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Our differences are theological and generational—and growing.

Wittenberg Doors

Nailing his 95 theses to it on October 31, 1517, disgruntled monk Martin Luther made the church door at Wittenberg a famous 16th-century landmark, and a modern-day tourist attraction.

Five hundred years after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with his publicly posted list of grievances against Catholic church leaders and practices, to say the movement made a lasting impact on Christians of all stripes is a gross understatement.

Southern Baptists have certainly been shaped by the doctrines of the Reformation, but the question of just how Reformed we are has created a growing divide in the denomination. As Christians worldwide celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, Southern Baptists continue to wrestle with how deeply we will be people of the Reformation in the next hundred years or two.

In his 2017 book on the Reformation, Alec Ryrie wrote that “like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” And, like all revolutions, the Reformation has come with its own set of growing pains. Over 500 years, believers and non-believers have struggled with the tenets of the Reformers, leading to the formation of many Christian denominations, and differing strains even within those groups.

Baptists have roots in the Reformation, but often hold with varying degrees of conviction to the five points of doctrine most closely associated with Reformed theology, or Calvinism.

In the past decade, the debate over theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has found a new home: Blogs have given voice to proponents of Calvinism, and also to those who consider their soteriological views to be more traditionally Southern Baptist. The two streams hold separate meetings and conferences, but also gather annually at the Southern Baptist Convention, and have pledged to focus on the primary issues of evangelism and the Great Commission, rather than letting secondary issues divide them.

But exactly what that looks like is unclear, as is how the theological debate in the Convention will ultimately affect Southern Baptist churches. With baptisms trending downward, the questions of why and how and when we do evangelism, and what we say when we do it, have never felt more important.

As Alabama pastor Eric Hankins told the Illinois Baptist, “The controversy (over Reformed theology in the SBC) isn’t driven by pragmatic issues of working together. It’s driven by the growing realization that the two soteriological systems are incompatible.

“Should I want to share the gospel [along] with someone who thinks I have a deficient view of the nature of conversion? We’re going to have to articulate very specifically why we want to continue to work together when we believe very different things, or one side is going to have to make some adjustments in its doctrine.”

Judging from the proliferation of passionate theological arguments shared over the past decade, that’s unlikely.

Diagnosing the divides
“I am not a Calvinist,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines wrote in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Yet Gaines, pastor of a Tennessee megachurch, leads a denomination that most admit is increasingly Calvinistic in its leadership, if not in its pews.

“Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know,” Gaines said in the e-mail interview with Kyle Gulledge, editor of the blog SBC Today.

“I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved….If someone hears the gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation,” Gaines said.

“Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople.”

Gaines’ words are echoed in the principles that bond Connect316, a group of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who organized in 2013 around what they called a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of salvation theology. At the recent Connect316 meeting in Phoenix, Hankins pointed to the influence of Calvinism in the SBC over the past 25 years, noting, “It’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Much of that influence emanates from SBC seminaries, including arguably the most influential Southern Baptist Calvinist, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Many credit him with facilitating the rise of Calvinism in the denomination. And two of his former staff at Southern are now leading SBC seminaries as well, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern, and Midwestern President Jason Allen.

Together, three of the six SBC seminaries have schooled a generation of pastors in the Reformed perspective. The question is whether any of the remaining three will shift their theological slant when new leadership takes office.

In 2006, Mohler sat down with another seminary president to publicly discuss the growing theological divide in the SBC. Paige Patterson, 74, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a non-Calvinist, was Mohler’s foil in two standing-room only sessions during the Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro,

Baptist Press’ reporting on the conversation between Mohler and Patterson emphasizes both men’s congeniality toward one another, despite their clear theological differences. “This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said. Each warned those who would agree with them against vilifying the other side.

“I would caution my non-Calvinist brethren against the conclusion that the doctrine of Calvin automatically means that a person will not and cannot be evangelistic,” Patterson said. “…One of the commands that the Lord gives is to take the gospel to the ends of earth. No Calvinist worthy of his stripe would thereby disobey a command of God.”

Mohler urged Calvinists to remember their first priority. “It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t even drive across the street to share the gospel.”

