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By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

High court sends case back to Court of Appeals
Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their Oregon bakery and were required to pay $135,000 for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2013. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has sent their case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in favor of fellow baker Jack Phillips last year.

Illinois Baptist pastor urges prayer for churches in the state
Abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

Baptists lament past failures on abuse, commit to care well in the future
Meeting in Birmingham for their annual meeting last week, Southern Baptists approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that specifies sexual abuse as grounds for discontinuing cooperation with a church. They also voted to establish a standing committee to investigate claims of misconduct against churches related to abuse and other issues.

Bishops vote to create abuse hotline
U.S. Catholic Bishops approved at their annual meeting the creation of a hotline to receive allegations of sexual abuse or abuse cover-up. The hotline will be operational in a year, according to U.S. News & World Report, and will cost about $50,000 a year to run.

LifeWay presidential search team to report June 28
Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources will gather for a special meeting June 28 to consider a report from the search team looking for the Southern Baptist entity’s new president. Former President Thom Rainer announced his retirement last August and served through February of this year.

Sources: Christian Post, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Illinois Baptist, U.S. News & World Report, Baptist Press

Ahead of Birmingham meeting, Executive Committee may also reword proposed amendment
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will meet prior to the denomination’s annual meeting this month to consider new measures to combat sexual abuse. One potential option: A standing committee to assess claims of church misconduct brought at annual meetings and at other times during the year for alleged departures from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine, or practice.

“Over the last year,” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press, “it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.

“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction.”

Trump makes impromptu visit to Virginia church
President Donald Trump was prayed for by Pastor David Platt Sunday during a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church. The visit coincided with evangelist Franklin Graham’s call to pray for the President on Sunday, June 2. After criticism, Platt shed light on the President’s visit and the prayer in a letter to his congregation.

Illinois lawmakers approve expanded abortion, legal pot, and sports betting
Over the last few days of their spring session, the Illinois legislature moved forward on several high-profile issues of concern to conservative and Christian voters, including the Reproductive Health Acts, which pro-life advocates have called one of the nation’s most extreme abortion laws.

More state leaders sign laws to restrict abortion
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation last week to ban abortion early in pregnancy, joining five other states who approved similar laws this year.

Millennial non-Christians show more spiritual curiosity than older adults
Barna reports that young non-Christians have more conversations about faith than do older non-believers, and they are more interested in learning what Christianity could mean for their lives.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, McLean Bible Church, Illinois Baptist, Barna Research

Giving is up amid declines in baptisms, membership, and worship attendance
The most recent Annual Church Profile reports collected by the Southern Baptist Convention show continued decline in key markers, including a 3% decrease in baptisms from the previous year. And Christianity Today noted membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018, the lowest since 1987.

“As we look forward, it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. “Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”

>Related: New data from the General Social Survey says just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults.

Churchgoers split on existence of undiscovered sexual abuse by pastors
Nearly all churchgoers say their church is a safe place where children and teenagers are protected from sexual abuse, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. But almost one-third (32%) also believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than we have heard about, while 37% disagree and 31% say they don’t know.

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Save Chick-Fil-A’ bill
A so-called “Save Chick-Fil-A” bill was approved May 22 by Texas lawmakers, prohibiting government entities from acting against businesses and people because of their associations with religious organizations. The bill is connected to the chicken chain following the San Antonio airport’s decision to deny space to Chick-Fil-A based on its support for traditional marriage. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

Younger Americans find more meaning in work than religion
Americans under 40—less likely to say religion is important to them—are finding more meaning and identity in the companies they work for and the jobs they do, Fast Company reports.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today, LifeWay Research, Fast Company

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

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