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Politics-packed speech met with outcry online

Dallas | Despite debate surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the convention hall was packed Wednesday morning when he took the stage. Pence called the SBC “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.” After a few more words of praise for Southern Baptists, he shared his brief testimony of coming to faith in Christ 40 years ago.

From there, his speech became more political, noting the Trump administration’s accomplishments during two years in office, including recent peace talks with North Korea. Pence received multiple standing ovations and even a few shouts of “four more years.”

On his and President Trump’s behalf, Pence asked Baptists to “continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.”

As he neared the end of his speech, he requested messengers pray, noting it wasn’t politically motivated. “And on this one, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about praying for an agenda or for a cause. I rather like what President Lincoln said in his time when he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army. Our 16th President simply replied, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’” Pence’s request was met with loud applause.

Read the transcript of his address at ChristianPost.com.

During and after Pence’s speech, many Baptists expressed dismay with the content and tone of his message.

“Have mercy on us,” tweeted Paul Cooper, pastor of Marshall Baptist Church in Marshall, Ill. “#SBC18AM just became a political rally. Not the place for election speeches. Nothing wrong with campaigning- but not here.”

Newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear posted after Pence’s address, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted from a different perspective. “Vice President Mike Pence speaking to SBC! Why do things like this matter? It is good for people in power to know us. We may need them at some point. Also, we need to affirm evangelicals in politics. It is a tough calling.”

On Tuesday, a messenger brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings.

Before his address, Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention. There was a loosely organized effort on Twitter to invite messengers to gather on the other end of the convention hall during the vice president’s address for a time of prayer.

Prayer group

A small group met to pray during Vice President Mike Pence’s address in Dallas. Twitter photo

A photo posted on Twitter by SBC Voices shows about a dozen people at the prayer meeting.

Those opposed to Pence’s appearance said it could give the appearance that the Convention was endorsing one political party over another, would be disrespectful to minorities who feel the current administration doesn’t represent them, and could put international Baptist workers at risk.

However, in the packed convention hall, many messengers gave Pence repeated standing ovations for his campaign-like message.

 

 

 

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Dallas | J.D. Greear says his election does not indicate a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. But the photos of Greear, 45, with his opponent Ken Hemphill and outgoing SBC President Steven Gaines, both in their 60s, might attest otherwise.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” Greear said after his landslide win. “We walk forward together,” he said a conciliatory tone.

Two years after he won the approval of many by stepping aside in a tight race with Gaines saying he wanted to avoid division in the denomination, Greear won this election by a 2-1 margin, taking 69% of the vote. With this overwhelming tally, Greear became the youngest president of the denomination in its 173-year history.

In the election, little mention was made of Greear’s reformed theology. In fact, much was made of his North Carolina church’s record of evangelism and sending missionaries to the field through SBC channels. His nomination speech seemed to take pains to assure those who might be concerned about a shift away from evangelism by the election of a Calvinist. Greear expressed his commitment to evangelistic renewal in the denomination in a subsequent press conference.

Greear takes office facing a challenging slate of issues not evident when he announced his candidacy five months ago. In addition to the continuing decline in baptisms and per capita Cooperative Program giving to missions by SBC church members, Greear faces the issues of unreported sexual abuse and moral failure by SBC leaders, the role of women in Southern Baptist leadership, the future of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, and now troubled Southwestern Seminary.

In reporting Greear’s election, Christianity Today called the SBC presidency a “symbolic, visionary role.” Today, that description could not be more wrong. Greear will not only be the new face of SBC, he will be the first of his generation to assume the role at a most critical juncture in SBC history. Greear told his church that his service wouldn’t require any more of his time than his usual travel schedule as a nationally recognized and much sought-after speaker. It will be interesting to ask him in a year if that assessment was correct.

Digging out of this mess will take more time and effort than anyone imagined. And it will require true leadership.

-Eric Reed

 

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North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear answers questions at a press conference following his election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. BP photo

Dallas | On a contentious first day, messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention debated whether Vice President Mike Pence should address the Convention, heard a call for the removal of Southwestern Seminary trustees, debated nominations for SBC trustee boards, and disagreed about a variety of other issues.

But they also came together to elect officers, including J.D. Greear, who was elected SBC president in a landslide victory. The pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham received 68.62% of the vote to Ken Hemphill’s 31.19%. The election of Greear, 45, could be perceived as a turn toward a younger generation of Baptist leaders, and the Reformed theology many of them embrace. Greear, however, expressed a different view at a press conference following the election.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” he said. “We walk forward together.”

Related: The Christian Post reports on J.D. Greear’s 6 priorities for the SBC

Voters in Dallas also approved 16 resolutions and commissioned 79 International Mission Board missionaries to the nations, but only after the major issue of the day—Pence’s planned address Wednesday—had been discussed numerous times on the convention floor.

