Monday, August 07, 2006

A Disturbing Statement from Bobby Welch

In the August 2006 issue of SBC Life there is an open letter to Southern Baptists written by former SBC president Bobby Welch in which, among other things, he discusses some of his impressions of the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro. In this letter, Welch makes some disturbing statements regarding the vote on the (in)famous resolution against alcohol [all emphasis is mine]:

Additionally, the Convention voted almost unanimously that they wanted pastors and people who are leading them not to be persons blinded by a theology that encourages and promotes drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind....

Undoubtedly, the greatest surprise to almost everyone was that several Southern Baptist pastors actually came to a microphone and publicly promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same! Actually, I never thought I would see that take place, and it is not only a surprise but an outrage!
I would like for Bobby Welch, or anyone else, to provide one statement made during the debate over this resolution in which a person who spoke against the resolution actually promoted or encouraged the use of alcohol. I personally do not recall anyone who spoke against the resolution making any statement to this effect. The basic point of most of the statements from those opposed to the resolution was that since the Bible never requires God's people to practice total abstinence we also should not require total abstinence.

Bobby Welch's statement is disturbing because it means one of two things: either he did not understand what those who spoke against the resolution were saying, or he is deliberately misrepresenting their statements in order to discredit those who opposed this resolution. To be honest, I find it difficult to believe either option. Bobby Welch is an intelligent man, so it seems reasonable to assume that he understood the arguments being made by the opponents of the resolution, even if he disagreed with them. Furthermore, Bobby Welch is a Christian, a preacher of the gospel, and a leader of our convention. The honesty that should be characteristic of such a man and the fairness with which he presided over the past two SBC Annual Meetings are not consistent with a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts to discredit those on the other side of an issue. And yet, since those who voiced their opposition to the resolution were NOT promoting the use of alcohol, it is obvious that Bobby Welch either did not understand what they were saying or he is being dishonest about what they were saying. I have no way of determining which of these options is correct, but either option is disturbing for Southern Baptists. Our former president either cannot understand plain English, or he is lying. Actually, I suppose there could be a third option: he simply was not paying attention during the debate. Again, however, this would be disturbing because he was the presiding officer during the debate. None of these options is acceptable, and none of them fit with what I know about Bobby Welch, but I cannot think of any other way to explain his statements in this letter. With these statements, Bobby Welch has done neither himself nor the SBC any favors.

I really wish that the discussion of the alcohol issue would cease. Not only is it becoming an increasingly divisive issue, but the more that our convention's leaders talk about this issue, the more that my confidence in them diminishes.


Until I have reason to presume otherwise, I am giving Bobby Welch the benefit of the doubt and am choosing to believe that he simply misunderstood what the opponents of the resolution were saying. While this is disturbing (because their statements were clear), it is not as disturbing as his making a deliberate misrepresentation would be.


GuyMuse said...

I really wish that the discussion of the alcohol issue would cease. It won't!

To me, the heart of the matter goes back to your "Battle for the Bible" post. Our traditions and practices are understood to be one and the same with what the Bible teaches. Not so! What we usually do is find those verses that support our tradition/practice and then proclaim, "this is what the Bible says..."

The reality is that we are going at it backward. Start with what the Bible says and then form the tradtion/practice.

We did this with the whole baptism issue. There are so many traditions and practices associated with "proper baptism." Instead of following all the traditions, we went back and carefully examined every passage of Scripture in the NT that speaks of baptism, asking pertinent questions of the Scripture in front of us. From this exercise we have adopted a much simpler, less complex view of baptism. I feel we are very close to what the NT actually teaches on the subject, but we try to remain open for new input and to be shown from Scripture where we may be off at some point.

deusvult2 said...

Rev. Sweatman,

Do you think this issue is going to get more divisive in the future? Do you think it may cause divisions in our convention? I was just wondering, bc I don't see either side backing down anytime soon and that can't go on forever, something's got to give. What do you think?

Tim Sweatman said...


