The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) hosted at least 16,000 people on Tuesday to vote on issues that will shape the future of the denomination, including the choice of its next president. According to the Washington Post, this was the largest religious gathering since the Covid-19 Pandemic started in March 2020 as well as the biggest Baptist meeting in decades.

The convention was held amid controversy brewing inside the denomination. Russell Moore, who previously led the Southern Baptist Convention public policy arm, left his position to be a part of Christianity Today after expressing his opposition to former President Donald Trump. He wrote two letters to the SBC that were subsequently leaked to media, wherein Moore described a culture of racism and mishandling of sexual abuse as his main reasons for leaving.

In one of the letters he wrote, “The presenting issue here is that, first and foremost, of sexual abuse. This Executive Committee, through their bylaws workgroup, “exonerated” churches, in a spur-of-the-moment meeting, from serious charges of sexual abuse cover-up. One of those churches actively had on staff at the time a sex offender. J.D. Greear, our SBC president, and I were critical of this move, believing that it jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but, more importantly, the lives of vulnerable children in Southern Baptist churches.”

Since the incident, leaders have called for a third-party investigation into how SBC leadership has reacted to issues of sexual abuse within its church community. Moore also wrote that institutional leaders are not allowed to speak about what is happening inside the convention without jeopardizing their jobs.

SBC has influential leaders like Steve Gaines,  Daniel L. Akin, Douglas Carver, and Mac Brunson. Many of the SBC leaders have written books, hosted renowned conferences, and have led some of the largest congregations in the country. With no pope or hierarchy and democratic system of voting, its system is designed to protect its leaders and the institution by not publicly criticizing one another.

A black pastor, Tez Andrews, who served as an SBC pastor in Atlanta, GA, and on the North American Mission Board director of information (NAMB), was fired after he published a Facebook post about one of the candidates running to be SBC’s president, Mike Stone, who spoke on a podcast against critical race theory (CRT), an intellectual framework to examine systematic racism in the U.S.

NAMB has poured over $130 million into SBC churches and is a powerful force within the organization as it is a deciding factor of how funds will be distributed within SBC like relief efforts and church planters.

In the podcast, Stone noted that SBC has bent over backward to apologize to Black pastors who have left the organization over disagreement with CRT.  Andrews commented on Stone’s remarks.

“Critical Race Theory is a theory and model that helps predict systemic race issuers in society. Mike Stone and people like him are afraid of losing their supremacist position,” Andrews stated.

Andrews was told to take the post down, which he did, but was later informed that he’d still be fired. “They basically said, ‘You disrespected Mike Stone, so you’re gone,’” he shared.

When NAMB was questioned about the accusation, the organization responded with a statement, “Respecting our partners, especially in this era of divisiveness, is a critical core value to which we consistently hold every member of our team accountable.”

Another black pastor, Dwight McKissic, said that SBC has an “unwritten code” in the SBC life. “You have rules outside the Baptist Faith and Message that you don’t know. Now CRT is becoming one of those litmus tests, and whether you vote Republican, and whether you are against women preaching. It’s a test where you’re in or out,” McKissic believed.

Members have gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, addressing the many issues that SBC has been facing, including critical race theory, women’s role in the denomination, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and more.

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