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The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has severed ties with a small Texas church over its relation to a ministry that welcomes and affirms homosexuals. The church is the first to have been disaffiliated from the Convention.
In a statement to the Associated Press on Thursday, SBTC Spokesman Gary Ledbetter explained that the executive board voted unanimously this month to “disaffiliate” Faith Harbour Church in Baytown, Texas, because it believed the church violated a constitutional provision against endorsing homosexual behavior.
Ledbetter said investigations began after convention members heard that a website linked with Faith Harbour contained welcoming and affirming language toward homosexuals.
“This is a destructive lifestyle, the Bible describes it as sinful,” Ledbetter said, according to AP. “And we can see anecdotes in our own society that it is not a positive lifestyle for those that are in it.”
Pastor Rany Haney, who leads the 30-member Faith Harbour Church, expressed frustration with the SBTC’s decision, saying he also believes homosexual behavior is sinful.
“They were convinced I was starting a gay church and setting up a woman as pastor,” Haney told AP on Thursday. “I believe the Bible very clearly teach that homosexuality is wrong, but I also believe the Bible teaches that we are to love those who are homosexual and minister to them.”
However, Haney said he did allow a group called Eklektos to conduct a meeting at his church. Eklektos describes itself as a community of Christians “especially called to welcome and affirm people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.”
According to Haney, the Convention decided to break its affiliation with his church because he refused to disavow any association Eklektos Founder Wendy Bailey, an ordained minister and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denominational official who attends Faith Harbour.
Since Baptist churches are autonomous, the decision does not functionally change operations at Faith Harbour.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began in 1998 as a conservative counterpart to the moderate Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The American denominational landscape has experienced significant shifts in recent times, but one major story stands out among them all—the massive redirection of the Southern Baptist Convention. America’s largest evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention was reshaped, reformed, and restructured over the last three decades, and at an incredibly high cost.
Was it worth it? That is one of the crucial questions addressed by Paige Patterson in his new essay, Anatomy of a Reformation: The Southern Baptist Convention 1978-2004. Published in booklet form, Patterson’s analysis offers an invaluable insider’s perspective on the Southern Baptist controversy and its meaning. Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, was one of the key architects of the plan to change the direction of the Convention. Born to Southern Baptist aristocracy, Patterson was the son of T. A. Patterson, a prominent Texas pastor who later became executive secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Surrounded from boyhood by Baptist preachers, theologians, and denominational leaders, Patterson quickly gained both an intuitive and an educated understanding of Baptist identity.
Later, Patterson was to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, from which he received a doctorate in theology. After serving as a pastor in Arkansas, he was elected president of the Criswell Institute for Biblical Studies, later the Criswell College. That college, closely identified with its namesake, Dr. W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, provided Patterson with a national platform and unquestioned Baptist credentials. Both of these would prove crucial in the ensuing conflict.
In Anatomy of a Reformation, Patterson tells the story from the vantage point of his own involvement. He dates his understanding of a need for denominational reformation to when he was a “nineteen-year-old Bible major at a state-operated Baptist university in West Texas.”
An early signal of coming controversy was issued by Houston pastor K. Owen White, who as president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention directed his attention at a recent book written by a professor at one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s six seminaries. Ralph Elliott, a professor of Old Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, had written The Message of Genesis, a book that had been published by the denomination’s official press. As Patterson explains, the book “had employed historical-critical assumptions, conclusions, and methodologies, which led the professor to question the historicity of some of the narrative portions of Genesis.”
As an observant college student, Patterson was surprised that his Baptist religion professors supported Elliott and dismissed White’s concerns. Patterson summarizes the faculty response: “First, educated and intelligent people virtually all had arrived at similar conclusions with Elliott. Second, in any event, if there were minor shifts away from orthodoxy, ‘the Convention’ (which in actuality was ‘the bureaucracy’) would make the necessary corrections. Third, having accepted the first two premises, the average Southern Baptist should trust the system, remain silent and give his tithe—a hefty portion of which would be passed along through the Cooperative Program lifeline to continue funding the bureaucracy.”
To know Paige Patterson is to know that there is no way he could remain silent in the face of heterodoxy. Indeed, when Houston attorney Paul Pressler visited the campus of New Orleans Seminary in order to meet conservative students who could be supported through a new scholarship funded by Houston business leaders, he was directed to Paige Patterson. Their meeting would change history.
Pressler, whose organizational understanding and legal expertise led him to see a mechanism for recovering the denomination, and Patterson met for conversation at the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans and discussed their mutual hope for denominational reformation.
Patterson recalls, “As the evening wore on, several convictions that were repeatedly confirmed across the years began to take shape. First, a large number of Southern Baptists were skeptical about many of the leaders in the denomination. Second, Baptist ecclesiastical polity made possible a popular movement to correct errant trajectories. Third, many such efforts had been attempted but had uniformly failed because they were launched either by little-known leaders or else by isolated individuals who knew little of the value of organization or political process. As such, they were novices playing in a league with experienced professionals whose political prowess and, when necessary, determined ruthlessness rendered the efforts of rookies useless. Fourth, the Convention constituency was comprised of at least four groups, which eventually began to be designated as: ‘movement’ conservatives, ‘intuitive’ conservatives, denominationalists, and liberals.”
Patterson suggests that the liberal group consisted mostly of “neo-orthodox professors and leaders who had imbibed deeply at the wells of historical-critical scholarship.” This was certainly true in the beginning stages of the controversy. Nevertheless, by the time the controversy gained full steam, a significant group of seminary professors had moved far to the left of neo-orthodoxy.
The number of “movement” conservatives was relatively small, Patterson conceded. The vast majority of Southern Baptists fell into his designation as “intuitive” conservatives. These Southern Baptists were driven by a basic confidence in the Bible as the word of God and the Gospel as the only means of salvation. Furthermore, their basic theological and moral instincts were deeply conservative. As Patterson describes these conservatives, they were “sweet believers who embraced the best about everything.” They believed that every word of the Bible is true, that all the miracles happened, that abortion is murder, and that Jesus is the only way of salvation—and they were a hard group to convince that the denomination was in deep trouble. After all, Southern Baptists were understood to be conservative Christians who would be deeply resistant to encroaching theological liberalism. They were soon to learn otherwise.
In tracing the history, Patterson takes his readers back to the fall of 1978, when a group of determined pastors and laymen met at a hotel near the Atlanta airport in order to launch “the controversy.” Pressler and Patterson understood that electing the president of the Southern Baptist Convention was the key to redirecting the entirety of the denomination. Through his appointive powers, the president eventually influences who will be elected as trustees of the various denominational agencies and seminaries. Driven by a sense of doctrinal urgency, the Atlanta group determined to elect Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, as president of the Convention.
As Patterson remembers, he was doubtful the plan would work. In contrast, Judge Pressler exuded confidence that Baptists would recognize the problem and respond with a determination to return the Convention to its conservative roots. Patterson had observed Baptist controversies for most of his life, and he had seen the Convention’s bureaucracy triumph again and again. Nevertheless, Pressler and Patterson, along with a corps of determined pastors and laypersons, were determined to put their reputations and careers on the line to attempt the reformation.
“In the final analysis, we did not attempt a reformation movement because we thought it would succeed but because we sincerely believed that we were right about the inerrancy of the Bible and because we did not want to tell our children and grandchildren that we had no courage to stand for our convictions,” Patterson recalls. “Above all, the conviction that the continued drift of the Southern Baptist Convention could spell eternal doom for hundreds of thousands of people was the principle compelling motivation.”
The hard lessons of experience had taught Pressler and Patterson that symbolic actions would not be sufficient. The Convention had adopted resolutions opposed to theological liberalism in years past, but these had been largely deflected by the denominational machinery.
Why did the plan work? Patterson acknowledges the ultimate explanation is “the intervention of God.” Nevertheless, certain factors were clearly at work. In the first place, Southern Baptist polity allowed the grassroots of the denomination to have its say through the participation of “messengers” who would attend the Southern Baptist Convention and make their will known. As Patterson explains, “The genius of the system is in leaving elected messengers in ultimate control, while extending to the elected president considerable influence, if he makes his appointments carefully. Since even two-term trustees on the various boards serve no more than ten years, the election of presidents committed to a renewal agenda each year for ten years, in theory, should redirect the entire system.”
In the end, that is exactly what happened. The election of Adrian Rogers in 1979 was followed by an unbroken succession of other conservative presidents. Each appointed conservatives, who in turn appointed other conservatives, who nominated the trustees, who elected the agency heads and institutional presidents.
Patterson also acknowledges the effort of leading preachers in defining and supporting the controversy. He cites sociologist Nancy Ammerman, who observed that the public leaders of the conservative resurgence “were preachers of remarkable ability, able to stir crowds with their words, able to evoke response in their hearers.”
Last, Patterson also points to the conservatives’ decision to focus primarily upon the reliability and inerrancy of the Bible. “There were a host of other concerns,” Patterson acknowledges, “but the issue of the nature of Scripture was chosen for two essential reasons. First, if the epistemological issue were resolved, then the basis for resolving all other issues was in place. Second, most Baptists believe the Bible was every whit true.”
All this came together in a powerful movement to hold the denomination and its institutions accountable. “Believing that heaven and hell are the only destinies and that everyone alive will spend eternity in one or the other, and further that Jesus and His atoning death provides the only way to avoid hell and inherit heaven, conservatives were determined to prevent the slide of Baptists into the labyrinth of formerly-effective denominations whose evangelistic zeal and missionary fervor had been stripped by rising doubts about the veracity of Scripture. The goal, then, was to keep the denomination close to a reliable Bible for the sake of evangelistic and missionary outreach.”
In the remainder of this work, Patterson takes his reader through many of the twists and turns of the controversy, revisiting such seminal moments as the adoption of the final report issued by the “Peace Committee” in 1987. Looking back almost twenty years later, he now acknowledges the strategic role of that report in defining the doctrinal differences that separated Southern Baptists on opposing sides of the controversy.
Anatomy of a Reformation is an important resource for understanding the Southern Baptist controversy and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. After his years as president of the Criswell College, Patterson would become president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he would build a powerful institution and influence a generation of future Southern Baptist pastors and missionaries. The respect in which he is held by this generation of Southern Baptists was reflected in the fact that he was twice elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, he presides over one of the largest theological seminaries in the world and has become the dominant Baptist figure in his native state. Now among the heavenly assembly, T. A. Patterson is smiling.
“There are regrets,” Patterson reflects. He points to vocational disruption, hurt, sorrow, and disrupted friendships as evidence of the price controversy inevitably exacts. “No one seriously confessing the name of Jesus can rejoice in these sorrows,” Patterson acknowledges. “I confess that I often second guess my own actions and agonize over those who have suffered on both sides, including my own family.”
In the end, it was Paige Patterson’s willingness to put his own future at stake, and his own reputation on the line, that explains how the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention succeeded. More than any other individual, Paige Patterson was the man who put all at risk for the sake of what he so profoundly believed. Confronted by a looming denominational disaster, and aware of what this would mean to the cause of the Gospel, Paige Patterson threw himself into the controversy, defined the issues, mobilized an army, educated a denomination, and paved the way for a new generation to continue the work he so boldly began.
Those of us who now hold positions of leadership and influence in this denomination owe this opportunity to Paige Patterson and those who with him stepped out in faith for the cause of truth. Now, Paige Patterson can look across a denomination and see a generation of young pastors, missionaries, and leaders who are mobilized for the cause of the Gospel and who are driven by the very convictions Patterson sought to defend. Not a bad legacy for a man who didn’t think the plan would work.
Anatomy of a Reformation: The Southern Baptist Convention, 1978-2004 by Paige Patterson is available through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001 West Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, 76115, or by calling (817) 923-1921, ext. 7220. The cost is $5.00 per copy.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The split between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) topped religion and Christianity charts as one of the most historic events in 2004. Now, six months after the separation finalized, the event is still making headlines as moderate and conservative leaders battle over lucrative funds from individual Southern Baptist churches.
In a letter dated Dec. 21, Duke McCall, a former president of the BWA and avid supporter of the alliance within the SBC, said conservative leaders “opened the door” for solicitations within SBC churches for funding the BWA.
“You should have told the SBC Executive Committee that severing connections with the BWA would leave us free to ask Southern Baptist churches and individuals to replace the funds withheld,” McCall wrote in an open letter to Morris Chapman, a conservative SBC leader who criticized McCall for soliciting funds for the BWA earlier in the month.
Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said to the Baptist Press on Dec. 13 that the efforts by McCall and other retired SBC leaders to raise leaders for the BWA from SBC churches are “astounding and regrettable.” The pro-BWA leaders met in Atlanta on Dec. 4 and launched an effort to raise support for the BWA from SBC churches, despite the SBC’s summer decision to break all ties with the BWA.
The SBC’s decision to break its 99-year relationship with the BWA, an international fellowship of Baptist churches the SBC helped create in 1905, was an event that was long in the making. Talks to split began two years ago, following the BWA’s consideration of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) as a member church. The CBF, a theologically moderate denomination that branched off from the SBC in the early 1990s, has been at odds with the larger denomination since it came into existence. The BWA pointed to this fact as the reason for the split; the SBC, meanwhile, said the division was a result of the liberalization of the BWA’s theologies.
Whatever the reason for the split, the separation between the two massive Baptist bodies heightened tensions between the moderate and conservative factions within the SBC. McCall, one of the “who’s who” of moderate Southern Baptists, had rallied support for the BWA (as well as the CBF) for years before the break. Conservative leaders such as Chapman championed the efforts to pass the resolution to cease fellowship and funding to the BWA.
During the Dec. 4 meeting of more moderate Southern Baptists, McCall reminded individual churches that they are free to support the BWA, even if the denomination as a whole cut relations with the international body.
In response, Chapman charged the BWA leadership of being “moderate leaning” and “opposed to the best interests of Southern Baptists.”
“When you connect the dots, it is clear that the BWA leadership will remain moderate-leaning in its relationships and theology and opposed to the best interests of Southern Baptists,” Chapman wrote.
“Now former leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have come out of retirement to ask churches to give to the BWA, a request they never would have made when they were SBC leaders, leading organizations that were dependent largely upon Cooperative Program gifts,” Chapman said in his statement. “That they would be willing to call for anything that has the potential to decrease Cooperative Program giving in favor of support to an organization outside the convention is astounding and regrettable.”
“BWA officials were never told they could not solicit funds from local churches and individuals,” Chapman added. “They were told, however, if they did solicit funds, they could not expect to continue an ongoing exchange of good will and fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention, a desire they had expressed in the process of the convention’s withdrawal.”
Chapman also accused the BWA general secretary Denton Lotz personally for organizing the Dec. 4 meeting.
“If there were any doubts in the minds of Southern Baptists about the moderate theological perspective embraced by BWA staff leadership, the latest action of the BWA general secretary is enough to dispel those doubts,” Chapman said.
“It seems that at every turn, Denton Lotz is working to undermine the missions, ministries and theology of Southern Baptists,” Chapman added.
However, McCall defended Lotz, reminding Chapman that Lotz was an observer – not the convener – of the event. McCall also accused Chapman of “inventing charges” of liberalism against the BWA and Lotz, in order to pass the resolution earlier in the year. SBC leaders misinterpreted the views of Lotz and of the BWA, he said.
Chapman “attacks Dr. Denton Lotz, the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, with innuendoes and untruths. Lotz is a biblical fundamentalist, as am I, who believes the Bible should be read under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not an ammunition dump of verses and phrases to defend one’s turf or attack opponents.”
“Remember, ‘mud slung is ground lost,’” McCall added. “The SBC is a great body of Christians who ought to make decisions on the basis of truth.”
McCall pressed that the real reason for the break was the BWA’s acceptance of the CBF.
“The truth is that Chapman and his colleagues were members of the BWA General Council,” McCall wrote. “But they could not run the BWA as they do the SBC.”
McCall added that he worked “with or against” almost “every Southern Baptist leader in the 20th century,” including ultra-fundamentalists.
“I have never questioned the integrity of any of them…,” he wrote, but he added that “this new gang plays rough and twists the truth into lies.”
Meanwhile, in the latest exchange of words, Chapman wrote that McCall is “parroting what he has been told by BWA officials.”
