The following speech was delivered by outgoing Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd at the SBC Annual Meeting, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. You can watch a video of the address here.
"The stakes couldn't be higher." These were the first words shared with us by the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Paul Ryan. When he walked into that small luncheon gathering on April 27th with a few evangelical leaders, sat down at the table with us and uttered these words, they did not just captivate me, but confirmed everything I have felt for the past year of my life. Listen to his words again: "The stakes couldn't be higher."
These words are relevant not just to America, but also for every church in America, including our Southern Baptists churches.
Since last year's convention, the Spirit of God has pressed upon my heart a continual, growing, and aching burden. It began within hours of the conclusion of last year's convention when the shocking report came from Charleston, South Carolina, that the pastor of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, along with eight of his members, was shot and killed by a 21-year-old white gunman who opened fire in their Wednesday evening prayer service.
Now, just hours before we began our 2016 Southern Baptist Convention, the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States occurred in Orlando, Florida. With forty-nine people left dead along with fifty-three people injured, and while America is stunned by this act of terrorism, ISIS is rejoicing. Since all human beings are made in the image of God, this attack against gay Americans in Orlando is an attack on each of us. As followers of Jesus Christ, we stand against any form of bigotry, hatred, or violence against our nation and against any people in this world.
In one of my recent trips to Washington, DC, I jogged around the National Mall one morning. Passing by the United States Supreme Court, the United States Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and then all around the Mall again, this burden and this phrase was continually on my heart.
Therefore, at this time in our history, I believe firmly and with conviction, it is incumbent upon me to share with you my growing burden from the Lord. God gave me this message in my recent 21 days of fasting and prayer. During this same time, I asked God to give me the heart, passion, burden, and urgency of the Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, who once said, "I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men." So as a man who also serves as your president, since I am not sure I will ever preach to you again, it is with a great burden, passion, and urgency, I declare to you in this critical hour … "THE STAKES ARE HIGH"
As followers of Jesus Christ, everything we believe in and place in high value is at stake. How do we not see this?
As the world is becoming more lost, more Christians around the world are being persecuted and killed for their faith than any other time in modern history. With the continual and growing threats of Boko Haram, ISIS, and other persecution, we are seeing one of the most severe refugee crises in our generation. Simultaneously, with over 6,000 unreached people groups globally, we are reducing our mission force by 1,000 missionaries. Southern Baptists, the stakes are high!
Furthermore, back home in America, while we are seeing a growing lostness in our nation, the things we have held dear are at stake. Laws that declared marriage to be only between a man and a woman have now been overturned. Government is now overreaching to the point of telling you that your biological gender is no longer the criteria for where you are supposed to go to the restroom in public settings. Racial unrest, injustice, and violence are growing and are an indictment against us. The dignity of human life is being demeaned to such a point in our nation that the recent unfortunate death of the gorilla named Harambe has now resulted in a passionate national debate. The sentiment is captured in the title of a May 30th article in The Washington Postentitled, "'Shooting An Endangered Animal Is Worse Than Murder': Grief Over Gorilla's Death Turns To Outrage." The media has been dominated with this story. But I have a question today to you and to our nation. Where is the outrage in America over the killing of unborn children and toward Planned Parenthood over the sale of the body parts of these aborted babies? Furthermore, political discourse and debate has become so degenerate, it is difficult to know whether your children and grandchildren should even be allowed to watch it on television. While the rainbow colors glisten from the White House as they celebrate this redefined and new morality in America, I declare humbly today in Jesus' name and with the authority of the Holy Scripture, these things are not some new morality, they are signs that our nation is on the ragged edge of moral insanity. Simultaneously, unlike anything we have seen in our generation, these new realities are pressing in upon our pastors and churches and we are struggling to navigate toward a flourishing future together. I have highlighted these things in order to say to all Southern Baptists, to all evangelicals, and to the people of America: The stakes are high!
