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Actions on abuse, racism await messengers in Birmingham

By Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

SBC Kids

“Gospel Above All” is the theme of the June 11-12 annual meeting of Southern Baptists.

“It is the gospel that is the source of our renewal, and it is the gospel that should be our defining characteristic as a people,” Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told the SBC Executive Committee last fall. “[The gospel] should be what people think about and talk about when they think and talk about us.”

When Baptists arrive in Birmingham, however, several other topics—some of them highly charged—will also be on the table. Chief among them is the SBC’s response to a Houston Chronicle report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers.

Greear and other SBC leaders have said it is crucial that Baptists leave Birmingham with a clear position against abuse and churches that exhibit indifference toward it. They also need to make strides toward caring well for survivors. During the business session, voters at the meeting (called “messengers”) will consider an amendment to the SBC Constitution to designate churches indifferent toward abuse as not in friendly cooperation with the convention.

Messengers will also consider a similar amendment on racism. In order to become part of the SBC Constitution, both measures must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Birmingham and at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.

New leaders on the platform
Paul Chitwood (International Mission Board), Adam Greenway (Southwestern Seminary), and Ronnie Floyd (Executive Committee) will each share their first reports as heads of Southern Baptist entities, although Floyd is a familiar face after serving two one-year terms as SBC president.

While in that role from 2014 to 2016, Floyd was known for consistent communication with fellow Southern Baptists through blog posts and social media. As newly elected president of the Executive Committee, he recently launched an online campaign to promote the annual meeting and get more Baptists to Birmingham by sharing 50 reasons to be there—one each day leading up to the convention.

Floyd’s new role positions him to play an integral part in the SBC’s actions on sexual abuse. After his election in April, he pledged to use the weeks before Birmingham to work with other SBC leaders on a unified response.

On Monday evening prior to the annual meeting, a study team appointed by Greear will co-host with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission a discussion on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. A new curriculum for churches—“Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused”—also will be unveiled at the meeting.

While serving as SBC president, Floyd brought leaders together for a memorable worship service devoted to praying for racial reconciliation. Greear has made it a goal of his presidency for Southern Baptist leadership to reflect the diversity of Southern Baptist churches. The Birmingham meeting will feature a panel discussion titled “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation,” as well as

two additional panels: “Gospel Above All: Keeping Secondary Issues Secondary,” and “Indispensable Partners: The Value of Women in God’s Mission.”

Room at the table
As the SBC and the culture at large continue to wrestle with the ramifications of #metoo, several new and revamped events in Birmingham will focus on the role of women in the church and the denomination:

The new SBC Women’s Leadership Network will be featured during a Women’s Session Monday morning, which takes the place of the former Pastors’ Wives Conference. Norine Brunson, wife of formerly imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson, will speak during the session, along with author Kandi Gallaty and “SBC This Week” podcast host Amy Whitfield, among others.

Illinois’ own Becky Gardner will participate in a panel discussion on leadership development at the 5th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast June 12. Gardner, superintendent of Peoria Christian School, is chair of the trustees for breakfast sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Last year’s meeting in Dallas marked the first gathering of Women & Work, a group dedicated to helping women pursue God’s mission through their vocations. Teacher and author Jen Wilkin will speak at this year’s forum June 11, along with Tami Heim, president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance.

The annual Ministers’ Wives Luncheon will feature Lauren Chandler, whose book “Steadfast Love: The Response of God to the Cries of Our Heart” will set the stage for the luncheon’s theme. Tickets are available at lifeway.com/en/events/ministers-wives-luncheon.

Our shared mission
The Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ main channel for sending support to missions and ministry around the world, has taken center stage—literally—at recent annual meetings. This year in Birmingham is no different. The CP stage in the exhibit hall is set to host interviews and panel discussions on how Baptists work together to get the good news of Jesus to more people around the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, annual meeting attendees will hear from current

International Mission Board personnel and new appointees at a missionary Sending Celebration.

Also in Birmingham, numerous Baptist fellowship groups will meet, including:
• Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council
• Chinese Baptist Fellowship
• Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches
• National Asian American Fellowship
• Second Generation Asian American Fellowship
• Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship
• Fellowship of Native American Christians
• Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship

In addition to those groups, the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) will meet in Birmingham to, among other goals, honor former slave and first North American missionary George Liele. NAAF will submit a resolution to add a George Liele Day to the SBC calendar and will ask SBC seminaries to consider creating Liele scholarships, NAAF President Marshal Ausberry told Baptist Press.

A 2012 SBC resolution formally recognizes Liele as the first overseas missionary from the U.S. Scholarships in his name could help train future African American missionaries, Ausberry said.

