This year’s Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting was held in Anaheim, June 12-13. As usual, there was drama. The most controversial issue was about whether or not women can serve as pastors in Baptist churches. Like most Protestant denominations, the SBC had seen an increase in women pastors in its churches during the latter half of the twentieth century, but as part of a conservative takeover in the year 2000, they took a strong stand against it, with several churches leaving in protest.

This year the issue raised its head again in response to the brazen action of the Southern Baptist Convention’s second largest congregation, Saddleback Church, in Orange County. Under its Founding Pastor Rick Warren, the church had recently ordained three women to ministry as Pastors, and a motion was brought at the Anaheim Meeting that Saddleback should be excluded from the denomination. Pastor Rick Warren made a warm, friendly appearance that seemed to sway the crowd, and the decision was postponed for later action. However, it was clear that the group’s stand against women in church leadership was not going away in spite of this large, popular church’s action.*

Meanwhile, relatively small and insignificant Altadena Baptist Church settles in comfortably under the Pastoral leadership of Rev. Connie DeVaughn, who has proven herself over the 34 years since her ordination as a Pastor in 1988. Its members are kind of happy not to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

At the Anaheim Meeting, the conservatives had a slate of alternate candidates who were more hard-right, including Rev. Tom Ascol as President of the Convention and Rev. Voddie Baucham as President of the Pastor’s Conference. Fortunately, they lost.

In their campaign statement, Ascol and Baucham said they “will help turn the SBC away from ‘wokeness’ and back to the Bible.” Ascol said, “We believe that God is watching, that He alone defines our terms and sets our agenda. And God is not Woke.”**

“God is not Woke.” Wait, that sounds familiar; vaguely Biblical. Right! Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The 450 heathen prophets danced and cried out and cut themselves for hours, but Baal did not send fire to the altar. Elijah taunted, “Maybe your God is asleep; shout louder!”*** Rev. Ascol might have had that Bible passage in mind when he said, “God is not Woke.” Or maybe he thought of the discouraged psalmist who wrote,

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! (Psalm 44:23)

Of course, I know that Rev. Ascol was using the word woke in another way. Being woke is a way African-Americans have reminded each other that they have to stay alert in order to make it in modern society, which is still full of all sorts of racist obstacles and traps. Today, American conservatives have been using the term in a disparaging way, to discount any reminder that there are many inequities in our society. Rev. Ascol thought he was being cute and clever (woke?) to use the term in reference to God: “God is not Woke.”

Well, my God is WOKE, fully WOKE in every way possible! To Rev. Ascol when he makes pompous announcement about his caricature of God, to all who are treated as “less-than” — women who are not allowed to lead in churches, people of color and others who are excluded from full participation in the American dream — I give you the assurance of Psalm 121:3-4:

He who keeps you will not slumber. He will neither slumber nor sleep.


— Pastor George Van Alstine

* You can watch portions of the debate on YouTube: This video ends without reporting the votes for President. They were: Bart Barber 3,401 (61 %), Tom Ascol 2,172 (32 %).

** Christianity Today article:

*** 1 Kings 18:20-40