“I regret that McCall chose to speak against the decision of the committee and the convention and in support of the BWA, but I honor his right to do so. At the same time, his personal attack upon the integrity of the committee members and the process is unwarranted. McCall is speaking from a vacuum. He has not been an active participant in the BWA in recent years. He is parroting what he has been told by BWA officials. In contrast, most of the study committee members have been active participants in the BWA and have had close interaction with those from whom McCall is getting his information,” Chapman wrote in his Dec. 29 statement.
“Contrary to McCall’s accusations, members of the study committee had no reason to “invent charges” and “twist the truth into lies,” said Chapman. “His charge that the committee recommended withdrawal because its members could not run the BWA has no basis in fact.”
Denomination votes to boycott company over gay policies
LOS ANGELES (CNN) —Southern Baptists say they won’t be visiting Disney theme parks this summer if the company doesn’t change some of its policies that they say promote homosexuality.
In an overwhelming show of hands at the church’s national convention in New Orleans, the Baptists also agreed to swear off Walt Disney Co. movies and products.
Topping their list of objections is Disney’s policy extending health benefits to the live-in partners of gay employees.
“We’ve got five grandsons,” said Southern Baptist Convention President Jim Henry. “I was going to Disney. I don’t think I will now. Hopefully we’ll hear from Disney, (and) they’ll say, ‘we hear you.’”
Disney did hear, and responded.
“We find it curious that a group that claims to espouse family values would vote to boycott the world’s largest producer of wholesome family entertainment,” said a statement released by the company Wednesday.
“We question any group that demands that we deprive people of health benefits and we know of no tourist destination in the world that denies admission to people as the Baptists are insisting we do.”
In a two-page resolution, the Southern Baptists also objected to independently sponsored gay-themed events at Disney theme parks and to movies with adult themes made by Disney subsidiaries such as Miramax.
The resolution said, in part: “In recent years, the Disney Co. has given the appearance that the promotion of homosexuality is more important than its historic commitment to traditional family values.”
Disney is one of more than 40 entertainment companies and unions that now offer same-sex benefits. The policy has been promoted extensively among entertainment companies by Hollywood Supports, a non-profit gap advocacy group founded by Hollywood industry figures.
Hollywood Supports executive director Richard Jennings said the Baptist boycott signals “a sad day for organized religion.”
The resolution states that Southern Baptists traditionally have revered Disney as “having an historic commitment to traditional family values.”
But, Jennings said, gay men and lesbians are a part of the Disney family, helping to create the Disney product.
No deadline was set for the boycott, which the Southern Baptists said will take effect only if Disney ignores the church’s call for changes.
TUPELO, MS —American Family Association today applauded the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for its decision to encourage its members to boycott the Walt Disney Company. The overwhelming vote came Wednesday at the annual SBC meeting held this year in Dallas.
AFA Vice President Tim Wildmon said, “We are happy that the Southern Baptist denomination has continued its traditional support for the family and Christian values in our society. We applaud this decision, and hope that other Christian denominations will join the boycott.”
Last year the convention voted to call Disney back to its original family-friendly fare, and to cease in the production of objectionable and anti-Christian films, and to cease in the promotion of homosexuality.
Disney ignored the SBC, and has continued the practices and policies that have outraged Christians. Disney subsidiary Hollywood Records, for example, distributes records by the group Danzig, whose music is laced with satanic themes. Perhaps most distressing has been Disney’s enthusiasm in promoting the homosexual agenda, said Wildmon. Chairman Michael Eisner is on the board of trustees for Hollywood Supports, a homosexual advocacy group. And Eisner was heavily involved in the decision of Disney/ABC to allow sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres to promote lesbianism on her show.
The SBC has almost 16 million church members. It joins other Christian denominations -the Assemblies of God, Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn., International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Association of Independent Methodists, Church of the Nazarene, and the Presbyterian Church in America -which have either joined in boycotting Disney or have expressed their concerns to the company for its anti-family direction.
Some call boycott resolution too general; others approve of move
As Southern Baptists approach a decision on boycotting the Walt Disney Co., the apparent uniformity of opinion is scattering like shards from a dropped glass.
Before the convention, leaders predicted that Baptists would call for a targeted boycott of retail stores and theme parks. But the resolution to be presented Wednesday goes further than convention leaders expected. It calls for a general boycott of all the company’s products and subsidiaries, including such media powerhouses as ABC.
At the same time, however, a former convention president is opposing any kind of boycott. And convention “messengers” are questioning whether they and their churches would get behind any such effort. Among the issues they’re considering is whether a boycott would work against such a diverse and profitable company.
Baptists are offended that Disney has “Gay and Lesbian Days” at its theme parks and offers medical benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees. The denomination also has criticized sex and violence in films and music produced by Disney subsidiaries, saying the company is moving away from its reputation for family entertainment.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment on the boycott threat. “Didn’t they already do that last year?” asked Ken Green.
Margaret Gillaspie, who attends First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia, Ark., said she favors a boycott but wonders whether pastors would get behind it. Resolutions are not binding on the denomination’s 40,000 autonomous churches.
“I want the pastors to go back to their churches and implement it,” Ms. Gillaspie said. “That’s the only thing that’s going to make it work. Disney isn’t going to care what we say here.”
It’s difficult to predict a boycott’s effectiveness, said Monroe Friedman, a psychology professor at Eastern Michigan University who has studied boycotts for 30 years. A lot depends on the resolve of the people who are offended, he said.
“So many people call for boycotts. But when you really look at it, you see that no campaign was really initiated,” he said.
“It’s like anything else. Some do work. It’s not enough to stand on the corner and call for a boycott.”
The convention threatened a boycott at its meeting last year if the entertainment company didn’t change its policies.
“Southern Baptists have waited patiently for a response, which we have not received. ... What response we have seen is the further promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in the [ABC] sitcom Ellen,” convention president Tom Elliff said.
The feeling that Disney is behaving badly seems widespread at the convention. “The majority of Baptists want some kind of economic sanctions against Disney,” said Richard Land, president of the convention’s Christian Life Commission.
But the Rev. Jim Henry, the convention’s immediate past president, said this week that he and every other pastor he has talked to will campaign against a boycott.
“This is not the best way for us to go about our business,” said Dr. Henry, pastor of Orlando’s First Baptist Church. Orlando is the site of Disney World, and some of Dr. Henry’s church members are Disney employees.
The pastor said he has seen a shift in opinion since last year. The pastors and laypeople he has talked to say singling Disney out and ignoring worse offenders is hypocritical, he said. They also told him that the boycott threat gives Southern Baptists a mean-spirited image that has caused friends to say they don’t want to visit Baptist churches.
“If we want to bring Disney to its knees, we ought to spend time on our knees, praying for them to do the right thing,” Dr. Henry said.
Even though a boycott vote would not be binding, it would show a consensus, Dr. Elliff said. The Southern Baptist Convention, with 15.6 million members, is the second largest denomination in the country.
“There’s tremendous purchasing power in that group,” he said.
The American Family Association called for a boycott in spring 1996; the Assemblies of God called for one in August. Those boycotts don’t appear to have affected the entertainment giant. Revenues and profits are higher than ever, said Mr. Green, the Disney spokesman.
“They seem to be doing great,” said Rusty Benson, editor of the American Family Association’s Journal. “As far as we know, there has been no impact. ... The impact has little to do with whether we do it. We’ll be raising the issues that need to be raised whether they have an impact or not.”
But many boycotts do work, said Todd Putnam, founder and director of the Seattle-based Institute for Consumer Responsibility. He cited tuna boycotts and actions against cosmetic companies that use animals in testing. The American Family Association, which has waged a number of boycotts over the years, has the best success record of all because its supporters are well-organized and motivated, he said.
“One reason boycotts are so successful right now is that companies don’t want to take a chance on having their image hauled through the mud,” said Mr. Putnam, who for 10 years was publisher of National Boycott News.
Some companies have changed their policies after a boycott, said Dr. Friedman, but it’s hard to know whether the boycott was the motivating factor. Companies rarely acknowledge such. “Nobody likes to say that they were bullied into doing things,” he said.
The Rev. Charles Wade, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, is among the ministers who aren’t enthusiastic about a boycott. He hasn’t asked his congregation to boycott, and he hasn’t heard much talk among them about the possibility, he said.
“I would much prefer that individuals act on their own if their values have been challenged -to write the Disney corporation to say they don’t like things,” Dr. Wade said.
The 2.3 million-member International Church of the Foursquare Gospel has favored such an approach over a boycott.
“Rather than just condemning, we have looked to find ways of opening dialogue,” said Ron Williams, communications officer for the church. “If there’s a problem that needs to be healed, it will not be healed by condemnation.”
Many Southern Baptist pastors like the boycott idea. The Rev. Ronnie Yarber, co-pastor of Meadow Creek Community Church in Mesquite, said he would vote for a resolution and use any influence he has to get people to boycott.
But he would set limits. “We would not address it as a church body. I would not use the pulpit for that purpose,” he said.
Some Baptist leaders vow to shun everything Disney.
“We have no other alternative at this point except to call upon our people not to support evil wherever we can do it,” said Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.
Sherrie Beard, a Mesquite mother of two young children and member of Casa View Baptist, is less sure what she would do. She agrees with the convention’s objections, but “it’s a big company with lots of little fingers in everything,” she said.
Mrs. Beard already decided not to buy the video of The Hunchback of Notre Dame after she and her children saw the movie. A song in the film seemed to make sexual innuendo that she didn’t want the children exposed to, she said.
But the family is planning a trip to Disney World in two years, and she’s not sure she would cancel.
“My children want to go to Disney World so bad,” she said. “It’s a kind of neat family thing to do.”
As for the park’s gay and lesbian days, Mrs. Beard said: “I certainly wouldn’t take my children on those days. I think Disney ought to let us know when they’re having those.”
Pastors split over promoting boycott from pulpit
ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) —On the first Sunday since Southern Baptists launched a boycott of everything Disney, it wasn’t hard to find members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination enjoying the sun and fun of Disney World.
“We already had our tickets and reservations,” said Mitch Johnson, a 33-year-old father of three from South Carolina. “I don’t know if we’ll come back. We’ll have to see what they say at church.”
Said Tracy Martinez of Coral Gables, Florida: “Oh, I don’t think we’re supposed to boycott Disney World. It’s just the bad movies and stuff. But I think they should definitely keep the gays out.”
“This could be our last trip for awhile,” said Rusty Anderson of Birmingham, Alabama. “We’ll have to see what steps Disney is willing to take.”
What about watching college football on Disney-owned cable network ESPN?
“Well, I don’t see what football has to do with anything,” Anderson said.
Overtures to gays, lesbians sparked boycott
Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention’s national assembly voted overwhelmingly last week in Dallas to boycott Disney and its subsidiaries, including its theme parks, films and television networks.
The vote was sparked by Disney’s decision to extend employee benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees.
An annual Gay Days event is organized each June at Disney World. The company doesn’t sponsor the event, but doesn’t discourage it, either. And the Disney-owned ABC television network is the home of the sitcom “Ellen,” which features a lesbian lead character.
Parishioners in some Southern Baptist churches Sunday were greeted with the call for the boycott. The Rev. Mike Gray of the Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, planned to read the resolution from the pulpit.
Pastor in Walt Disney’s hometown backs boycott
The leader of the First Baptist Church in the late Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri, is also backing the boycott wholeheartedly.
“Disney, typically a family organization, is wrong in its actions,” the Rev. Delmar McCollum said. “Sometimes people’s strings can only be touched by money. I support the boycott, not out of hate, but out of a sense of right and wrong.”
But not all Southern Baptist pastors were going along with the denomination’s stand against Disney. For example, in the Orlando area, where many Disney employees sit in the pews, most pastors said they would not urge their congregations to join the boycott.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, the Rev. Mack Thompson, pastor of the Ridge Road Baptist Church, also decided not to mention the boycott in his Sunday sermon.
“Basically, we ignore those sorts of things,” Thompson said. “Most of the Baptist pastors I’ve talked to here are not paying attention to it.”
“There are certainly some moral issues that need to be addressed, but I don’t think this is the way to do it. It sends a bad message to a company that has done a lot of good things for families.”
NEW ORLEANS — The annual meeting this week of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, may be as noteworthy for who won’t be there as for who will.
Many moderate Baptists are shunning the two-day convention starting Tuesday. Some have been busy forming alternative fellowships, reacting to the denomination’s conservative shift in recent years.
The year-old Mainstream Baptist Network has chapters in 12 states. The decade-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has 14 state and four regional chapters. And Jimmy Carter last year cut ties to the denomination, saying its “increasingly rigid” positions violated his faith.
The impact on the 15.9-million member Southern Baptist Convention is difficult to measure precisely, since many moderate congregations are keeping some ties with the SBC and donating to some of its missions.
“They’re certainly a loss to our fellowship,” said the Rev. William Merrell, an SBC spokesman. But the rift has also prompted those remaining with the convention to recommit to their faith, he said.
The conservative shift has included the SBC’s declaration that wives should “submit graciously” to their husbands and the Bible is without error.
No one, not even the convention’s most vocal critics, believes the powerful denomination has been hobbled. But each side has invested time and money making its case to fellow Baptists.
And the debate has been bitter.
Becky Bridges, a spokeswoman for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted to weaken ties with the denomination, said Southern Baptist leaders have been going church to church spreading lies that Texas moderates reject the Bible and support gay relationships.
Merrell said some Texas churches have invited SBC leaders to speak, but he denies they made such statements.
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, issued a statement criticizing the denomination for mixing right-wing politics with religion. Parham said a deal the SBC’s publishing division made this month with Oliver North to write a series of action novels is a small, but significant, sign of the trend.
“With the advent of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, the emphasis has crept in the direction of wanting to use the levers of state power to further a moral agenda,” he said.
In the days leading up to this week’s meeting, Baptist Press, the denomination’s official news service, has carried lengthy stories touting the fealty of some Texas churches despite moderate control of the state convention, and denouncing ongoing criticism of last year’s declaration that women should no longer serve as pastors.
The SBC said it expects more than 16,000 people to attend this year’s meeting. The record high of 45,519 was set in 1985 in Dallas.
Among the speakers at the Louisiana Superdome gathering are James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family conservative Christian ministry, and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority.
David Currie, coordinator of Texas Baptists Committed, a group opposed to the SBC, is among many of the faithful who won’t be there to hear them. Says Currie, “I don’t go to non-Baptist meetings.”
Breaking up is never an easy choice. Often times, “strong” words lead to misunderstandings, slander and accusations, and close the door to the possibility of full reconciliation. Such was the case last month, when the Southern Baptist Convention decided to part ways with the Baptist World Alliance.
The call to separate was rather bold: an SBC representative accused the BWA of continuing on a “leftward drift” and implied that other members of the alliance “support…gay marriage” and “do not believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture” in arguing his case.
As predicted, parties on the other side defended themselves and reproached the SBC for its “slander,” saying, “God will judge” in His time.
And again, SBC officials shot back by defending their position and urged the BWA to be more like the SBC.
With such a perpetual exchange of criticism, the break may seem contradictory to the reconciliatory nature of Christianity. But upon further investigation, one will find that in actuality, the separation gives more room for unity and reconciliation in the worldwide Baptist arena.
Through the break, Baptist bodies around the world voiced their support to the BWA, and encouraged BWA leadership to take heart. In addition, members of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – one of the prime targets of SBC’s criticism of liberalism – doubled their financial support of the Alliance and elected several members to serve the BWA board.
Also, the SBC can now “begin to build strong bridges with conservative evangelical Christian Baptists in all parts of the world” by “reapplying the funds” it once gave to the BWA, as it stated in an earlier statement.
The world’s Christianity comes in two faces: evangelical and ecumenical, both of which are necessary. Through the break, the SBC re-confirmed its evangelical stance while the BWA strengthened its ecumenical ties.
Several months prior to the finalized split, the leadership of both the SBC and BWA met to share “full and frank discussions of concerns” between the two multi-million member groups in a “warm and mutually respectful setting.” After several hours of deliberations, both leaderships decided to meet at least once a year for reconciliatory talks, even if the SBC members should decide to “disassociate” from the BWA.