As spiritual leaders, there is not one of us who can sit out in this critical hour. Now is not the time for the churches in America to call time out and retreat to their land of comfort and sit around dissecting their theology and the theology of others. To every Southern Baptist layperson who operates daily in the arena of business, healthcare, education, entertainment, sports, law, politics, government, or serves in our military, please understand that the stakes have never been higher in this generation. Our pastors and churches need you to be more engaged on Sundays than ever before, but we also need you intentionally integrating your faith on the front lines of our culture in everything you do daily regardless of where you are.
One of the major reasons this is important is that our religious liberty in America is at stake. Though religious liberty is chiseled into our First Amendment, the Wall Street Journal published an article on April 10, 2016, asking a dynamic needed question: "Why Are Companies Taking Sides Against Religious Liberty?" Make no mistake about it. The stakes are high in America. Though we desire our government to grant the blessing of religious liberty for all, do not forget, it is Christ alone who sets us free, not our government; religious liberty is a gift from God Himself to each person.
What is at stake?
Almost five centuries before Jesus, an Old Testament book speaks of an era somewhat like today. God's people had been taken away to a foreign land called Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied this judgment would come, so they needed to settle in, plant their lives, and build their future because they would be there for a while. Persians were now in control, being led by King Ahasuerus.
While providence was at work to fulfill God's eternal purpose for His people, an evil man named Haman began to plot to destroy the people of God. He created insurmountable circumstances that would lead to the certain death of the Jewish people. The stakes were high.
Yet, our God reigns. While this villain was permitted to arise, at the same time, the powerful Hand of Providence was raising up a faithful man and a faithful woman. Both Mordecai and Esther would rise up to this occasion against overwhelming odds when everything was at stake.
They would stand up and trust God with the outcome. Mordecai was a Jewish exile and the older cousin of Esther, whom God had raised up miraculously at this moment in history to be the Queen of Persia.
God sees what we do not see. God's faithfulness and providence are present everywhere. Augustus Hopkins Strong writes inSystematic Theology, "Providence is God's attention concentrated everywhere. His care is microscopic as well as telescopic."
Look with me to this testimony of the story of God working through His people in the Old Testament book of Esther. We read the following from Esther 4:13-17,
Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, "Don't think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king's palace. If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father's house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this."
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don't eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish." So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.
Providence placed Esther at the right place at the right time to accomplish the purpose of God.
To every pastor and church leader here today, God has you where you are at the right time to accomplish the purpose of God.
The goal of Haman was to eliminate all the Jewish people. The King accommodated the desires of Haman and it became the outrageous law of the land. The Jews were to be destroyed.
Mordecai and the Jewish people began to fast, weep, and dread their fate. The stakes were high. Everything was at stake. When Queen Esther feared for her people and for herself. Esther was not scheduled to see the king for thirty days and only he could change this law. Furthermore, if she tried to see him before, it could cost her life. The stakes were high.
The legacy of this great text in Esther chapter four continues to be used in so many significant Christian gatherings today. Southern Baptist history shows that even though the theme of the 1993 Southern Baptist Convention was Esther 4:14, this text has not been used as the text of a president's message since Dr. Jaroy Weber was president in 1976. Forty years ago this week when Dr. Weber preached his message,
"Let The Church Stand Up," he did so from multiple texts. But when he did use this text briefly, his remarks were interesting and still have relevance today. He stated, "Baptists must feel deeply that this is the time and the hour for Christ and His church to act."Forty years later, I could not agree more. Now is the time again, for Christ and His Church to act. While our nation is morally sliding toward Gomorrah, our greatest problem is spiritual. The stakes are high.
We must have the same perspective and the deep conviction of Mordecai. We must believe that God will prevail!
With great conviction and boldness in the midst of this national crisis, Mordecai told Esther as recorded in Esther 4:14,
"Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this." Mordecai was deeply convinced that God had exalted Esther to be Queen to speak and to act, regardless of what happened to her. Mordecai and Esther knew the stakes couldn't be higher. How did she respond? Well, let me tell you first what she did not do.
