The Southern Baptist Convention continues to trip over its own feet. This time, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has stirred up controversy by inviting Vice President Mike Pence to speak at their annual convention.
In a press release published by Baptist Press, SBC president Steve Gaines and Grant Ethridge, chairman of the SBC’s committee on convention business, wrote: “We are excited to announce Vice President Mike Pence will be attending this year’s SBC annual meeting to express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation.”
According to Baptist Press, “Southern Baptist leaders estimate the number of messengers from the convention’s cooperating churches may approach 11,000 with an additional 4,000 invited guests on the final day of the two-day convention.”
“It’s an honor to welcome Vice President Pence,” Ethridge said. “While the Southern Baptist Convention aligns itself with no political party, our program recognizes and honors local, state and national leaders in keeping with 1 Timothy 2:1–2.”
However, not everyone is excited about the vice president’s scheduled appearance at the convention, which is to take place tomorrow (June 13) at 11:00 a.m. in Dallas, Texas.
Pastor Garrett Kell, an SBC messenger from Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., issued a statement on the convention floor and then posted a transcript of that statement on Twitter. Pastor Kell argued that Mike Pence’s involvement at the convention hurts the unity of the Church, the clarity of the gospel, and the safety of workers.
Kell said in his statement that he is worried that by giving Pence a platform, the SBC is signaling that “political associations are more important than our association with [minority brothers and sisters].”
He added that by inviting the vice president to speak, the SBC may be unwittingly communicating that faithfulness to the gospel means aligning with President Trump’s administration. Because, according to Kell, “Whether rightly or wrongly, this current administration provokes strong reactions and in some cases great hostility in many regions of the world.”
— Garrett Kell ن (@pastorjgkell) June 12, 2018
One Twitter user expressed his concern over the message that the SBC was sending to the “young and diverse group of messengers” his church sent to the SBC.
Our church sent a young and diverse group of messengers to #sbc18 – almost all attending the annual meeting for the first time. I am concerned that our platform choices are creating mixed signals on where the SBC stands when it comes to women, people of color, & politics.
— Jimmy Scroggins (@JimmyScroggins) June 12, 2018
Popular evangelical author and Baylor University history professor Thomas S. Kidd warned the SBC that they were being used by the Trump administration. Chiding the SBC, Kidd wrote on Twitter, “it is not the time to cuddle up to Trumpism and all it entails. The thirst for political influence and cultural tone-deafness is undercutting the clarity of our gospel witness.”
Kidd then posed the question, “Do you like it when Hillary Clinton speaks at churches?”
— Thomas S. Kidd (@ThomasSKidd) June 11, 2018
Regardless of your opinion of Pence, it’s impossible to deny that he is extremely polarizing and that many minorities feel threatened by him. If the Southern Baptist Convention’s main concern is furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ, purposefully placing a stumbling block like Pence in the midst of the SBC is, at best, a case of self-sabotage. At worst, the decision to invite the vice president to speak at the convention is a deliberate statement that the SBC is more concerned about power than about the concerns of minorities.