With all decisions made, the only thing needed now is the continuation of this “mutually respectful setting” so that the two bodies can look beyond the fog of misunderstanding and walk together as the two cornerstones of the Baptist faith.
It seems the conservative vs. moderate power struggle within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has yet to retire, even after 25 years of dissent and division. On December 4, 2004, a group of some two dozen retired chief executives of Southern Baptist entities gathered in Atlanta to declare support for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), despite a denomination-wide decision earlier this year to sever ties with the Alliance.
Naming themselves “Advocates of the Baptist World Alliance,” the former SBC leaders met for one purpose: “to retain Southern Baptist participation in and support of the Baptist World Alliance.”
The headmaster of the rally was Duke K. McCall, a former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president and executive secretary-treasurer of the SBC.
“We function within Baptist freedom and the autonomy of every Christian church. The BWA has inspired and instructed world Baptists in their intention to be biblical Christian witnesses to our Savior Jesus Christ,” McCall, also a former president of the BWA, said.
The SBC has undergone tectonic shifts in power since the first conservative president took seat in 1979. In that short period of 25 years, conservatives successfully secured the presidency, made staff changes in the executive board, booted off moderate and liberal leaders from SBC-affiliated seminaries, and even made fundamental changes in the denomination’s faith statement. The clear success of the “conservative resurgence” forced moderates to branch into a separate entity called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) – a more moderate fellowship of Baptist churches – by the early 1990s.
The conservatives’ power proved itself once again during the SBC’s 2004 Annual Meeting. At the meeting, the conservative leadership, led by Paige Patterson - one of the foremost architects of the conservative resurgence, convinced the nationwide messengers to quit membership from the BWA – a group Southern Baptists helped create 99 years earlier. Nearly two-thirds of the Southern Baptist messengers voted to sever ties with the BWA, which had by then been branded a “liberal” group with “abhorrent theologies.” The cessation of membership also meant a secession of funds – a big blow to the Alliance that had at one point received a quarter of its funding from the giant SBC.
Moderates decried the severance, pointing to several benefits to maintaining fellowship within the BWA.
During the recent meeting in Atlanta, the two dozen past leaders of the SBC – most of whom served during or before the conservative resurgence took place, reiterated the reasons to stay within the world’s largest alliance of Baptists.
“Southern Baptists are blessed by their BWA connection with believers who are zealous in evangelism. We need to strengthen this family tie for our own benefit,” McCall said.
According to a BWA press release by McCall, there were several points emphasized during the gathering:
“1. We are not in a battle with anyone.
2. We want to support Baptist organizations and churches that serve God and witness to Jesus as Lord.
3. We do not speak for or represent any group we may have served in the past, but we are individuals with a past history who speak and act on the basis of that past experience.
4. Our concern is the vitality of Baptist witness under the Great Commission of our Lord. We believe that this is in keeping with Jesus prayer for the unity of believers, John 17:21. May the witness of the BWA to the glory of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be such that the world will say again, “Behold how they love one another!” We have sometimes striven for a reputation for orthodoxy, a worthy goal, but love for our neighbor (the second greatest commandment) is an even more effective witness.
5. We serve the Baptist World Alliance, not because its membership includes no sinners, but because it has inspired and instructed world Baptists in their intention to be Biblical Christian witnesses to our Savior Jesus Christ.
6. As Southern Baptists ourselves, we have been inspired and instructed in the past by our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we have worked in the BWA. We have not always agreed, but we have tried to speak “the truth in love.”
7. The SBC withdrawal from BWA membership does not require any individual or church, or Baptist association to sever that Christian relation to the BWA. We do not counsel any individual or church to withdraw from the SBC.”
McCall served as president of the BWA from 1980 to 1985. During his tenure, he retired from Southern Seminary, which soon found much more conservative leadership. In 1990, McCall joined several other SBC notables to form the Baptist Cooperative Missions Program (BPMP), an alternative channel of fundings for the Southern Baptist ministries. According to the SBC’s conservative newsletter Baptist Press, the BCMP “transferred its resources to the CBF…soon after its formation.”
Grady Cothen, one of the co-founders of the BCMP and former president of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now called Lifeway), was among those present at the Atlanta meeting.
Others in attendance included: Lloyd Elder, former President of the Sunday School Board; SBC state executive Jere Allen (Washington, DC), Charles Barnes (Maryland), Bill Causey (Mississippi), James Griffith (Georgia), Jack Lowndes (New York), Don Widemon (Missouri); former Women’s Missionary Union Executives Alma Hunt, Carolyn Crumpler, Dellanna O’Brien, Catherine Allen and Lee Allen; former leader of SBC Relations to Black Churches Emmanuel McCall; former vice president of the International Mission Board Bill O’ Brien; Atlanta area pastors Truett Gannon, David Sapp, Bill Self and Craig Sherouse; and BWA staffer Denton Lotz and Ian Chapman.
According to the BWA, “Former SBC seminary presidents and executives of various organizations also expressed a desire to come but the change in date prevented their coming. The participants agreed to endorse a written statement in support of the BWA. Former leaders will be invited to sign the document to indicate their support and affirmation of the BWA.”
A European Baptist leader charged American Baptists of manipulating Baptists worldwide into their way of thinking, at a venue hosted by ex-SBC clergy and laity
Nearly a year has passed since the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) broke its financial and membership ties to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), but tensions in the Baptist world have continued to mount. Last week, a high level member of the Alliance warned U.S. Baptists not to impose their beliefs upon international Baptists, and furthermore returned the charges made by SBC officials that the BWA members have become liberalized.
“We should be very careful how we are pulling the ropes in our mission work, in our evangelism and missions work everywhere,” said Theo Angelov, former general secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), at a Baptist gathering in Atlanta, on Feb. 25. “Do we pull the ropes in another direction toward ourselves, our thinking, our vision, our strategy?”
“Do not pull the ropes toward yourself. There is only one direction we should pull the ropes … and that’s to pull the sinners before Christ,” said Angelov.
According to the Associated Baptist Press, Angelov referred in part to the dispute between the SBC and BWA while cautioning U.S. Baptists not to “export their disputes or manipulate Baptists worldwide into their way of thinking.”
The two bodies broke ties last June during the SBC’s annual meeting. With a mere show of hands, the 99-year-old relationship between the two prominent Baptist groups ended – and none too gracefully. Leaders in the SBC charged the BWA of drifting leftward theologically and implied funds to the Alliance were misused. Meanwhile, BWA leaders, who denied the charges, argued that the SBC left because it could not take control over the Alliance. Alliance members pointed out that the SBC began talks to break ties and funding to the BWA once the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – an independent fellowship of mostly Southern Baptist churches that broke off from the SBC in the early 1990s – was accepted for membership status in the Alliance.
Tensions between the Baptist bodies mounted earlier in the year when a high-level SBC official mentioned plans to form an alternative to the BWA for those international Baptist churches weary of the leftward turn of the Alliance. According to the official, numerous international Baptist churches showed interest in such a development and the churches planned to meet in Poland in July - - the same time the BWA celebrates its centennial in England.
“There is no more [serious] weakness to the world around us than our lack of unity … our fighting,” said Angelov. “It will be a catastrophe for our world if we pull the ropes in the direction [of disunity].”
Angelov, who was imprisoned by Bulgaria’s former communist government, said many Baptists died in prison without denying their faith.
“There are many heroes you never will know their name,” he said. “The communist leaders were very surprised to discover that the church did not die.”
Angelov added that there are “many more examples” of liberalism in the United States than those alleged in Europe by the SBC.
The venue of Angelov’s speech was the Mainline Baptist Network’s “A New Day in Baptist Life” Convocation ceremony. According to letters explaining the main reason for the convocation, the group wrote: “The MBN’s goal is to host a representative gathering of Baptist clergy and laity, along with representatives from all entities that has emerged in the last 25 years or have been de funded by the Southern Baptist Convention across the years. The convocation is also open to churches, associations, conventions, and organizations that have chosen to withdraw from official SBC connection or have chosen to partner with the new entities or network across the entire spectrum of Baptist life.”
The MBN’s allies include the CBF and the Baptist General Convention of Texas – both groups that split from the larger SBC over theological differences.
Dr. Caner is the first former Muslim to become dean of evangelical seminary in the U.S.
Last month, Liberty University celebrated the appointment of Dr. Ergun Caner as the new Dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS). Caner’s appointment filled the post of Dr. Danny Lovett who left to assume the presidency of Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Caner, a converted Sunni Muslim and son of a Muslim scholar, is the first former Muslim to become the dean of an evangelical seminary in the history of U.S. He is quoted as a very popular professor whose sense of humor and direct preaching have energized the students since joining the faculty in 2003, as the Professor of Theology and Church History at the university.
Dr. Jerry Falwell, the university’s president recently said, “He [Caner] is today one of the most electrifying speakers and defenders of the faith that I have ever heard. I am proud to call him a friend and so thankful that God has sent him to Liberty to lead what I believe will be a revolution in seminary education on this campus. Dr. Caner has also become a voice for evangelical Christianity in the national media, debating Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Bah’ai leaders on more than 50 college and university campuses.”
Dr. Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary said, “Dr. Ergun Caner is a fine scholar and an outstanding communicator of Christian truth. He will bring energy and passion as Dean of this fine seminary. I commend Dr. Falwell on such an excellent choice.”
The Turkish immigrant, who converted to Christianity in 1982, has an extensive academic background. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies and Languages in 1989 from Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky and obtained his Master of Arts in History from the Criswell College in Dallas, Texas in 1992. In 1994, he received his Master of Divinity as well as Master of Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994 and 1995, respectively. Finally, he completed his Doctor of Theology at the University of South Africa in 2000.
Dr. Caner’s previous teaching experience was at the Criswell College where he taught in the same field for two years. And it was year 2002 his name became nationally renowned when his book Unveiling Islam (Kregel Publications) became a best-seller and eventually won the Christian Booksellers Association Gold Medallion Award. In addition, Dr. Caner is a co-author of 11 books based on apologetics and history which he wrote in collaboration with his brother Dr. Emir Caner.
“We will develop the seminary into the leading evangelical institution for training Christians for a new generation. It is no longer sufficient to simply train graduate students in theory and abstract; we must challenge them to reach a world with 140 major religions, many of whom inhabit our shores. Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary will set the standard for global apologetics on a world stage,” said Caner, expressing his new vision for LBTS.
The newly appointed dean, Caner has two sons, Braxton and Drake, from his marriage of 11 years to his wife, Jill.
Resolution urges denomination’s churches to investigate local districts
A resolution urging churches to investigate the level of homosexual advocacy in their local school districts will be presented at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention gathering.
Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr., a Southern Baptist lecturer, preacher and author, and Bruce N. Shortt, author of “The Harsh Truth About Public Schools” announced yesterday they have submitted the resolution for consideration at the SBC’s 2005 Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., next month.
According to a statement from Baucham and Shortt, the resolution “encourages every SBC church to investigate whether the school district in which it is located has either a homosexual club or any curriculum or program that attempts to influence children to accept homosexual behavior as a legitimate lifestyle. If the school district has any of these, the resolution urges churches to inform parents of this fact and encourage them to remove their children from the district’s schools immediately.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, last year, Shortt was part of an unsuccessful effort to get SBC approval of a resolution urging church members to pull their children out of government schools.
Besides calling for the local school investigations, the resolution:
* commends Christians working in government schools;
* asks Baptists to make a greater effort to provide and support Christian educational alternatives to government schools, especially for the benefit of children from low-income and single-parent families;
* calls upon Baptists to pray for homosexuals; and
* rebukes homosexual activists for slandering minorities by claiming that homosexual behavior has any authentic connection with the civil-rights movement.
The new effort appears to take one issue brought up in last year’s debate over government schools – homosexual advocacy – and focuses church members’ attention on it.
Said Baucham: “I am convinced that if government schools had to recruit students by sending out brochures outlining the academic, moral and spiritual aspects of their curriculum, most Baptists would throw it in the trash without a second thought. However, when these schools can hide behind stealth phrases like tolerance, safe schools, multiculturalism and safer sex, parents are often unaware of the dangers lurking beneath the surface. Moreover, parents who speak up are often branded as narrow-minded bigots with outdated values.
“This resolution is an effort to shine the light of truth in the dark corners of our schools and force our brethren to take a long, hard, honest look at what we have tolerated for far too long.”
Added Shortt: “Homosexuals need our prayers and concern, but Christian parents must make sure that their children are not being endangered by false teaching in government schools. …
“Government schools are influencing our children to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and silencing those within the schools who disagree. Education officials who would never dream of engineering acceptance of smoking among children are all too often complicit in promoting acceptance among children of a lifestyle that evidence indicates is at least as deadly and self-destructive as smoking.”
Linda Harvey, president of Mission America, is supportive of the resolution.
“Based on my 10 years of tracking and researching the growth of homosexual activism in public schools, I know that very few parents are aware that the majority of public school districts are selling our children the dangerous and false notion that homosexuality is a normal and acceptable lifestyle,” Harvey said in a statement.
“Because most Christian parents and churches have been silent about this out of ignorance or apathy, they are essentially saying to their children that what the schools are teaching is accurate and acceptable; they are also saying to schools, we give you permission to proceed, to count on our silence, and to count on our children continuing to fill your classrooms.”
A copy of the resolution is available on the website of Exodus Mandate, an organization that advocates for private Christian schooling and homeschooling.
As the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Nashville next week, the issue of public education is once again at the center of potential controversy. For the second year in a row, proposed resolutions have been submitted to the denomination’s Committee on Resolutions, calling for Christians to reconsider support for the nation’s public school system.
Last year, retired Air Force General T. C. Pinckney and Houston attorney Bruce N. Shortt submitted a resolution calling for Southern Baptists to remove their children from “government schools.” In explaining the proposed resolution, Pinckney said that public schools “now must be in the United State s officially godless,” adding: “This amounts to an artificial compartmentalization of life.” An influential conservative leader and former SBC second vice president, Pinckney had urged the Convention to pass the resolution. “We believe it is time for the SBC to take a biblical stand on this issue,” he said.
The Committee on Resolutions did not agree, and turned back all six education-related resolutions that had been submitted for its consideration. Pinckney later attempted to address the issue from the floor of the convention, but failed in an attempt to amend another resolution in order to make the same essential point.
Some within the denomination were adamantly opposed to any resolution that would call for Christians to leave the public schools. Others seemed to think that the language of the resolution was intemperate or harsh. In my judgment, the whole debate was mostly ahead of its time – at least in terms of SBC understanding.
The passage of another year has brought some level of change. This year, at least two resolutions dealing with the public schools have been submitted. The proposal that has attracted the most public attention has been submitted by Bruce Shortt once again, this time along with evangelist Voddie Baucham.
This resolution identifies the issue of homosexuality as the critical issue, pointing to the public schools as the context for the indoctrination of children toward the normalization of homosexual behavior and relationships. The proposed text states that, “homosexual activists are devoting substantial resources and are using their political influence to shape the curricula and institutional rules of public schools to promote acceptance of homosexuality among schoolchildren as a morally legitimate lifestyle.”
The convoluted text eventually calls for the convention to urge its churches to investigate local schools in order to determine the extent of homosexual influence and then, if objectionable material or involvements are found, to “inform the parents of this fact and encourage them to remove their children from the school district’s schools immediately.”
The proposal has already had a polarizing effect within the denomination. Some hesitate to address the issue at all, while others are organizing to push for the resolution’s passage, even if this means an effort from the convention floor. Within the last few days, a coalition of family organizations, home school advocates, and public policy organizations has emerged as an advocacy base for the effort. Others are determined to prevent the issue from reaching the point of public debate and divisive controversy on the convention’s agenda. Behind all this is the fear on the part of some that any resolution that calls the public school system into question will be seen as extreme and will frighten some Southern Baptists. Who’s right?
In some sense, both sides have a point. Those who fear that a resolution calling the public schools into question would be seen as extreme have a powerful argument behind their concern. After all, Southern Baptists have been eager advocates for the public schools in the past, and thousands of faithful Southern Baptists serve as public school teachers, administrators, and board members. Beyond this, millions of Southern Baptist families send their children to public schools each year. A resolution perceived as opposed to the very idea of public education would offend many active Southern Baptists, some of whom would scratch their heads in amazement that the convention would even venture into this territory.