The seminary presidents pointed in 2006 to the key area of impact for today’s theological debate: evangelism.

Multiple views

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines (left) and other SBC leaders addressed several denominational issues, including theological differences, during a panel discussion at June’s annual meeting in Phoenix. With Gaines, panelists are (left to right) Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Texas pastor Matt Chandler, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, and moderator Jedediah Coppenger.

Competing views on salvation
The level of debate intensified in the years leading up to 2012. Just before the 2012 SBC annual meeting, a group of Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Primarily authored by Hankins, the document lays out “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding on salvation, and calls out some “New Calvinists” for trying to establish their position as “the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

In its 10 articles, the statement addresses points of doctrine affirmed by traditionalists, and others they reject. For instance, on the election to salvation, the traditionalist statement says, “We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are his by repentance and faith.

“We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.”

Mohler, responding to the statement, said it was time for the two sides to come together and talk. “May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.”

The traditionalist statement set the stage for a potentially contentious annual meeting in New Orleans, the very year that the Convention was set to take an historic step.

Trying to find common ground
“Calvin’s been around 500 years, and we have to debate this now?” SBC President Fred Luter winningly joked about the SBC theological debate on a visit to Illinois in 2013, nearly a year after he was elected the denomination’s first African American president. “Why do you guys want to do this on my watch?”

Luter’s good-natured handling of the debate surrounding theology was mostly mirrored at the New Orleans convention, as speakers from the podium urged unity despite differences. Messengers approved a resolution on the “sinner’s prayer,” affirming it as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. And that fall, SBC Executive Committee

President Frank Page appointed a Calvinism study committee to come to a consensus—of sorts—as to how Baptists could work together despite theological differences.

Prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, the Calvinism study committee released its report. In it, the group, which included Calvinists and non-Calvinists, wrote about what principles ought to govern theological conversation within the SBC, and detailed specific points of doctrine.

The report also included specific suggestions for Baptists operating within the theological tension, like how candidates for ministry positions (and the search committees interviewing them) ought to be “fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine.”

Mohler and Hankins had a public conversation about their experience on the study committee in the fall of 2013, modeling for seminarians at Mohler’s institution how to have a dialogue about areas of disagreement. When the conversation turned to evangelism, Mohler used the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield—leaders who had different soteriological views, but who shared the gospel the same way, he said.

“I think we can mislead not only others but ourselves in thinking that we have to have an absolutely common unified soteriology in order to tell people about Jesus because, if so, Southern Baptists would have had to stop doing common missions a very long time ago,” Mohler said.

Their conversation also touched on some of the more personal fallouts of the debate, with Hankins confessing that he as a traditionalist had been made to feel like his soteriology was deficient, or that he was dangerous.

Mohler countered that because they disagree, he does indeed find Hankins’ soteriological views deficient (to laughter from the audience), but not deficient enough to disallow missional cooperation.

“I would not want to be in cooperation with someone who’s soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel and made common evangelism and missions impossible….If I felt that your soteriology was deficient in any way such as that, this isn’t the kind of conversation we’d be having.”

Castle at Wittenberg

Inside the castle at Wittenberg on a Reformation tour (right), Southern Seminary President Al Mohler preaches in the chapel where Luther regularly spoke.

Igniting evangelistic fire in both camps
The 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas could be the next time the theology debate is poised to make an impact on Southern Baptist life. Gaines will complete his second and final one-year term as president, and could nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for the office. Gaines mentioned that prospect in 2016, after Greear withdrew his candidacy to prevent a second run-off election between the two.

At the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, Gaines confirmed the account, but declined to speak further because he and Greear haven’t discussed it since, according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.

Prior to the 2016 convention, Gaines and Greear were viewed as representative of different parts of the SBC: Gaines, then 58, is by his own admission “not a Calvinist.” Greear, then 43, represents a generation that has increasingly embraced Reformed theology. Before Gaines’ election in St. Louis, The Christian Post online newspaper said in a headline, “SBC votes today on whether Millennial Reformed theology represents the future.”

In the end, unity and a cooperative spirit won out. The candidates met, each seeking a way to avoid division, and both volunteered to step aside before Greear ultimately convinced Gaines to accept his concession.