Esther did not stand before the people in the kingdom and appoint a task force to study and bring recommendations concerning this issue. Esther did not attack Haman and send out a tweet, or get on Facebook and go on a rant like a child, or get on a website and comment about how bad Haman was, nor did she write about how evil he was. Was he evil? Were the times severe? Absolutely! The stakes were high! Remember this: If Satan cannot get us to do the wrong thing, he will get us to do the right thing in the wrong way. Both are sin. So what did Esther do?
Esther wanted Mordecai to assemble the Jews and tell them to fast and pray for her for three days. She would do the same. Then, after they had all cried out to God for three days and three nights in fasting and prayer, she would go to the king even if it cost her life. She said, "If I perish, I perish." So Mordecai and all the Jews fasted for her for three days and three nights.
Esther went before the king and received his favor. She invited him to a banquet along with Haman. In this banquet, she exposed the evil of Haman and his destructive goals. The king became outraged and commanded Haman be hung immediately. Esther and the people were spared. Miraculously, Mordecai was raised up to serve the king, and together they changed this outrageous law to preserve the people of God. God answered their cries of prayer and fasting.
Providence was at work. Providence is always at work.
Even though the stakes couldn't be higher in America, this is still true today and I do believe God is at work in America. Yet, I want to be more than clear.
AMERICA IS IN A CRISIS
The stakes are high! How many more decades can American society survive when the unraveling is taking place at our very core? Regardless of anyone's political preference, race or ethnicity, profession or career, gender or generation, or even religion, we can agree on this: America is in a crisis today. We are on the precipice of either experiencing awakening or falling into an abyss. We cannotbe adrift in denial any longer; we must face our future honestly.The stakes couldn't be higher. We are at a turning point. This is our moment of decision. In this hour please know…
America is facing a leadership crisis. Where are the leaders? We need leaders who can bring people together from all socio-economic levels, ethnicities, and generations toward a common vision for the future. These are not just rare in the world of politics, business, or sports; they are also rare in the religious world, including the Southern Baptist Convention.
America is facing a relational crisis. Our nation is divided. We are known more for being the divided states of America than the United States of America. The national political races we have observed over this past year personify the fractured, dysfunctional condition in America relationally.
America is facing a racial crisis. Twenty minutes from where we are meeting today is Ferguson, Missouri, where in August 2014, the events occurring there became the tipping point regarding the racial crisis in America. This turning point in our nation personified what was already going on under the surface around the country regarding racial issues. The towns and cities in America can no longer ignore this issue. Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life. Regardless of the color of one's skin, God has put His Divine imprint on each one of us.
Where has this conversation been in our national political races for the highest office of the land? The silence from both parties has been deafening. This cannot be.
Racism is a major sin and stronghold in America. In a recent May 5, 2016 BARNA report in Culture and Media, "The vast majority of adults agree there is a lot of anger and hostility between ethnic and racial groups in America. (84%)"
Sadly, tragically, and regrettably, it was 159 years ago that the infamous court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford resulted in a decision that many still call to this day the single worst Supreme Court decision in American history. This lower court case that began in the city of St. Louis ascended to the highest court in the land in Washington, DC. It was on March 6, 1857, when the Supreme Court ruled that all slaves and all their descendants — even if they became free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. It was declared that as a black man, Dred Scott was not recognized as a citizen of our nation and did not have the right to sue for his freedom. While this decision was in complete violation of the United States Declaration of Independence that says, "All men are created equal," it elevated this staggering tragedy of slavery in the public arena of American life. This court decision furthered division in our nation and stoked the already flaming fire that led toward the Civil War. Listen very carefully: Within a fifteen-minute walk from where we sit today in downtown St. Louis is the Old Courthouse, where in 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott initiated a lawsuit for their freedom. This became a defining moment in our history.