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Former SBC president to head Executive Committee

By Meredith Flynn

Ronnie Floyd BP

When Ronnie Floyd began his tenure as president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee this month, he immediately became a key piece of how the denomination will respond to major challenges: preventing sexual abuse in churches and caring for survivors; building leadership that reflects the diversity of Southern Baptist churches; and reigniting a passion for evangelism amid years of declining baptisms and church membership.

The search team that nominated Floyd, 63, chose him because of his decades of leadership and his vision for the SBC. They’re counting on the longtime pastor’s experience to help the SBC navigate challenges, now and in the future.

“We needed a proven leader,” said Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of IBSA. Robinson, who also serves as one of Illinois’ two representatives on the Executive Committee, was vice chairman of the search committee. He noted Floyd’s decades of pastoring a vibrant, baptizing, church-planting church.“That type of sustained leadership of a healthy ministry said a lot about his leadership capacity.”

Floyd, who was elected April 2 by a vote of 68-1, pastored Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 33 years. He is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2014-2016), and also chaired the Great Commission Task Force (2009-2010) and the Executive Committee (1995-1997). He succeeds Frank Page as head of the Executive Committee. Page resigned in March 2018 after confessing a morally inappropriate relationship.

The search team believed Floyd’s experience is needed now, Robinson said, as the SBC addresses sexual abuse and tries to help churches care well for victims and prevent future incidences. A February report in the Houston Chronicle detailed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse involving Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers.

“It’s ungodly, it’s sinful, it’s criminal and obviously we would be against it,” Floyd said during post-election meetings with various Baptist leaders and groups. “But how we get to the common path of what we do, that has become the issue.”

In February, the Executive Committee approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that would designate churches that exhibit indifference toward sexual abuse to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. To become part of the Constitution, messengers to the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings must approve the ammendment by a two-thirds majority.

In a Facebook Live session following his election, Floyd said Southern Baptists seem poised to unite at the 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., and make “as declarative a statement as we can make to our culture about what we believe about this issue” of sexual abuse.

‘Balanced bullpen’
Floyd’s experience as an SBC leader and megachurch pastor made his nomination unsurprising to many discussing the nearly year-long process online. But the men tapped to fill recent leadership posts are Gen X-ers, and some are associated with more Reformed theology. Floyd is neither, which Robinson said should give the SBC a “balanced bullpen” of leadership.

“I think it’s good to have a diversity of leadership styles: Reformed, traditional, Calvinist, and non-Calvinist, and we all need to work together for the glory of God.”

At a press conference following his election, Floyd acknowledged his years of experience in his response to a question, posed by the Illinois Baptist, about the generational differences between him and other current leaders. “The search committee felt they needed a seasoned leader for such a time as this in Southern Baptist life,” Floyd said.

At this time, only two of five key vacancies in SBC leadership remain unfilled. Paul Chitwood, 46, was named president of the International Mission Board in November, and Adam Greenway, 41, assumed leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in February. Search committees are seeking leaders for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary following the retirement of Chuck Kelley, 66, and LifeWay Christian Resources, whose president, Thom Rainer, 63, left in February.

Robinson said the vision Floyd presented for the SBC is “multigenerational, multiethnic, and multilingual.” At the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, then-SBC President Floyd gathered pastors and leaders from multiple ethnic groups to pray corporately for racial reconciliation. The next year, he invited National Baptist Convention President Jerry Young and other leaders to engage in a panel discussion on racial unity in America.

His frequent communication with Baptists through blog posts and social media was a hallmark of Floyd’s SBC presidency, and Robinson said that will continue as Floyd assumes his new role.

“I think that’s going to be part of his mission, to get the story of the SBC out to the rest of the world. To highlight the things we’re doing well, so that we’re not just known for what we’re against, but what we’re for, and what we’re doing to fulfill the Great Commission.”

That charge to make disciples of all nations—given by Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20—is the “missional vision” of Southern Baptists, Floyd said after his election. “It will be to that end, that end of reaching the world that I will give my life…in this next season—100 percent, from before daylight until exhaustion, until Jesus comes or until he calls me home.”