In 2018, should Greear be nominated and elected, he would be the first of his generation of Reformed thinkers to hold the office of SBC president. He also would have the responsibility that all SBC presidents hold to name the Committee on Committees, which names the Committee on Nominations, which nominates trustees for SBC boards. Gaines recently outlined that process, in answer to a question by SBC Today about how everyday Southern Baptists can have a voice in SBC life.

“If ‘the grass-roots, mom-and-pop Southern Baptist members’ want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions,” Gaines said. “They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC president who will best represent their views.”

Gaines has made prayer and evangelism the markers of his presidency. At the June annual meeting in Phoenix, he encouraged all Southern Baptists to focus on evangelism, “regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter,” Baptist Press reported.

“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” Gaines said during a panel discussion hosted by Baptist21, a network of younger Baptist leaders.

He has appointed a soul-winning task force to reverse the trend of declining baptisms and to renew evangelism in the denomination. Greear is part of the team.

“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said in Phoenix.

“If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the gospel.”

– By Meredith Flynn with reporting by Baptist Press

The Briefing

TX churches sue FEMA over Harvey relief funds
Three small churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey and made its way through the Houston area sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency in federal court, seeking access to relief funds for nonprofit groups. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Rockport First Assembly of God in Aransas County, Harvest Family Church in Harris County and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Liberty County claims the government’s disaster relief policy violates the Constitution by denying faith groups the right to apply for funds.

Free abortions offered to women affected by Hurricane Harvey
Whole Woman’s Health, a reproductive health care organization, in collaboration with other groups, is offering free abortions to women affected by Hurricane Harvey. At least 74 women have already taken the organization up on the offer, or have scheduled an appointment for the procedure. The price will be fully covered, as will the cost of transportation and accommodations, the group said.

Illinois abortion bill still in limbo
The bill, known as HB 40, that would extend the availability of taxpayer-subsidized abortions to state workers and Medicaid recipients, still has not been sent to Governor Bruce Rauner’s desk. Lawmakers approved the legislation back in May.

Protestant unity is new confession’s focus
A confession of faith aimed at expressing “interdenominational unity” among Protestants on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has drawn endorsement from professors at all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and staff members at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The “Reforming Catholic Confession” also has been signed by professors from at least eight colleges affiliated with state Baptist conventions and by Southern Baptist pastors including Matt Chandler, J.D. Greear, and James MacDonald.

Gaines: Memphis Confederate monument should be moved
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines is among about a dozen Southern Baptist signatories of a letter requesting that a Memphis statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest be moved from a public park “to a more historically appropriate site.” In all, 169 clergy members representing 95 congregations and other institutions signed a Sept. 13 letter to the Tennessee Historical Commission in support of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s request to move the statue.

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Fox News, Springfield News Channel 20, Baptist Press (2)

The Briefing

Trump meets with SBC’s Ezell, other relief leaders
President Donald Trump met with leaders of the three largest disaster relief organizations in the United States at the White House Sept. 1 to discuss relief efforts in south Texas in the wake of historic flooding and other damage left by Hurricane Harvey. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), represented Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) at the 25-minute private meeting in the Oval Office with the president and First Lady Melania Trump.

Nashville Statement signers stand for marriage
Signers of the Nashville Statement, a declaration affirming Biblical teaching on human sexuality, defended their position from other Christian and secular opponents this week. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the statement online Aug.29. The initial 150 evangelical leaders who signed it asserted the church needed clarity amid widespread confusion about a Biblical understanding of sex, sexuality, and morality.

Ministry sues over ‘hate group’ label
One Christian ministry has apparently had enough of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s disparaging “hate group” characterization. D. James Kennedy Ministries filed a lawsuit in an Alabama federal court alleging the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “trafficked in false and misleading descriptions” of the ministry and that other entities also named in the suit perpetuated the libel.

H.S. coach loses prayer case
A federal court has ruled that a Washington state high school football coach violated the U.S. Constitution by taking a knee at the 50-yard line and praying after games. Joe Kennedy lost his job as an assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in 2015 after the school district suspended him for his post-game prayers. Kennedy sued and accused the school of violating his free speech. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district’s suspension was justified.

