In the SBC 2021 Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN, the Chairman of the Resolution Committee, Dr. James Merritt, castigated messengers for caring too much about Critical Race Theory. I was quite disappointed in this finger-wagging behavior. I was all the more disappointed when I found out first-time messengers from rural Southern Baptist Churches in my home state of Arkansas were completely put off by this elitist behavior from the stage – one local church is even voting in January 2022 on whether or not to remain in the SBC due to Merritt and other shenanigans that took place in Nashville.
I believe it’s only transparent to let you know I’ve been frustrated with Dr. Merritt’s actions since June. But then came November. On November 22, 2021, Dr. Merritt shared this tweet about the preaching of his son, Jonathan Merritt. In case the tweet gets removed, James said, “I don’t agree with my loved son Jonathan Merritt on everything to be sure. But I encourage you to listen to his message on Mark 13. It is both brilliant and faithful to the gospel and the coming of Jesus!” Pastor Gabe Hughes did an excellent job of explaining the terrible theology of this particular sermon here.
But there is another issue with Dr. Merritt’s actions. Jonathan Merritt is an openly unrepentant gay man. That is, we have a Southern Baptist Pastor promoting the preaching of a homosexual. Our statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), explicitly states in Article XV that “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”
Can you imagine someone promoting the preaching of an openly unrepentant adulterer? Racist? Pornography star? Of course not. And if we believe in the sufficiency and authority of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, neither should we support, endorse, or share the preaching of an openly gay man.
In response to the pushback on Dr. Merritt’s endorsement, some Southern Baptists seem to share the sentiment of an article that (Non-SBC site) Baptist News Global ran entitled, “Conservative Baptist Network launches attack on James Merritt for saying something nice about his son.” That is absurd. I am sure there are Imago Dei qualities about Jonathan Merritt that his father should compliment. But the fact that Jonathan is an openly unrepentant gay man means that his preaching is not commendable. This is because Jonathan stands in open defiance of our King as his lifestyle choices and public position on homosexuality are in direct opposition to the Scriptures, as well as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
SEBTS and Send Network
Now, what does Dr. Merritt’s endorsement of the preaching of his openly gay son have to do with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Send Network? Dr. Merritt, as of the date of his tweet, was to be a visiting professor of SEBTS. This has now changed as of November 29 when Dr. Merritt asked President Danny Akin to “allow him to decline serving as a visiting professor of SEBTS not wanting to be a distraction to the school.” Given Merritt’s position on the preaching of openly gay men, Dr. Akin rightly accepted this preemptive resignation. Yet, Dr. Akin also said that Dr. Merrit’s “integrity, character & love for the gospel is a model for us all.”
I’ll come back to that in just a moment. Before I do, let me point out the issue with Send Network. On December 3, 2021, Baptist Press announced “Vance Pitman, who planted Hope Church Las Vegas in 2000 and pastored there 21 years, will lead the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) church planting efforts as the new president of Send Network. Pitman and NAMB president Kevin Ezell shared the announcement in a video released today.”
I don’t know Vance really at all. But I do know on November 24, 2021, he tweeted, in response to what Dr. Merritt had said about the preaching of an openly unrepentant gay man, “I love @drjamesmerritt and the godly example he is for all of us to follow! Thanks for leading well Doc!”
I have not personally written Vance Pittman about his remarks. I have emailed Dr. Akin about Dr. Merritt’s endorsement of an openly unrepentant gay man and have not received a response in over two weeks. I do understand he is busy. I also know at least one other pastor has received an email response from him.
Is the SBC merely a Merrittocracy? Or are normal, grassroots Southern Baptists allowed to ask questions regarding the leadership of our Cooperative Program-funded organizations? Because I do have some questions in light of Dr. Akin and Vance Pitman saying that James Merritt is a “model for us all” and a “godly example…for all of us to follow.” Both of these men are important leaders in critical organizations within the Southern Baptist Convention. And their endorsement of Dr. Merritt’s behavior does warrant some clarification on their part.
For example, are they saying that Jonathan Merritt is a Christian? Does SEBTS and Send Network believe that an openly unrepentant gay man can actually be a believer in Christ? Do these men, and the organizations they represent, believe that Southern Baptist Churches ought to listen to the preaching of gay men? If the preaching of openly gay men can be listened to, what other acts of rebellion ought to be tolerated in the pulpit? Should, for example, Southern Baptists listen to “faithful sermons” of those openly identifying as sexual abusers?
This is not about cancel culture. I’d much rather see men repent rather than removed. And I really want to think that the answer to my questions above is “absolutely not!” But the issue is, these men, Danny Akin and Vance Pitman, have not said one public statement, not one, about whether or not the preaching of Jonathan Merritt ought to be condemned. Instead, they have only publicly praised James as an upstanding model and example for all Southern Baptists. Finger-wagging aside, does this mean, then, that the way Southern Baptists ought to handle the preaching of openly gay men, is not to call them to repentance, but only publicly praise them for gospel-less sermons?
Is it really a whole lot to ask those whom we employ as leaders with our Cooperative Program dollars to clarify their positions on these matters? Particularly in a day where we are facing the constant battle to normalize and capitulate on the issues of homosexuality?
Because the promotion and normalization of homosexuality, pornography, abortion, transgenderism, etc, (and yes, egalitarianism, critical race theory, socialism, Leftism as well), may seem like separate battles to fight. But in reality they are actually a unified Satanic strategy to destroy the family. Those who promote these things advance the agenda of the kingdom of darkness. Many are not aware, of course, that they are following the evil schemes of the Devil, but they have become his tools nonetheless. And though they share personal culpability for their sins, they also contribute to a war that’s been raging since Genesis 3, namely, the Evil One’s hatred of man, woman, and offspring, image bearers of the Holy One he ultimately hates, the Triune God.
So, are Vance Pitman, Danny Akin, SEBTS, and Send Network endorsing the preaching of any openly gay man or not? And what avenues should grassroots Southern Baptists take in order to find out the answers to these questions?
These are really serious issues. But the strategy, so far, has been similar to the plagiarism scandal of Ed Litton. Dismiss, deflect, forget about it, and move on without ever having to have any sort of real accountability to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Well, and there is another strategy at play too, which is, just label anyone asking these questions as mean and divisive.
Is it divisive now to ask if we have shifted on our stance regarding homosexuality? What a day to be alive.
Christ Returns Triumphantly. This is true. And when He does, where will He find the Southern Baptist Convention? It’s my hope that if you care about the SBC’s future at all, that you’ll be willing to make phone calls or send letters to ask for public clarification on these issues.