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Sunday Reflections: Going to Sin City

I thought of it a few days ago when the Southern Baptist Convention determined to move their 2023 annual meeting from Charlotte to New Orleans. It reminded me about the time William got so distraught over the SBC meeting in Las Vegas—the “Sin City” of the West.

My wife and I used to attend the annual convention meetings, especially so in the 80s and 90s when the denomination was going through some turmoil. We traveled to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta and Dallas among others over the years. Churches were kind enough to let us take a few days’ vacation after these meetings so we could see some new places.

William was a deacon in his Alabama church, and he vented at my friend, his pastor, who announced he planned to go to the annual meeting that summer in Las Vegas.

“What are God’s people doing in Las Vegas?” William fumed. “That’s Sin City and we have no business going there. It’s disgusting. We’ll ruin our witness for the Lord.”

I’m not sure how the matter eventually worked out in the church. However, one reason the denomination chooses cities for meeting is to publicize Baptist work in the area. We have Baptist work in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada. In recent years convention-goers have been encouraged to join in neighborhood canvassing to invite people to local churches.

The irony is that the SBC has often chosen New Orleans for conventions—the South’s “Sin City.”

I remember attending a convention in the Superdome years ago. And I remember my wife and me walking through the French Quarter, along with other ministers, and munching beignets at Café du Monde. We saw the sights in the city and hopefully weren’t led astray from the path of righteousness. One of my mentors as a young minister was the late Bob Harrington, “Chaplain of Bourbon Street,” who operated a chapel in the quarter.

Now Baptists once again plan to convene in New Orleans.

It’s said a Christian college used to advertise “we’re 50 miles from any known sin.” Of course this can’t be. Sin is a matter of the heart and not of our environment. There are certain things Christians shouldn’t do, and Las Vegas and New Orleans are full of opportunities to do these kinds of things. But most cities are, and we can mess up wherever we live, even on the campus of a Christian college.

The challenge believers face is to follow the old descriptor, “in the world, but not of the world.”

Scripture says we’re citizens of heaven with a mission to be a holy people who serve others. We’re called to “walk the walk” no matter where we walk.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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