Tomorrow will be the first time in their lives that my two children have failed to attend the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. In my own twenty-four years of service as a Southern Baptist pastor, I have missed the meeting many times, having often lacked the funding to attend. Since 2001 in New Orleans, however, I have attended every year.
Not this year.
My reasons are manifold. The economy is not good, and we've made budget cuts at FBC Farmersville. I chose to number my convention allowance among them. I do not believe that this would be a wise long-term strategy, because attending the convention is important. If we can afford to send nearly $100,000 through the Cooperative Program each year, we can spend a few hundred to have our voice in how that money is spent. But, in response to a short-term financial need, I think that it can be wise to miss the meeting for one year.
Also, the arrival of their newest child prevented my brother- and sister-in-law from attending, and they are constant members of our party. Phoenix is a lengthy distance from Farmersville. It is an "off" election year. The meeting has good opportunity to be tranquil. I saw nothing listed in the program that I couldn't enjoy as well over the Internet, if not occupied otherwise. As I said, I had many reasons to choose not to attend.
Today the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention have signed an Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation. The statement is a nice indication that people care about or wish to have unity and cooperation. Fine. But I have to admit that I'm impressed little by the drafting of documents and the publication of statements.
Here's what impresses me. By email, text message, Twitter, Facebook, phone call, and indirect contact, more people than I could possibly count have contacted me to try to locate me, set up a meal with me, or express their regret that I am not present. I'm a person who is passionate about ideas. I've passionately advocated for ideas that contradict other people's ideas in our convention. And yet, among those who have looked for me this week have been people from a wide variety of geographical regions, educational pedigrees, ecclesiological convictions, soteriological convictions, ages, and temperaments.
I could live without the speakers. I could live without the travel inconvenience. I could live without the music. I really miss the people. There's my statement of unity and cooperation: These are my friends and my brothers and my sisters. Some of them are dead wrong on a thing or two, but I've not given up hope of convincing them (grin). And ultimately, whether I agree with them or not, I cannot escape the fact that I love them.
If the Lord is willing, I hope to be in New Orleans next year. I hope to see you there.