Baptist21 panelists discuss how to have a diverse, yet unified SBC culture

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) participated in its ninth consecutive Baptist21 Luncheon in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting on June 11. The topic of discussion, “United and Diverse: Critical Issues for our Cooperative Future,” sought to bring together multiple perspective to think through how Southern Baptists can move forward on various issues with unity.

Jedidiah Coppenger, a pastor and member of the Baptist21 leadership team, moderated the panel.

“It doesn’t take very long to realize that there’s a great deal of diversity on a lot of issues in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Coppenger, explaining to the 1,054 attendees that this diversity of backgrounds “frame[s] how we look at the issues before us.”

Panelists included Danny Akin, president of SEBTS; Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; Trillia Newbell, an author and speaker from Nashville, Tennessee; and D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship. 

To begin, Coppenger asked Akin how Southern Baptists can move forward in unity surrounding the decision of Paige Patterson’s removal from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s presidency.

Akin encouraged Southern Baptists to pray for everyone involved in the recent allegations as well as to have confidence in the trustees’ decision.

“I trust the process and I trust the trustees,” said Akin. He later added, “I think we can all agree we should pray for all the parties involved, including the Pattersons but also the various women [who] were subject to abuse.”

Another issue addressed was the unintentional enablement of abusive men in the church and how pastors can counteract that problem.

Moore explained that this can happen when churches try to maintain “self-preservation.”

“It’s a Genesis 3 fallen world,” added Moore. “Abuse can happen here no matter where here is, and so saying that to your congregation or community doesn’t remove confidence. It actually instills confidence.”

Chandler challenged pastors in stopping the enabling of abusers in the church by suggesting the following caveat in sermons regarding submission: “If you are in a physically, emotionally, spiritually abusive situation, this is not giving your husband permission to treat you like that. Please come to us. We want to get you to safety and then we can talk about the situation that you’re in.”

Chandler explained that abusive men distort submission in Scripture as a weapon.

The conversation then turned to creating safe environments for women in churches.

Newbell encouraged pastors to invite women who have a past of abuse to be a part of those decisions.

“Don’t ignore the women around you,” said Newbell. “They are there to serve and to help and [to] equip you in how to handle these situations.”

Newbell, who shared her story of abuse as a teenager at an ERLC event the night before, challenged attendees to have procedures in place to handle abuse situations as well as gracious church environments.

“Make sure that you have grace upon grace,” said Newbell, “[so] that [victims] know they will not be treated differently because they have just shared the hardest parts of their heart and stuff that they have been through.”

In relation to his recent article, “The Wrath of God Poured Out – The Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Mohler said, “It’s embarrassing to be called by people to defend your theology out of the accusation that it leads to the abuse of women. But what if it does? Or what if it can?” said Mohler. “Then it’s our responsibility to make sure that it must not.”

Panelists also discussed more specifically how they are empowering women in the context of their schools and churches.

Among them, Akin highlighted a historic moment for SEBTS as well as the SBC.

“This year Southeastern did something that’s historic in the Southern Baptist Convention. We elected a woman to be the chairman of our board of trustees,” said Akin. “I think that’s not only important symbolically; I think it’s also important in terms of what will happen on our board as she leads us in the next couple of years.”

“It also helps when we again as pastors are reinforcing the leadership that’s been designated to a sister in the church,” said Horton, who gave the example of a woman who leads evangelism efforts at Reach Fellowship.

“This is Ephesians 4. I’m equipping her to do the work of the ministry,” he said. “I want to join in the efforts that she’s leading in the work of ministry.”

The next question shifted the conversation to the diversification of the SBC.

Smith told attendees that “there is nothing more important than Genesis 1:27, speaking to how people value the image of God in others. Smith also spoke candidly of the political allegiances people draw up in the church that are a form of idolatry, explaining that Christians must allow for freedom for one another on issues that Scripture does not clearly address.

“Some of us roll up joints with the dung of elephants and dung of donkeys, and we smoke it,” said Smith. His comment was met with a mixture of astonishment, laughter and applause.

Newbell told attendees that a very practical way to begin pursuing diversity in their lives is to get to know their neighbors who look different than them and to “diversify their mind[s].”

“Proximity changes everything,” said Newbell, adding, “We can’t love who we don’t know and who we’re not trying to know.”

Baptist21 is a network of SBC pastors who desire to maintain gospel centrality while communicating clearly about current events within pastoral life. For more information about Baptist21, visit

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