Archives For Southern Baptist Convention

face-the-nation-moore

WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

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Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

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Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

Floyd calls Trump prexy ‘our moment’

National Prayer Service in Washington DC

SBC Pastors Ronnie Floyd (center left) and David Jeremiah (center right) exit the platform and prepare to greet President Trump at the conclusion of the National Prayer Service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Fox Phoenix screen capture

“Right now we’ve got a shot to really make a difference,” Ronnie Floyd told his congregation on Sunday. “God has given us a moment. It’s time to pray more than we’ve ever prayed in our country…to pray more with stronger conviction that every life matters to God.”

Floyd was just one of the notable Southern Baptist pastors participating in inaugural ceremonies for incoming President, Donald Trump. The pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas was one of the evangelical advisors to Trump.

Noting the current discord in the nation, Floyd said, “This is not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about spiritual warfare; right and wrong. It’s not about what it appears to be about, it’s not about flesh and blood.

“You don’t announce you’re going to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court and expect the world to receive it,” Floyd said in a video posted at his website.

Southern Baptists were prominent at the National Prayer gathering on Saturday following the inauguration, both in their placement in the program and on the platform among the 26 religious leaders invited to participate in the event.

Floyd and David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., sat on the dais of the National Cathedral, just behind the Episcopal celebrants who were leading the service and in front of the choir loft. Jeremiah read from Romans 5, the passage about character, endurance, patience, and hope. And Floyd read Psalm 23 from the King James Version.

Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham was one of the speakers in the “prayers of the people,” reading a scripted prayer on behalf of “those who serve.” And a granddaughter of Billy Graham, Franklin’s daughter Cissie Graham Lynch, read a similar prayer in a procession that included a rabbi, representatives of several Protestant denominations, and several Eastern religions.

Ramiro Peña, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, wrapped up the litany of prayers with The Lord’s Prayer. In an unofficial count, Southern Baptists outnumbered other faiths among clergy participating in the inauguration and prayer service. The interfaith service held an an Anglical cathedral had distinctly evangelical touches. Melania Trump led a standing ovation for the solo singer of “How Great Thou Art,” and the service concluded with “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, sang from memory.

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

He instructed them, “God says in Psalm 50:15 ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.’”

– Staff Report, with info from Baptist Press, RonnieFloyd.com, FirstDallas.org, and C-SPAN.

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

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

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

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new missions paradigm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I had a hammer

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

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

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Sandy Wisdom-Martin during her tenure as IBSA’s women’s missions and ministries director.

The news spread quickly among Illinois Southern Baptists that one of their own daughters was named to serve as executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC. Sandy Wisdom-Martin, an Illinois native who grew up near the small southern Illinois town of Marissa, was unanimously elected by the WMU executive board at a special-called meeting July 29-30 in Birmingham, Ala.

“My commitment has always been to walk where God leads,” Wisdom-Martin said in a press release from National WMU, “yet this has been a difficult process because I am in a very good place. I love the assignment God has given us (in Texas). This certainly caught my family by surprise and was not a part of our plan, but we believe God is sovereign and all the details of our lives are in His hands. I trust Him completely for the future.”

In the release she said what excites her most about this opportunity is to put total trust in the Father, serve Him with reckless abandon and see where the adventure leads.

“I don’t do what I do because of my employment,” Wisdom-Martin continued “I do what I do because I believe in the restoration of brokenness through hope in Christ. Through WMU, the only reason we do what we do is because he is risen and we must tell the good news.”

Evelyn Tully, IBSA WMU Director from 1985-2000, told the Illinois Baptist, “I am thrilled beyond words in Sandy’s selection as Executive Director of WMU, SBC.  Her missions commitment, her ministry lifestyle, and her exemplary relationships have uniquely prepared her for this tremendous responsibility.  I know Illinois missions-minded women will be her strong prayer supporters.”

Wisdom-Martin was the first recipient of the Darla Lovell Scholarship from Illinois WMU while studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. While growing up she also served served on the state Acteens Panel, lead five Acteens Activator Teams, and was a seminary intern.

Wisdom-Martin served as IBSA women’s missions and ministries director from 2001-2010 before becoming executive director of WMU of Texas in 2010 through the present. While at IBSA she also served as president of Mississippi River Ministries and led the first international WMU Habitat for Humanity Team, which traveled to Ghana to build houses.

She and her husband Frank, who grew up in Sandwich, IL, are the parents of daughter Hannah.

Prior to coming to IBSA, she served as a Cooperative Program Missionary with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1991-2001.

– Lisa Sergent with additional reporting from National WMU

I did not grow up a Southern Baptist. In fact, I only stumbled into the denomination 12 years ago. But every year I become happier and happier to be associated with this great tradition and organization. And this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis made me more pleased than ever before to be a Baptist.

Maybe I am set up for future disappointment. I hear that these meetings are not always as eventful. This year, attendance was up. Emotions were high. We gathered in the immediate wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, the worst in our country’s history. We remembered the tragic shooting in Charleston one year earlier and acknowledged the racially charged atmosphere reflected in nearby Ferguson. “Election” also loomed large. The theological understanding of the term was a subtext for the hotly contested SBC presidential election. And the upcoming U.S. presidential election was in everyone’s mind.

