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."