On the other hand, the momentum is clearly on the side of those pushing for this resolution. Every week, new reports of atrocities in the public schools appear. Radical sex education programs, offensive curricula and class materials, school-based health clinics, and ideologies hostile to Christian truth and parental authority abound. These reports are no longer isolated and anecdotal. Forces opposed to what Southern Baptist churches and families believe dominate the public school arena—especially at the national level where policies are made and the future is shaped.
There is more to this, of course. The crisis in public school education has prompted some to reconsider the very idea of public education. Some now argue that Christian parents cannot send their children to public schools without committing the sin of handing their children over to a pagan and ungodly system. Fueled by a secularist agenda and influenced by an elite of radical educational bureaucrats and theorists, government schools now serve as engines for secularizing and radicalizing children.
A look at the historical background is instructive. The public school system in America has been controversial at various turns in our national history—but never as now. The government’s early involvement in education was part of the young nation’s effort to create an educated citizenry that would be truly democratic. Education was not to be limited to an elitist group of wealthy Americans, but was to be made available to all.
In the early twentieth century, another purpose entered the picture. Vast waves of immigration, primarily from Europe, brought millions of Irish, Italian, German, and other European families to America. Educational leaders like John Dewey saw the public schools, often called the “common” schools, as the mechanism for indoctrinating children into a new democratic faith. The worldviews and eccentricities of the various ethical and national backgrounds would be erased and a new melting pot of Americans would emerge. Dewey, the most influential shaper of the public schools in America, understood that the success of his effort would require children to be liberated from the prejudices and values of their parents.
In his book, A Common Faith, Dewey advocated a radically secular vision for the public schools and the larger public culture. His concept of a humanistic faith, stripped of all supernatural claims, doctrines, and theological authorities, would replace Christianity as the dominant culture-shaping worldview. “Here are all the elements for a religious faith that shall not be confined to sect, class, or race,” he claimed. “Such a faith has always been the common faith of mankind. It remains for us to make it explicit and militant.”
It has taken longer than Dewey expected, but this secularist faith is certainly explicit and militant now. Of course, this is not equally true in all places and in all public schools. As a rule, schools in more rural areas, with local political control more concentrated in the hands of parents, less evidently show the effects of this educational revolution. In some school systems, the majority of teachers, administrators, and students share an outlook that is at least friendly and respectful toward Christianity and conservative moral values.
In other places, the situation is markedly different. In many metropolitan school districts, the schools have truly become engines for the indoctrination of the young. This process of indoctrination pervades, not only the more recognizable aspects of radical sex education programs and so-called “health education,” but other aspects of the curriculum as well. Unless something revolutionary reverses these trends, this is the shape of the future.
With control over the public school system increasingly in the hands of the courts, educational bureaucrats, the university-based education schools, and the powerful teachers’ unions, little hope for correction appears. Federal mandates, accreditation requirements, union demands, and the influence of the educational elite represent a combined force that is far greater than the localized influence of many school boards, not to mention parents. Those who doubt the radical commitments of groups such as the National Education Association should simply look at the organization’s public statements, policy positions, and initiatives.
The breakdown of the public school system is a national tragedy. An honest assessment of the history of public education in America must acknowledge the success of the common school vision in breaking down ethnic, economic, and racial barriers. The schools have brought hundreds of millions of American children into a democracy of common citizenship. Tragically, that vision was displaced by an ideologically-driven attempt to force a radically secular worldview.
How will Southern Baptists respond? We do not even know if any education-related resolutions will reach the convention floor. As a former chairman of the Committee on Resolutions, I understand and respect the responsibility assigned to that committee. Its charge is to recommend to the convention those resolutions it considers most urgent, most important, and most representative of the common concern of the denomination. That committee fulfills an essential function, ensuring that the convention looks carefully at any initiative, even as every Southern Baptist has an opportunity to propose a statement. Messengers to the convention in Nashville will receive the committee’s report on Tuesday. The committee’s recommendations will be considered during a business session on Wednesday.
Whatever happens in Nashville, this issue will not go away. We have no reason to believe that next year will not bring even more urgent concerns related to public education. What will this mean?
I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives. At the same time, this strategy must acknowledge that Southern Baptist churches, families, and parents do not yet see the same realities, the same threats, and the same challenges in every context. Sadly, this is almost certainly just a matter of time.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a deliberative body, and it will certainly deliberate in Nashville. There is much work to be done, many reports to be given, and many issues to be confronted. This denomination has matured greatly in recent decades, understanding the demands of the times and the urgency of the issues we confront. I am convinced that Southern Baptists will find their way toward a common understanding of the public school challenge. The only question is when.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The American Baptist Church General Assembly concluded Sunday with the election of new officers, adoption of resolutions, and a call to evangelism.
The Rev. Dr. Arlee Griffin Jr., pastor of Berean Missionary Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. Griffin and current vice president of American Baptist Churches USA, was voted-in as president-elect. His term begins 2006-2007.
Meanwhile, Rev. Mary Hulst, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., was voted as vice-president elect for the same term, which begins January 1, 2006.
More than 2,000 American Baptists gathered in Denver, Colorado for the biennial celebration, which began Friday. This year, a special emphasis was placed on understanding the mission and ministry of the denomination.
On the last night of the assembly, the Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged the delegates to be “found by God.”
“God never intended to be an isolated monarch; God desired to be with us from the beginning,” she said, according to a press release. “God calls us to radical trust; God is with us and for us ...that we might be the form of God’s compassion.”
“We do not find God; we are continually found by God,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rev. Dr. Denton Lotz, the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, gave a special message calling for a unity centered on Christ.
“We belong together because we belong to Christ,” Lotz said.
Lotz mentioned that when the BWA was founded, 80 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America. He added that now, 60 percent of the Christian population is found in the third world, which “will re-evangelize the Northern Hemisphere.”
The BWA will hold a centenary celebration this month.
The American Baptist Church is a major Baptist denomination in the U.S., with roots stretching back nearly 100 years. As of 2001, the ABC-USA claimed 1.4 million members in all fifty states.
Just three months after the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly decided to remove explicit references to “Jesus” from the its constitution, the group’s national leaders voted to add a preamble that mentions the text in hopes of quieting critics of the initial change.
At an Oct. 13-14 gathering in Atlanta, Ga., the 69-member Coordinating Council approved a preamble to the constitution that reads “We gladly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and to His gospel as we seek to be the continuing presence of Christ in the world.”
The change came amid sharp criticism – from both within and outside of the Fellowship – regarding an initial decision to replace “gospel of Jesus Christ” with “glad obedience to the Great Commission” in the group’s constitution.
During a national meeting in July, supporters of the decision said the replacement would better reflect the Fellowship’s new mission statement, which says the group’s purpose is to “to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.”
However, immediate concerns were raised regarding how others would view the Fellowship.
At the October meeting, North Carolina pastor Jack Glasgow proposed a preamble to stem such concerns and still maintain the initial change to the constitution.
He explained that he did not vote in favor of the change in the constitution and decided to seek a solution when his congregants asked, “Why did we take Jesus out of our purpose statement.”
He added that this “was one of those Baptist moments that can be most uncomfortable,” according to the Associated Baptist Press.
This newest change will now be forwarded to the CBF general assembly in June for approval.
More than 10 years have passed since moderate Baptists within the Southern Baptist Convention formed their own Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. However, the gulf between conservative and liberal Baptists has continued to evolve and grow.
In the latest development highlighting this rift, the conservative Missouri Baptist Convention passed a resolution to prevent its churches from aligning with the CBF or any other organization considered to compete with the SBC, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
Meeting at the Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., from Oct. 24-26, the messengers adopted two constitutional amendments narrowing MBC membership requirements. The changes specifically allow the convention to reject membership to churches that support the CBF and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri – the moderate counterpart to the MBC – but makes exceptions for other Baptist organizations.
Since its formation in 1994, the CBF has been at odds with the much more conservative SBC. Ten years ago, the SBC began rejecting funds from the CBF and just last year, the SBC rescinded its membership from the Baptist World Alliance largely because the Alliance accepted the membership of the CBF.
Local churches are allowed to align with either or both denominations by sending messengers to annual assemblies, missionaries, or funds. The MBC’s move marks the first time a state convention has required its members to choose between the two.
The amendment changes the membership eligibility requirement from “any Baptist church in sympathy with the objects of the Convention” to “any Southern Baptist church singly aligned with the Convention.” Supporters of the proposal say the amendment would better define what it means to be a part of the MBC.
In the past, the MBC was allowed to reject specific messengers to its gatherings or events. The new adopted amendment would allow the MBC to “decline to accept or continue cooperation with a church” as well.
The single-alignment measure received an 82 percent vote of 916 to 217.
MEMPHIS (FBW)-Adrian Rogers, 74, pastor emeritus of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., and a former president of Southern Baptist Convention passed away in the early hours of Nov. 15 after battling cancer and double-pneumonia. He was born Sept. 12, 1931 in West Palm Beach.
Rogers, who was the only person in modern times to serve three terms as president of the 16.4 million member Southern Baptist Convention, saw the SBC through tumultuous times in two decades, beginning in1979 and then again in 1986-87.
In an Oct. 6 interview with Florida Baptist Witness Executive Editor James A. Smith Sr., Rogers acknowledged the importance of his part in the SBC’s conservative drift and told Smith:
“I look back on my life and there are a lot of things that have happened. I have written books, pastored churches, preached on radio and television around the world. But I think the part that God allowed me to have in the turning of the SBC may have the longest-lasting effect and be the most significant,” Rogers said. “[The conservative resurgence] is part of church history. We think of the ancient councils of the church in decisions and so forth, but this thing is not small; it is big.”
Dr. Adrian Rogers, one of the fathers of the conservative grassroots movement in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, died early Tuesday morning after a battle with cancer and pneumonia. He was 74.
Rogers came to help build Bellevue Baptist Church in 1972 to the 29,000-member congregation that it is today, and was named Pastor Emeritus after he retired this year. His face and voice were known to millions of believers worldwide thanks to his Love Worth Finding television and radio ministry, which is carried in more than 150 countries.
But Rogers is best remembered for his leadership in the “Conservative Resurgence” within the Southern Baptist Convention, when rising liberalism forced active conservatives within the denomination to vow to elect only conservatives. Rogers’ election as president in 1979 marked the official beginning. He was elected twice more in 1986 and 1987. Since his election, a dramatic change took place in the following two decades. Today, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
According to Crosswalk, Dr. Billy Graham once said there was a “need for ministers of the Gospel to defend the Bible as the infallible Word of God” and that “I believe in my heart that Adrian Rogers is such a man.”
A controversial vote within the Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board to eliminate missionaries who speak in tongues may be part of a larger attempt to oust the organization’s president, claimed a report from the Associated Baptist Press.
Trustees to the IMB, the international missions arm of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, in November voted to establish a new policy banning the appointment of new missionaries who had practiced a “private prayer language.”
This “private prayer language,” otherwise known as glossolalia or speaking in tongues, had been previously practiced by the IMB’s own president Jerry Rankin.
According to a Dec. 9 report by the Associated Baptist Press, the IMB’s recent vote may have been part of a larger attempt to expel Rankin from his position.
The Baptist paper’s report cites opinions from several trustees and conservative Southern Baptist observers who say the vote was a “nefarious” attempt to embarrass Rankin.
Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee from Oklahoma who opposed the new policy, is quoted as saying the tongues-ban places the agency in “the absurd position of having the president of our International Mission Board not qualified to serve as a field missionary. This does not make sense.”
Marty Duren, a pastor from Georgia who runs the SBC Outpost blog, went further by saying the vote was directly related to some trustees’ desire to end Rankin’s tenure.
“It seems that this had less to do with missionary guidelines and more to do with insulting Jerry Rankin,” Duren wrote in a blog entry posted on Dec. 2. “If you truly believe that this is an unbiblical practice, you should have fired him outright rather than this nefarious, insolent move. It is a shame that a vocal minority of trustees, representing an even smaller section of the country, who have a personal dislike for Dr. Rankin would stoop to such a level of using an obviously confusing charismatic practice to further their disdain for the President of the Board.”
Duren said he had interviewed several trustees who agreed with that assessment. He quoted one. “Trustee Johnny Nantz of Las Vegas was willing to go on record, saying, ‘The issue is not doctrinal, the issue is the removal of Jerry Rankin. This is being used to end his tenure,’” Duren wrote in a Dec. 5 post, according to APB.
The SBC already excludes people who speak in tongues publicly from serving as missionaries, but the IMB’s vote would include those who practice glossolalia in private as well.
A conservative regional body within the American Baptist Churches announced last week that it may withdraw from the national denomination over “irreconcilable” differences on homosexuality.
The Board of Directors of the Pacific Southwest recommended on Dec. 8 that the regional body of 300 churches end all formal relationships with the 1.3-million-member American Baptist Churches USA.
“The Board of Directors is grieved that the differences between the Region and its national denomination have not been resolved,” a statement from the region read. “The action will place some distance between the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA that will clarify the distinctiveness of these ministries.”
At the heart of the conflict lies what leaders of the Pacific Southwest say is the unwillingness of the national denomination to enforce its official stance on homosexuality. Specifically, they criticized the ABCUSA’s acceptance into membership churches that are open and affirming to the homosexual lifestyle – a practice described as “incompatible with Christian teaching” in the denomination’s own official statement.
Roy Medley, General Secretary of ABCUSA, said he and other American Baptists are “deeply disappointed at the decision” and that they “have done and will continue to do everything we can to maintain unity in the Body of Christ” in a statement released Wednesday.
This is not the first time Medley has had to defend his denomination from conservative critics. Last year during the highly publicized split between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance, a top SBC conservative cited the ABCUSA’s acceptance of gay-friendly churches as one reason why his denomination should withdraw from the international alliance it had helped establish 100 years ago.
But beyond external criticisms, the ABCUSA had faced internal conflicts over the thorny issue for over a decade. Like most other historic mainline denominations, the ABCUSA has worked for years to maintain unity between conservative and liberal factions within.
Stakes were raised when in 1990, a group now known as the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists were allowed to table an exhibit at the denomination’s biennial convention. Since then, pockets of conservatives rallied for the denomination to clearly state its view on homosexuality – an effort that resulted in the 1992 statement on homosexuality.
However, despite the adoption of the statement, the denomination did not clamp down on individual churches with an affirming view of homosexuality. Instead, when such local churches were “dis-fellowshipped” by conservative district (such as four congregations in the Pacific Southwest), the national church allowed them to remain as part of the denomination by aligning with more liberal districts outside their region.
This conflict culminated with the efforts of some conservatives to pass a law to implement the homosexuality resolution. When this failed, they began looking at other options, including the adoption of regional exit strategies.
In the case of the Pacific Southwest, the move to withdraw began three months ago. During a meeting in September, the Board had already decided to “initiate the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA” with firm backing from district’s executive minister and president to boot.
The Board’s confirmed recommendation to leave the denomination will now be referred to the churches for vote at a specifically called meeting tentatively set for May 2006. After that meeting, the Board will make its final decision to effectively end all formal relationships with the ABCUSA.
Amid the ongoing controversy over gay policies within the American Baptist Churches of USA, the denomination added a new phrase to its self-definition in favor of a stronger stance against homosexuality.[comments by Kwing Hung: a moral liberal wing of Baptists]
With growing criticism over the denomination’s lack of stringency and action against homosexuality, the General Board voted during a Nov. 17-20 meeting to alter a phrase on the “We Are American Baptists” document. The new wording reads that American Baptists are believers “who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.”
The vote passed 59-45 with five abstentions.
“We don’t see it as a victory so much as a statement by our constituency that the Bible is our authority,” said Larry Mason, executive minister of the Indiana-Kentucky region, in a released statement.
While the denomination had a resolution stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” since 1992, churches have not been bound to it and no implementing provisions were made.
Congregations criticized the denomination for the lack of discipline on churches with liberal gay policies and in recent months, the Pacific Southwest region of 300 member congregations began the process of separating from the ABCUSA. The regional board will decide in December whether to have its members vote on the separation.
