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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.

The Briefing

EC’s Frank Page resigns over ‘personal failing’
Frank S. Page has resigned as president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, effective March 27 over what is described as “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”

Southern Baptists face tricky election—again
The 2018 election for president of the Southern Baptist Convention looks a lot like what happened in St. Louis two years ago. But one thing is different about the race between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill—public campaigning is making a comeback.

Billy Graham’s death leads 10,000 to pray for salvation
More than 1.2 million have visited BillyGrahamMemorial.org in just a month, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The online memorial features a link to a site with a clip of Graham inviting crowds at his crusades to make a decision for Christ, followed by a list of steps to pray to accept Jesus as their Savior. More than 113,000 have visited that site, StepstoPeace.org, in the month since Graham’s death, and 10,500 indicated they prayed to either profess faith for the first time or to renew lapsed faith.

Congress passes online, anti-trafficking bill
Congress has approved legislation designed to thwart sex trafficking by holding accountable online sites that facilitate the crime. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) would amend a 1996 anti-obscenity federal law to authorize the prosecution of websites that support the sale of people in the sex trade. The proposal would clarify trafficking victims have the right to bring civil action against online sites.

America falls in world happiness rankings
According to a recent World Happiness Report, the United States dropped four spots from last year—moving from 14th place to 18th in a survey of 156 countries taken from 2015 to 2017. The rankings are based on six key areas of well-being: healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, income, and generosity. Finland took first place, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland.

Sources: Baptist Press, IB2news, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Facts and Trends

Yes, it is déjà vu all over again. A young, Reformed pastor with a solid following faces an older evangelist in an election that will determine the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. If this scenario seems familiar, that’s because it is.

The announcements by J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill that they will both run for president of the SBC sets up a kind of repeat of the 2016 election. In that one, young-and-Reformed Greear represented the potential for a generational handoff and a firming up of Calvinist theology within the convention. But after a near tie that promised to be divisive, Greear withdrew from the election before a third balloting, giving the seat to Steve Gaines.

At issue: Will a rematch this time around be divisive? Comments by Gaines point to doubtful; comments by Richard Land say otherwise.

At 56, Gaines stood in contrast to the 42-year-old Greear for several reasons. In terms of age alone, Gaines may have been characterized as a spokesman for Baby Boomers, while Greear clearly had the ear of his generation, X. As successor to Adrian Rogers, Gaines led Memphis-area megachurch Bellevue to increase Cooperative Program giving and was known for his traditional views on evangelism and salvation. In a three-man race, with New Orleans pastor David Crosby covering much of the same ground as Gaines, North Carolina’s Greear performed well, but not well enough to avoid a run-off. Greear surely earned the respect of many of the older crowd when he deferred to Gaines. The emotional moments on the convention platform in St. Louis were marked by tears and hugs.

“The Convention essentially said, ‘See you in two years,’” one Illinois Baptist reporter summarized, and so we will. Greear announced his intent to run a second time on January 30, now that Gaines is finishing his term in office. Two days later, Hemphill announced his intent to be nominated for the presidency.

At 69, Hemphill is of Gaines’ generation, albeit a decade older. As a leader in the area of church growth at the Home Mission Board (precursor to the North American Mission Board), former president of Southwestern

Seminary, pastor, and evangelist, Hemphill swims in the same stream theologically as Gaines. (In his announcement, Hemphill said if elected he will continue Gaines’ emphasis on revival and evangelism.) And Hemphill has been a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program. The church where he is currently a member gives 10% of its undesignated receipts to missions through CP, in contrast to the 4% given by Greear’s church, The Summit. (The church gives substantially more than 4% to a number of mission causes under the banner “Great Commission giving,” press releases and news reports point out.)

As he exits the stage, Gaines told Baptist state newspaper editors meeting in Galveston last week that he will essentially stay out of the politics of this race. Gaines said he would handle the election as “fairly and neutral” as possible. “I pray it won’t be contentious. I believe God will give us good leadership in the days to come.”

His comments came after Richard Land, former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, framed the election as pitting “the John Calvin wing” against “the Billy Graham wing,” in Land’s words.

“This is about the gospel and whether or not the gospel is for everyone, not just the elect,” Land, 71, told OneNewsNow. Land publically endorsed Hemphill. Now we wait to see who else will take sides, and there may be plenty willing to queue up. Remember the controversial rap video in which many well-known SBC leaders endorsed Greear in 2016.

So, what we have now appears to be a rematch—in terms of generation, theology, and mission giving through CP. But beyond age and soteriology, there’s the matter of ascendency. Greear’s star is on the rise, while election at this stage in Hemphill’s life would cap a 50-year ministry career. And there’s a possible Platt after-effect. Of the same age-group and ideology as Greear, David Platt’s resignation as president of the International Mission Board after four years could create a vacuum and a need for a voice like his. Or it might make older messengers at the Dallas Convention nervous about tapping another young man they might perceive as a “whippersnapper.”

With the election in June, it promises to be an intriguing three months.