For more information about the SBC annual meeting, Pastors’ Conference, and other Birmingham events, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

Briefing

‘Gospel above all’ as theme for SBC Birmingham
Keeping the “Gospel Above All” is Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s main goal going into SBC’s annual meeting. Greear noted there will be other issues demanding attention – among them, confronting sexual abuse. Greear also will be promoting the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Other meeting highlights will include racial reconciliation panel discussions and “The Value of Women in God’s Mission.” The annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama is set for June 11-12.

One GRAND April: churches report baptisms
IBSA churches baptized nearly 500 people during the first three weeks of April, according to reports from congregations around the state. The number is expected to increase as churches share their stories from One GRAND Month, a month-long, statewide emphasis on evangelism and baptisms. Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, encouraged churches to share their baptism reports and add to the statewide celebration.

Churches eager to evangelize, but distractions abound
A 2019 LifeWay Research survey found that despite Protestant churchgoers’ excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, few actually engage in the practice on a regular basis. More than half of churchgoers (55 percent) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. A majority (56 percent), however, say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. In the study, Hispanics (36 percent) and African Americans (29 percent) were more likely to offer those prayers compared to whites (20 percent) or other ethnicities (17 percent).

Christian adoption agency to accommodate LGBT community as part of settlement
The largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the United States, Bethany Christian Services, will begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. This comes after the agency was sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The agency insists that its mission and Christian beliefs have not changed but did announce it will start placing children with LGBT families as part of a settlement with the state, opting to change its longstanding policy rather than lose the opportunity to help find homes for the thousands of vulnerable children who live in the state.

NC governor vetoes ‘born alive’ abortion bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to try to preserve the life of any infant born alive during an attempted abortion‘G. Under the proposed law, health care practitioner would be required to preserve the life and health of a child born alive during an abortion attempt. The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act” bill was passed by the state April 22. Cooper vetoed the bill for reasons that laws “already protect newborn babies.”

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, CNN

Pence_SBC_web

Politics-packed speech met with outcry online

Dallas | Despite debate surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s address at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, the convention hall was packed Wednesday morning when he took the stage. Pence called the SBC “one of the greatest forces for good anywhere in America.” After a few more words of praise for Southern Baptists, he shared his brief testimony of coming to faith in Christ 40 years ago.

From there, his speech became more political, noting the Trump administration’s accomplishments during two years in office, including recent peace talks with North Korea. Pence received multiple standing ovations and even a few shouts of “four more years.”

On his and President Trump’s behalf, Pence asked Baptists to “continue in your calling with renewed energy. Stand and go and speak. Stand in the gap. Because in these too-divided times, I believe that your voice, your compassion, your values, and your ministries are more needed than ever before.”

As he neared the end of his speech, he requested messengers pray, noting it wasn’t politically motivated. “And on this one, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about praying for an agenda or for a cause. I rather like what President Lincoln said in his time when he was asked if he thought God was on the side of the Union Army. Our 16th President simply replied, ‘My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.’” Pence’s request was met with loud applause.

Read the transcript of his address at ChristianPost.com.

During and after Pence’s speech, many Baptists expressed dismay with the content and tone of his message.

“Have mercy on us,” tweeted Paul Cooper, pastor of Marshall Baptist Church in Marshall, Ill. “#SBC18AM just became a political rally. Not the place for election speeches. Nothing wrong with campaigning- but not here.”

Newly elected SBC President J.D. Greear posted after Pence’s address, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary tweeted from a different perspective. “Vice President Mike Pence speaking to SBC! Why do things like this matter? It is good for people in power to know us. We may need them at some point. Also, we need to affirm evangelicals in politics. It is a tough calling.”

On Tuesday, a messenger brought a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer and reflection. The motion failed, but two other motions made on the floor asked SBC leaders to avoid inviting political figures to address future annual meetings.

Before his address, Pence’s visit continued to be a source of debate online, in hallway discussions, and at meetings scheduled around the Convention. There was a loosely organized effort on Twitter to invite messengers to gather on the other end of the convention hall during the vice president’s address for a time of prayer.

Prayer group

A small group met to pray during Vice President Mike Pence’s address in Dallas. Twitter photo

A photo posted on Twitter by SBC Voices shows about a dozen people at the prayer meeting.

Those opposed to Pence’s appearance said it could give the appearance that the Convention was endorsing one political party over another, would be disrespectful to minorities who feel the current administration doesn’t represent them, and could put international Baptist workers at risk.

However, in the packed convention hall, many messengers gave Pence repeated standing ovations for his campaign-like message.

 

 

 

Greear_PC_web

Dallas | J.D. Greear says his election does not indicate a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention. But the photos of Greear, 45, with his opponent Ken Hemphill and outgoing SBC President Steven Gaines, both in their 60s, might attest otherwise.