Controversy over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has continued within the 1.4 million-member denomination. In August 2005, the Senate of the Ministers Council rejected a requirement that would have banned practicing homosexuals from Senate membership. Previously in 2004, the Regional Executive Ministers Council decided in a 20 to 3 vote not to recommend practicing homosexuals for positions and ministries at the regional and national levels and not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“Today we have deep divisions around our understanding of Biblical interpretation, human sinfulness, and the potential of ministering together,” said a 2005 statement on mission and ministry that recognized the difference of opinion within the denomination on homosexuality. “We further acknowledge that not all churches consider this issue to be central to mission and ministry.”
Think about how many sports involve a ball. There’s baseball, golf, football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, rugby and cricket just to name a few. These sports are so completely different, but the one thing they have in common is that if you don’t keep your eye on the ball, you’re not going to be very successful. It could also be painful!
I believe that is what Paul was telling Timothy through his two letters. In 2 Timothy, Paul flatly stated that “All Scripture is inspired by God” and explained its worth to “the man of God.” With deep seriousness Paul then charges Timothy to “proclaim the message.” He was telling Timothy to keep his eye on the ball.
This is my last LifeWay@Heart commentary. I am excited that my successor, Thom Rainer, will author this column in the future. He is a great communicator and will be a tremendous blessing to you in the years ahead. Although I will still be involved in ministry — one cannot retire from God’s service — I will no longer have the opportunity to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention from a position of formal leadership. In other words, this is my farewell charge to a convention I love dearly and have seen do wonderful work for God’s Kingdom over my 55 years of ministry. It is also a convention that needs to keep its eye on the ball if we are going to be a tool in the hand of the Master for years to come.
We must preach the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. This is the ball and we’ve got to knock out of the park every time. I believe Southern Baptists preach this and this is why I believe that God continues to bless us despite our shortcomings and weaknesses. We fought for biblical inerrancy and for the message of Jesus as revealed in Scripture. We must march boldly into a spiritually hungry world proclaiming Jesus while maintaining His attitude described by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11.
My heart and soul “amens” John Piper’s statement in his book, Brothers, We are Not Professionals. It is my plea to us all as well: “This is a plea for passion in the pulpit, passion in prayer, passion in conversation. It is not a plea for thin whipped-up emotionalism.” In other words, preach Christ crucified!
There are at least two tensions currently pulling on Southern Baptists.
First, the desire to be overly seeker sensitive is pulling us away from proclaiming the hard truth of the gospel. The gospel is an offense! A righteous man was nailed to a cross. There was a beating involved, and blood shed. We must not water that down. We cannot compromise the reality of the gospel under the guise of relevancy. Relevancy is earned when churches — Christians — acting as the hands of Christ, touch the wounded hearts and souls of those around them. When Christians act like Jesus, bear the burdens of others like Jesus, suffer with others like Jesus, then we will be more effective in verbally sharing the pointed truths of the gospel with them like Jesus. What’s more, the lost will drink in the message like a thirsty man wandering in a desert drinks in cool, clean water.
A second tension we face is what I spoke of at the Southern Baptist Convention last June. We are in danger of choking the life out of the future of the SBC by dabbling in peripheral matters and neglecting the heart of our convention, which has always been missions, evangelism and cooperation. The added challenge here is to incorporate younger Southern Baptists into the leadership of our convention.
I spent a lot of time the past two years calling for the inclusion of younger leaders, but also for younger leaders to engage the convention and not back away. I have met many of these men and women and I am impressed. They are accepting the challenge. They want to earn the right of relevancy and to partnership in the ministry of the SBC. They want to push to the spiritually hard places and they are willing to suffer hardships to press into those places to share the gospel among individuals in the world’s out-of-the way places or in their own neighborhoods.
Some across the convention point to the complainers among the younger leaders and despise the youth of the entire group. As a result we often get side-tracked into nonessential matters. This in turn can create larger barriers for our work together. We may become guilty of sacrificing cooperation with the sword of inflexibility. All the while the white fields waiting to be harvested stand decaying.
This is not new rhetoric; several of us entity leaders have been saying this stuff for years. It all sounds good when stated, but there is a disconnect between what is said and what is done. We should all — not just the SBC’s leadership — set an example of devotion to Scripture, personal integrity and cooperation.
A place to begin is on our knees. It is tough to criticize those for whom we pray. How my heart aches at the research that reveals we spend less than 7 minutes a day in prayer. Brothers and sisters, we cannot do God’s work in our way. The only way to know and do the will of God is to fall on our face before Him, asking for His direction and responding in obedience. We must pray more purposefully and more passionately.
Closely related is humility. Individuals motivated by personal agendas reek of arrogance. God hates arrogance. I am encouraged because I believe there is a growing desire for humility in the hearts of God’s people. I believe there is a movement beginning to take place where Christians are dissatisfied with the comfortable, materialistic, ineffective Christianity they’ve been living and are truly seeking God. My heart’s desire is that humility will consume the Church and consume our convention.
Morris Chapman said four years ago that the Southern Baptist Convention stands at a crossroads, that we can be a convention that reaches the ends of the earth with the gospel or one that relegates itself to being an inconsequential regional convention. The choice is ours. Time is slipping by, and I believe God has allowed the SBC to linger a bit longer at that crossroads.
I will miss being as actively involved in SBC leadership as I have been in the past — I love you all! We face some tough individual and corporate challenges, BUT I am incredibly optimistic about what God is going to do through Southern Baptists in the years ahead, if we will keep our eye on the ball.
In His love,
James T. Draper, Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
WASHINGTON – The public policy wing of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States will focus on protecting the sanctity of human life, basic human rights, and traditional marriages as its top priorities for 2006.
In a statement released yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission revealed the list of measures it will be working on through the second half of the 109th Congress.
In the area of protecting unborn human life, the Washington, D.C.-based ERLC said it will advocate the passage of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act – a bill requiring abortion doctors to notify mothers of the pain her unborn child will feel through the abortion process, the Child Custody Protection Act – a bill prohibiting minors from being transported to another state by a non-parental adult for abortion, and a ban on human cloning for research or reproductive purposes.
In the area of religious freedom, the ELRC will support the ADVANCE Democracy Act – a bill that promotes democracies in other countries without military intervention – and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act – a bill providing protections to people of faith in the workplace.
The passage of the ADVANCE Democracy Act “will make peaceful promotion of democracy around the world a major focus of U.S. foreign policy,” wrote Richard Land and Barrett Duke, the President and Vice President of the ERLC, respectively. “The bill has the potential to help rid the world of its last dictatorships in the next 20 years through peaceful means.”
In the area of traditional marriage, the ELRC will work for the passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment – a constitutional amendment to protect the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
“Mounting pressure from special-interest groups around the country to legalize same-sex marriage makes it imperative that we secure passage of this amendment and then take it to the states for ratification,” Land and Duke wrote.
Other Christian lobbying firms in Washington have already launched petitions and efforts for the passage of the constitutional amendment. A two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House is required for the amendment to pass Congress. In addition, three fourths of the states must ratify the amendment for it to be part of the Constitution.
An Oklahoma pastor may join the Southern Baptist Convention’s presidential race, possibly marking the first contested election in 12 years for the nation’s largest denomination.
One nominee for SBC president has already been announced. Last week, Atlanta pastor Johnny Hunt confirmed that he would nominate Arkansas pastor Ronnie W. Floyd at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting on June 13 in Greensboro, N.C.
Floyd, pastor of both First Baptists Church in Springdale and the Church at Pinnacle Hills, has already received the backing of some key SBC figureheads, including the ultra-conservative Paige Patterson – president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a main architect for the denomination’s conservative resurgence 25 years ago.
Floyd may be one of at least two nominees for the goodwill position, marking the first time since 1994 where contestants would compete to win office.
Another possible nominee is Wade Burleson, a two-time president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid.
Much more moderate than Floyd, Burleson had come under scrutiny in recent months for criticizing new policies by the International Mission Board that would exclude missionary candidates not baptized in a church that holds to eternal security or those who practice “private prayer language.”
Burleson, an IMB trustee, was voted off the board for criticizing the policies on his online blog, but was soon reinstated by the eventual unanimous rescission of the original vote.
In a May 11 blog entry, Burleson said he “received at least twenty-five requests from individuals desiring to either nominate me for President of the SBC or allow my name to be nominated by others.”
While the Oklahoma pastor neither accepted nor rejected the requests, he affirmed in a separate internet entry that “there will be another” candidate in addition to Floyd.
“Who will the other candidate be? I’m not yet sure, but this one thing I know – there will be another one,” Burleson wrote Tuesday.
Burleson’s nomination symbolizes a growing movement against fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination that has been littered with conservative-liberal conflicts for decades, and a shift toward broadening the views of the evangelical church.
“We must stop narrowing the parameters of cooperation in the area of missions and evangelism,” Burleson wrote in a May 16 entry about the most important issues the next SBC President must address. “We cannot disenfranchise committed, conservative Southern Baptists who hold to the integrity of the Scriptures but differ on the interpretations of minor doctrines of the sacred text.”
Other issues include expanding the list of those who lead the SBC to include “more than just a few who are recycled in their appointments,” and including more young leaders in the denomination.
The election of officers will be part of the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in North Carolina. The current SBC president, Florida pastor Bobby Welch, will be completing two-one-year terms of service.
The last contested SBC presidential race was in 1994, when Florida pastor Jim Henry won over Alabama pastor Fred Wolfe.
POMONA, Calif. (AP) - Delegates representing congregations of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted overwhelmingly Saturday to recommend severing ties with the national denomination in a dispute over homosexuality.
The matter now goes to the board of directors, which has already recommended withdrawal from American Baptist Churches, USA, citing “deep differences of theological convictions and values.”
The board was scheduled to meet May 11.
On Saturday, delegates from the region’s 300 churches voted 1,125 to 209 to withdraw from American Baptist Churches, USA. The delegates met in seven locations across the West, including First Baptist Church in Pomona.
The board of directors had the authority to withdraw from the national denomination, but decided to seek input from the delegates, according to a statement on the group’s Web site.
There has been a growing split within the 1.4 million-member American Baptist Churches, USA over homosexuality.
In November, the governing board added language to the denomination’s self-definition, saying American Baptists are believers “who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching.”
The denomination has taken previous stands against gay sex. But it has not disciplined congregations with liberal gay policies, drawing the ire of the Pacific Southwest region and others.
Last year, the West Virginia association, the largest regional group with 465 congregations, narrowly rejected a proposal to break with the national denomination.
The debate over interpreting the Bible on homosexuality is tearing at many Protestant denominations. Among the most dramatic examples is the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is struggling to stay together following the decision of its U.S. province, the Episcopal Church, to consecrate its first openly gay bishop a few years ago.
Two opposing voices are rising up among Baptist circles over the highly publicized ‘exit strategy’ from American public schools, setting the stage for another showdown at the upcoming Southern Baptist Annual meeting in June.
As of May 20, more than 200 pastors, teachers and lay leaders signed onto a pastoral letter supporting public education that was issued a month ago. The letter, issued by the liberal Baptist Center for Ethics, called on supporters to pray for public schools and challenge religious voices that “demonize public education.”
While the letter did not point fingers at any specific group, it referenced the call by some Southern Baptists for a mass exodus from public schools as the main need to support public education.
“Public education is ground zero in America’s culture war,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “It’s the place for fundamentalists where faith and science clash, church and state collide, racial/ethnic diversity and cultural purity war.”
The movement for an “exit strategy” began two years ago amid rising concerns among conservative Southern Baptists over what they believed was an infiltration of the homosexual agenda in public schools.
While a resolution calling for a massive exodus failed to pass at the 2004 SBC annual meeting, a more toned-down resolution urging churches and parents to investigate their public schools was adopted in 2005.
Last month, the conservative “Exodus Mandate” announced that a resolution has been submitted for consideration at the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting calling for churches to “develop an exit strategy from the public schools that will give particular attention to the needs of orphans, single parents, and the disadvantaged.”
“The resolution also urges the agencies of the Southern Baptists Convention to assist churches as they develop their exit strategies and commends Christians working in government schools,” according to Exodus Mandate.
The resolution will have to be approved by the executive committee before it heads for a vote during the June 13-14 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. A simple majority would pass the resolution.
The Southern Baptist Convention elected Frank Page as its new president Tuesday, choosing an unlikely candidate who had said it would take a “miracle” for him to win, and marking a new direction for the 16-million-member church.
“I’m a little taken aback by this,” Page, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. said. “Because I have not been known across the nation, ... I truly believe [the election] is God’s people saying we want to see broadened involvement.”
On the first ballot, Page received 50.48 percent of the vote – just over the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win, beating out two high-profile candidates that had received the backing of top denominational leadership. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., came in second with 24.95 percent of the vote, followed by Jerry Sutton, pastor at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., who received the remaining 24.08 percent.
Page, 53, called his victory evidence that Southern Baptists believed “we could do together a lot more and a lot better than what we can do separately,” referring to the two campaign points that helped bring victory: his support for the denomination’s missions-sending Cooperative Program and his call for a broadening of the church leadership.
Since the conservative take-over of the nation’s largest denomination 25 years ago, candidates for the SBC presidency have typically run unopposed or faced only token opposition. The last time the church held a contested presidential election was 12 years ago in 1994.
Forrest Pollock, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., emphasized Page’s consistent support for the Cooperative Program when introducing the candidate to the 11,000 delegates yesterday.
“We’ve got to work together if we’re going to accomplish the Great Commission,” Pollock said. “That’s the reason that we started the Cooperative Program in the first place – so that granddaddy’s church could work with your church and my church to reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Page’s church gives 12.4 percent of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program, Pollock said.
“This issue is not about theology; it’s about methodology,” Pollock said. “Are we going to support our missionaries or not, and who has the credibility to stand before us and challenge us to do more? You see, we can’t have a double standard.... All of us must give if we’re going to reach this world for Christ.”
While all three candidates head “mega-churches” of at least 2,000 members, most SBC congregations are smaller, and view the Cooperative Program as a crucial collective effort for the denomination and the best way for them to carry out Jesus’ call to evangelize the nations.
Floyd’s church, while one of the fastest-growing in the denomination, had been criticized for giving less than one percent of annual earnings to the Cooperative Program.
Sutton, who had served as the SBC’s first vice president last year, has given over 13 percent annually, but was likely opposed because of his ultra-conservative views on membership and leadership standards.
Page said he hopes to use his presidency to broaden the range of Southern Baptist leadership, expand support for the Cooperative Program, and to help churches whose membership has been declining.
Denominational participation should come “from younger leaders, older leaders, small churches, medium churches and — yes — larger churches from across this nation who perhaps have been overlooked,” he said.
Another factor of his victory may have been the local support he received from church delegates in the Carolinas. Page grew up in Greensboro, where the annual meeting was held, and became a Southern Baptist at one of the city’s churches.
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - There will almost certainly be no Southern Baptist exodus from the nation’s public schools — at least for now.
Leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination Wednesday refused to support a resolution that would have urged the denomination to form an “exit strategy” for pulling Southern Baptist children from public schools in favor of home schools or private Christian schools.
The proposal, offered by Roger Moran of Troy, Mo., and Texas author Bruce Shortt, came as many of the nation’s 16.2 million Southern Baptists are concerned about how classrooms are handling subjects such as homosexuality and “intelligent design.”
Instead of putting the exit strategy before delegates to the SBC’s annual meeting, the denomination’s resolutions committee called on members to “engage the culture of our public school systems” by exerting “godly influence,” including standing for election to local school boards.
Those ideas were part of a more moderate resolution titled “On Engaging the Direction of the Public School System” scheduled for debate Wednesday evening at the final session of the denomination’s annual meeting.
The public schools issue has been simmering for several years. A resolution similar to the one offered by Moran and Shortt failed to pass two years ago. Delegates at last year’s annual meeting approved a resolution urging parents and churches to “to exercise their rights to investigate diligently the curricula, textbooks, and programs in our community schools.”