– Eric Reed

The Briefing

Ken Hemphill to be SBC president nominee
Ken Hemphill, an administrator at North Greenville University and a former Southern Baptist Convention seminary president, will be nominated for SBC president, a coalition of Southern Baptists announced. Hemphill was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1994-2003 and national strategist from 2003-11 for the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) emphasis, an initiative launched in 2002 calling Southern Baptists to renewed passion for God’s Kingdom.

More ‘nones’ heading back to church
About 6 in 10 people who identify their religion as “nothing in particular” stayed that way over the years, while the rest made a switch. About half of the defectors moved away from traditional faith to atheism and agnosticism (20%), while almost as many moved in the other direction and returned to the church (17.3%). Of the 2010 nones, 13.3 percent became Protestant, and 4 percent became Catholic.

After ’08 tornado, Union “united as never before”
At the 10-year point since a tornado devastated the campus, Union University marked the anniversary with a day of activities Feb. 2 featuring former administrators, students and others closely involved with the event. Former Union President David S. Dockery, in a Founders’ Day chapel address, spoke on providence, hope and unity the university experienced from the Feb. 5, 2008, tornado.

Ontario deals blow to religious freedom
Physicians in Ontario who object to performing abortions or euthanasia on moral or religious grounds must refer patients who request those procedures to another willing doctor, the Ontario Superior Court ruled. A group of Christian doctors and professional organizations said the policy infringes on rights to freedom of religion and conscience guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Ontario Superior Court justices said, while the policy does violate physicians’ rights to religious freedom, such limits are justified when weighed in balance with the need to ensure access to care for vulnerable patients.

Plan hatched to save Zimbabwe seminary
A Southern Baptist missionary from Kentucky is hatching a plan to help pastors in Zimbabwe get the training they need to lead a new generation of Christians. Nick Moore, who serves as a professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe, said few pastors can afford to attend Bible classes. But with help through the Cooperative Program, and a few local laborers, Moore has started building chicken houses as part of a community development project.

US Judge blocks deportation of Indonesian Christians
A federal judge blocked the deportation of 50 Indonesian Christians who have been living illegally in New Hampshire. The group includes people who fled violence in their country two decades ago and had been living openly for years under an informal deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Judge Patti Saris in Boston ruled ICE cannot move forward with deportation until the Indonesians have a chance to make their cases for legal residence by arguing they would face persecution or violence if sent back.

Sources: Time Magazine, Christianity Today, BP News (3), The Christian Post

Proposal2v.jpg

There was one point during the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix when three thoughts of mine collided:

• How can this many people make a well-informed and well-reasoned decision?

• In the social media era, how can we make it possible for even more people to participate on a level that young adults have come to expect?

• And, then, how can we continue this very expensive system of having fewer and fewer people travel halfway or more across the country to attend?

The collision came late on Tuesday, when young messengers were pleading for the crowd in the hall to consider the weight of public opinion (read: Twitter) in their debate over alt-right racism. (“What will the people out there think of us?”) In my head, I could hear old people saying, “Who cares? This is not their decision, it’s ours—Southern Baptists—and in particular the ones who paid to travel to Phoenix to speak up and to vote.” (Maybe it was just me, speaking on behalf of old people.)

But to the young messengers pleading on behalf of the masses, it was important, because they are used to the hearing from the masses on every issue: like, heart, thumbs up, smiley face, colon/capital P tongue-sticking-out. (Yes, my emoticon reference is dated.)

Executive Committee President Frank Page told the messengers, proudly, that the Convention is an anomaly: “This is a deliberative body, the largest openly deliberative body that still exists,” Page said. “But know that the Executive Committee also deliberates carefully at multiple levels dealing with each of the issues before they’re ever presented to you, from small groups to medium-size [groups] to the large plenary sessions. Our Executive Committee members are not rubber-stampers. They ask questions, they deliberate, they discuss and sometimes disagree. So know that we hold your trust carefully and we count it to be precious.”

That’s an uneasy balance for Baptists whose theology makes us accustomed to voting on almost everything—even changing the light bulbs.

The first national Baptist body in the U.S. was the Triennial Convention, founded in Philadelphia in 1814. They met every three years. When Southern Baptists broke off in 1845, they chose to meet every year, and to include as many people as possible by sending messengers rather than electing representatives. (It is a small but important distinction.)

But technology and airline costs are pressing on our expectations: Remembering conventions with 15,000 and more regularly in attendance, we want more participants than the 5,000 who flew to Phoenix. And technology would make that possible. Yet, we do not want our denomination making knee-jerk statements at every cultural twist and turn. Theology doesn’t demand an annual meeting cycle or populist group-think.

I know these impulses seem to be in conflict: more participation, and more-reasoned debate. But watching the clock tick as debate on an unexpected resolution took time from discussion on the decline in baptisms and a renewed call to evangelism, it became clear that a relatively few people in a distant city can make reactionary decisions. Next time, the outcome might not be so positive.

(Editor’s Note: Modest Proposal 1 on merging the mission boards can be read here.)