“What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge,” Greear said after his landslide win. “We walk forward together,” he said a conciliatory tone.

Two years after he won the approval of many by stepping aside in a tight race with Gaines saying he wanted to avoid division in the denomination, Greear won this election by a 2-1 margin, taking 69% of the vote. With this overwhelming tally, Greear became the youngest president of the denomination in its 173-year history.

In the election, little mention was made of Greear’s reformed theology. In fact, much was made of his North Carolina church’s record of evangelism and sending missionaries to the field through SBC channels. His nomination speech seemed to take pains to assure those who might be concerned about a shift away from evangelism by the election of a Calvinist. Greear expressed his commitment to evangelistic renewal in the denomination in a subsequent press conference.

Greear takes office facing a challenging slate of issues not evident when he announced his candidacy five months ago. In addition to the continuing decline in baptisms and per capita Cooperative Program giving to missions by SBC church members, Greear faces the issues of unreported sexual abuse and moral failure by SBC leaders, the role of women in Southern Baptist leadership, the future of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, and now troubled Southwestern Seminary.

In reporting Greear’s election, Christianity Today called the SBC presidency a “symbolic, visionary role.” Today, that description could not be more wrong. Greear will not only be the new face of SBC, he will be the first of his generation to assume the role at a most critical juncture in SBC history. Greear told his church that his service wouldn’t require any more of his time than his usual travel schedule as a nationally recognized and much sought-after speaker. It will be interesting to ask him in a year if that assessment was correct.

Digging out of this mess will take more time and effort than anyone imagined. And it will require true leadership.

-Eric Reed

 

By Eric Reed

Red BishopWe might feel sorry for the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Three of our leading SBC entities are without presidents, and the incoming convention president will find himself leading in the aftermath of a firestorm. At least we hope it’s the aftermath.

One resigned because of personal moral failure (Frank Page of the Executive Committee). One was removed for inappropriate comments about women and alleged inaction to protect abuse victims (Paige Patterson of Southwestern Seminary). Only one was not under a cloud (David Platt of the International Mission Board). Yet, his departure leaves a great gap in representation by the younger and reformed generation. A lot of people had pinned their hopes on Platt.

Here’s what the next SBC president faces: The EC, IMB, and SWBTS all need new heads. Their presidential search committees operate independently of each other and, officially, free from outside direction and pressures. Yet, with three major vacancies at the top, the SBC seems particularly vulnerable right now, and the next president will be expected to offer whatever assistance he can to stabilize the ships in the fleet. The new heads of those entities will just be getting their feet under themselves during the next SBC president’s first term. Helping them all is a tall order for the next guy.

What kind of leadership is needed in a season of change and uncertainty? How can he lead after this firestorm?

The next SBC president must be public. Past presidents Fred Luter and Ronnie Floyd were very public, both in mainstream media and Baptist press. Steve Gaines was less public, appearing rarely in the national media, especially in his first term. The new guy must be available to the press, write for publication often, and make effective use of social media.

The next guy must be winsome. In this era of failure and the resulting distrust, it will be up to the next SBC president to bolster public opinion of Baptists with thoughtful apologetics and likeable presentation. It won’t hurt to have a good personality.

The next guy must understand the times. Like the leaders in Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32), he must be wise and culturally aware. He must take action befitting the age, bringing biblical response to today’s needs. Southern Baptists have been characterized as “tone-deaf” on the subjects of women and abuse. The next guy shouldn’t aim for political correctness, but he must rightly assess the needs of the people in the pews and the watching world.

Indeed, that’s a tall order.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Updated May 23, 2018

By The Editors

As with most things in Texas, this gathering of Southern Baptists promises to be a bit bigger than usual, both in attendance and in the scope and possible impact of the issues likely to be discussed.

Generation and direction: The two announced candidates for SBC president are markedly different, both in age and theology. While recent conventions have concluded with some attempt at conciliation and commitment to work together, this two-man race serves to highlight the differences. Its outcome will likely be interpreted as a shift in direction.

This presidential election is marked by an increase in campaigning by the candidates’ supporters. Young and Reformed J.D. Greear was the candidate who stepped aside two years ago, rather than force a second run-off election and risk deepening divisions between younger leaders beginning to take their place and their parents’ generation, and between Reformed Southern Baptists and those who would call themselves “traditionalists” on the topics of salvation and election.

The elder Ken Hemphill’s experience in a variety of SBC leadership roles positions him as a statesman candidate. A number of other SBC leaders support him as a defender of traditional theology and the Cooperative Program.