Garrett Kell a messenger from Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings. And Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention.

Multiple motions also were made to dismiss trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who terminated President Emeritus Paige Patterson following weeks of controversy over his comments about women and domestic abuse, and his handling of sexual assault allegations at the two SBC seminaries he has led as president. The Committee on Order of Business announced the removal of the trustees would be put to a messenger vote at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Other SBC officers elected include: AB Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, first vice president; Felix Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central Oklahoma City, second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recording secretary; and Don Currence, minister of music at First Baptist Church of Ozark, Mo., registration secretary.

Tuesday evening concluded with an International Mission Board sending celebration and a message from evangelist Ravi Zacharias. “It’s a miracle in our times when the finger of God is in all of history,” he preached. “When God moves the masses…when he says, ‘Child of mine you don’t have to go 10,000 miles anymore. They are outside your door.’”

-Lisa Sergent, with reporting from Baptist Press

Pence to take SBC stage Wednesday
The announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 met with some pushback from Baptists who say his appearance ties the denomination to a particular political party, and to divisive rhetoric that goes against the mission of the church. But a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer failed on the convention floor Tuesday.

Related:

  • At a panel discussion in Dallas, former SBC President James Merritt said the #metoo movement is a “wakeup call” for pastors.
  • Christianity Today reports that women—and the church’s response to abuse—are garnering “unprecedented attention” at this year’s annual meeting

Masterpiece baker: ‘My religion can’t be hidden’
Back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips views his faith in a new light after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips says he’s learned his faith—while deeply personal—can’t be hidden from view.

Ex-LGBTQ Christians rally against bill criminalizing same-sex change
California Assembly Bill 2943, which would ban faith-based efforts to counsel members of the LGBTQ community, will be up for debate before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, the bill will criminalize “sexual orientation change efforts” by making it illegal to distribute resources, sell books, offer counseling services, or direct someone to a biblically-based model for getting help with gender confusion and homosexuality. Ex-LGBTQ activists and ministry leaders are working to make sure the bill is voted down.

Jockey praises ‘Lord and Savior’ after win
After winning the Belmont Stakes, Mike Smith, the jockey riding Justify in Saturday night’s race, told reporters, “First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Justify led all the way in New York’s Belmont Stakes on his way to becoming racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith, 52 and a devout Christian, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Colorado Public Radio, CBN (2)

Patterson withdraws from preaching role; messengers poised to discuss women, leadership in SBC

Southern Baptists will convene in Dallas next week, looking to put several divisive months behind them and unite around the purposes they have in common.

Steve Gaines

Memphis pastor Steve Gaines is completing his second one-year term as SBC president.

“The past two months have been tough for our convention,” SBC President Steve Gaines told Baptist Press. He referenced high-profile leadership resignations and terminations, which include Executive Committee President Frank Page and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson.

“This shocked us, but it did not shock the Lord,” Gaines said. “I believe God has allowed all of this to happen to drive us to our knees. He is calling us to repent of any sin in our lives and seek His face in humility and faith. And if we will humble ourselves and pray, I believe God will be glorified in and through us as we gather in Dallas.”

Leadership will be a major theme of the June 12-13 meeting, as Baptists elect a new president to follow Gaines. J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill are the two candidates who have announced their intentions to run. Their election, which echoes the 2016 race in St. Louis between Greear and Gaines, is set for 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Greear and Hemphill

J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill will be nominated for SBC president when Baptists convene in Dallas next week.

The annual meeting will also include reports from three SBC entities currently led by interim or outgoing presidents. The Executive Committee’s interim president, Augie Boto, will report Tuesday, while International Mission Board President David Platt, who announced earlier this year he will leave the role to return to the pastorate, will bring his report Wednesday morning.

Southwestern’s report will be of particular interest to those watching the proceedings. Jeffrey Bingham was named interim president after trustees removed Patterson, first naming him president emeritus and then terminating his employment because of comments and actions related to the treatment of women. All six Southern Baptist seminaries will present a unified report Wednesday morning.

Patterson was scheduled to preach the convention sermon until he withdrew from the role June 8. In a letter to the “Southern Baptist Family,” Patterson acknowledged his “poor choice of words…in and out of the pulpit,” but defended himself against allegations that he discouraged the reporting of sexual assaults at the two seminaries where he served as president.

In place of Patterson, Pastor Kie Bowman of Hyde Park Baptist and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, will preach the convention message Wednesday morning.

The role of women in the SBC figures to be another major theme at the 2018 annual meeting, which marks the 100th anniversary of women serving as voting messengers to the convention. Kathy Litton and Suzie Hawkins have submitted a resolution celebrating the milestone, and Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen has submitted a resolution on “affirming the dignity of women.”