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from Baptist Press

Kick-off includes new blog, podcast tailored to Baptist women
Connection is the main goal of the newly launched Southern Baptist Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). “Historically in SBC life men have had multiple options to connect in this way,” said WLN steering committee member Kathy Ferguson Litton. “Women have had very few environments where we could organically relate, mentor, and collaborate across all the domains in which we lead. It is time to change that.”

The network includes a podcast, blog, and Facebook page, and will hold its first meeting June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

Congress yet to act on church tax law
A coalition of religious leaders is still pursuing action by U.S. lawmakers they say will relieve churches of a costly tax burden. Current law requires churches to file tax returns, some as early as this spring. The U.S. House of Representatives voted late last year to reverse the provision—Section 512(a)(7) of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017—but the Senate didn’t have the votes to approve the reversal, Baptist Press reported.

“Uncle Sam is welcome in our churches,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, one of the leaders calling for repeal of the provision. “But we don’t work for him. And Congress should end this deeply un-American tax on churches immediately.”

Baptists choose ‘proven leader’ to helm Executive Committee
Arkansas pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was elected April 2 to lead the denomination’s Executive Committee, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn. Floyd, 63, will be a key part of the SBC’s response to current challenges, including helping churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors of abuse.

Mormon Church softens stance on same-sex marriage
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced April 4 that members in same-sex marriages will no longer be designated apostates to their faith. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline,” the church said. “Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

The change in policy also will allow children of LGBT members to be baptized in the church, Religion News Service reported.

Iraqi Christians could face deportation
An appeals court declined April 2 to hear further arguments from 1,400 Iraqi natives detained in immigration raids in 2017. The group includes more than 100 Detroit-area Chaldean Christians, Christianity Today reports, who would face returning to one of the world’s most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christianity Today

 

 

 

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

By Eric Reed

“It’s just the Wild West out there right now,” a colleague declared of the Twitterverse, as Baptists registered their opinions on new reports of sexual abuse and the failure of Southern Baptists to stop perpetrators’ movement among churches. Then the Internet mostly applauded the recommendations by SBC President J.D. Greear’s study committee to address sexual abuse in our churches. Then when the Executive Committee reported that the actions of only three of ten churches cited by the Houston Chronicle merited further investigation, the blogosphere blew up again. “A free for all!” my colleague said.

That’s to be expected. Emotions are running high, and there has been a lot of use of crisis language. But beyond that, on any ordinary day, Baptists are a people who expect their voices to be heard.

Please hear me say this: Action must be taken to prevent sexual abuse in the future, to deal with those credibly accused, to assure they do not have places of leadership in SBC churches, and to minister to those who have been harmed by abuse or the threat of abuse.

That said, let me also say, we also have to handle faithfully our historic Baptist doctrines.

We may find in the discussion leading to the SBC annual meeting in June that nothing in Southern Baptist life is a done deal until it is accepted and implemented at the grassroots level.

A seminary professor of mine told this story of a convention in a large southern state: The receptionist was instructed to answer the phone, “Baptist Headquarters.”

“Hmmph,” she soon heard, followed by a long pause. “This is Pastor Smith calling from First Baptist Church. This is Baptist headquarters.”

The next time the pastor called, the phone was answered, “Hello. Baptist Building.”

The professor’s point sticks: The local church is Baptist headquarters. That’s what it means to be a Baptist. We are not a hierarchical denomination, and we don’t operate from the top down. We are the un-denomination. Early leaders even refused for the SBC to be called a denomination, thus they chose the term “convention” to describe this voluntary association of local churches. And, thus, the word “autonomy” becomes important.

In the recent reporting, a few writers described autonomy as a shield some leaders hid behind to avoid dealing with the critical issue of prevention. Maybe autonomy was an easy response to difficult situations in the past, as leaders were accustomed to churches making their own decisions on most matters of policy. And, to be sure, autonomy of the local church must not be an excuse for keeping our eyes closed to evil in our midst. But the foundational Baptist doctrine of autonomy cannot be dismissed.

In the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, around 380 people in Southern Baptist churches were credibly accused and about 220 were convicted of sexual abuse or received plea deals. Of those, 35 found new places of service in other Southern Baptist churches. For our denomination to effectively stop offenders from becoming repeat offenders in new settings, local churches will have to do the hard work of policing and training and fingerprinting and screening volunteer workers and ministry candidates. That is first a local action that must be done first in local churches. Without full participation of local churches, we won’t have a solution to the problem, even if we do create national policies and databases.

