An Open Letter to the SBC from 1VP Candidate Lee Brand

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To the Faith Family of the SBC, 

I am Lee E. Brand Jr., a former local pastor in Starkville, Miss. and current vice president and dean of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn.  On Jan. 27, 2021, my pastor announced my willingness to be nominated as a candidate for the first vice presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of you within the Southern Baptist Family may not know me, and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. In this introduction, I will share who I am, offer my perspective on the current state of the SBC, and present my thoughts on the vibrant future we can realize together. 

I have witnessed some disturbing events among Southern Baptists and Christian evangelicalism as a whole. Those events led me into a time of prayer and deep consideration about the direction of the SBC. Through that prayer time and consultation with godly advisors, I felt led of the Lord to allow myself to be placed as a nominee.

The days leading to my announcement were filled with much prayer and input from trusted biblical advisors. The Lord blessed me with a team who aided in crafting an announcement I truly felt reflected my God-given gifts and abilities. We were contacted by a prominent Christian publication about allowing them to break the story, and we believed that was the proper course of action. My team and I agreed to adjust the announcement date in order to accommodate the Christian Post. To my dismay, the headline of their article set a tone I never intended.  The author wrote, “Prominent black seminary dean Lee Brand nominated to be first vice president of SBC.” 

Michael Gryboski’s headline illustrates much of what I believe is wrong in the public arena and is sadly making inroads into the SBC. Though the Lord has blessed me to garner almost 20 years of pastoral experience, leadership experience within my former and current communities, and educational attainments which stand with those of any other person, the information the Christian Post author chose to lead with was that I am black. Please do not misunderstand my words. Allow me to properly identify the source of my frustration. I thank the Lord for my culture. I am grateful to have my black father and my white mother. I praise the Lord that I was raised in the home with both my parents and my siblings. I thank the Lord I was able to see my mom and dad make substantial sacrifices to ensure my needs were met as well as giving me quite a few of my wants. My background and my color are part of who I am, but make no mistake, they are not all of who I am.  

I am more than brown wrapping paper. I am not a hollow box to be understood solely by my exterior paint job. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I bear the image of the God of creation. Christ gave me new life when I was 13 years old and called me to preach at 17 years of age. For over 20 years, I have labored by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to prepare myself as a minister of the Gospel.  God opened a door for me to go to what I believe is a premier Southern Baptist seminary, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. While there, I earned a Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministries and a Doctor of Philosophy with a major emphasis in Practical Theology and dual minors in New Testament and Theology, served as president of the student council, gained invaluable insights into academic leadership as the teaching fellow to President Michael Spradlin, and forged friendships in ministry that endure even today. 

The Lord has done so many gracious things in my life. He has given me a deep conviction about the inerrancy and sufficiency of His Word. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 19:7-11, where the Lord used David to describe His Word. The psalmist wrote, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple, The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” 

God describes His Word as perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, more desirable than gold, and sweeter than honey. This Word is the special revelation of God and the means whereby we understand and make sense of the created order.  In the pages of Scripture, we learn of the God who made it all and holds it all together. He chose to reveal Himself in His Word. 

The perfect and inerrant word has served as the foundation of faithful churches and ministers across all time and is the only foundation upon which I am building the ministry Christ entrusted to me. Along with the aforementioned details of my life, this conviction is the standards by which I, or any person should first be measured. I cannot tell you what an insult it is to see an article about me crafted in such a way that it fell into the same category as much of the race-highlighting, divide-deepening nonsense prevalent today. My qualifications were glossed over, and my color captured the headline. Am I not more than that? Is a man not more than his pigmented wrapping paper?

I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke great truth when he voiced his dream for equality and said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Since receiving the call to ministry, it has been my desire to serve the Lord by serving all of His people and sharing the Gospel with anyone who is lost. This has been my aim, because I see people as my Lord sees people.  

Our labels of black and white are superficial human constructs at best, and they do very little to highlight the riches within any human being. People are not categorized by their color, but by the condition of their soul. People are not merely an array of shades of brown. They are either saved or lost.  The human soul is of the utmost concern to the Lord Jesus Christ, and as His servant, people’s souls are of the utmost importance to me.

Having offered a window into who I am, I would like to share my thoughts on the current state of our convention. 

