Dave Miller at SBC voices, among other sources, has reported that GOP political candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will be speaking at the upcoming North America Mission Board “SEND North America Missions Conference”. The invitation of the political candidates to the missions conference, especially in the wake of the recent controversy over the invitation extended to politician Ben Carson to speak at the SBC Pastors Conference, “floored” Miller when he first heard of it. However, since Miller has never been to a SEND conference (he is going to this one), he is reserving final judgement. Unlike Miller, I have been to a SEND conference and will offer an assessment.
First, let me say a word about what takes place at a SEND Conference. The conference is structured around plenary speaking sessions in a large venue. Between speaking sessions, there are smaller breakout sessions from which attendees can choose. NAMB hires a praise band to play worship sets in between speakers and breakout sessions. LifeWay sets up a mobile bookstore at which the publications of speakers can be purchased. I attended the 2012 Conference in Woodstock, GA (recordings from which can be found here). Speakers included NAMB President Kevin Ezell, John Bisagno, Louie Giglio, Ed Stetzer, and David Platt. Matt Redman was hired to play worship music. I attended apologetics breakout sessions led by Mary Jo Sharp and LoveLoud breakout sessions that examined methods for reaching communities through mission projects. My conference fee, which was generously paid for me by FBC Woodstock Finance Minister Dan Dorner, was a little over $100. There were Baptist church planters at the conference from all over the United States. I traveled but a few miles to get there, some traversed thousands. When it was over I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t have been worth coming to if I had to pay for airfare and lodging and take a long trip. I later learned from a schoolmate that the conference is planned by the “marketing” department of NAMB. Knowing that put the conference in perspective to me. It’s a trade show. (I’ve been to trade show “conferences” in my capacity as a businessman, the SEND conference is structured in the same way and for the same ends as secular trade shows, in my opinion.)
The following is my perspective about politicians being invited to the SEND conference:
- The candidates will be interviewed on stage at the SEND conference by Russell Moore, who is the President of the Ethics and Religious Missions Commission. Russell Moore has written a blog explaining (read: justifying) his decision to host presidential candidates at the SEND conference. Common sense compels one to ask, “If there is nothing wrong with inviting political candidates to a missions conference, why is Russell Moore having to write a blog explaining why he has done it?” No one objects when missionaries and pastors are invited to such conferences because that’s who belongs there. Ed Stetzer, for example, is a missiologist. When he is invited to a Missions Conference, no one has to explain why.
- Politicians will do what is in their best interest. That’s why Hillary Clinton refused her invitation to the conference. I’m no statistician but I will make the not-so-bold prediction that less than 1% of Southern Baptist missions conference attendees will vote for her. Hillary Clinton and the Southern Baptist Convention (which owns NAMB) have almost no mutual interests. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush do have mutual interests with NAMB. They are both vying for the hearts and minds of conservative Hispanics. NAMB is actively focused in an effort to plant churches in the traditionally non-baptist and growing Hispanic community in the United States. As its Caucasian base becomes a smaller proportion of the American population, the Southern Baptist Convention needs to expand into the Hispanic and Black communities in order to stay relevant and viable. NAMB church plants are essentially like franchises for the Southern Baptist Convention. The convention supports the local plant in its infancy; later viable plants return money (collected through local offerings) to the mother convention. Currently, the Southern Baptist Convention struggles from a low market share among minorities. So, too, does the Republican Party. As the country becomes less white, the party of old white men needs to extend its base. Family-oriented and religious Hispanics are a prime target for expansion. Marcio Rubio is a family-oriented and religious Hispanic. Jeb Bush’s wife is Hispanic. Both of these men have the cache to reach the Hispanic community for the GOP in the upcoming presidential election. The need to reach this community explains the GOP’s softening stance on illegal immigration as well as the soft stance of Russell Moore, who once referred to the Lord Jesus as an “illegal immigrant.” The Southern Baptist Convention, especially its North American Mission Board, needs the cache that men like Rubio and Bush bring in order to reach American Hispanics. Rubio and Bus need the votes of Southern Baptists to increase their odds of being elected. Politicians employ demographers. So does NAMB. The invitation of Bush and Rubio demonstrates what happens when demographers plan missions conferences. (It also causes one to wonder why Hispanic candidate Ted Cruz isn’t coming).
- Rubio and Bush are both Roman Catholics. That means, if they believe the dogma of their mother church, that they are both lost. It seems patently absurd to invite lost people to speak to Christians at a missions conference. Shouldn’t the Christians be out evangelizing lost Roman Catholics like Rubio and Bush, instead of clamoring for their perspective on political matters? There are millions of lost Roman Catholics in America. We don’t need their political support, we need to see them come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
- Most SBC pastors will never attend a NAMB conference. As I said earlier, the cost is really not worth the benefit. NAMB demographers surely know this. NAMB demographers also surely know that the local GOP party office and the local SBC church are often hard to differentiate. Inviting GOP politicians may entice politically interested pastors to undertake the expense to attend a SEND conference. While there, they may be moved to lead their church to found a church plant…a plant which will eventually fill the SBC coffers with money.
I’m not sure if Dave Miller or the guys over at Baptist 21 (who should surely weigh in on this matter) will figure out that Rubio and Bush may have been invited to sell tickets. However, to me, it seems like the most obvious explanation for inviting lost politicians to a missions conference. It’s also the most tragic one.
[Contributed by Seth Dunn]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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