The Illinois Baptist will be in Dallas reporting from the meeting and the SBC Pastors’ Conference, which begins Sunday, June 10. Follow our coverage here at IB2News, at IllinoisBaptist.org, and on Facebook and Twitter.

-Meredith Flynn

The Briefing

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a June statement from Paige Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe. His statement is available in full at Baptist Press.

Southwestern trustees issue unanimous decision to terminate president emeritus
The executive committee of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously resolved to terminate former president Paige Patterson May 30, following weeks of controversy and a previous decision to remove him from office and name him president emeritus.

According to a statement from the trustees, the decision was based on “new information…regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Patterson was named president emeritus of Southwestern May 23 after trustees deliberated for 13 hours in a meeting to address Patterson’s comments on women and domestic abuse. The day of the meeting, the Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson in 2003 told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was president at the time, not to report an alleged rape to the police. The student, Megan Lively, later identified herself on Twitter.

Trustees reported after their May meeting that Patterson had complied with reporting laws regarding abuse and assault, but later indicated their findings dealt with a 2015 rape reported at Southwestern. While it was reported to the authorities, trustee chair Kevin Ueckert said following the decision to terminate Patterson, the former president sent an email to the chief of campus security that discussed meeting with the student alone so he could “break her down” and “that he preferred no officials be present.”

“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email,” Ueckert said, “is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.”

On Monday, June 4, Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, issued a media release defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.” Among Sharpe’s claims, “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Megan Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”

Sharpe also said “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”

Patterson is still slated to preach at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this month, a role he was elected to at last year’s annual meeting. SBC President Steve Gaines said in May that in order for Patterson not to preach, messengers in Dallas would have to vote to remove him, or Patterson would have to step down.

In other Southwestern news, Nathan Montgomery, the seminary student and dining hall employee who lost his job after retweeting an article calling for Patterson’s retirement, has been reinstated as an employee.

Church apologizes for treatment of abuse victim
Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., issued a detailed statement of apology and repentance to the Washington Post regarding how church leaders reacted to former member Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly call attention to Larry Nasser’s horrific abuse of gymnasts. Immanuel’s statement reads in part, “…we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.”

Baker wins high court case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 in favor of Jack Philips, the Colorado baker penalized by his state for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The 7-2 decision is a win “not only for those of us who are Christians who hold to a pro-marriage, pro-family viewpoint,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, “but also for all Americans for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.”

American Bible Society adopts employee doctrinal statement
Even 200-year-old organizations aren’t too old to tweak their employee policies, leaders at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society have decided. Effective next year, ABS will adopt an “affirmation of biblical community” and ask employees “to uphold basic Christian beliefs and the authority of Scripture, as well as committing to activities such as church involvement and refraining from sex outside of traditional marriage,” Christianity Today reports.

-Baptist Press, Immanuelky.org, The Christian Post, Christianity Today

 

 

The Briefing

Mohler confronts SBC’s gender issues
“Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Southern Seminary President Al Mohler wrote following the removal of a fellow seminary president under fire for comments about women and domestic abuse. But Mohler said the SBC’s issues are “far deeper and wider” than the controversy surrounding former Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, who was named president emeritus of his institution May 23 following weeks of public outcry.

“The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance,” Mohler wrote. “There can be no doubt that this story is not over.”

SBC ends relationship with D.C. convention
After nearly a year and a half of discussions concerning a Washington church with lesbian co-pastors, the Southern Baptist Convention has notified the District of Columbia Baptist Convention that “the formal relationship between the SBC and the DCBC has come to an end.”

Ahead of Dallas meeting, SBC leaders submit resolution on women
Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen posted a resolution May 29 that he has submitted to the SBC Committee on Resolutions ahead of the denomination’s June meeting in Dallas. The resolution “on affirming the dignity of women and the holiness of ministers” is affirmed by dozens of national and state Baptist leaders, including IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

Willow Creek hires third-party organization to address Hybels allegations
Following former pastor Bill Hybels’ resignation amid allegations of misconduct, the elder board of Willow Creek Community Church has hired a resolution group to “serve as an independent, neutral third party to listen to the women involved and discuss with each of them their requests and desired process outcomes.”

But Nancy Beach, a former Willow Creek pastor and one of the women who reported Hybels for inappropriate conduct, said “truth finding must precede reconciliation.”

VBS makes summer plans list, even when parents aren’t in church
The majority of American adults remembers attending Vacation Bible School as kids and have positive memories of the experience, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. Today, 60% of parents say they will encourage their child to attend a VBS program at a church where the parent does not attend services.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), jasonkallen.com, Christian Post, LifeWay Research