One reporter described Pope Francis’s call to his own church, in light of their abuse crisis, not to “simple condemnation but to concrete and effective measures.” As we offer and endorse solutions, we should remember that Baptists accomplish more by cooperation than declaration. In Southern Baptist life, it’s not the language of crisis that compels us or draws us, but the invitation to responsible cooperation.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

SBC workgroup clears 6 churches, says 3 warrant further inquiry
During a Feb. 18 report in Nashville, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear named 10 Southern Baptist churches mentioned in a recent newspaper report on sexual abuse, asking the SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup to determine whether the churches have operated with a faith and practice closely aligned to the SBC’s adopted statement of faith.

The workgroup responded Feb. 23, reporting that while three of the churches warrant further inquiry, six do not. The response was met with dismay and outrage by victims and advocates, including Rachael Denhollander, a member of Greear’s Presidential Study Group on Sexual Abuse.

“J.D. Greear and some leaders have been seeking expert/survivor help and moving forward with firm first steps to change,” Denhollander tweeted. “The EC has undermined and destroyed that effort. I hope these mistakes are due to lack of learning and that they will withdraw, seek help and remedy these errors.”

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteer childcare room brings peace after shooting
Three days after a gunman killed five people at an Aurora manufacturing plant, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the scene to minister to grieving families.

Methodists vote to uphold Biblical sexuality
The United Methodist Church on Tuesday voted at its international conference in St. Louis, Mo., to apply its standards on Biblical marriage and sexuality more consistently throughout the denomination, according to World Magazine.

Executive Committee: Presidential nomination coming ‘very soon’
Illinois Baptist pastor Adron Robinson said the SBC’s Executive Committee has identified “God’s candidate” for their presidential vacancy. Robinson, search committee vice chairman and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, said Feb. 19 the search committee cannot announce the candidate’s name yet because they have not officially notified the person of their intent to nominate him.

10-year-old advises SBC leaders on value of kids in ministry
Ten-year-old Zak McCullar brightened the Executive Committee’s February meeting with his presentation in favor of a Children’s Ministry Day across the Southern Baptist Convention. McCullar, who made a motion supporting the idea during last summer’s SBC annual meeting, spoke to the EC during their final session Feb. 19.

Greear: ‘Abuse is never the fault of the abused’
One day after two newspapers released an investigation into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear urged victims of abuse who haven’t reported it to reach out for help. “Abuse is never the fault of the abused,” Greear said in an article co-authored with biblical counselor Brad Hambrick. “The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.”

The article includes resources for finding help to deal with the trauma of abuse, and also counsel for pastors and church leaders. “People in our churches and community need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation,” Greear and Hambrick wrote. “The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.”

IBSA releases statement on abuse
Following the Houston Chronicle’s report on sexual abuse, the Illinois Baptist State Association urged churches to employ a rigorous screening process for potential staff and volunteers.

“As one national leader pointed out, Southern Baptist churches do not have bishops, but are a priesthood of believers,” the statement reads. “That means all believers in Jesus Christ are personally responsible to God, and as church members are responsible to and for each other. As such, we all must take care to protect each other, especially children and the vulnerable. In addition, when local church leaders become aware of abuse or the potential for abuse, they should deal swiftly and legally with the perpetrators.”

Millennials lukewarm on evangelism
Nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian Millennials believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Barna Research also found that despite their hesitance, the overwhelming majority of Millennial Christians believe witnessing about Jesus is part of being a Christian.

Greear names diverse Committee on Committees
Reflecting his commitment to promote diversity in Southern Baptist leadership, SBC President J.D. Greear named a 2019 Committee on Committees he said is “truly a reflection of Christ’s kingdom.” The group will nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who will, in 2020, nominate trustees for the boards of SBC entities. The committee includes two members from each Baptist state convention; Illinois’s representatives are Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Churh in Chicago, and David Sutton, pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago.

5 moments from the National Prayer Breakfast
The Feb. 7 gathering included bipartisan prayer, reports The Christian Post, along with worship led by Chris Tomlin, a testimony from a Christian doctor who helped fight Ebola, and a plea to end human trafficking.