“We are commanded biblically to train our children in the nurture of the Lord,” said Moran, who sits on the SBC’s executive committee. “The public schools are no longer allowed ... to even acknowledge the God of the Bible.”
Moran could raise his resolution again from the floor of the convention Wednesday night, but such efforts rarely succeed.
Moran, who owns a company that makes construction supplies, is a father of nine children, ages 18 months to 18 years. All have been home-schooled or attended Christian schools, he said.
The proposal from Moran and Shortt, author of “The Harsh Truth About Public Schools,” complained that curricula teaching “the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable” are being implemented in public schools. It also criticized a federal court ruling last year that banned a Pennsylvania school system’s classroom mention of “intelligent design” — the notion that life is so complex it must have been created by a higher intelligence.
The resolution approved by the SBC committee refers to the Pennsylvania decision, but also goes out of its way to “affirm the hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women who teach in our public schools.”
Also Wednesday, the SBC unofficially barred members who drink alcohol from serving as trustees or members of any SBC entity.
The ban, part of a larger anti-alcohol resolution that was easily approved by delegates, was proposed by Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. While stopping short of officially preventing drinkers from serving, it “urges” that no one be elected or appointed to SBC offices if they are “a user of alcohol.”
“Use of alcohol as a beverage can and does impede the message of Jesus Christ” that Southern Baptists are trying to spread, Richards said.
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - The surprise pick for president of the Southern Baptist Convention says he’ll stand up for the denomination’s conservative beliefs — but he’ll do it with a smile. “I believe in the Word of God,” says the Rev. Frank Page. “I’m just not mad about it.”
The pastor from South Carolina comes from outside the conservative leadership that has held tight control of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination for more than a decade. But he cautions that does not represent a move toward the political middle for a group fervently opposed to abortion and gay sex.
In his campaign, and again after winning Tuesday over two better-known SBC leaders, Page was quick to proclaim his credentials as a conservative and a believer that the Bible is the unerring Word of God. But he also was blunt about his determination to perform cosmetic surgery on the face that the SBC presents to the nation.
Asked how he would determine who would have a voice in Southern Baptist leadership under his presidency, Page cited “a sweet spirit” as the first requirement.
SBC leaders have often come off as filled with righteous fury in recent years, a carry-over from the long, vicious battle for control of the denomination that conservatives and moderates waged in the 1970s and 1980s. The struggle ended when moderates dropped out of SBC politics in the early 1990s, but a confrontational tone had been set for a generation of conservative SBC leaders.
In 1997, the Southern Baptists adopted a resolution calling for a boycott of The Walt Disney Co. after it decided to offer benefits to partners of gay employees. Citing changes in Disney executives and more family-friendly entertainment, the SBC ended the boycott eight years later although the company had not changed its gay policy.
SBC declarations banned women pastors and declared that wives should “submit graciously” to their husbands. On Wednesday, a day after Page’s election, the SBC’s annual meeting adopted a resolution urging that anyone who drinks alcohol be barred from leadership positions.
Many within the SBC see the 53-year-old Page’s victory as the start of a new era.
Wade Burleson, a 44-year-old pastor from Enid, Okla., was one of Page’s most outspoken supporters. A conservative like Page, he was nonetheless dismayed at the way SBC leaders handled dissent within the powerful International Missions Board after he joined the panel.
Burleson was publicly reprimanded by board members for writing about the board’s internal debates on his Internet blog and threatened with removal, which stoked his desire for change.
Burleson and other dissenting bloggers were given part of the credit for carrying the little-known Page to victory over Ronnie Floyd, pastor of a northwest Arkansas megachurch, and Jerry Sutton, a prominent conservative who leads one of Nashville, Tenn.’s most politically active congregations.
“They had their concerns, and their concerns were the battle for the Bible,” Burleson said. “And you know what? I affirm my respect for them over that. But sometimes you win and you’ve got to move on. ... I think today we’ve moved on.”
He said Page’s election sends an important message about Southern Baptists to the rest of America.
“What they (other Americans) can say is that Southern Baptists are concerned about the good news getting out to people in need,” Burleson said. “They can say of Southern Baptists, ‘Man, those folks love people.’ That’s what I hope they hear, loud and clear.”
Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity and a frequent critic of SBC leadership, is less sure that the Southern Baptists have reached a turning point. He noted that Sutton and Floyd likely split the traditional conservative vote, allowing Page to eke out his win.
“Whether it becomes a ‘kinder, gentler’ denomination, publicly, depends on how much the traditional leadership — especially certain seminary presidents — respond,” Leonard said in an e-mail interview.
“Page’s narrow election may give false hope to many,” said Robert Parham of Nashville’s Baptist Center for Ethics, which also opposes the SBC leadership. “Even if Page wants to pursue a reformation, he can’t overturn decades of fundamentalist control and organizations stocked with fundamentalist employees.”
Page says his election should not be viewed as a harbinger of moderating Southern Baptist philosophy. But he did say he hopes for a “broadening” of voices heard within the denomination and embraced the notion of a “kinder, gentler” SBC.
“For too long, Baptists have been known for what we’re against,” he said. “It’s time to say, ‘Please, let us tell what we’re for: That there is a life transforming, relevant-to-today’s-people message that we have to share.’”
ATLANTA (AP) - With the help of former President Carter, Baptists who have distanced themselves from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention announced plans Tuesday for a major meeting that aims to improve the Baptist image and broaden its agenda.
Carter, who left the Southern Baptists in 2000 after the denomination came under conservative control, and former President Bill Clinton, also a Baptist, joined leaders of about 40 Baptist groups in making the announcement at The Carter Center.
“Our goal is to have a major demonstration of harmony and a common commitment to personifying and to accomplish the goals that Jesus Christ expressed,” Carter said.
Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University, a Georgia school with Baptist ties, stressed that the assembly was not a partisan effort, despite the support of the Democratic ex-presidents. Underwood predicted that Republican public officials would also participate in the meeting, scheduled tentatively for Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2008, in Atlanta.
But Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists’ public policy arm, noted that the gathering will be held during a presidential election year. Land said organizers will have to work hard to ensure the event is not viewed as “overly political.”
Organizers say the event could draw more than 20,000 Baptists. Among the groups supporting the effort are several historically black Baptist denominations. Carter stressed that Southern Baptists are invited to the gathering.
The announcement Tuesday is the latest chapter in fierce Baptist battles over how to interpret Scripture. Starting in 1979, Southern Baptists who believe the Bible is without error took leadership of the convention, which now claims 16.4 million members. The denomination became a leading voice opposing gay marriage and abortion, and took stands on many other public policy issues.
Southern Baptists with a more liberal outlook responded by forming their own groups, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organizer of next year’s assembly.
Lance Wallace, a spokesman for the fellowship, said the goal of the meeting was “to give Baptists a more accurate depiction in the public mind-set.”
The meeting’s focus will be on healing social ills including poverty, pollution, lack of health care and global religious and racial conflict, organizers said.
Baptist leaders claiming to represent 20 million Baptists in North America are hailing a new push spurred by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to create a new Baptist voice.
On the sidelines, however, are the conservative Baptists who weren’t formally invited to “celebrate” the new covenant earlier this week but were still welcomed to join.
But not many Southern Baptists want to hop on board.
“They have no confessional statement,” said Russell Moore, senior vice president for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., according to Family News in Focus. “They’re really united around what they don’t believe and what they don’t believe is essentially everything the Southern Baptist Convention does believe.”
The Southern Baptist Convention withdrew its membership from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in an overwhelming vote in 2004. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson had noted a “continual leftward drift in the BWA” at the time of the vote.
Baptists joining the Carter and Clinton initiative – “The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” – include representatives of groups connected to the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional affiliate of the BWA. They were critical of the conservative Baptist voice dominating the media and are now set to counter the “negative” Baptist image and to demonstrate Baptist unity at a convocation in 2008.
“This is a historic event for Baptists in this country and perhaps for Christianity,” said Carter at a conference announcing the 2008 gathering.
Some 20,000 Baptists are expected to attend.
While Carter’s endorsement does not surprise Southern Baptists, Moore drew attention to the newly added Clinton voice.
“I cannot believe that a group of self-professing Baptists would welcome as a participant in a convocation a man who vetoed legislation protecting unborn children from partial-birth abortion,” he said. “Do they really wish to pick up Clinton’s language of a ‘new covenant with the American people...?’” according to The Henry Institute.
A Southern Baptist pastor in Charlotte, N.C., echoed similar concerns. “Tell me how President Clinton is going to give Baptists a better image? ... He is pro-choice and pro-homosexual agenda,” said Kevin Bussey of Durham Memorial Baptist Church in his blog.
“If he is re-shaping Baptists, then I don’t want to have any part of it,” he added.
Although Bussey doesn’t agree with everything the SBC does, he labeled himself as conservative when it comes to the Bible and faith and does not think it’s necessary to join the new Baptist initiative “unless the Carter and Clinton group will agree to live by the principles of the inerrant Holy Bible.”
The overall endeavor, according to the Associated Baptist Press, is spearheaded by Carter and Bill Underwood, of Mercer University in Atlanta and Macon, Ga. And Clinton was enlisted to lend his “star power” to the pan-Baptist effort.
The former presidents and supporting Baptist leaders acknowledged the divide and theological dissension among Baptists, but agreed that Jesus’ compassion mandate provides a platform for working together, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
“President Carter’s call has provided an even broader and richer forum to accelerate common gospel efforts,” commented the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches, USA.
One of the major prongs to creating a new Baptist voice is following the compassion mandate through social work in the capacity of poverty, HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking and also addressing religious diversity and evangelism among other issues.
“One of the challenges this places before us as Baptists and as believers is to live up to our faith,” said William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., according to ABP.
Baptists aim to redirect the public focus from the “negative image” to the humanitarian work they’re involved in.
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, argued the notion about a negative perception of Baptists, according to the Baptist Press. Southern Baptists have provided over 5 million meals in the U.S. alone, he said. And he further cited a recent Zogby International survey that showed adults view Southern Baptists favorably, especially in areas where they have a strong presence.
The convocation is scheduled tentatively for Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2008, in Atlanta and Carter called on “all Baptists” who share their goals to join with them.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists’ public policy arm, said the organizers of the 2008 gathering have to work hard to ensure the event is not viewed as “overly political” as it is held during a presidential election year.
Will Hall, vice president of news services for the SBC, also suspects the timing of the event, saying it has “more of a political ring to it than an actually evangelical ring to it,” according to Family News in Focus.
“To me it’s not a new voice,” he said. “It’s just rehashing a tired, old saw.”
A Southern Baptist pastor wants his denomination to ensure that its large membership consists of people who have been born again.
The Southern Baptist Convention claims 16 million members and is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. Thomas Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Fla., plans to introduce a resolution at SBC’s annual meeting in June, according to Agape Press, that may challenge the claimed membership.
“The church ought to be made up of regenerate church membership – those who really have been born of God’s Spirit,” he said.
Ascol drew attention to a 2005 survey taken by SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources which found that only 37.2 percent of Southern Baptists attended church in a given week.
Given the low number, Ascol urges the practice of church discipline to ensure integrity in church membership, Agape reported.
Ascol had introduced a similar resolution at last year’s annual meeting but it was refused consideration to present to the denomination.
Early last month, a group of pastors backed the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and encouraged the drafting of a resolution regarding the use of “private prayer language” to present at the 2007 annual meeting.
McKissic had drawn controversy when he spoke of his experience of speaking in tongues at a chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last August. Seminary trustees banned speaking in tongues and its promotion in an overwhelming vote in October.
Given the absence of a formal position on spiritual gifts within the Southern Baptist Convention, McKissic requested for the adoption of the group’s stance on charismatic practices. His request was not addressed at the Executive Committee meeting in September.
Pastors supporting McKissic and those who practice charismatic practices, however, plan to draft resolutions for the upcoming meeting in San Antonio, Texas, and lead a study on the views of Southern Baptists on speaking in tongues.
The resolutions process does not open until a couple of months from now, said SBC Executive Board spokesman John Revell.
In the meantime, Ascol enforces measures at his church to ensure integrity in membership. Elders interview prospective members who are also required to attend a new members class.
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted Tuesday to cut ties with congregations that affirm or approve of homosexuality, enacting one of the most rigid anti-gay policies among the nation’s Christian churches.
The vote changes the convention’s long-standing laws, which previously only required its members to support the convention through cooperation and financial contributions. Now any churches that “knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior” will be barred from membership.
“This action does not mean that you should avoid ministry to the homosexual community,” said convention executive director Milton Hollifield Jr. “Even though we believe that homosexuality is wrong, we still love and engage those in this lifestyle.”
With over 4,000 member churches and 1.2 million members, the North Carolina Baptist convention is the second-largest association of Baptist churches in the nation.
The convention’s board of directors adopted a similar anti-gay policy in 1992, but its members had never voted to include the policy in its written articles of incorporation. And that past rule, unlike the one approved Tuesday, didn’t give the convention the authority to investigate gay-friendly churches.
“It did not have teeth in it like it needed to have,” said convention president Stan Welch. “There was a general policy in place, and we needed something to say, ‘We’re going to act upon this and we’re going to follow through with it.”‘
Seventeen churches in North Carolina will come under immediate scrutiny under the policy, convention spokesman Norman Jameson said. Those churches are associated with the Alliance of Baptists, a Washington D.C.-based group that welcomes gays as equal members.
They contribute just $185,000 to the Convention’s $36 million budget, Jameson said.
“It’s not something that we wanted to do, but homosexuality is the only sin that has its own advocacy group,” Jameson said. “Those advocacy groups are pushing us into this stance. Other denominations that waffle and waver on the issue year after year are getting torn apart.”
The new law is even stronger than a similar policy adopted by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention - the nation’s largest Protestant organization. The Southern Baptists changed their constitution in 1993 to say that “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are not eligible for membership.
“But the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t go around trying to meddle with and investigate churches,” said Jeanette Holt, associate director for The Alliance of Baptists. “This new policy sounds to me like an interfering witch hunt.”
State Baptist conventions in Georgia and Florida also have anti-gay policies.
The proposal in North Carolina needed a two-thirds majority from the convention’s 3,500 participants to pass. No precise count of the hand vote was taken, but convention officials said that the measure had passed.
Several delegates criticized the convention for breaching the autonomy of individual churches and focusing on such a polarizing issue.
“Let’s spend more time confessing our own sins than exposing the sins of others,” said Don Gordon, senior pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham, who still labeled homosexuality as sinful behavior. “Let’s let the whole world know that God loves every person.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Another Baptist church has voted to leave the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina rather than face expulsion under a new policy to ban congregations that welcome homosexuals.
Members of St. John’s Baptist Church tentatively voted Sunday to drop affiliation with the convention, three months after the state Baptists decided at its annual meeting in Greensboro to investigate and expel member churches that accept gays and lesbians.
“They probably would have (expelled the church),” the pastor, the Rev. Richard Kremer, said. “But that would be squalid. Why wait for someone to tattle on you? If that’s the direction they’re headed, we prefer to go in a different direction.”
The vote will not be effective immediately because the church is still investigating what effect its departure from the convention would have on its tax status as a charitable organization, he said.
But the church and convention have been at odds for some time. Kremer said the state convention has considered St. John’s “a pariah” in recent years, and has “blackballed” members who sought state Baptist leadership positions.
He said the church has sent up to $50,000 a year to the state organization in the past but began routing the money directly to Baptist charities, such as the Baptist Retirement Homes, “when we saw the direction the convention was going.”
The statement approved Sunday with an overwhelming show of hands accused the state convention of choosing “to narrow its membership to exclude churches and institutions that do not adhere to its exclusive and discriminatory view of who is welcome in its fellowship.”
The convention’s new policy, adopted in November, states: “Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the convention are churches which knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior.”
It affects nearly 20 Baptist churches in the state that are also affiliated with the liberal Alliance of Baptists, based in Washington, which allows member churches to accept homosexuals.
Another Charlotte church – Park Road Baptist – voted last week to leave the state convention.
“The November vote was the last straw for us,” said the Rev. Russ Dean, who pastors Park Road Baptist with his wife, Amy.
A third local church is taking a different approach. Myers Park Baptist acknowledges that it is gay-friendly, but has publicly invited the state convention to visit the church before expelling it.