There are many good things happening in the SBC. At the ground level, I believe that we have some strong churches, pure doctrine, and real evangelistic work taking place. People are still sharing the Gospel, exalting Christ, and seeing lives changed. 

The great things that are happening do not need to lull us into a false notion that everything is good. In fact, I contend that we are witnessing some very troubling actions being taken within the ranks of SBC leadership and scholarship. We cannot continue to think of these events as foreign, isolated, and of no consequence to those of us serving faithfully in our local churches. 

Personally, I am troubled with the way we are approaching the issue of color-based partiality. This is what is commonly called racism. Individuals who research racism agree that the idea of race is a sociological construct and not a biological reality. Believers have known this from the pages of Scripture long before any attempt was made to scientifically investigate race. Nearly two millennia ago, Paul addressed the crowd at Mars Hill and said, “And He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). We are choosing to forsake the high ground of Scripture and scriptural language and employ the world’s terms. Why are we, in the body of Christ, adopting terminology from the world when God’s Word gives us sufficient terminology to discuss the issue? 

The idea of there being a white church, a black church, or any other kind of church is a complete afront to the Gospel. There is Christ’s church, or there is no church. Buying into such unbiblical fallacies only makes it easier for us to make the next step and adopt a worldly tone. Much of the dialogue within our denomination around this issue of color-based partiality does not adopt the tone of our Lord. 

Whenever we allow ourselves to fall into the world’s ways, we are living beneath our created and even more so our redeemed potential. If we have been saved by grace through faith, we cannot allow ourselves to adopt the world’s terms, tone, or tactics. If John the Apostle warns us not to love the world in 1 John 2:15, I certainly think a fair application of that truth would be not to adopt worldly ways. 

Those who believe they have identified real expressions of partiality should be mindful of Paul’s words to the Galatians. He wrote, “Brethren, if any man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). If we genuinely desire to identify issues of color-based partiality and deal with such issues, we will never glorify God by attacking these issues in the same tone and spirit as the world. We must reject the world’s terms and tone. As God’s children, we most certainly must reject the world’s tactics. 

We are witnessing an ungodly shift from the solid foundation of the Bible onto the shifting sands of humanistic philosophies and practices. Our discourse is being stained with the venomous tones of heathens as we blister one another on social media seemingly searching for likes, shares, and retweets. Our terminology is tiptoeing dangerously close to forsaking true biblical words, the kind that are filled with truth and seasoned with love.  We now deal with words like hegemony, whiteness, and analytical tools.  We are witnessing the repackaging and devaluing of words like sufficiency, reconciliation, and gospel. 

Amid the repackaging of these terms, let us not forget that Southern Baptists have been labeled many things throughout their history. Anyone with the ability to read and examine history knows of one specific troubling aspect of the SBC’s dark past concerning color-based partiality. That history is one that no Christian can avoid or condone. I further believe that the same history that sets forth the great wrong of slavery and the Southern Baptist Convention’s wrong in supporting slavery also contains the record of this denomination’s admission of guilt and request for forgiveness. As a Bible-believing child of God, I cannot ask for or expect anything more from the SBC as a whole, or from an individual church member. 

Is the evangelistic and missional history of the SBC not a testament to the glory of God? Is it not an expression of grace that He would use a convention with flaws like the SBC to reach millions with the Gospel? Has the same Bible that the SBC declared as the inerrant word of God not served as the divine corrective of the horrible practice of slavery? Should that same sufficient Word not be employed to deal with modern expressions of color-based partiality? Is the Bible insufficient to stand alone in identifying and remedying such sin? Has the Bible proven insufficient in this area and therefore led us into our adoption of Critical Race Theory as an analytical tool? Shall we cancel every God-honoring aspect of the SBC over the past 175 years because some of those who came before us failed to submit to the Bible’s teaching about the worth of all of humanity? 

Amid the cries of the culture, will we simply cancel the SBC in its entirety? Is there nothing redeemable within the SBC? Does the God who spared wicked Nineveh despite Jonah’s desire for their destruction have no redemptive grace for the SBC? If we resolve ourselves to destroy the SBC and dismantle it as part of our appeasement of the cancel culture, do we violate the way of our Lord? 

