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Southern Baptist Convention

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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.

The Briefing

EC exec. VP Augie Boto named interim president
August (Augie) Boto has been named interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Meeting in Nashville April 4, the EC officers acted according to EC Bylaw 6 in tapping Boto for leadership following the March 27 retirement of former EC President Frank S. Page, who cited a “personal failing” in announcing his immediate departure.

Gaines names SBC Committee on Committees
Appointments to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee on Committees have been announced by SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. The Committee on Committees has 68 members, two from each of the 34 states and regions qualified for representation on boards of SBC entities. See the Illinois committee members.

China bans Bibles from online sellers
The Chinese government has banned online retailers from selling the Bible, moving in the wake of new rules to control the country’s burgeoning religious scene. It released a document outlining how it intends to promote “Chinese Christianity” over the next five years. According to the document, one of the government’s key objectives is to reinterpret and retranslate the Bible in order to enhance “Chinese-style Christianity and theology.”

Rwanda closes thousands of churches, arrests 6 pastors
An estimated 6,000 churches have been closed across Rwanda and six pastors arrested in a government crackdown that began March 1 with 700 closures in the nation’s capital of Kigali. The closures come as the Rwanda Governance Board (RGO) is conducting a national review of proposed new regulations controlling faith-based institutions for not complying with building regulations, safety and hygiene standards and pollution limitations. The six pastors, who reportedly tried to rally public support for the churches in Kigali, were accused of “masterminding” a plot to disobey the government.

For #MLK50, Christian schools launch $1.5 million in scholarships
Twenty Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, including several Baptist seminaries and evangelical colleges such as Wheaton and Gordon, have raised $1.5 million in scholarships to offer minority students in Memphis. This is part of an initiative in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated there 50 years ago on April 4.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), New York Times, Christianity Today (2)

The Briefing

NY Times op-ed spurs discussion of race & the SBC
A black Oklahoma minister’s New York Times op-ed “renouncing [his] ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention” has drawn responses from a range of African Americans who say they will continue to cooperate with the convention as it pursues racial reconciliation. Meanwhile, the op-ed’s author, Lawrence Ware, explained his views in an interview with Baptist Press, noting he does not believe Southern Baptists by and large are intentionally racist. He also said he likely would have “softened” some of his language against the SBC if given an opportunity to rewrite the op-ed.

Bible studies at the White House
Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history. They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible. They’re all handpicked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Democrat boss says no abortion litmus test
Democrats will not withhold campaign funds from pro-life candidates running for elected office, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign arm, told The Hill. “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Luján said. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Toy makers blurring gender line
Like wildfire, the transgender revolution appears to be consuming, changing and confusing everything in life as people used to know it. Now the confusion has extended to the choice of toys for children. Hasbro, one of the biggest U.S. toy-makers, has announced that it has changed its thinking regarding certain toys being geared toward particular genders. In a recent interview, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said his company has found that a significant percentage of boys are interested in My Little Pony, traditionally more popular with girls. Conversely, girls are taking a liking for Star Wars products marketed more at boys.

Christians & non-Christians Agree: College is about getting a job
Despite the abundance of Christian learning institutions and campus ministries in the U.S., American Christian adults, including evangelicals, are no more likely than the religiously unaffiliated — or religious “nones” — to list spiritual growth as one of the reasons for going to college (9%). And evangelicals are less likely than both religious “nones” and the general population to include moral character development among the reasons for seeking a postsecondary education (10% vs. roughly 14%).

Sources: Baptist Press, CBN, World Magazine, Christian Post, Influence Magazine

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Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

I think I’ll count the number of times people say, “It’s a dry heat.” 101 degrees is still 101 degrees, as far as I’m concerned. But some of the folks here in Phoenix take solace in the low humidity.

But will the relative comfort outside temper the actions inside the Phoenix Convention Center over the next four days?

A Wall Street Journal article published on Friday predicted some time in the hot seat for Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, but recent developments that may (underline that word, may) dissuade some unhappy messengers from bringing action from the floor. The journal’s article paints a dark picture for Moore and the ERLC, and one of generational discontent. Coming into Phoenix today, the forecast seems too dark.