North Carolina’s Baptist State Convention is the second largest association of Baptist churches in the country, with 1.2 million members and 4,080 churches.
There are a lot of “angry young men” out there in the Southern Baptist blogosphere, one university dean pointed out.
Some Baptist bloggers, mainly pastors and seminarians, voice traditional views, some talk about culture and theology, and others indicate that they are revivalists. But drawing more attention are the comments posted more than the hosts of the blog pages.
“Are there angry people out there on the blogosphere?” posed Gregory A. Thornbury, founding dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University, at a Baptist Identity conference over the weekend. “You bet.”
“You guys are mules. You make much noise but cannot reproduce,” Thornbury quoted one comment on a blog.
Some Baptist leaders point out a lack of evangelism in the Southern Baptist denomination. Before committing to others in outreach, however, Baptists were called to first recommit to the gospel and go back to the basics, one of which include regenerate church membership.
The SBC is the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, claiming over 16 million members. And seminarians and Baptist leaders are calling the denomination to clearly affirm the born again membership and the importance of such members. Challenging the high membership number, Thomas Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Fla., had announced his plans to introduce a resolution this year to ensure integrity in church membership, meaning “those who really have been born of God’s spirit,” he said.
Thornbury also offered clarification of what regenerate church membership is. “There should not be people on our membership rolls who never come to church, show no discernable evidence of conversion or holiness, and who are not currently participating in a local body of believers,” he told conference attendants on Friday at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
As Southern Baptists face the 21st century amid controversy and efforts to reaffirm their identity, the traditional ways of running the denomination have become “expired.” Thornbury labeled Baptist programs as expired - things that were once popular but are now decidedly out. But what is definitely in now, or what Thornbury called “wired,” is Baptist basics – going back to the Bible, to theology, and to local church ministry.
David S. Dockery, president of Union University, told Baptist leaders that without conservative resurgence, particularly driven by the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, Southern Baptists would have become “untethered to Holy Scripture.”
“We would have lost the Gospel,” stated the university president as he brought up the current controversy within the Episcopal Church where theological views, including the identity of Jesus Christ, are being heavily debated.
In a new commitment to Baptist cooperation, Dockery highlighted the “exclusivity of the Gospel” as a key component.
“It is now time for us to move from controversy and confusion to a new consensus, to a new commitment to cooperation,” he said.
The Baptist Identity II conference comes amid decades of debates around such issues as worship style, speaking in tongues, control, and the place of women in leadership roles among others. Some believe Southern Baptists are increasingly being viewed as narrow-minded fundamentalists, with some congregations even removing the term “Baptist” from their church names to draw more people.
“I think there’s a feeling of malaise and disillusionment towards denominational life in general,” said Thornbury. “They’re decidedly upbeat about their local ministries ... but they seem increasingly less and less certain that they are meaningfully connected to something that can be described as ‘Baptist identity.’”
Theologically, Thornbury added, many feel they are Baptist but denominationally, “not so much.”
Thus, in a post-denominational era, Mike Day, director of Missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association, introduced a new paradigm for Southern Baptist associations and state conventions. Although dismissed by many, and not yet fully developed, the paradigm is emerging in the SBC, Day said.
The new paradigm is church-driven, where the Great Commission is given to the church and not the denomination; priority-based, meaning behaving like Jesus if the church priority; institution free where there is no ownership of institutions, just ministering and supporting; and regionally located but not geographically bound.
“This new association will be denominationally connected but not in traditional ways,” said Day. “It will not necessarily rely on a state convention to be its primary source for training ... input or perhaps even income.
“If this paradigm plays itself out to the fullest, then the association as we know it today will likely no longer exist.”
The new Baptist paradigm follows a similar change that Presbyterians are proposing. Presbyterians discontent with their denomination, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have proposed a model that would be based on a grassroots polity, recognizing the local congregation as the primary decision-making group. It’s a “radical change” for the Presbyterians and so is the new model for the Baptists.
“People would say ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’” said Day about the paradigm he presented. But he stated, “It’s time for us to apply the pressure and stop the bleeding in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The number of baptisms in Southern Baptist churches has fallen for the second consecutive year despite a push by top leaders to evangelize.
At the same time, national membership increased by less than 1 percent, but more churches were built, according to the 2006 profile of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, a Southern Baptist agency that conducts the annual survey, said the findings show that denomination has not been effective in “stepping up to the task of sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world.”
Baptisms dropped from 371,850 to 364,826, or 1.89 percent, last year, the lowest annual total since 1993, according to Baptist Press. In 2005, baptisms decreased by 4.15 percent.
National membership reached 16,306,246, up by nearly 36,000 in 2005. The number of churches across the country increased by 524, or 1.2 percent, to a total of 44,223.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Dr. Tony Beam
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been criticized for withdrawing from the so-called New Baptist Covenant Celebration because of remarks made about President Bush by former president Jimmy Carter. For conservatives, the real surprise should be that Huckabee agreed to speak in the first place, not that he has decided to withdraw from the event. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore have teamed up to support the leftist North American Baptist Fellowship which is a division of the leftist Baptist World Alliance in their attempt to form a new group of Baptists. Both Carter and Clinton claim the purpose of the new group is to “counter the negative Baptist image and demonstrate Baptist unity around social concerns.”
The real purpose of the new group is to counter the influence of conservative Christians in the political arena. Those on the left know all too well that concerned Christians, motivated by a desire to defend traditional marriage and to stand up for the rights of the unborn made a huge difference in the 2004 election. Exit polls showed strong support for President Bush and pro-life, pro-marriage candidates among conservative Christians. Democrats on the left realized after looking at the exit polling data that they had to come up with a way to nullify or compromise the voting strength of conservative Christians. Those already in office facing reelection campaigns decided to hire consultants to help them understand how to reach conservatives by repackaging their liberal messages in conservative, biblical language. In order to help them win back control of Congress, the Democrats recruited conservative, pro-life candidates to run against conservative Republican incumbents, hoping that voter frustration with the Iraq war would drive people to vote for a democrat providing the democrat was pro-life. Their strategy worked in many areas of the country particularly Pennsylvania, where conservative Senator Rick Santorum was defeated by pro-life democrat Bob Casey.
It amazes me that any true conservative Southern Baptist pastor or leader could take one look at the line up of speakers at the new convocation and not see through the stated purpose of the group. The list of speakers reads like who’s who of prominent leftist democrats including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and of course Mr. global warming himself, Al Gore. The timing of the event should also raise red flags for conservatives. The convocation is scheduled for January of 2008 which would be just in time for the media to bring national attention to a liberal Baptist group right before the start of the presidential primary season. If this meeting is truly about the gospel with no emphasis on politics why are most of the speakers political operatives for the Democrat party? How can you separate the message from the messengers? Theologically, Jimmy Carter has made it clear in his Sunday School class that Jesus Christ is not the only way of salvation. Politically, he has made it clear by traveling to Cuba and supporting Fidel Castro and making outrageous statements supporting the terrorists within Hamas and the PLO that he is firmly committed to a leftist political agenda.
Dr. Russell Moore, Senior Vice-President for Academic Administration at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary described the New Baptist Covenant Celebration as being “really united around what they don’t believe and what they don’t believe is essentially everything the Southern Baptist Convention does believe.” Moore’s assessment of absolutely right on point….Carter, Gore, and Clinton are all pro-choice, pro-homosexual, and anti-traditional marriage. I don’t think most Southern Baptists fought for ten years to restore the denomination to its conservative roots only to have those roots redefined for political gain by the left.
In 2004, the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance because of their liberal positions on many social issues and their anti-American bias in the political arena. It is unreasonable to believe any organization that is supported by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, the Baptist World Alliance, and The North American Baptist Fellowship will be anything but another leftist hammer that will be used to chip away at the conservative Christian base of the Republican Party.
In the book of Acts, Satan began his attack against the fledgling church by raising the level of persecution from the outside. Peter and John were arrested and threatened with imprisonment if they kept preaching the gospel. But they boldly resisted the external pressure and God honored their efforts by increasing the number that was being added to the church daily. Then Satan tried to destroy the church from within through the lies and compromise of Ananias and Sapphira. They totally misrepresented themselves to the church trying to convince the apostles that they had sold some property and had given all of the proceeds to the church. But instead, they held back part of the proceeds and were judged because of their evil intent to gain favor by presenting themselves as something they were not.
Today, the effectiveness of Christians who act as salt and light in the arena of public policy is being resisted by those who claim the name of Christ but are trying so substitute a leftist political agenda in the place of the truth of God’s Word. They don’t want to come right out and say a woman should be able to choose to kill her baby because they now realize that will not persuade most conservative believers to join the left. So they subtly try to switch the priorities of Christians from defending the unborn and opposing a radical homosexual political agenda to fighting the mythical Armageddon of global warming and taking up the cause of resisting the war in Iraq by making America look like the bad guy.
Mike Huckabee was right to see this new group for what they really are….just another attempt by the left to nullify the influence of conservative Christians in the political arena. I pray more Southern Baptists will wake up and see the deception before it is too late.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.
A recent study that found half of Southern Baptist pastors believe in private prayer language stirred debate within the largest Protestant denomination in the nation as some questioned the methodology and the timing of the release.
Tim Rogers, pastor of Yadkin Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., believes the results of last week’s LifeWay Research study are skewed, citing the lack of participants who are Southern Baptist.
“The 20 percent less of SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) Pastors certainly does not seem adequate if this report is, as it reports to be, a survey of the SBC and what they believe about PPL (private prayer language),” Rogers wrote on his latest blog post.
The LifeWay study involved 405 Southern Baptist senior pastors, 600 non-SBC Protestant senior pastors, and 1,004 Protestant laity.
Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, however, says all three groups represented were “good sample sizes.”
When survey respondents were asked, “Do you believe that the Holy Spirit gives some people the gift of a special language to pray to God privately?” half of SBC pastors said “Yes” and 43 percent said “No” while the rest responded “Don’t know.”
“We’re just reporting facts,” said Ed Stetzer, new director of LifeWay Research. “Fifty percent of the people we asked in a well-done, well-crafted survey have answered the question ‘Yes, we believe that.’”
Malcolm Yarnell, assistant dean for Theological Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, argued the question is unclear as to its meaning. Among some of the questions he raised, Yarnell posed the greatest problem with the survey question is “its blatant assumption that a ‘gift’ may be used ‘privately.’”
“Paul is quite clear in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that a spiritual gift is for the common good, and he spends much of chapter 14 arguing that speaking gifts must be used only for public edification,” stated Yarnell. “Not only is such an equation (‘gift’ with ‘privately’) indicative of either an inappropriately constructed or insufficiently educated survey, it suggests an implied contradiction of the Pauline doctrine of spiritual gifts.”
LifeWay’s Stetzer explained there is a distinction many make between public vs. private prayer language and “as we asked the question in the survey, I think some would make a distinction between the two (public vs. private).
“I think the broad sense of the public vs. private use is an important distinction.”
Yarnell further questioned the timing of the study’s release just weeks before the Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled to hold its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, when representatives of SBC churches vote on resolutions presented from the floor. One of the resolutions that may be presented is on the issue of private prayer language, which has been a popularly debate topic in the denomination in the past year.
Statesville pastor Rogers also raised suspicion over the date of the release. “Would anyone in their right mind not agree that the timing of the release of this report is strange?”
The issue of the gift of tongues or private prayer language, however, has not been as prominent as it is now, Stetzer indicated.
“I don’t think anyone’s asked this question before (in the SBC) and part of the reason is it never was the issue that it was before,” said Stetzer, who hopes the survey will add to the ongoing discussion on the topic.
“LifeWay Research is committed to studying issues and trends that impact churches. This is an issue that is being discussed throughout the Convention, and we wanted to determine the perceptions and opinions of SBC leaders,” stated Dr. Brad Waggoner, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay.
Controversy over speaking in tongues erupted when the Rev. Dwight McKissic, trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke of experiencing private prayer language during the seminary’s chapel service last year. Months later, the seminary adopted a ban on private prayer language or such practices.
Since then, McKissic and other SBC pastors who back him have called for the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt a formal stance on such charismatic practices.
As Southern Baptists prepare for their annual meeting next week, Alan Cross – pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., who plans to write a book on the Holy Spirit from a Baptist view with McKissic – says he is ready to move on to “bigger issues” and has only participated in the tongues debate defending the continuationist position to show “that those who have a private prayer language are not just making stuff up.”
“PPL is not the big deal,” Cross wrote on his blog. “The big deal is this: Are we going to be a convention of churches that focuses on Jesus Christ and the participation of all of His saints in proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth, or are we only going to create a convention of theological elites who get to participate in God’s mission, leaving all of those who see things a bit differently on side issues behind?
“I pray that we will quickly embrace a perspective that says it matters far more what kind of person you are and how much you love Jesus than whether or not you completely agree with every jot and title of every side doctrine in the Bible as advocated by those who happen to be in power at the time.”
A record offering collection of over $150 million will help support the dispatch of hundreds more Southern Baptist missionaries to across the globe.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering – an annual collection and partnership between Southern Baptists and missionaries around the world – struck up a 8.9 percent increase from last year’s $137.9 million and is expected to impact the spread of the Gospel.
“Not only will this unprecedented amount enable us to send more missionaries, it demonstrates the heart of Southern Baptists for missions and the high priority they give to reaching a lost world,” said Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, according to Baptist Press.
The generous giving will help make the Gospel accessible to more unreached people groups, win and baptize more people, plant more churches, and disciple and train leaders, Rankin explained.
In addition to already supporting more than 5,100 missionaries around the world, board leaders anticipate sending 200 extra missionaries over the next two years, excluding the groups regularly appointed each year for mission work.
“Thank you, Southern Baptists, for stepping up to the challenge of global evangelization and funding the highest Lottie Moon offering in missions history,” said Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations, according to Baptist Press.
The more than $150 million collected was the largest gift in the Lottie Moon offering’s 118-year history. Since 1888, total offerings have exceeded $2.8 billion.
“As a result, we will be taking new initiatives to engage unreached people groups and will have the financial resources to increase our capacity to send more missionaries to the front lines,” Fort added.
The announcement of the record offering comes a week ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting June 12-13 in San Antonio, Texas, where the denomination plans to unveil a 10-year evangelistic strategy to win souls.
Former SBC president Bobby Welch had challenged Southern Baptists in 2005 to set the ambitious goal of baptizing 1 million people as part of the one-year “Everyone Can” campaign. Still, baptisms this past year dropped for the second consecutive year from 371,850 to 364,826.
This year, Southern Baptists will focus on a long-term goal through the new 10-year strategy which will hopefully build on the energy that was put into the “Everyone Can” campaign, Will Hall, an SBC spokesman, told Family News in Focus.
Southern Baptists are gathering in San Antonio for the third time and will kick off its annual “Crossover” evangelistic event this weekend. Some 2,000 volunteers are expected to reach the unchurched population in Texas’ second largest city.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) - Southern Baptists concerned about a rightward shift in the denomination claimed a significant victory Wednesday with the passage of a motion centered on Baptist identity. Some conservatives downplayed the vote’s importance and called the measure confusing.
In results announced Wednesday morning, “messengers,” or delegates, to the denomination’s annual meeting voted 58 percent to 42 percent to support a statement calling the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 the sufficient standard for establishing what makes a good Southern Baptist.
Backers of the statement said some conservatives have been setting additional litmus tests, in effect narrowing who is considered a Baptist in good standing. At stake is the direction of the SBC nearly three decades after its “conservative resurgence” purged liberals over the issue of biblical infallibility.
“This would reaffirm the parameters of doctrinal cooperation for our denomination,” the Rev. Benjamin Cole of Arlington, Texas, who supported the motion said Tuesday after the vote on the measure was taken.
Another architect of the measure, the Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla., called the result perhaps the most significant in the last decade at an annual meeting.
Baptists such as Cole and Burleson, pressing their case on blogs, have argued that some SBC conservatives have gone beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, overstepping that document’s reach to exclude some Southern Baptists — most recently, those who worship through the traditional Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues. Some Baptists denounce the practice, and believe seminaries and other agencies should set standards that prevent the hiring of people who advocate speaking in tongues.