Most churched (& unchurched) cities in America
For six of the last seven years, the American Bible Society has named Chattanooga, Tenn., the nation’s most Bible-minded city. This year, it was the only American city where at least half the population was classified as Bible-minded. Almost 6 in 10 residents (59%) are regular churchgoers. Overall, almost 4 in 10 Americans (38%) are active churchgoers who have attended a service in the past seven days.

Sources: Baptist Press, World Magazine, Baptist Press, Fox News, Facts & Trends

Proposal2v.jpg

There was one point during the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix when three thoughts of mine collided:

• How can this many people make a well-informed and well-reasoned decision?

• In the social media era, how can we make it possible for even more people to participate on a level that young adults have come to expect?

• And, then, how can we continue this very expensive system of having fewer and fewer people travel halfway or more across the country to attend?

The collision came late on Tuesday, when young messengers were pleading for the crowd in the hall to consider the weight of public opinion (read: Twitter) in their debate over alt-right racism. (“What will the people out there think of us?”) In my head, I could hear old people saying, “Who cares? This is not their decision, it’s ours—Southern Baptists—and in particular the ones who paid to travel to Phoenix to speak up and to vote.” (Maybe it was just me, speaking on behalf of old people.)

But to the young messengers pleading on behalf of the masses, it was important, because they are used to the hearing from the masses on every issue: like, heart, thumbs up, smiley face, colon/capital P tongue-sticking-out. (Yes, my emoticon reference is dated.)

Executive Committee President Frank Page told the messengers, proudly, that the Convention is an anomaly: “This is a deliberative body, the largest openly deliberative body that still exists,” Page said. “But know that the Executive Committee also deliberates carefully at multiple levels dealing with each of the issues before they’re ever presented to you, from small groups to medium-size [groups] to the large plenary sessions. Our Executive Committee members are not rubber-stampers. They ask questions, they deliberate, they discuss and sometimes disagree. So know that we hold your trust carefully and we count it to be precious.”

That’s an uneasy balance for Baptists whose theology makes us accustomed to voting on almost everything—even changing the light bulbs.

The first national Baptist body in the U.S. was the Triennial Convention, founded in Philadelphia in 1814. They met every three years. When Southern Baptists broke off in 1845, they chose to meet every year, and to include as many people as possible by sending messengers rather than electing representatives. (It is a small but important distinction.)

But technology and airline costs are pressing on our expectations: Remembering conventions with 15,000 and more regularly in attendance, we want more participants than the 5,000 who flew to Phoenix. And technology would make that possible. Yet, we do not want our denomination making knee-jerk statements at every cultural twist and turn. Theology doesn’t demand an annual meeting cycle or populist group-think.

I know these impulses seem to be in conflict: more participation, and more-reasoned debate. But watching the clock tick as debate on an unexpected resolution took time from discussion on the decline in baptisms and a renewed call to evangelism, it became clear that a relatively few people in a distant city can make reactionary decisions. Next time, the outcome might not be so positive.

(Editor’s Note: Modest Proposal 1 on merging the mission boards can be read here.)

-Eric Reed

The Briefing

Charlottesville violence: SBC leaders urge prayer
Southern Baptist pastors and leaders denounced racism and called for prayer in the wake of white nationalist protests that turned into violence and death in Charlottesville, Va. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), described the rally as “a gathering of hate, ignorance and bigotry. “

Pro-life billboard reaches Chicago’s South Side
The Illinois Family Institute has rented a large billboard on the south side of Chicago with the message: “Abortion Takes Human Life.” It’s located at 59th and Wentworth, overlooking the Dan Ryan expressway (I-90/I-94), just 3 miles south of the White Sox Stadium, west of The University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. The message will be seen 3.86 million times during the month of August, reaching residents all around Chicago’s south side.

Stericycle cancels contracts with abortion centers
The nation’s leading medical waste disposal company has cut ties with hundreds of abortion centers, according to a pro-life activist group. Stericycle, which has a record of hauling aborted fetal waste despite a company policy against doing so, recently reiterated its policy against taking fetal remains and told the group Created Equal that it has “canceled hundreds of contracts with women’s clinics” over the past few years.

