ST. LOUIS • The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, gathers for just two days a year to refresh and make recommendations on the best course ahead to save souls.
Only this time, the thousands of Southern Baptists gathering in downtown St. Louis this week are coming off a series of wake-up calls.
Baptisms — their gold standard — are the lowest in decades.
Hundreds of foreign missionaries have been called home, only to see the implications of poor evangelism in the United States. If only the loving message of Christ had been shared, they wish, maybe there would be less societal decay and violence.
Indeed, mass shootings have been the bookends to the past two conventions. Last year, the convention ended with the massacre at a Charleston, S.C., prayer service that left nine African-Americans dead. This year, the convention started after 49 people were killed in Orlando, Fla., at a gay nightclub.
“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,” the Rev. Ronnie Floyd told thousands of people Tuesday at America’s Center. “As followers of Jesus Christ, we stand against any form of bigotry, hatred or violence against our nation.”
In his final address as convention president, Floyd, of Arkansas, spoke at length about race in an attempt to rally political candidates and church leaders to face hard truths about the country and individual communities.
“We are known more for being the ‘Divided States of America’ than for being the United States of America,” he said, adding: “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 of both parties has been deafening. This cannot be. Racism is a major sin and stronghold in America.”
He also leveled the message directly at the Southern Baptist Convention, largely made up of rural congregations of less than 100 people in the South.
“We are not black churches,” he said. “We are not white churches. We are not Latino churches. We are not Asian churches. We are the church of Jesus Christ.”