The Journal article recounted the foment surrounding Moore’s criticism of Donald Trump during the presidential election, the dissatisfaction expressed by a few Southern Baptist pastors, and the withholding of Cooperative Program dollars by Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood.

The article pointed out that Moore was not invited to White House functions after the election, including the recent Rose Garden ceremony where President Trump signed an executive order aiming at protecting religious liberty. (Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham was present, but that was not mentioned in the article.)

And the article said that Moore’s team has seemed to be excluded from other meaningful contact with the new administration on behalf of evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular.

The Journal article did not reference some of the internal workings of the SBC concerning the ERLC, including efforts by top leaders at reconciliation between Moore and more Trump-friendly SBC pastors. Nor did it point out that SBC President Steve Gaines has said publically that he hopes Moore will stay in his position.

The article did not mention that Prestonwood restored its CP giving after a month-long examination of the issues, which, included the ERLC’s participation in a religious liberty lawsuit as a “friend of the court” where a New Jersey Islamic group was suiting the local government for preventing their construction of a mosque.

And the article did not mention that, following a probe, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s executive board will recommend churches continue their CP support, including the ERLC, to its messengers at their fall meeting.

The Journal focused on perceived generational differences in the SBC that were typified by the disagreements over the ERLC. Moore, it says, is more supported by younger Southern Baptists, and less so by older, more traditional leaders and people in the pews.

We’ll see how this plays out, starting on Tuesday.

The ERLC report to the Convention is the last item on the agenda Wednesday, when the time for new business will already have passed.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix

Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

Almost a thousand evangelical Christian leaders gathered in New York City Tuesday to meet with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Among them were a number of prominent Southern Baptists. Eight were among the 25 leaders appointed to Trump’s evangelical advisory panel.

They are: Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northwestern Arkansas; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former SBC president; Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas; David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president; James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, which only recently joined the SBC; and Jay Strack, motivational speaker and founder and president of Student Leadership University.

Being on the advisory board does not amount to a full public endorsement (Falwell, Jr. is the only one who has publicly endorsed Trump) , however to many it does imply a tacit endorsement. Some have been critical of the leaders’ action, to which Land replied via an editorial in the Christian Post. “What would our critics have us do?,” he asked. “Would they really have us spurn the opportunity to give spiritual counsel and advice to Mr. Trump and his team? How would that be obedience to our Savior’s command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? (Matthew 5:13-16). After all, as Evangelicals we all believe that the heart of the king “is in the hand of the Lord . . . He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1).”

Current ERLC president, Russell Moore, has been a vocal opponent of Trump, tweeting Tuesday afternoon, “If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.”

And, a few minutes later, “Forget the politics. Forget the country. An unrepentant lost person pronounces himself to be a believer. And you stand there and applaud?”

At last week’s Southern Baptist Convention, in the President’s message, Floyd stated, “Our nation is divided. We are known more for being the divided states of America than the United States of America. The national political races we have observed over this past year personify the fractured, dysfunctional condition in America relationally.”

Floyd also led a panel on Pastor’s and Politics at the convention. He introduced the panel saying, “Disagreement doesn’t have to result in a strained relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ…This presidential panel is an attempt to address this conversation.”

Graham, who was one of the panelists urged Southern Baptists not to sit at home but to get involved in the process. “One concern we should all have 30-40 million stayed home and did not participate…This is a critical election for the future of America,” he said.

He pointed to three primary issues Christians should be looking at when voting for a presidential. They are choosing Supreme Court justices, belief in the sanctity of life, and maintaining religious liberty. Graham noted, “We must not abdicate our responsibility to pray and to vote.”

There words appeared to be at odds with other convention leaders. At the B21 Luncheon during the convention, Moore and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were among the panelists speaking. Replying to a question about the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Mohler said, “I find myself in a situation I’ve never found myself in as a Christian. I’m going to find myself unable to vote for either candidate.”

Moore agreed and said he plans to write in a name on his ballot.

One thing is certain, there will be continued disagreement regarding the presidential election. Another thing is also certain, many in the U.S. appear to be having flashbacks to 1976 and having their own Howard Beale, “Network” moments in this election cycle.

– Lisa Misner Sergent