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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

 

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

 

 

 

Baptist Press | With hopes of catalyzing “a fresh wave of evangelistic passion,” the Southern Baptist Convention’s evangelism task force has finalized its recommendations to the convention and will release them a week before the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

The task force, appointed last June by SBC President Steve Gaines, held its third and final meeting May 14-15 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to adopting its recommendations unanimously, the 19-member group elected Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Adam Greenway as vice chairman. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson is chairman.

“We finalized several affirmations and denials regarding biblical evangelism that we believe will be readily embraced and adopted by the messengers of the SBC at our upcoming meeting in Dallas,” Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., told Baptist Press in written comments. “We also set forth several recommendations that relate to Southern Baptists on multiple levels. We believe these will strengthen and enhance our evangelistic efforts as we move forward to reach our world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Greenway, dean of Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, said the meeting “was characterized by constructive conversations about our report and recommendations.”

“The evangelization of the world remains our top priority as a convention of churches, and the prayer of all of us serving on this task force is that God will use our efforts to help bring us together by renewing our passion for and increasing our effectiveness in bringing people to Christ,” Greenway told BP in written comments.

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Task force member Doug Munton (left) said he is “encouraged by the brothers on the evangelism task force. They love the Lord, the SBC and the Gospel. It is my prayer that we see renewed passion for evangelism and the work of the Great Commission.”

The task force “has worked hard and prayed hard,” Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., told BP in written comments. “We know that we need a fresh wave of evangelistic passion, but we also need the presence and power of God. We won’t get it all right, being imperfect members of an imperfect convention in an imperfect world. We do pray we bring encouragement to the SBC to refocus our attention and energy on reaching the lost with the Gospel.”

The task force is scheduled to report Wednesday morning, June 13, at the SBC annual meeting.

Gaines thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers on behalf of the task force and requested continued prayer “for the SBC as we renew our commitment to take the Gospel to all people everywhere.”

-From Baptist Press, BPNews.net

Uphill climb

Lisa Misner —  May 14, 2018

Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s death, racial unity is more dream than reality in America. But what about the church?

I am a man

Personhood and justice were the themes of a 1968 sanitation workers’ strike memorialized today by a mural in Memphis. Managing editor Meredith Flynn returned home to Memphis to learn what has developed in racial equality and unity, as the city observed the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Meredith Flynn

In 1968, striking sanitation workers carried signs in Memphis proclaiming “I Am A Man.” They marched to protest working conditions that had recently left two of their own dead. It was their protest that brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis, and to the Lorraine Motel, where he was asassinated.

Fifty years later, people convened at the site to see what has happened with civil rights, and nearby, Southern Baptist leaders questioned the state of race relations and unity in the church. About 4,000 people met at the city’s convention center for MLK50, a conference on race and the church, co-sponsored by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The meeting featured a diverse group of speakers on an even broader list of topics: race and politics, systemic injustice, coming to terms with the past—and present. In their messages was this plea: Churches can no longer be silent on the issue of racial justice.
“We have expected you to be our greatest allies in the struggle against injustice,” Chicago pastor Charlie Dates told fellow pastors. “And we wanted you to shout it from your pulpits.”

In a letter written from jail in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, Dr. King expressed similar disappointment with white ministers who were either opposed to the Civil Rights movement or cautious about getting too involved. King’s words for the latter are hard to read— they “have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows,” he wrote.

“Often, we can fool ourselves into believing that somehow history itself will take care of problems of racial injustice,” said Russell Moore, president of the ERLC. “That somehow inevitably, these things will work themselves out.”

But they haven’t. Racially motivated violence took the lives of nine members of a black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. White supremacists marched in Virginia and elsewhere, just last year. While most people don’t use racial slurs or march behind the Confederate flag, Moore said, we still retreat to the places and mindsets where we’re most comfortable.

All the while, the church has the solution: the power of the gospel to redeem sinners, and to transform  brokenness. Speakers on the MLK50 stage implored pastors and Christians to work toward a radical view of unity—one that lays down personal preference and seeks to understand others, for the glory of God and for the sake of the gospel.

It starts with courageous leaders, said Kevin Smith, executive director for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. “Nothing changes about the church in America without the pulpit changing.”

Lessons from Lorraine Motel
To grow up in Memphis is to be well acquainted with Dr. King and Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders. The Lorraine Motel is a city landmark, and when the museum opened downtown in the mid-90’s, school groups started taking field trips there. Still, in a city so closely entwined with the Civil Rights movement, it’s surprisingly easy to grow up holding history at arm’s length.

On April 4 of this year, attenders at the MLK50 conference took a break to join the city’s celebration of Dr. King. At the motel, the courtyard and parking lot under the balcony where he was shot were cordoned off. Folding chairs were set up for guests invited to attend the ceremony in his honor. Other visitors to the site stood well behind them, at the top of a small hill overlooking the hotel.

Down the street, pop-up booths sold T-shirts and other memorabilia. Upbeat music poured out of an open shop door. At 6:01 p.m., the festivities stopped for a moment of silence in observance of King’s death. What resounded at the event, over the beat of reggae music and over the momentary silence, was an invitation to lean in and learn.
The same was true at the conference. A Southern Baptist pastor crystallized a call to action for the denomination: “Every time there’s an opportunity to drive a nail in the coffin of racism, every white Southern Baptist should be very quick to grab the hammer,” said Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas. He was one of four Baptist leaders who took part in a panel discussion on the SBC and race, a session that started with a look at the denomination’s historical struggle to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

This is an ongoing struggle. In 1995, Baptists approved a resolution repenting of racism and asking African-Americans for forgiveness. In 2016, messengers repudiated the Confederate flag, and in two emotional sessions last year, messengers resoundingly approved another resolution condemning “alt-right” racism.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to constantly—as a convention, as a denomination—deal with and address as we move forward to continue to work towards the kind of reconciliation that we need to see happen,” Pitman said.

