By Bill Webb
By the time messengers to last week's Southern Baptist Convention left Nashville, they had renewed their commitment to evangelism, secured the ownership of all their institutions and made up with The Disney Company.
The evangelism challenge
Convention president Bobby Welch hit the road shortly after his election a year ago — literally — by launching his "Everyone Can" evangelistic emphasis. He visited Southern Baptists in all 50 states to prod them to witness and win people to Christ, but also to baptize them and involve them actively in churches. He crisscrossed the continental United States in a bright tour bus, drawing the attention of media at every stop. In the spring, he and his wife relocated to Nashville, where he worked to prepare the city and Southern Baptists for the largest pre-convention Crossover evangelistic emphasis ever.
One observer noted that Welch was the first president since Jimmy Allen to use the office primarily to blitz Southern Baptists with the singular challenge to reach people for Christ. Allen did it 30 years ago to create a fervor for a fledgling initiative called Bold Mission Thrust, a plan to mobilize SBC agencies and churches to reach the entire world with the gospel by the year 2000. Unfortunately, Bold Mission Thrust was all but forgotten during the Baptist battles of the '80s and '90s.
Welch believes evangelism must be rekindled in the denomination, whose numbers have been flat for a generation or more. He has promised to be even more active during his second year as SBC president, when he has challenged Southern Baptists to reach and baptize 1 million converts.
The convention managed to bring the final SBC entity under the umbrella of its authority by making the SBC the "sole member" of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary trustees did not come to that point willingly. President Chuck Kelley argued against "sole membership."
He expressed concern with the convention's plan because of differences in Louisiana law. But he also raised a polity concern that making the SBC "sole member" centralized power in the hands of the Executive Committee, which carries on the work of the convention during the 363 days the SBC is not in session.
The Executive Committee has struggled with the temptation to exert influence on agency trustee boards before. Now that the New Orleans board is regarded as suspect by some because it resisted pressure to get in step with sister agencies on the "sole member" issue, the seminary board may continue to find itself scrutinized by the Executive Committee.
The Mickey Mouse resolution
Eight years ago, messengers followed the lead of the American Family Association and others and passed a resolution targeting The Disney Company for boycott. Southern Baptists singled out the entertainment giant because it had abandoned its commitment to exclusively provide family-friendly entertainment fare.
The boycott ended last week when messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution saying the measure had had its effect.
SBC resolutions are not binding, of course. Many Southern Baptists chose not to boycott over the past eight years. On the other hand, if floor discussion in Nashville is any indication, many messengers and other Southern Baptists will continue to boycott Disney.
The eight-year boycott has been a mixed bag for Southern Baptists. Has it hurt Disney financially? Probably so. Has it caused the corporation to change its mind about its products? That's harder to tell. Has it enhanced Southern Baptists' image and witness to have their own corporate spokesmen challenging Disney publicly? That has been heavily debated.
Southern Baptists have taken their share of jokes for ganging up on Mickey Mouse.
It would seem that Southern Baptists and other Christians can effectively impact the market for products they find distasteful by simply being discriminating in their purchases. Refrain from utilizing services and buying products that are not family friendly, but partake in those that are. If Disney or any other entertainment giant notices demand for certain kinds of products is decreasing, good business sense requires those companies to focus where the demand is strong. By the same token, reward a company when it hits a family-friendly home run.
Another solution is to focus less on changing companies through pressure and give more time to life-changing evangelism advocated by the convention president.