PHOENIX (BP)–In the 1965 movie “Shenandoah,” Jimmy Stewart portrays Charlie Anderson, a Virginia farmer who is a widower with seven children. With the Civil War raging, a fiercely independent Anderson seeks to remain neutral concerning the conflict. However, when his youngest son is mistaken for a Confederate conscript and captured by the Union army, he launches an all-out search for his boy.
When hope for finding his son begins to fade, Anderson waxes philosophical. “I knew when we left home we probably wouldn’t find boy,” he muses. “But we had to try. If we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, then what on earth are we here for?”
Southern Baptists currently gathered in Phoenix can well relate to Anderson’s insightful realization. Speakers who have addressed the annual convention have done anything but sugarcoat the state of American popular culture.
Statistics on the state of the American home are dismal at best. Speakers pointed out the discouraging reality that 3,571 marriages end in divorce every day and that 33 percent of first marriages will dissolve before couples celebrate a 10th anniversary. Compounding the situation is the fact that 35 percent of children live apart from their fathers. Even more sobering is the reality that 50 percent of kids will never set foot in their dads’ homes.
Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, quoted from a study recently released by Duke University. He noted that the North Carolina institution has discovered that the absence of a father in a young girl’s life significantly increases the likelihood that she will become sexually promiscuous as a teenager.
Pornography in general and Internet smut in particular continues to spread like a cancer devastating individuals and destroying homes. Homosexuals have not only come out of the closet but are now jockeying for a position of legitimacy alongside heterosexuals.
While there was little good news in respect to the state of American society, there was no hand-wringing among speakers or messengers. While the task of rescuing a society that seems bent on self-destruction seems daunting, Southern Baptists are not shrinking from the task.
In the midst of cultural decline, Southern Baptists are intensifying efforts to strengthen the American home. Also unveiled at the convention were resources to help churches minister more effectively to homosexuals. Speakers expressed time and again that it should be Southern Baptists’ passion to offer hope to a society in desperate need.
Southern Baptists were repeatedly reminded that they are not alone in their concern for America. Several conservative evangelical leaders from across the country addressed the convention via video.
Among those exhorting the convention from a distance were James Dobson of Focus on the Family; John MacAurthur Jr., pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.; Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York; and Joseph Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
“Shenandoah” had a happy ending. Charlie Anderson eventually found his son. It remains to be seen whether Southern Baptists and other conservative groups will be able to keep American culture from plunging completely off the cliff of postmodern relativism and into a post-Christian abyss. However, it is abundantly clear that Southern Baptists are going to try to halt society’s slide toward destruction. They fervently believe the Lord has placed them on the earth in order to influence the world in which they live.
Boggs is a regular columnist for Baptist Press and pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.