The panel, which also included Kevin Smith, National African American Fellowship President Byron Day, and Iowa pastor Jeff Dodge, discussed the “missiological consequences” of not pursuing racial unity, as well as the value of individual relationships across racial boundaries. When the conversation eventually turned to leadership of SBC entities, Pitman said it is “imperative” that at least one of two vacant posts—president/CEO of the Executive Committee and president of the International Mission Board—be filled with minority leadership.

Representation and leadership are key issues on the local church level as well, said Randle Bishop, an elder of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago, who attended the MLK50 conference. “One area that lacks unity in our churches and other Christian ministries is the glaring lack of submission to minority leadership,” Bishop told the Illinois Baptist.

“The reason for this is surely complex,” Bishop said. “However, if whites were to join biblically-faithful black and Hispanic churches and Christian ministries, this could be an additional approach to advancing greater unity in the body of Christ.”

A biblical imperative
Many of the addresses given in Memphis had at their root the Bible’s words about unity among Christ-followers. They called racism by its name—sin—and described its effect on American society and the church. “Namely,” said Bishop, referencing Genesis 1:27, “sin has deeply affected the way we relate to one another as image-bearers.”

“One takeaway for me was seeing how clearly the Bible addresses the hypocrisy of those who sinfully act out in racism towards other people. We do not have to take our cues in this conversation from the world and we must not,” Bishop said. “Jesus has clearly spoken in his word. He has said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Throughout the conference, speakers made it apparent that how to go about loving your neighbor as yourself, especially in the realms of racial identity and justice, is an exceedingly complex matter. But, they seemed to say, it starts with humility, and a willingness to set aside personal preferences in order to pick up unfamiliar burdens.

“We’re free to love each other,” Moore said. “Free to listen to each other. Free to be led by one another. Free to serve one another. We’re free to be the church of Jesus Christ. And if we have to change our worship styles, let’s crucify our worship styles. If God’s way upsets our political alliances, let’s crucify our political alliances.

“To be a gospel people means that we don’t seek a cheap reconciliation, but a cross reconciliation.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.

2018-am-pre-reg-open
When the Southern Baptist Convention comes to Dallas this summer for its annual meeting, it will do so for the second time since 1985. That 1985 meeting was the largest convention meeting ever, the high water mark of our movement to return the SBC to its commitment to biblical authority.

I’ve attended SBC meetings regularly since 1982. I was 27 when I started and the convention was run by guys my dad’s age. It took a while to figure out how things work but I was part of a movement unique in church history for its scope and impact on American Christianity.

Adrift as I was, and surrounded by people twice my age, I’m glad I was there as my denomination turned from its support for abortion (the reason I was most likely to leave the SBC) and took another hard-fought step toward biblical integrity. Since then, small and large issues have arisen during the business and hall talk at the convention, but something important happens every year — even when the important things are predictable and tedious.

Here are a few reasons you should make it a priority to attend the SBC’s annual meetings:

Ownership
This is not the most fun reason for attending but it is the essential reason we meet every year. The messengers from the churches, gathered during two days each June, have authority over everything our institutions and missionary boards do for the remaining 363 days. We approve their budgets, assign them trustees and give instructions though motions to those who serve our churches. It’s not easy to make a big impact but I have seen it done over the course of decades; I helped it happen.

Education
If you’re a Southern Baptist, you learn things at our annual meeting that you won’t learn elsewhere. Sure, you’ll hear good preaching and even get some free books if you plan your week right, but also you’ll see some things that will challenge you.

The reports of our institutions are the stories of people — pastors, church planters, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, choir members, widows and others enriched and trained by the work you support. The Cooperative Program is not just a boring fundraising effort in this narrative; it is the lifeblood of a broad and effective missionary enterprise.

You’ll also see, as I did at my first meeting, a fellowship of pastors and church members who are diverse racially, culturally and generationally. Few niche meetings you attend will hit all those marks. It’s hard to maintain some prejudgments of your brother and sister Baptists after seeing us together. There are a lot of meetings you can attend where your particular affinity or interest is the entire agenda. I find it enlightening to occasionally hang out with people I don’t understand very well.

Encouragement
This is a big reason for most conferences. The SBC always features solid preaching, chances to talk with ministry specialists and even a health screening station to encourage you avoid Tex-Mex and barbecue. It’s hard to come back from the SBC without being spiritually and professionally challenged at least once.

Fellowship
Hallway meetings, alumni meetings, side meetings, luncheons — we have those in abundance. I always see friends from my former ministries as well as people who live across town but whom I see only at the convention. This benefit is not unique to our Southern Baptist meetings, but you won’t miss out on chances to make and renew friendships as you attend our meetings. This aspect has grown in recent years with the addition of different affinity group meetings and meals. For many of us, fellowship is the most memorable aspect of Southern Baptist meetings.

Do you find other Southern Baptists, or the general collection of us, uninteresting? I get it; most of us are not very cool. But do you love the seminary that trained you or your pastor? For most of you, that seminary wouldn’t/won’t be here without the SBC. Do you love the International Mission Board more than you do the rest of the convention? Not even the IMB would/will be around without the SBC.

You can be conservative, an expository preacher, missional as all get out and lead your church well without being a Southern Baptist, though it would be hard. But you probably are a Southern Baptist if you read this column. Join us in Dallas on June 10-13 or some portion of those days — especially if you’ve never been before. You’ll come away understanding a bit more of what “Southern Baptist” means for your ministry; I guarantee it.

Gary Ledbetter is editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this column first appeared.