While writing my thesis on the slow progression of Southern Baptist social attitudes I realized how far Baptists have come. Just over 50 years ago we were voting whether to approve or oppose the Supreme Court's decision to end public school segregation. 100 years ago, the only social issue that rallied Southern Baptist support was prohibition. Over 150 years ago, our denomination was created in the defense of appointing slave-owning missionaries.
How distant those markers seem to us now. And yet, there is still room for more progress within the Southern Baptist social conscience. 50, 100, 150 years from now, which of our current social attitudes will seem archaic and backwards? Our history tells us that we are capable of errors in our social attitudes. Unfortunately, our ignorance/arrogance tells us that we are far from those days when culture tainted our world view.
A voluntary/democratic/decentralized structure in our denomination allows us two certainties:
1) Southern Baptists are not easily led into error because we rely on the Holy Spirit to speak to individuals in autonomous churches. The leadership of the Convention works from the bottom up, not from the top down. Despite concerns that the current leadership of the SBC is an "insider goup", ultimately, local church pastors and members determine the direction of the Convention. Our structure acts as protection fromt he denomination being swept away by charismatic personalities.
2) Southern Baptists are not easily led out of error because of this same denominational structure. Regardless of SBC Recomendations/Resolutions, the Southern Baptist social conscience is shaped by personal world views more than denominational leadership. Denominational leaders in the the SBC were often more progressive than the constituency of the Convention in the early 20th century. Their passionate protests for racial equality and social justice did little to move a resistant constituency towards these more progressive ideas.
The structure of our Convention has ensured that change, positive or negative, comes slowly and after much hard work. It is for that reason that we must always practice a self examination that assumes that we are vulnerable to the influence of the culture we are called to transform. We must not allow our denomination to inch towards errors that would require decades of work to correct.
The purpsoe of this blog is to invite those who are Southern Baptists to contribute to our denomination's self examination. But as the name of this post suggests we are to "proceed with caution". Self examination can quickly turn into "devouring" each other. We must be willing to work within two structures. First, we must abide by biblical guidelines on how we speak to/confront/rebuke/encourage one another. Secondly, we must commit to work within the structure of our denomination to affect change. There are no short cuts to molding and shaping the Southern Baptist social conscience. Southern Baptists listen most to other Southern Baptists.
May the Lord show us in which areas we are to proceed and give our words a cautious tone.