I think part of the problem is that both sides are approaching the issue from a different perspective. Most of those who are insisting that total abstinence is the only acceptable decision are looking at this strictly as an alcohol issue, while most of us who are opposed to insisting on total abstinence see the issue as one of biblical sufficiency. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who is personally opposed to the use of alcohol more than I am, but since there is no biblical requirement for total abstinence I cannot insist that others abstain, and I certainly cannot claim a biblical mandate for my personal view.

That being said, I agree with you completely about our tendency to start with our own traditions and beliefs and find biblical texts to support them. In the last year or so I have made a conscious effort to try to approach the Bible in an objective manner, and I am finding that many of my presuppositions are being challenged.



Unfortunately, I believe this issue may very well divide the SBC. We can't even agree on what the issue is, let alone on how we should approach it. Again, if it were strictly an alcohol issue, I don't believe there would be a whole lot of disagreement. Most of the people I know personally who opposed the alcohol resolution have personally chosen to abstain, but not because total abstinence is the biblical position. At its heart, this entire issue is about the sufficiency of Scripture. Our commitment to Scripture is stronger than our dislike of alcohol, so since Scripture does not require abstinence we cannot require abstinence, even though many of us might wish that we could.

Kevin Bussey said...

Like I have said elsewhere, I'm more concerned about a pro-abortion person speaking from the SBC platform than someone drinking a glass of wine.

Tim Sweatman said...


The person to which you are referring also drinks wine. To borrow a word you used on another blog, this is hypocrisy on both counts. It is no coincidence that the more closely aligned the SBC has become with secular politicians, the more that our leaders act like secular politicians.

Jamie Wootten said...

To be honest I fall on the side of Bobby Welch on this issue. But I am disappointed with the inflammatory rhetoric coming from him and others. In fact there are far too many people on both sides of this issue lobbing hand grenades back and forth and I wish it would stop. Seems like we should be able to discuss/debate/disagree with a Christian spirit rather than with a jihad mentality.

Tim, I too am ready to move past this issue and I think you and Kevin are right that we ought to be making a big deal out of a certain political platform speaker who has positions contrary to our resolutions!

Alan Cross said...

I could care less about the alcohol issue. I agree with what Guy says and on that point, it is important. Other than that, I have no interest in it.

But what Dr. Welch said is very important, I believe. I wrote a post about this today as well. Either he misunderstood, does not know what he is talking about, or he is lying about others for some reason and did not think anyone would check him on it. That is an action against the 9th Commandment and is very dangerous.

I have nothing against Dr. Welch. But, I won't allow lies about other people when statements were made in front of 11,000 people and are easily verifiable on the webcast to go unchallenged. This is bigger than the alcohol debate. That is just the platform for a much larger debate within the convention. Sigh.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Tim,

Thanks for working this issue. It is of great importance (not the alcohol part, but the Bible part and the honoesty part).

Dear Brother Guy,

Thank you for the point you made. That is the point I am trying to make with Dr. Richards at the new SBTC blog.

Love in Christ,


Bowden McElroy said...

Re: "either he did not understand what those who spoke against the resolution were saying, or he is deliberately misrepresenting their statements"

There is a third option. It may be that his world view is pretty black and white: if you weren't for the resolution prohibiting alcohol, then you are, in fact, promoting alcohol.

I don't see this as disinginuous or misleading but as a way of looking at the world. It's a "for or agin" approach that I don't share, but I'm not willing to label it as lying.

Those of us who see gray areas don't understand the either/or people. And they don't get us.

Tim Sweatman said...


I nearly listed that as one of the options, but in the end I felt that this falls under the option of not understanding what was being said. The more I think about it, the more I believe this is the most likely option. Unfortunately, the inability to understand one another makes it very difficult to resolve the matter.

Cam Dunson said...

I think that the answer to your question can be seen in the statement made by Welch:
"My father was addicted to alcohol, which contributed to his early death."
He brings some serious baggage to the table on this one and he's not likely to be able to think and behave rationally on this issue.
Just a thought from a development psych person. . .

Tim Sweatman said...


