Landrum Leavell’s words here weren’t lifted out of historical context (30 years old) and weren’t originally spoken in light of the so-called “CR”?

  11. admin says:

    We appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read and consider this post, regardless of his or her response to it. We hope and pray that this article, as well as the discussion surrounding it, is useful for the building up of the body of Christ.

  12. David Goza says:

    Conservative editors opinions… “We want them stopped” so says Luter, Crosby and our other brothers in Christ. If it had not been for conservative, Bible believing editors there would not have been a Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. Those in SBC leadership at that time wanted all voices of dissent stopped as well.
    Will Hall has raised substantive issues backed up by proper sources; if he is wrong then demonstrate it by providing the same. The pastors who signed this call for unity also refer to the faith of Will Hall as “buzzard religion”; they are peace loving enough to leave out his name, but that is very harsh. The idea of unity at all costs and without accountability is naïve at best, and deceitful at worst. This appeal for unity calls for pastors to toe the line, fund the SBC, and stop voicing opposing opinions and concerns. There are no specific points made other than dissent is mean spirited and must be stopped (unless directed toward editors who ask questions).
    I want to thank Will Hall for his work at the Baptist Message. The IMB reorganization is important to all of us and there is nothing wrong with asking questions and expecting answers. The ERLC pandering to the liberal left is concerning.
    I agree that we should strive for unity, but unity requires that we submit to one another in the fear of God, not blindly submit to fallible men.

  13. Diane Reeder says:

    I did research with the investigative reporter and found everything written was truth, which is hard to swallow for some of you. Former trustees also agree with everything written about Platt and Moore. The writer held back on some of the shocking discoveries.

  14. Scott Shaver says:

    One question:

    How many of these signers sit on or were recently appointed to the ERLC Support Committee?

  15. Scott Shaver says:

    To each one of these pastors who “want them stopped”.

    You’re big boys right? Get after the business of “stopping”.

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