Iranian youths mass converting to Christianity
The massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ. According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades.

Two-thirds of Americans say they’re sinners
Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they are sinners, according to a new study from LifeWay Research. Most people aren’t too happy about it—only 5% say they’re fine with being sinners. As America becomes more secular, the idea of sin still rings true, said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based group. “Almost nobody wants to be a sinner.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Illinois Family, World Magazine, Christian Post, Christianity Today

The Briefing

NY Times op-ed spurs discussion of race & the SBC
A black Oklahoma minister’s New York Times op-ed “renouncing [his] ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention” has drawn responses from a range of African Americans who say they will continue to cooperate with the convention as it pursues racial reconciliation. Meanwhile, the op-ed’s author, Lawrence Ware, explained his views in an interview with Baptist Press, noting he does not believe Southern Baptists by and large are intentionally racist. He also said he likely would have “softened” some of his language against the SBC if given an opportunity to rewrite the op-ed.

Bible studies at the White House
Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history. They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible. They’re all handpicked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Democrat boss says no abortion litmus test
Democrats will not withhold campaign funds from pro-life candidates running for elected office, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign arm, told The Hill. “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Luján said. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Toy makers blurring gender line
Like wildfire, the transgender revolution appears to be consuming, changing and confusing everything in life as people used to know it. Now the confusion has extended to the choice of toys for children. Hasbro, one of the biggest U.S. toy-makers, has announced that it has changed its thinking regarding certain toys being geared toward particular genders. In a recent interview, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said his company has found that a significant percentage of boys are interested in My Little Pony, traditionally more popular with girls. Conversely, girls are taking a liking for Star Wars products marketed more at boys.

Christians & non-Christians Agree: College is about getting a job
Despite the abundance of Christian learning institutions and campus ministries in the U.S., American Christian adults, including evangelicals, are no more likely than the religiously unaffiliated — or religious “nones” — to list spiritual growth as one of the reasons for going to college (9%). And evangelicals are less likely than both religious “nones” and the general population to include moral character development among the reasons for seeking a postsecondary education (10% vs. roughly 14%).

Sources: Baptist Press, CBN, World Magazine, Christian Post, Influence Magazine

New task force to explore baptisms decline, ERLC complaints fail to materialize at Annual Meeting

Prayer begets

If we took a selfie in Phoenix, this would be it. Busy days framed by prayer are represented in this photo from the Phoenix Convention Center during the June 13-14 SBC Annual Meeting and the week of meetings, preaching, and witnessing that preceded it.

Debate over a resolution condemning “alt-right racism” took the spotlight, but lesser reported actions at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will address another serious issue facing the denomination, an ongoing decline in baptisms and membership. And a matter some anticipated would make headlines failed to produce debate, complaints against leadership of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

SBC President Steve Gaines announced plans for a year-long study on evangelism in the denomination, and the presentation of a plan for more effective soul-winning by SBC churches and pastors. Gaines’ effort comes after another year of baptism declines and a decade of shrinking SBC church membership.

“I was not prompted by any man to get this done,” Gaines said in Phoenix, “but the Lord laid this on my heart to emphasize prayer last year, and to emphasize evangelism this year.”

The Memphis-area pastor, who was re-elected to a second one-year term, named 19 pastors, professors, and seminary presidents to a task force, which will bring

2018 convention in Dallas. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, a proponent of traditional personal evangelism, will chair the panel. And Illinois’ Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon will also serve.

Gaines asked North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell to present the motion creating the task force. Ezell outlined the troubling situation among SBC churches: The SBC has seen a steady decline in baptisms since 1980; 80% of SBC churches baptized 9 or fewer people in the most recent report of Annual Church Profiles, 50% reported two or fewer baptisms, and 25% baptized no one.

“I don’t think any pastor in the room would say they don’t have a passion for the lost, but I do think there is a practice problem,” Ezell said.

After the Phoenix meeting, Gaines urged continued prayer for renewal in our churches. “We must make prayer, evangelism and discipleship the priorities of our lives. We must jettison our selfish agendas and focus on Christ’s Great Commission,” Gaines said.