That makes sense. However, Ben Cole shared a similar story during the debate, and he spoke strongly against the resolution. I believe that Bobby Welch's experience with his father has undoubtedly shaped his perspective on this issue, but I don't know that this is enough to explain his inability to understand what the opponents of the resolution were saying. I guess that because I tend to be a rational, emotionally detached person I have a difficult time understanding how someone's emotions can cloud the most basic of judgments.

francie said...

if i may comment on something other than the alcohol thing - let's look at something else

not that it's worth anything thing. . . but my thoughts are how dare someone claim that soul winning is primarly a southern baptist thing.

now don't get me wrong -- i'm southern bapt. and believe we do a great job of sending out missionaries as well as challenging all to be "on-mission".

but my issue is we are not the only denomonation -- in our effort to be accomplishing the great commission shouldn't we seek to be a bit more missional in our thinking and seek to partner with others - may i even say, other denominations -- in order to fullfill the great commission.

and the baptism thing -- please -- just holding a revival service doesn't mean revival will take place - and for that matter revival, in the biblical sense isn't about soul winning - it's about God's children being awakened - revived - in a sense to Him and His working in thier lives. Revivals are not for the lost but for the saved!

okay now that i've ranted i'm going to sign off


Tim Sweatman said...


I think Bobby Welch was trying to say that soul winning should be our primary thing as Southern Baptists rather than claiming that soul winning is primarily a Southern Baptist thing. That being said, I do believe that we as Southern Baptists tend to be a bit prideful at times when it comes to our missions work. Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant portion of the SBC who believes that we can win the world to Jesus by ourselves. I don't really know where Bobby Welch stands on the issue of cooperating with other Great Commission Christians, but we do not have an exclusive license from God when it comes to missions and evangelism.

Regarding revival services, I agree that holding a revival service doesn't mean that revival will take place. But if we hold TWO revival services a year, we're guaranteed to see more people baptized! Or so I've been told. ;)

John Fariss said...

Two revivals a year will see more baptized than one? Folks, live outside of the Bible Belt a few years then see if you can make that statement. Revivals, so-called, are fine if you are in a culture that accepts/expects them. Otherwise, they rarely (if ever) do much or any of what is expected of them. Hey: how about a string on this subject?

Tim Sweatman said...


That's what Bobby Welch said both in Nashville and in Greensboro. All I can say is that in the last two revivals (using the typical SBC meaning of the term) I was part of (one as a layman, one as a pastor) a grand total of ZERO people were saved. Can revival services be part of an effective evangelistic strategy? Of course, but they have to be done in the right cultural context, they must be planned properly, and most importantly they must be bathed in intense, fervent, and concerted prayer. In both of the cases I mentioned, the cultural context was one in which many churches reach several people through revival services. For the revival when I was a layman, we had a very gifted and passionate evangelist, but the preparation and prayer support were poor. For the one when I was a pastor, the church decided to hold the revival in conjunction with the homecoming (which received the most emphasis), a former pastor rather than a full-time evangelist was called in, and our efforts to get the people involved in concerted, fervent prayer fell far short. If the cultural context is favorable, I believe revival services can be effective, but they are not some sort of magical formula.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody ever heard Pastor Johnny Hunt's message "SHOULD CHRISTIANS DRINK: A COMMITMENT TO TOTAL ABSTINENCE?" I hope so. Biblically speaking, I would be opposed to doing anything that would cause someone else to stumble. Isn't that what the Bible says?

If alcohol is the issue that causes people to think there's nothing different about Christians than the world, then we should turn over the glass. After all, we're called to be different, not imitate.

Anonymous said...

Drunkards shall not enter the Kingdom of God,1ST.Cor.6:10.If you take one drink and it takes 3-4 to get you drubk you are 1/3 drunk.I would not risk remaining after the rapture.Leaders certainly should not drink.And we are all leaders when we are Born Again.Good leaders or bad leaders.You should not be directing your emotions at Bobbie but should be judging yourself first.I do not drink,why ...because the Lord does not want me to ruin His Temple.