“Everything is bigger and better in Texas.”
The obvious message is that Texas is simply better, in large part because of size. But bigger and better than what? Well, all of course.
Texas is a large state, but Alaska is larger by nearly 400,000 square miles. Lots of people live here, but there are even more in California – about 10 million more. Texas has a tremendous economy but is still smaller than California despite significant and sustained gains. When it comes to temples of consumption – malls – Texas doesn’t even have one of the top 5 largest malls.
A lot of things are big in Texas, but not everything is bigger.
We can measure bigger. Better? Well, that’s just subjective.
During the day Texas has a lot of blue skies and also a lot of brown. The stars at night used to be much brighter. You can camp in Texas, but you can’t ski. Football is king, but the Dallas Cowboys… They get the point.
For all that’s good about Texas, not everything is better. But some of it can be.
Positive steps forward
The 2022 annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas was peaceful. That sounds boring, but a so-called boring meeting is not bad. Boring, however, can be bad if it obscures the reason for celebration.
One thing worth celebrating is the work of The Pastor’s Common. In recent years, this group of young adults has grown together and grown.
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She and other young adult leaders drew national attention in Galveston last year with a motion — adopted by ambassadors at the 2021 BGCT Annual Meeting — to “appoint a task force to study and recommend ways to increase millennial and gen -Z-Baptists alive to raise the convention and its collaborating churches.”
The task force reported its findings to the 2022 Assembly and tabled a new motion – also adopted by ambassadors – “to appoint a task force to study the creation of a residency program where junior ministers will be mentored by established ministers and be formed”.
The Pastor’s Common invited me to their event on Monday night and what I saw is definitely worth celebrating. I saw a room of great diversity among about 100 Millennial and Gen Z men and women worshiping God fervently.
They shared their concerns about rampant biblical illiteracy, poor pastoral health, shortages of pastors, declining church attendance and the destabilization of denominational structures. They want to undo all of that.
They reject consumer Christianity, Christian nationalism and homogeneity. They are looking for effective discipleship models and better use of technology. They include women in ministry and in creativity.
They want to be cared for and welcomed into the convention tour. We should meet her with both.
room for improvement
Not to be missed in the stillness of a peaceful congress are two significant resolutions passed without discussion.
Resolution II emphasizes our culture’s focus on “divisive, judgmental rhetoric at the expense of the grace, truth, and love that characterize the gospel.” In response, the resolution urges Texas Baptists to “strive to follow the way of Jesus as we bring our culture” and “avoid cruel jokes, mockery, and derogatory language when articulating our biblical beliefs.”
I celebrate this resolution and the fact that it was introduced by members of the Millennial and Gen Z Task Force. It’s countercultural; it’s good trouble. It demonstrates the commitment of young adults to be like Jesus in this world. If we embody that resolution, Texas – and far beyond – will be better off.
Resolution III is also more important than the muted reception at the annual meeting would suggest. The envoys decided not to support “any attempt by the government to commandeer the church for political ends, or any attempt by the government to favor one religion over another.”
Texas Baptists chose to “reaffirm the historic principles of religious liberty” and not “attempt to use government to compel the worship of Christ.”
I also celebrate this resolution. But one of my brothers in Christ is disappointed. He later told me he was disappointed that the Texas Baptists had not taken a firmer stance by naming Christian nationalism in the resolution.
Karl Barth and his colleagues did not shy away from naming evil in the Barmen Declaration. They condemned the Nazis and the Nazi perversion of Christianity by name.
More than the resolution, I celebrate my brother in Christ and join him in urging Baptists in Texas to call Christian nationalism for what it is – a syncretic heresy, an unfaithful parody of the way of Christ.
In his congressional address, outgoing BGCT President Jason Burden praised Texas, “Everything is bigger and better in the state of Texas.”
Although I have questioned his high praise for Texas, Burden and I agree in his conclusion: “A Texas without Jesus is not a Texas to brag about.”
Texas is a big state. Their problems can be great too, but no greater than the power of Jesus Christ lived through those who follow him.
As much as there is to love about Texas and Texas Baptists, there is room for improvement. Not everything is better in Texas, but more can be. If we live as Jesus taught and commanded us, there will be more.
Eric Black is the executive director, editor and publisher of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed are solely those of the author.