Whether you read this letter as a person representing the Latin-Hispanic, Native American, Asian-America, Black, White, or other ethnic group, I challenge you to consider these things. If we classify the SBC as wholly irredeemable, we are setting a precedent that the Lord Himself does not espouse. Throughout the Bible, God has used flawed people. He has always selected people to do His work who are less than perfect. He used His Word to convict them of sin and bring them to repentance. 

David is known as the man after God’s own heart. After being handed the kingdom, he burned with lust for a married woman, took that woman for himself, and murdered her husband as part of an evil plot to cover his tracks. Did God not still keep the Davidic covenant? What did God do? God brought a prophet to expose David’s sin. The prophet did not come with a culturally crafted tool. Nathan came with the Word of God. This is evidence that God did not throw David away. God used His prophet to confront David about his sin and bring him to a place or repentance.

How about the great preacher of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter? Peter was actually guilty of the very thing that we vilify some Southern Baptist of times past for being. He was prejudiced! Peter demonstrated his partiality when confronted with a vision in Acts 10. Though he was a practitioner of partiality, and he battled with partiality for at least a season in his apostolic ministry (Galatians 2:11-14), the Lord did not cancel Peter. God used Paul to challenge Peter about his sinfulness. Each of Peter’s encounters to diagnose and deal with his partiality were brought about by the Spirit of God using the Word of God and the people of God. The Lord changed Peter through His sanctifying grace.  

The same Bible that we hold as the inerrant and sufficient Word of God is the great righting mechanism within our denomination, our nation, and a lost world. The Bible is the supreme, and I would argue the sole rule of faith and practice. It contains all that we, or any other person, will ever need to identify and remedy human sinfulness. The Bible teaches us how to be made right with God (in the vertical) and with others (in the horizontal). 

There is a great storm brewing within the SBC, and we cannot afford to get this weather report wrong. Our battle is not between our various shades of brown, but between those who will say the Bible is sufficient in their proclamation and show its sufficiency in their practice, and those who will try to merge some measure of biblical principle with a palatable amount of worldly philosophy. Herein is why I write you this letter and am willing to serve if you see fit to elect me. 

I have offered you a glimpse into who I am and my assessment on where we are, and I conclude by offering my thoughts on our future. 

I believe the greatest days of the SBC are the days ahead not those behind. As the world declines, darkens, and decays; we have a great opportunity to hold the light of Jesus Christ high. I believe that our convention’s future work must be approached along four specific fronts. 

First, we must stand for the sufficiency of Scripture. Without God’s Word to guide us, we have no clear direction. His Word must be the foundation of all that we do. Scripture is the means God has given us to know His will and His ways.  Our convention must make serious efforts to demonstrate our commitment to upholding the sufficiency of Scripture in proclamation and practice. We must be people of the inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient Bible.

Second, we must strengthen our partnerships at the local level. Our convention must work to reassure all local pastors and church planters that the convention exists to work with and for them. We are not a top-down hierarchy that sets the course for local churches. Our convention is designed for national leaders to serve and support the local churches. We serve to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The SBC exists to strengthen local churches around the globe by providing resources and opportunities for partnership.

Third, I believe our future will be brightened through better stewardship of our resources. We must be willing to examine all of our endeavors and initiatives in the following two lines of questioning. In regard to what we are doing through our entities, is it biblical? Once we can offer a resounding yes to the first question, we must then ask in regard to what we are doing, is it best? We must evaluate our processes and procedures for the best use of our resources. As a convention, we need to ensure we are utilizing the tremendous blessings God has given us in a way that honors Christ and is complimentary of the desires of our local churches.

Forth and finally, the three previous actions all flow from what must always be our primary emphasis: we must share the Gospel. As long as there are people who do not know Christ, the SBC has work to do. All of our planning, execution, and evaluation must tie into spreading the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Whether in our homes, outside our doors, or around the globe, we will continue our evangelistic efforts and share the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ. 

Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself to you. I am willing should I be given the opportunity to elaborate on the points made in this letter and provide a deeper view into who I am, where I believe we are, and where I believe we can go. I ask for your prayers. If you are led to do so, I ask for your support. See you in Nashville!

In Christ, 

Lee E. Brand Jr. 

Vice President and Dean of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary