The Southern Baptist Convention is a symphony not a melting pot.
In 1915 America was in crisis. The large wave of immigrants had threatened what people deemed the “American way of life.” In other words, people didn't like that others were different from them. It was in this culture that Jewish scholar and writer Horace Kallen wrote his 1915 essay “Democracy versus the Melting Pot.” Kallen challenged the popular notion of America as a melting pot. To Kallen the very idea of a melting pot contradicts part of what it means to be American, of a country of people founded on freedom and equality. He challenged that America was not a melting pot, but a symphony. In a symphony, the different instruments work together, creating a distinct sound that cannot be made of a group of instruments that are all the same.
Kallen believed that America should not seek to be homogenous, singing in unison. Instead they should be “a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind.” The beauty of a symphony is not that all the instruments are the same, but that they are all different. The music that they make is beautiful precisely because they are different. This metaphor of a melting pot versus a symphony should be a model for the SBC.
As we come to the SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas, there has been more fighting and division than at any time in recent memory. There are openings for presidents at three of our entities, and everyone has an idea on who would be a good fit. Someone from this tribe, or that tribe, who supports these people, or has that background. In all the opinions I’ve read online and in print through the last few months, I’ve not read one person who says “the best fit for this opening is someone who is the opposite of me.” We always seems to think that there should be more of the people who look, act, dress, talk, and believe just like we do. But it is the diversity of the SBC that is our strength, not our sameness.
In Dallas when you walk through the convention hall, you will not see a melting pot where every thing looks the same. There will be a variety of languages spoken, a diversity of races, and everyone from cowboys to hipsters. Those who stand on the stage to conduct business will be from all over the country, those voting will be from almost every state in the union, and those nominated to serve will be men and women from big churches, small churches, church plants, and established churches. There will be Calvinists, Traditionalists, cessationists, dispensationalists, and more.
But they will all believe that salvation is by grace through faith, that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord can be saved, and that the Bible is the infallible word of God. The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting should be a slice of heaven, a picture of every tribe and tongue gathered together to worship the Savior. The diversity in the SBC is a cause to celebrate, not something to bemoan. We won’t get it right all the time, we will step on each others toes and say the wrong thing some of the time. Diversity can be hard. We will have to work at it, and work to understand each other, and give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes.
But the music that our symphony makes will be beautiful. The diversity of instruments allows us to reach out to every tribe and tongue across the globe. When we cooperate together the music that we make through missions, church planting, evangelism, and other ministries not only sounds good, it is pleasing to God.
If we could go back to the 1915 annual meeting, the year that Kallen wrote his essay, we would not see the diversity that we will see in Dallas. But through hard work, repentance, and a return to scripture the SBC has come a long way. Praise God that there are people in the Southern Baptist Convention that are different from me, who look, sound, and dress differently than I do. I’m proud to sit beside them in the symphony of the SBC as we proclaim the glory of God to the ends of the earth.