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Southern Baptist Convention

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 7, 2019

Key issues for the Southern Baptist Convention

IB Media Team Report

A season for reinvention
There’s no time in living memory when there have been so many vacancies at the top of key SBC entities. The election of Paul Chitwood to the presidency of the International Mission Board in November fills but one of five vacant posts. Two seminaries (New Orleans and Southwestern), the Executive Committee, and LifeWay Christian Resources are all engaged in president searches right now.

There was a period of turnover after World War II that stretched over several years, and, of course, the Conservative Resurgence that swapped out leaders and philosophies of SBC entities over more than a decade. But this shifting of leadership gears represents the greatest change in the shortest time in living memory.

What is the effect of all that change in executive leadership?

In any organization, changes at the top mean changes in philosophy and style, the departure of some second-tier leaders and rearrangement of others, and—in general—a season of optimistic uncertainty.

People are glad there’s a new leader but unsure where that leaves them, and they are wondering about the new direction of the organization.

Multiply that times five, and the ripple effect is felt across the Convention.

If we consider the last round of changes at the top of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and LifeWay—and how long it took for the new leaders and their new plans to settle in—the SBC as a whole may be looking at two or three years of choppy water.

Making room at the table
Questions surrounding women in the church came into sharp relief in 2018 on the heels of #Metoo. Southern Baptists struggled through their own version of the movement, resulting in the termination of a seminary president and public investigations of pastors and missionaries accused of sexual abuse. Amid the scandals, women leaders denounced abuse and also prescribed preventive measures for churches and pastors.

In “A Letter to My Brothers” in May, Bible teacher Beth Moore called out misogyny of any kind among believers in Christ. “One of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life,” Moore wrote, is “Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women” among some key Christian leaders. “It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”

Moore and others, including Texas Bible teacher Jen Wilkin, have called both men and women to more fervent Bible literacy, and to a reexamination of how men and women are called to build the church—together.

“The women e-mailing me regularly are not worried about winning the pulpit,” Wilkin wrote in 2015. “They are looking for leadership trajectories for women in the local church and finding virtually nothing. They watch their brothers receive advocacy and wonder who will invite them and equip them to lead well.”

As the dust settles on an unsettling movement, Baptists and other evangelicals still have questions to answer about what it really means for men and women to be made in the image of God, and treat each other as such.

The Greear Effect
The election of David Platt, then 35, to head the International Mission Board in 2014 prompted this question, but his departure this year means we have to ask it of another young leader, J.D. Greear, instead: What will be the impact of this young pastor on senior leadership in the SBC?

It’s probably too early to talk about his legacy, since he’s only six months into his first term as SBC president. It won’t be until the nominations for denomination committees are made in June that the presumed influence of Greear’s Reformed theology—as implemented by his likeminded peers—will be known. And we can only assume, based on a few comments he’s made, that his reluctance to embrace populist U.S. politics will mean an annual meeting with less public support for the Trump administration.

So far, we have only seen some public statements in support of Cooperative Program, and in November, a challenge to raise giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by $10 million, surpassing IMB’s goal of $160 million. If giving reaches $170 million, Greear has pledged to engage in some kind of stunt in celebration.

The nature of the stunt is unknown, but Baptist Press reports, “suggested stunts include singing a duet with newly elected IMB President Paul Chitwood, arm wrestling Chitwood, performing a Broadway number, taking a pie in the face, and sporting a mullet at the SBC annual meeting.”

Signs are the Greear Effect seems, at this point, more youth-ministry than missional in nature. With four SBC entities still seeking head leadership (LifeWay, Executive Committee, and Southwestern and New Orleans seminaries), perhaps it will be in his second one-year term (if reelected) that Greear really makes his mark on behalf of a younger generation.

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

More than half of American churchgoers say their political views match those of most people at their church, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. And 57% of Protestant churchgoers under 50 say they prefer to go to church with people who share their political views. “Like many places in America, churches are divided by politics,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “And churchgoers under 50 seem to want it that way.”

Search committee named to find next Southwestern president
A committee of nine Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees has been appointed to find the Fort Worth school’s next president. The committee is tasked with finding a replacement for Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status in May and terminated a week later, after coming under fire for his response to alleged sexual assault on the campus of Southeastern Seminary, where he previously served as president. The Southwestern committee includes an Illinois Baptist—Denise Ewing of First Baptist Church, Winthrop Harbor.

Southern Baptist chaplain exonerated
A U.S. Army chaplain accused of discrimination has been cleared of all charges, Baptist Press reported. Chaplain Jerry Squires told a soldier earlier this year he couldn’t perform a marriage retreat for her and her same-sex partner; he also rescheduled the event so another chaplain could perform the retreat. The Army dropped its investigation Aug. 24 after determining Squires had handled the matter in accordance with military policy.

Christian leaders advocate for refugees
A group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, sent a letter to the federal officials in August asking them to consider opening U.S. borders to 75,000 refugees for resettlement in fiscal year 2019. The number is about 50,000 higher than a limit reported being considered by the Trump Administration, The Christian Post reported.  

Illinois churches ready families for fall with shoes, haircuts, backpacks, and prayer
Across the state, churches launched students and families into the back-to-school season with a number of outreach initiatives tailored to specific needs in their communities. In Harrisburg, Dorrisville Baptist Church gave away more than 500 pairs of gym shoes while in Chicago, Another Chance Baptist Church sent kids back to school with backpacks and new glasses. Read about back-to-school outreach and more from IBSA churches in the current issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at ibonline.IBSA.org.

-LifeWay Research, Baptist Press (2), The Christian Post, Illinois Baptist

The Briefing

Southern Baptists to launch sexual abuse advisory panel
J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced July 26 the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group. The working group will consider how Southern Baptists can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse. It will also make recommendations for creating safe environments in churches and institutions.

Turkey moves Andrew Brunson to house arrest
Wednesday, a Turkish court ruled that Brunson should be moved from Kiriklar prison to house arrest at his home in Turkey. Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina has lived in Turkey for 23 years, pastoring a church in Izmir. He has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges and was detained nearly two years ago.

Sessions announces religious liberty task force
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced July 30 the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to ensure the Department of Justice implements the Trump administration’s approach to religious liberty. Sessions said the goal of the task force will be protecting religious groups from persecution. 

Study: US churches unwelcoming to autism, ADD/ADHD
America’s religious communities are failing children with chronic health conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders. The odds of a child with autism never attending religious services were nearly twice as high as compared to children with no chronic health conditions. The odds of never attending for children with developmental delays, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, and behavior disorders were just as high. 

Churches may have to pay taxes
Some in Congress want to tweak a portion tax bills that will now force nonprofits, including churches, to pay a 21% tax on the value of certain employee benefits. But most others downplay the problem or deny it needs to be addressed.

Sources: ERLC, Christianity Today (2), Religion News Service, McClatchy

No girls allowed?

Lisa Misner —  July 26, 2018

Pence_SBC_web

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.

 

 

 

Greear_PC_web

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

 

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