-Eric Reed

Dwight McKissic by Van Payne

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic moved to bring his proposal on the “alt-right” to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention Tuesday June 13. BP photo by Van Payne

After a series of floor votes and behind-the-scenes discussions in the late evening, convention leadership announced Tuesday night that messengers will be given opportunity to consider a resolution originally proposed by a Texas pastor condemning the “alt-right” movement. Debate over the resolution, which is a statement of messengers’ opinion but non-binding on Southern Baptist churches, threatens to draw attention away from SBC President Steve Gaines announcement that he wishes to name a committee to focus on soul-winning, and possibly shift the spotlight away from Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.

The Resolutions Committee, a group of one-time appointees led this year by former ERLC vice president Barrett Duke, brought nine resolutions to the floor. They included statements on prayer and repentance, the morality of political and church leaders, the nature of atonement, and “the sin of gambling.” But the committee did not bring for a vote a statement proposed by Arlington, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic condemning actions of the alt-right political movement.

“Our decision not to report that resolution out is not an endorsement of the alt-right,” Duke said at a news conference following the afternoon session. “There are aspects of people who identify as alt-right, certainly, a lot of views and their intentions, we would adamantly, aggressively oppose.” He said the committee chose not to bring McKissic’s motion for a vote after hours of discussions over broad language that they characterized as problematic and possibly inflammatory.

As he did in a previous convention to debate use of the confederate battle flag, McKissic took to the floor. He asked the messengers to amend the rules and bring his proposed resolution for a vote. That vote failed to get a two-thirds majority.

Later, in the evening session, another messenger from Washington D.C. cited unnamed media reports about conventions failure bring the “alt-right” statement back for a vote, and made an impassioned plea for another opportunity for messengers to see McKissic’s statement. The messenger said he “feared” the SBC was being called racist because they did not vote on the alt-right statement. A second balloting to bring the resolution to the floor received only 58% of the vote, again short of the two-thirds majority. But messengers’ considerable interest in the issue convinced the Resolutions Committee to revisit the matter.

The Committee will bring a resolution addressing the alt-right movement at 2:45 p.m. (PT) today. The statement is expected to address the sin of racism. It comes as the SBC continues efforts to bring non-whites into leadership. Coming three years after New Orleans pastor Fred Luter served as the SBC’s  first African American President, messengers elected African American pastor and professor Walter Strickland as first vice president on Tuesday and Hispanic pastor Jose Abella as second vice president. The SBC Pastors Conference on Monday elected African American pastor H.B. Charles of Jacksonville, Florida as its president.

SBC President Gaines had asked for time on Tuesday to announce plans for a year-long study on evangelism in the SBC, and presentation of a plan for more effective soul-winning by SBC churches and pastors. Gaines’ effort comes after another year of declines in baptisms and worship attendance, and a decade of shrinking SBC church membership.

The ERLC’s annual report is the final item on the agenda today. Yesterday, Moore characterized the annual meeting as a “family reunion” of people who together advance the gospel. Although there was a motion for messengers to be allowed to address concerns about the ERLC, the motion seems likely to be referred or dismissed entirely. Moore did not speak to recent national reports that his relationship with the both SBC leaders and the Trump administration remains strained. And as attention turns to the “alt-right,” it appears less likely messengers will have time, or a parliamentary vehicle, to discuss the ERLC.

See what others are saying:

Southern Baptists, Racism, and the Alt-Right: It’s Time to Make This Right, Plain, and Clear

Southern Baptists are about to vote on a proposal to condemn white supremacy

Southern Baptists Grapple Over Calls to Condemn Alt-Right

Southern Baptist Convention in uproar over ‘alt-right’

A Resolution Condemning White Supremacy Causes Chaos at the Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptists grapple with morality, white nationalism in the Trump age

Southern Baptist Convention Resolution Denouncing ‘Alt Right,’ White Nationalism Hits a Snag

Messengers OK 9 resolutions, to vote on ‘alt-right’ proposal

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

A motion from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will be ruled on prior to the ERLC’s Tuesday report. It will probably be ruled out of order for technical reasons. If so, the opportunity to debate the ERLC’s positions during the 2016 presidential election and in a high profile religious liberty case involving a New Jersey Islamic group will be over, for this year.

There have been no official statements about the ERLC by SBC leaders yet. And ERLC President Russell Moore indicated ruffled relationships have been smoothed. “The Southern Baptist convention leadership is unified, probably more unified than I have seen in a long time,” he said at a press conference for the Resolutions Committee Tuesday afternoon. “We love each other and we work together….This meeting isn’t just a business meeting. This very much is a family reunion of people who are working together for the advancement of the gospel.”

Moore did not comment on a Wall Street Journal report that characterized his relationship with both SBC leaders and the Trump administration as strained, while omitting the ERLC’s recent conciliatory efforts. Moore’s team hosted a dinner for Baptist newspaper editors, pledging greater availability to the press. At the same time, the ERLC team is attempting to spend more time with rank-and-file Southern Baptists.

Moore’s official report is the last item of business on Wednesday, leaving little time for follow-up questions.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix