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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

Messengers adopt statements on moral leaders, gambling

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix adopted nine resolutions on Tuesday afternoon, but they chose not to reverse the decision of the resolutions committee in order to bring a controversial statement about “alt-right” to the floor for a vote.

The usual motions on appreciation for the host city, prayer, the Reformation, and such were approved without comment, but a statement that wasn’t brought out of committee produced lengthy discussion between its author and the team that refused to bring it for a vote.

Arlington, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic submitted a resolution asking messengers to condemn the “alt-right” political movement as racist and inciting ethnic cleansing. The committee was not comfortable with some of the language in McKissic’s draft.

Chairman Barrett Duke, former vice president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who now serves as executive director of the Montana state convention, said the committee spent hours discussing McKissic’s proposed resolution. “There are elements in that resolution that we agreed with, concern about racism and those who foment racism,” Duke said in a news conference following the afternoon business session. But, “it was difficult to look at that resolution and not see that someone might misunderstand.”

One concern was how the resolution was written, Duke said. “We didn’t see that there was a way we could speak to the number of issues in that resolution.” Another was the possibility that the statement would raise questions about the SBC’s biblical position on race. “You can look at the convention and see that we’re reaching out to other races,” Duke said. “About 20 percent of our churches are non-Anglo churches.”

Messengers did not see the text of McKissic’s proposed resolution. A motion to bring it the floor failed to get a required two-thirds majority. Later, a messenger asked that McKissic’s motion be brought to the floor. That would require additional time for a report from the Resolutions Committee, again requiring a two-thirds majority.

A ballot vote to allow more time to deal with the matter on Wednesday is being counted.

Motions about morals

Messengers approved two resolutions about moral issues. One of them called for higher moral standards among leaders. It was based on a resolution adopted during the Clinton administration’s Lewinsky scandal. The 2017 version mentions no leaders by name, but says all “leaders should set a positive example for every American citizen by living and serving according to the highest moral and ethical standards.”

“There was no need to single out president Trump or anyone else,” Duke said. “We believe the resolution stands on its own without bringing any other characters into it.”

Without naming Vice President Mike Pence, the resolution commends “those leaders who choose not to meet privately with members of the opposite sex who are not their spouses in order to ensure that they leave no room for temptation to lead them astray…” Pence was criticized in March when it was reported that he followed Billy Graham’s example never to meet alone with female staff members, or dine with women without his wife present.

And a new statement on gambling seems important at this time, as gambling expands and several states are considering expanding gaming venues. “The resolution on gambling calls it the ‘sin of gambling,” Duke said. “We looked back and we noticed that we had never in the past actually labeled gambling sin in that explicit way.”

The resolution speaks to the culture at large, but it also addresses Southern Baptists, whose opposition to gambling may be wavering as forms and venues for gaming proliferate.

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

 

Opening Day of the SBC

ib2newseditor —  June 13, 2017

Opening Day SBC

The first official day of the Southern Baptist Convention is underway, following three days of pre-meeting activities. Outside the Phoenix Convention Center, LGBT protestors are standing in a circle on the corner nearest the main entrance, receiving instructions on how to talk with messengers about gay and transgender issues,

In the press room, the question is “How soon before someone on the platform says, ‘The Southern Baptist Convention only exists two days a year?’” It’s an inside joke for people who cover the convention 365 days a year, but who recognize that our un-denomination only takes official actions when messengers gather annually to vote.

On the platform, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page is presenting the gavel to SBC President Steve Gaines, who, tapping the ancient mallet gently on the podium, declares the meeting officially open.

And, after 21 days of fasting and prayer, Gaines begins explaining the rules for conducting business, and starting a meeting themed “Pray: For such a time as this.”

Pastor of the Memphis-area megachurch Bellevue, Gaines is expected to be re-elected to a second one-year term as president. Illinois’ own Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, will complete his term as first vice-president.

The main issue, as best we can tell, is whether messengers will bring any motions concerning the future of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and its president, Russell Moore. Speculation among convention regulars is that the ERLC will not be chastised for actions in the 2016 election that perturbed some pastors and church members—but messengers can bring most any kind of motion.

The last opportunity for introducing new business will be at 3:45 p.m. (PT) today. Moore’s report is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. It will be the last item of business.

Watch the livestream at http://live.sbc.net/.

-Eric Reed in Phoenix

Phoenix map 1

It’s going to be hot enough in Phoenix without a squabble. Maybe we won’t see motions from the floor at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission or dismiss its president, Russell Moore.

There are several reasons for this new hope. First, both sides in the election-year dust up have offered conciliatory statements. Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood, announced his congregation would restore their Cooperative Program giving in April. The church had “escrowed” its SBC missions contributions while they examined complaints that Moore had criticized presidential candidate Donald Trump and those who planned to vote for him.

The complaints from the Texas church and others exposed some theological and political distance between ERLC leadership responsible for articulating Southern Baptist views in Washington and those Southern Baptists back home who fund them.

Similarly, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board studied “issues of concern” related to the ERLC. But recently, the board said “it has evaluated the complaints lodged against the ERLC, that its leadership has met with Dr. Moore and has sent a letter to the trustees of the ERLC and encourages the churches to continue their generous financial support for all our convention work.”

And there’s the action by Moore himself.

His tone toward Graham and Prestonwood Church may have helped. Moore explained that his comments about the election were never aimed at the Southern Baptist rank-and-file; and in explaining his actions, Moore never sought to defend himself.

More important, there’s word to this editorial team and others that the ERLC staff is making new efforts to connect with the grassroots. For example, Vice President for Communications Dan Darling appeared at the Illinois Baptist Women’s Priority Conference. (He addressed family issues in a declining culture.) The ERLC, fond of sending videos to state and regional events, is more likely to appear in person in the future. Now three years into their tenure, the ERLC leadership is learning that it should not get too far ahead of the people who sent them.

And, with the placement of the ERLC’s report last on the convention agenda, rather than on the first day as in years past, there may only be time to accept their mea culpa and move forward.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

The Briefing

Pro-LGBT group plans protest at SBC 2017
The advocacy group Faith in America (FIA) has announced plans to “politely disrupt” the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The group hopes to persuade the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to change its interpretation of Scripture, FIA said in a press release accusing the SBC of marginalizing and harming lesbian, gay, homosexual and transgender (LGBT) children in particular by discouraging sexual sin.

Illinois forces foster parents to support gender transition
The state of Illinois’ social services policies now bar social workers from employment and foster families from caring for children if they refuse to facilitate a child’s gender transition. The director of the Department of Children and Family Services approved “enhanced department procedures” that established “mandatory minimum standards for LGBTQ children under its authority.” These state standards, reportedly drafted with the assistance of the ACLU, “will not tolerate exposing LGBTQ children and youth to staff/providers who are not supportive of children and youths’ right to self-determination of sexual/gender identity.”

Planned Parenthood reports abortion increase
Despite a significant decrease in clients, decrease in contraceptive services, and increase in the number of abortions it performs, Planned Parenthood still claims abortions make up only 3% of its overall business. According to the abortion giant’s annual report, released last week, it performed 328,348 abortions and 9,494,977 total services. The report came out about six months later than normal, prompting speculation about what it might contain.

Christian hospitals win Supreme Court case
In a decision that has religiously affiliated hospitals cheering, the Supreme Court ruled federal pension rules don’t apply to them. The 8-0 ruling reverses lower court decisions that sided with hospital workers who argued that the exemption from pension laws should not extend to hospitals affiliated with churches.

DoD wants fewer generic Christians
The general categories of “Protestant, no denominational preference” and “Protestant, other churches” have been removed from the Department of Defense (DoD) list of recognized religions as the US military seeks out more detailed designations for its 1.3 million service members. This spring, the DoD doubled the religious identities that military personnel can declare on official paperwork and dog tags. The list now totals 216 different affiliations, including 30 types of Baptists.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, World Magazine, Religion News Service, Christianity Today