I have received several public responses and a large number of private responses to the "Open Letter To West Virginia Southern Baptists" that was posted here last week. A hard copy was also mailed to every Southern Baptist Church in West Virginia. The blog shows that there have been 513 visits to the letter and that is obvious from the number of responses I have received.
Those responses were both positive and negative toward the subject matter of my letter.
The responses I have received have run 8-1 in the positive, toward issues I raised in that letter. I do not know how that will translate out into votes in Martinsburg this week, but it does indicate that there is a deep division among our people over portions of the Strategic Planning Group Report.
My primary concern is over the issue of a perceived danger of an ecclesiastical hierarchy developing in some areas of the Southern Baptist Convention. Numerous secondary and tertiary issues come under that overarching issue, and they trickle down to the state convention levels as well. What Baptists are facing in West Virginia and around the SBC are a result of the outcome of the "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report" vote in Orlando last year. The GRC vote is over and done, as the messengers to the convention voted to accept it. I can deal with that. However, as I have talked with Southern Baptists from all around the country, I am hearing more and more say, "This is not what I voted for in the GRC".
I hope that there will be ample opportunity for debate on the issues we face in WV when we gather at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg later this week. My prayer is that folks on both sides of the issue will be able to state their positions clearly and in a Christlike matter. I've said my piece, and we'll see how it all shakes out.
One more thing regarding the Open Letter. One dear pastor took issue with my letter on the grounds that he felt the hard copy sent to his church, itself "Interfered with the autonomy of his local congregation". This brother drove 50 miles to sit down with me in my office and discuss the matter. He disagreed with certain aspects of my letter, but defended my right to express my opinion. He had first read the letter on the blog, but when he received the hard copy at his church, he took issue with the fact that the letter was addressed to the church, rather than to him as Pastor.
We had a long and fruitful meeting. I assured him that I had no intention of interfering with a local church and its autonomy (we are both strongly on the same page when it comes to that). Since my letter was an "Open Letter" to all Southern Baptists, I did not look at sending it to the churches as interfering with their own operation, but he did take it that way, and even though that was not my intention, I offered sincere apology to him for that. I also told him I would offer that apology in the same forum that the letter appeared in on my blog, and that is what I am doing right now.
I have tremendous respect for that pastor and for his coming to speak to me face to face. As we shared with one another for more than an hour, we both left that meeting with a better understanding of our positions and with the realization that we agree on far more of the major issues than over some of the more minor issues on which we may disagree. We will probably cast opposing votes on the SPG report, but we found much common ground, and a mutual respect for one another, without questioning motives.
That is the kind of meeting we need to have in Martinsburg.