Friday, June 17, 2016

Why I Turned Down a Request for a Media Interview on SBC Issues

Hello folks! I am back home from a very eventful and overwhelmingly important Southern Baptist Convention, the 19th consecutive one I have attended. It's been good to be back in Greensboro, and to reconnect with my family and church family today.

This year's convention touched on a number of "hot button" cultural issues. "Touched on" is probably a little weak. Let's say, "throat punched." From racial division to religious freedom for all people, to the present state of American politics, sexual ethics, abortion, and some controversial issues that are internal to the SBC, there was never a dull moment in St. Louis once the proceedings got under way.

Today I was contacted by a reporter (who shall remain nameless) from a local media outlet (which shall likewise remain nameless) with this message: "I'm doing a story today on the Southern Baptist Convention's resolution to no longer use the Confederate Flag. I saw your church was a member of the North Carolina Baptists. Would you be willing to talk to me today about the decision? Thanks so much."

Let me count the ways in which I was bothered by this message. For a journalist from a secular media outlet to say, "I'm doing a story TODAY on the SBC ..." would be equivalent to me taking a speaking engagement at the annual meeting of some organization that is devoted to quantum physics. It is not that I do not think I could come up with anything of value to say to them, but I do not think I could do the subject justice in a few hours or even a few days of preparation.

Second, there is a false assumption here in the reporter's statement that the resolution was "to no longer use the Confederate Flag." This assumes that Southern Baptist Churches have been in the practice of using the Confederate Flag, which is not true. Now, there are 40,000+ autonomous Southern Baptist Churches in America, and some of them may use this flag (though I hope they do not), but it is an assumption rooted in the word "Southern," a word that many in our convention have sought to drop from our name repeatedly in the past. Our statement which we passed this year does not call on Southern Baptist Churches to no longer use this flag, but goes beyond that to call on ALL PEOPLE, especially Christians, to stop using the Confederate flag. I am confident that there is a great variety of opinions on this subject, but the fact is that even if one desires to display this flag in a way that has no racial motivation behind it at all, the message that this flag sends to many who see it is one that is racially charged. The Christian message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is an offensive message. It says that all who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ for salvation will die in their sins and perish in hell. If we are going to send out a message that offends people, it needs to be the bloody cross of Jesus, and not a symbol that is presently associated with racial hatred.

Third, I am not interested in talking to this, or any reporter, about anything that took place at the Convention this year for one simple reason: I've done it before. In the dozens of times that I have been interviewed by various media outlets, there is only one occasion in which I felt that my words were accurately represented in the final product. I have had my words twisted, I've had my words "paraphrased" inaccurately, and I've had my words taken out of context and reduced to a handful of words or a couple of seconds that actually express the opposite of the point I am trying to make. Anyone who knows me, and who knows the church I serve, knows how we feel about racial reconciliation. Immanuel Baptist Church has been strong on the message of racial reconciliation for 50 years in Greensboro. We do not need to risk that stance being convoluted by sloppy journalism in order to make it known. If you want to know how we feel about those of every ethnicity, just drop in on Sunday at 11:00. We are one of the most ethnically diverse congregations that I know of, and that was one of the primary reasons I immediately fell in love with Immanuel.

Finally, if I am going to be known beyond the four walls of my church for anything I have said, I want it to be what I have to say about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not how I feel about a flag, a political or cultural issue, or anything else. That said, I am more than happy to go on record here and anywhere else to say that I enthusiastically voted for this resolution, and was even more enthusiastic about my support of it once the language was strengthened by an amendment from the floor. I would encourage you to visit this article at Baptist Press for more information about the proceedings regarding the Confederate flag resolution. I would also suggest the following articles:

If you would like to view the report of the resolutions committee, containing the discussion of this resolution, visit and select Tuesday Afternoon, then item 13 of 14 which contains the entire Committee on Resolutions report.

In closing, here is my response to the journalist who asked if I would like to be interviewed for the report:

"Probably not. There are a million ways for the media to get this story wrong and only one way to get it right, and having been misquoted and reduced to out-of-context sound bites often in the past, I do not wish to have that experience again. I would say that the best thing to do would be to visit and watch the video from Tuesday afternoon's session, particularly the Committee on Resolutions report. I can tell you that I was present, I support the amended resolution wholeheartedly, and Immanuel Baptist Church has been working for racial reconciliation in our city for 50 years. So we are very pleased with the resolution and its outcome. I would be more than happy to help you research facts on the nature of SBC resolutions, and to answer questions you may have about how these things work in every day life, but I prefer to not be quoted or to speak personally. People who know me and my church know exactly where we stand on this issue because we have a proven track record and a diverse congregation that is evidence of it."

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