The need for assurance: Messengers will arrive in Texas feeling some fallout from Frank Page’s departure as head of the SBC Executive Committee due to personal moral failure. And David Platt announced his intention to step down as International Mission Board president earlier this spring. Both entities have search committees working to fill the vacancies.

The search for new leaders has generated conversation about diversity among denominational leadership. One pastor said it’s “imperative” that at least one of the two roles be filled by a minority candidate (see our report from MLK50 on page 10).

Diversity: The SBC’s process for nominating trustees for its entities is in the spotlight for a lack of diversity among this year’s nominees. According to the “SBC This Week” podcast, the announced group of 69 nominees to serve on SBC boards is made up of 58 men and 11 women; 67 are Anglo, one is African-American, and one is Asian-American.
Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin tweeted in response to the report, “We have got to do better than this. Our trustee boards must reflect the WHOLE SBC.”

The report from the Committee on Nominations is still a work in progress (the group generally has to fill 5-10 spots that come open prior to the convention). Chairman James Freeman said the committee initiated measures at their March meeting to increase diversity, a decision that he said was reinforced by the social media discussion.

ERLC AND social justice: Racial justice and unity may be raised again in Dallas. Throughout his tenure, ERLC President Russell Moore has galvanized younger Baptists with his brand of compassionate activism. Others, though, bristled at his harsh words for supporters of then-candidate Donald Trump, and have since questioned whether the ERLC’s policies reflect the majority of the SBC.

Last year the convention voted on a Moore-led resolution condemning “alt-right racism.” Now Moore has raised the issue of race again at an April conference that ERLC hosted commemorating the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The ERLC’s report to the convention is, like last year, near the end of the meeting agenda. Moore will be among the last leaders heard from before Baptists leave Texas.

Paige Patterson: The man who led the conservative reclamation of the SBC starting in the 1970s is scheduled to preach the convention sermon in Dallas and many are calling on him not preach the sermon. On May 23 at a special called meeting of the Board of Trustees at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth he was removed as president and appointed president emeritus.

It comes after comments he made in 2000 about domestic abuse recently required a statement from the seminary offering clarification 18 years later. In the comments, which resurfaced last month, Patterson said his counsel to a woman being abused by her husband would depend “on the level of abuse to some degree.” He said he never counseled divorce, and at most temporary separation.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Patterson’s full statement is more stunning today. Fellow Texan Beth Moore, who will speak at an event for pastors’ wives in Dallas, was among the hundreds who tweeted in response, posting “We do not submit to abuse. NO.”

As the trustees met the Washington Post released an article about an incident at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where Patterson was president in 2003. A former student said she told Patterson she had been raped and he urged her not to go to the police, but to forgive the student who was alleged to have committed the crime. Southeastern is investigating the report.

The cost of unity: Perhaps what will mark the Dallas convention isn’t which difficult conversations will be had, because there will certainly be some, but how we Baptists emerge from them. Will the meeting be marked by willingness to stand in unity because what unites us is the gospel? Or will our differences over the nature of gospel itself, and how God brings people to salvation, make the divide, largely generational, even clearer and wider?

Also read #SBCtoo: What we forgot to report may also be forgotten after the convention

– The Editors

The Briefing

Beth Moore pens open letter on sexism
A member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council has released an open letter, giving an apology to noted evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore over the sexism she has experienced in some church leadership environments. Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, penned an open letter describing her experiences of misogyny within certain conservative evangelical circles.

Patterson comments draw range of women’s responses
A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.” An open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Paige Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse garnered more than 1,800 signatures in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.

IL senate bill requires schools to teach LGBT history
The Illinois Senate approved a bill requiring all public schools in the state to teach about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in history. The bill would require that textbooks “accurately portray the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, and must be non-discriminatory as to certain characteristics under the Act.” It would also become effective be July 1, 2019.

Disney ends Christian concert after 35 years
After 35 years, Disney World says it will no longer host the Night of Joy Christian music festival. The annual event held in early September started in 1983 and drew popular Christian artists like TobyMac, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, and Michael W. Smith. Despite the cancellation, Disney says various Christian groups and artists will still continue to hold concerts at the resort in Florida.

Trump reveals White House Faith Initiative
President Donald Trump has marked the National Day of Prayer with a new policy designed to protect faith groups and their involvement with the American government. After over a year of ad-hoc meetings with evangelicals, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will formalize his administration’s ties with faith leaders and offer faith-based organizations equal access to government funding.

2018 SBC Credentials Committee announced, Tellers also named
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines has announced appointees to the 2018 Credentials Committee. Gaines has also named tellers for the SBC 2018 annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.

Sources: Christian Post (2), Baptist Press (3), CBN, Christianity Today (2), Washington Post

Compiled by Andrew Woodrow, IBSA Multi-Media Journalist