One of the most memorable moments for me, though, came amid a flurry a motions presented to convention messengers. One brother from Arkansas had requested the removal of Southern Baptist officials or officers who support a right for Muslims in America to build mosques. The next day, after the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s report, the same brother pressed ERLC President Russell Moore on the issue, likening the defense of the right to construct mosques to Jesus endorsing the erection of temples for Baal in ancient Israel.

As our culture unravels, we must remember our hope is in Christ, not country.

Dr. Moore’s response was sharp and received by the majority of messengers with applause. “The answer to Islam is not government power,” he said. “The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”

In defending the idea of soul freedom for every individual, he illuminated a critical theological concept that lies at the heart of being Baptist. I am referring to religious liberty—the belief that no religion should be established by the state, but all faiths should be free to win adherents through the power of persuasion and not the sword.

In our history, Baptists have been persecuted by the government for non-conformity. We have seen the damage done by state churches to true religion. We do not baptize babies, in part, because we believe you cannot be born a Christian. Everyone must be genuinely converted without coercion. This should compel us to a radical witness to our Muslim neighbors and refugees, not to seek political action against them.

Recently there was a debate between a Christian and an atheist at the university near our church. It was sponsored by an evangelical campus ministry. To get there, you took the escalators to the third floor and turned left to find a small room with perhaps 100 mostly Anglo attenders. That same night, in the large room to the right of the escalators, there was a banquet for Islam Awareness Week with hundreds of Muslims from places like the Middle East and South Asia.

The lesson is this: We can wring our hands at the growing influence of Islam in the U.S., or we can get to work witnessing in new ways. Now is not the time for fear, but for bold faith.

In the New Testament era, the church is an altogether different institution than the state, with distinct ends and means. The two cannot be confused. So today, the proper analog to Baal altars in Israel is not Islamic Centers in Wheaton. It is idolatry in the corporate worship of the Church.

Patriotism definitely has its place, but perhaps one appropriate application would be to examine whether nationalism has crept into our Christianity. There are many forms of syncretism. As former SBC President James Merritt eloquently said in favor of a resolution to cease display of the Confederate battle flag, “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.”

As our culture continues to unravel and even the Bible Belt unbuckles, we must remember that our hope is in Christ, not country. His kingdom is unshakeable. And in many ways the dismantling of cultural Christianity that fused God and country is a good thing for the cause of the gospel. We Baptists want real believers that worship Christ alone, even if they are persecuted by a secular state or Islamic State.

– Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Race panel

Resolution urges no more use of Confederate battle flag

The Southern Baptist Convention rejected use of an iconic Southern emblem, the Confederate battle flag still commonly seen in the South, because it is for many representative of slavery and ongoing racism against African Americans. The resolution states: “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

Its passage by a considerable majority was met with enthusiastic applause.

The vote came after an impassioned plea by Georgia pastor and former SBC President James Merritt, himself the descendant of two Confederate war veterans.

“Make no mistake, this is a seminal moment in our convention,” said Merritt. “I believe God has brought the SBC to both the kingdom and our culture for such a time as this. What we do today with this issue will reverberate in this nation, not just today, but I believe a hundred years from now. This is not a matter of political correctness, it is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion.”

Merritt proposed an amendment which strengthened the resolution, and removed a phrase some had used about “honor(ing) their loved one’s valor.” He substituted language to “discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The amendment passed. While not all messengers who spoke supported the resolution, the will of the Convention was clear: Southern Baptists have broken with the racism of their past. After statements in 1995 and the election of an African American president in 2013, some expressed hope the sins of the past are repudiated as well as the flag.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd chose the St. Louis convention, just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, as the place to discuss racial reconciliation. Convention week began with outreach ministry in Ferguson, site of riots in 2014 following the police shooting of a black teenager.

Floyd told convention messengers, “America is…experiencing a racial crisis. Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life. Regardless of the color of human skin, God has put his imprint on each of us…Racism is a major sin and stronghold in America.”

Floyd staged a panel discussion, a rarity in SBC business sessions, called “A National Conversation on Racial Unity in America,” with 10 leaders.

“I am absolutely, totally convinced that the problem in America can be put totally at the doorsteps of our churches,” said Jerry Young, president of a mostly African American denomination, the National Baptist Convention.

Young noted Christ told his disciples to be the salt and light of the world, and he said Christians are failing in the task. “I challenge you to know that the problem in America is a problem with the church being what God called it to be….Here’s what needs to happen in America: Somebody needs to pass the salt and turn on the lights.”

The panel discussed the killing of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last year. “That racially motivated murder hurt all of us,” said Marshall Blalock, pastor of the mostly white First Baptist Church in Charleston. “The white community for the first time began to understand.”

Blalock noted, “The killer was a terrorist, he wanted to create fear and cause hopelessness. But he went to church where there is no room for fear, or hate, or hopelessness…Only the gospel can eliminate racism.”

Kenny Petty, pastor of the Gate Church in St. Louis, said incidents such as the Charleston church shooting and police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., exposed an infection. “That wound opened up and it reeked.” Since the shooting, “there has been some healing (in Ferguson), but we’ve got a long way to go. We found out that infection didn’t just stop with the culture, it went on to the doorstep of the church.”

“What we need is the mind of Christ,” Young said. “If we want to change racism in our churches and America we’re going to have to change our attitude through Christ.”

President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore called the convention’s action “an extraordinary moment.”

“We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters in Christ,” Moore said.

– Lisa Sergent