The Gaines

Donna Gaines prays fervently for her husband, SBC President Steve Gaines, just before he preaches during the opening session of the Annual Meeting. Gaines made prayer the focus of his first one-year term, and announced evangelism as the emphasis of his second term.

ERLC reports as usual
An anticipated debate over the ERLC did not materialize at the convention. Leaders had worked since January to heal strained relations between ERLC President Russell Moore and some pastors who objected to his comments about candidate Donald Trump last year, and also to his stance on a controversial religious liberty case involving construction of a mosque in New Jersey.

Moore would not comment on recent published reports that characterized the conflict as unresolved, positioning it as a generational tug-of-war between older Southern Baptists and younger leaders new to their positions. One report also said the ERLC is having difficulty accessing the Trump administration. Southern Baptists have been represented by Texas pastors Robert Jeffress and Jack Graham at recent White House functions involving religious freedoms.

Moore told the Illinois Baptist at a news conference that he saw the annual meeting as a “family reunion” of people who together advance the gospel.

The ERLC report was the last item on the convention agenda, when attendance in the hall is usually low and time for questions is limited. One motion to defund the ERLC was ruled out of order, as the SBC budget had been approved early in the opening session.

Moore restated the ERLC’s commitment to represent Southern Baptists on issues of marriage and family, sanctity of life, and religious liberty. “We are committed to be the Paul Revere, going ahead, speaking to churches, speaking to the officials, speaking to the public square… speaking to the watching world with a different word,” Moore said.
Moore interviewed Chicago pastor Nathan Carter about his church’s lawsuit against the city, which has blocked their purchase of a building in the University District because of parking rules.

‘Alt-right’ and other resolutions
Moore was at the table at a news conference on the first day of the convention, when the chair of the Resolutions Committee, former ERLC Vice President Barrett Duke explained why the panel did not bring the proposed resolution on racism and the alt-right supremacy movement to the floor for a vote. Moore was reportedly involved in the late-night writing session that produced a new resolution on the issue. And he addressed the proposal as a messenger from the floor.

“Southern Baptists were right to speak clearly and definitely that ‘alt-right’ white nationalism is not just a sociological movement,” Moore later said, “but a work of the devil.”

The resolution “on the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” urged messengers to “earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

Another resolution addressed “the importance of moral leadership.” That resolution was a repeat of one passed during the Clinton administration’s Monica Lewinsky scandal. When asked whether the resolution was directed toward the Trump administration, Duke pointed out that neither the 1998 resolution or this one mentioned the president by name. We need moral leadership at every level, he said.

The resolution urged messengers to pray “that God will help us and all our fellow citizens to embrace the biblical moral values that will honor our creation in God’s image and bring God’s blessing on our nation.”

Ten resolutions in all were passed.

  • One on gambling specifically named it as a sin.
  • A statement reaffirmed the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement—which says Jesus took upon Himself in His death the divine punishment due sinners—“as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
  • And a resolution on campus ministry “urged our fellow Southern Baptists to devote considerable prayer,” among other resources, to “evangelistic and discipleship endeavors” on college and university campuses.

More Midwest voices
The Executive Committee brought a $192-million Cooperative Program allocation budget for next year. Messengers approved it. They also granted permission for the EC to sell its current building in downtown Nashville, should they receive a good offer. A building boom in the city has made the property very valuable, as was the case with the massive LifeWay publisher’s facilities which were sold last year in order to downsize. Proceeds after relocation would go to missions, EC President and CEO Frank Page said.

Another motion brought more Midwest representation to the Executive Committee. Four regions were given representation, even though they have too few church members to apply under the provisions of SBC Bylaw 30. The recommendation amended Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana conventions as each being entitled to a single EC representative.

With this Annual Meeting, Illinois representative Wilma Booth completed two four-year terms on the EC. She will be succeeded by Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. And Sharon Carty, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, will replace Charles Boling of Marion.

Messengers at the 2017 convention totaled 5,018.

The 2018 SBC will be held in Dallas.

-Eric Reed with additional reporting from Baptist Press