The denomination’s International Mission Board has enacted guidelines against allowing future missionaries to use “private prayer language,” or to speak in tongues in private.
Burleson acknowledged that the vote still leaves hiring decisions in the hands of the trustees of SBC entities. But he said it could place pressure on those making hiring decisions.
But the Rev. Bill Harrell, chairman of the SBC executive committee, countered that the Baptist Faith and Message “has always been our guide,” and trustees will “still be able to answer the questions about whether to hire somebody or not.”
“I don’t think it will have a lot of significance, and I really don’t think it is going to change much,” he said.
Malcolm Yarnell, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, called the motion confusing and unclear. Yarnell said he interpreted the vote as a vindication of the Baptist Faith and Message as setting the minimal standard for Baptist beliefs, and rejected the argument that it will restrict trustees of Baptist groups from laying down additional rules.
He said most people walking out of the hall after Tuesday’s vote were “good conservative pastors” who thought they were affirming the Baptist Faith and Message and reaffirming trustees’ discretion in setting standards for hiring people.
“Ultimately, what you’ve got here is mass confusion,” Yarnell said. “I think we have this year to try to discuss this theologically to try to clarify how we’re going to respond to this.”
He pointed out that another key vote, on the convention’s first vice president, could be read as a confidence vote in support of “a clear Baptist identity.” Jim Richards, who heads a conservative state Baptist convention in Texas, easily defeated missionary David Rogers, the choice of younger, more centrist Baptists. Richards won with more than two-thirds of the ballots cast.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) - Southern Baptists approved a resolution on global warming Wednesday that questions the prevailing scientific belief that humans are largely to blame for the phenomenon and also warns that increased regulation of greenhouse gases will hurt the poor.
The global warming debate has split evangelicals, with some not only pressing the issue but arguing humans bear most of the responsibility for the problem because of greenhouse gas emissions. Other evangelicals say talking about the issue at all diminishes their influence over more traditional culture war issues such as abortion, gay marriage and judicial appointments.
The SBC resolution, approved near the end of the denomination’s annual meeting, acknowledges a rise in global temperatures. But it rejects government-mandated limits on carbon-dioxide and other emissions as “very dangerous” because they might not make much difference and could lead to “major economic hardships” worldwide.
Originally, the measure also backed more government-funded research into global warming’s causes and alternative energies to oil. But the resolution was amended to drop that language, in part over concerns that it would endorse strong government engagement in the issue.
The two-day annual meeting of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which boasts 16.3 million members, ended Wednesday night. The gathering was highlighted by new steps to prevent child sexual abuse, calls for unity to reverse stagnant membership and a struggle over defining Baptist identity. About 8,500 “messengers,” or delegates, registered to attend.
The global warming resolution acknowledges humans bear some responsibility for rising temperatures while urging caution, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“It does not deny there has been a recent warming trend in average global temperatures,” said Duke, who helped write the measure. “What it does do is call for more objective analysis in the data that would explain causes of the warming we’re experiencing.”
The resolution stands in contrast to a statement last year signed by 86 evangelical leaders that said human-induced climate change is real, and that the consequences of warming temperatures will cause millions of people to die, most of them “our poorest global neighbors.”
The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.
“Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well,” Duke said. “But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.”
The Rev. Richard Cizik, [KH: questionable evangelical] vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, said Wednesday the Southern Baptist resolution can do some good by bringing attention to the issue. However, he added: “I think we need to be careful not to craft a position that puts us out there by ourselves.”
Cizik, a lightning rod in the debate over whether evangelicals should engage in the climate change debate, supports findings announced in February by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That panel said it is 90 percent certain human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperature over the last 50 years.
Another resolution approved Wednesday on protecting children from sex abuse urged Southern Baptists churches and organizations to respond quickly to allegations and conduct background checks. The resolution also denounced any efforts to “cover up,” ignore or condone abuse.
Victims’ groups have pressured the SBC to adopt reforms in response to allegations against Baptist clergy, and another measure approved at the meeting calls for a report next year on the possibility of developing a national database to help churches root out abusers.
In a live address by satellite Wednesday, President Bush highlighted his administration’s common ground with Southern Baptists on abortion, fighting AIDS and other issues.
“You’re rising to meet the challenges of broken souls, in a broken world, with compassion and courage,” Bush said.
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Folded into the Rev. Frank Page’s wallet is a yellow scrap of paper with the date and time he is to speak with yet another Republican candidate for the White House.
He already has visited one GOP front-runner over breakfast at a country club and met another at the headquarters of a car dealership in his home state.
The South Carolina pastor seems taken aback by the attention, but he shouldn’t be: He leads a large congregation in a state with an early primary and is president of the 16.3 million-strong Southern Baptist Convention, perhaps the largest single bloc of evangelical voters and a must-have Republican constituency.
Page, in an interview at his denomination’s annual meeting here last week, said he offers his thoughts about salvation to candidates but never an endorsement. And he talks to Democrats, too. He sees the political courtship as a duty: The nation’s leaders need to hear a Christian viewpoint, he believes.
But some Southern Baptists would rather stay out of politics altogether. A small but vocal number of pastors believe the denomination is too cozy with Republicans and too political in general. By flirting with the line separating good citizenship and a grab for power, they say, a denomination already experiencing flat membership risks alienating more people.
Others contend such talk might inspire Southern Baptists to retreat from the public square and cede ground on urgent social issues such as abortion.
If anything, the debate is likely to become even more magnified in coming months because no one Republican candidate has captured the conservative evangelical imagination — and all of them are trying.
“Most younger Southern Baptist leaders would strongly affirm good citizenship and voting and involvement in the political process,” said Marty Duren, 43, a Georgia pastor. “But they don’t confound personal involvement with organizing for political power, which we saw in organizations like the Moral Majority.”
Duren also cited national Southern Baptist leaders who joined politicians at “Justice Sunday” events promoting conservative judicial appointments in 2005 and 2006.
So far, such views are in the minority. In San Antonio, Duren proposed an anti-partisanship resolution urging convention leaders “to exercise great restraint when speaking on behalf of Southern Baptists so as not to intermingle their personal political persuasions with their chief responsibility to represent Jesus Christ and this convention.”
The resolution that was ultimately adopted, “On Pastors, Culture, and Civic Duty,” did not mention partisanship. Instead, it suggested pastors follow the late Jerry Falwell’s lead by speaking out on burning moral issues and promote “informed and active Christian citizenship.”
“The worst thing that can happen is for people of faith to say, ‘You know, that’s really not our arena, we’re just going to abandon it to the secularists,’” said the Rev. Jerry Sutton of Nashville, Tenn., whose church hosted the second Justice Sunday assembly.
Southern Baptists have been solidly Republican since the emergence of the anti-abortion movement, the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” of the late 1970s and Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, and there is no indication of that wavering.
“There is a long history of dissent among Southern Baptists, so the discordant voices about politics are not necessarily a harbinger of change,” said John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Page, however, has sympathy for Southern Baptists worried about closeness to Republicans.
“They are valid concerns, but I think those valid concerns could be mitigated if there is responsible dialogue with these (candidates), not an acquiesce to everything they say,” he said. “Responsible Christian citizenship calls us to be in dialogue with people of every party.”
Page met Sen. John McCain at a Spartanburg, S.C., auto business. He’s also met and traded e-mails with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a GOP presidential hopeful and Southern Baptist minister who signed copies of his new book at the SBC annual meeting.
What might surprise some evangelicals is that Page also chatted over breakfast at a country club with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor vilified by many social conservatives for his support of abortion rights and for his messy second divorce.
Page said the two discussed everything from the Roman Catholic Mass to evangelical beliefs about accepting Christ. He said he told Giuliani, “we like you as a person,” singling out his leadership in New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But Page also described “an honest dialogue about abortion, about gay rights — and those are extreme differences.”
The phone number in Page’s back pocket: It belongs to a representative of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is making a strong push to court evangelicals.
Page and others talk about keeping lines open to Democrats. But that is fraying over an initiative led by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to unite Baptists from various denominations across racial lines to counter conservative SBC influence.
“When I met Carter, everyone said, ‘It’s political, it’s political,’” said the Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla.
“I went to determine whether it was nonpolitical. If there were an ounce of politics, I wouldn’t participate. My question is, ‘Why do we yell and scream when Democrats are political, but are silent about our own political involvement?’”
Like evangelicals as a whole, Baptists remain divided on which candidate to support, though the focus is heavily on Republicans.
Richard Land, one of the nation’s most politically influential Southern Baptists, said he has been sought out by Republican campaigns (Huckabee, McCain, Duncan Hunter) and Democratic ones (Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama). He has met some and plans to meet others, but does not endorse candidates.
Land and other evangelicals accepted an invitation to meet with Romney, whose Mormonism worries some evangelicals. Land said he advised Romney to give a speech laying out how this faith would shape his presidency, much the same way John F. Kennedy spoke to a ministers group in Houston to allay Protestant fears of a shadow Vatican presidency.
“I said to him, ‘Governor, I personally don’t think the Mormonism is a deal-killer. But the only person who can convince millions of Americans to vote for a Mormon president is Mitt Romney,’” said Land, who heads the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission.
The name generating perhaps the most excitement among Southern Baptists is someone who hasn’t even entered the race yet: Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the actor and former senator.
“Another Southern Baptist called Fred Thompson the Ronald Reagan of the South, and I think he has some of that appeal,” said SBC executive committee president Morris Chapman, adding he hasn’t settled on a candidate yet. “He is a magnetic personality. He seems to articulate his opinions clearly. He seems to be unflappable.”
Chapman sees the debate about political engagement, partisanship and evolving agendas as healthy.
“We are most of the time intent on expressing our convictions — the moral and ethical issues that face us as a nation,” he said. “And some diversity is not bad. It adds to the fabric of who Southern Baptists really are.”
They’re America’s other Baptists – the ones who appoint women pastors, work with theological liberals and line up more closely with President Carter than with President George W. Bush. [KH: liberal baptists]
Over the last 25 years, they have watched with growing concern as their conservative Southern Baptist brethren came to define the religious tradition for the general public.
Now, these other Baptists, who are spread among many different denominations, are slowly pooling resources on humanitarian work and evangelism, hoping they can have a bigger impact.
This Friday in Washington, two of the larger groups – the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – will worship together for the first time. They plan to commission two missionary couples who will represent both groups, and will organize a national Islamic-Baptist dialogue to improve relations with Muslims.
“It is an effort to celebrate our common heritages as Baptist Christians and to affirm our commitment to work together more collaboratively,” said the Rev. Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “The Baptist witness is much richer and more nuanced than is characterized so often in the public square now.”
In January, an even broader group of Baptists will host an Atlanta meeting “to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times,” according to a joint document they issued called a “North American Baptist Covenant.”
The covenant grew out of meetings of Baptist leaders organized by Carter, a longtime Bible teacher who severed ties in 2000 with the Southern Baptist Convention because of what he called its “increasingly rigid” creed.
At 16.3 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. However, millions of other Baptists have churches nationwide that are either independent or affiliated with smaller groups.
The Rev. Frank Page, the Southern Baptist president, has accused the covenant’s drafters of promoting a “left-wing liberal agenda that seeks to deny the greatest need in our world, that being that the lost be shown the way to eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
But organizers insist they do not want to create a new denomination or a political platform. Bill Underwood, president of Mercer University in Atlanta, and one of the main organizers of next year’s meeting, said he hasn’t heard “any discussion one way or another” about whether any presidential candidates will be allowed to speak at the assembly. President Clinton, also a Southern Baptist, is a supporter of the meeting.
The religious leaders who endorsed the covenant say their churches span a wide range of beliefs on issues both theological and political, and have diverse styles of worship. Many oppose abortion and gay marriage, but believe that the Bible’s social justice teachings are just as important. The unity meetings also aim to bridge the divide between historically African-American and white Baptists.
“We really haven’t seen this kind of unity in Baptist life since the early 19th century,” Underwood said. “The more we talk to one another, the more we realize that despite some differences we have on matters of theology, we can focus on the common ground.”
The National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., and the Progressive National Baptist Convention – both predominantly black and heavily involved in the civil rights movement – are among the participants.
“I think it is possible for denominations not to be predominantly one racial ethnic group or another, but it’s always hard work,” said the Rev. Roy Medley, general secretary for the American Baptists, one of the rare U.S. denominations that aren’t dominated by a single ethnic group. “Race is still the underlying great divide in our country.”
The American Baptist Church, with about 1.2 million members, has about 5,500 congregations nationwide, concentrated more in northern states. The denomination has lost some churches and donors, due partly to differences over the Bible and homosexuality. The American Baptists have trimmed their national staff, and plan to sell their national office in Pennsylvania.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, based in Atlanta, was formed in 1991 by moderate and liberal Southern Baptists who opposed the conservative Southern Baptist leadership. The fellowship, with churches mainly in the South, has about 1,900 congregations and a ministry budget of $16 million.
Their joint worship Friday is on the day that each of their national meetings overlap.
Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University sociologist of religion who has written about Baptist battles, said that creating any kind of unified Baptist movement is difficult because local churches cherish their independence.
But boosting cooperation among the different groups, she said, is a more realistic goal.
“Maybe they could be seen as a united front,” Ammerman said, “so that people would think, ‘Oh, this is one of those non-Southern Baptist groups.’”
A string of verbal attacks against a conservative Southern Baptist leader has prompted a group of leaders to issue a statement of support, calling such criticism “not Christ-like.”
“We believe that the incessant public attacks on Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson and other Baptist leaders of late are harmful to our mission of reaching the world with the Gospel,” said the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in a statement this past week.
Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, currently serves as the president of SWBTS and played a prominent role in the conservative resurgence within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He has recently been under a series of attacks for his stance on women’s role among other issues.
Former SWBTS professor Sheri Klouda filed a federal lawsuit against the school and Patterson, claiming she lost her tenure track position as a theology professor because she is a woman. Klouda taught Hebrew since 2002 but the seminary said her tenure denial is consistent with a policy enacted after her hiring that, for doctrinal reasons, the teaching of men in theology classes should be done by men, according to Baptist Press. SWBTS had changed leadership in 2003 when Patterson was elected as head.
Patterson said the seminary’s policy prohibiting women from teaching theology to men was in keeping with the statement of faith of the SBC (Baptist Faith & Message), which states that the pastorate is reserved for men. Patterson believes the same standard applies to the seminary, according to the lawsuit.
“This is not a question of occupation. It is a question of an assignment from God, in this case that a woman not be involved in a teaching or ruling capacity over men,” he said in an interview with Baptist Press.
“It is a prohibition of a woman teaching or ruling over a man in the church,” he said.
Also drawing criticism is the seminary’s new women-only homemaking course which is being offered this fall to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture.
Patterson said the school isn’t saying women should stay at home but he emphasized the importance of the role of family.
“I do believe that society will do better when the family is placed in a prominent position and role that it needs to be,” he said on Fox News Channel.
Amid wide criticism against Patterson’s views and what some call his narrow interpretation of Scripture, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a prominent evangelical, spoke out against the attacks.
“There is an unprecedented level of attack upon some of our own leaders ... in the form of innuendo and smear and caricature and character assassination,” said Mohler during SBC’s Executive Committee meeting last month. “Two of our own have suffered in particular along these lines,” referencing Patterson and his wife, Dorothy.
Mohler said the SBC entity presidents have committed “that we will not ourselves tolerate personal attacks upon one of our colleagues.”
Trustees of SWBTS expressed also support stating, “We join with other Southern Baptists in urging that public attacks against Dr. Patterson and other leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention that hurt the spread of the gospel to an unbelieving world cease for the sake of those who are headed to utter destruction.
“Scripture does tell us to speak the truth, but it also says it is to be done in love and gentleness, with the goal of redeeming a brother in Christ. Above all, there is a watching world that needs to see Christ’s love in all of our words and deeds,” their statement this past Wednesday stated.
“The trustees of SWBTS have found no reason to question the integrity of Dr. Patterson,” they affirmed. “Indeed, we find him to be a man of exemplary integrity.”
Patterson was elected twice as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, serving in that role from 1998-2000. During those years he appointed a committee to revise the Baptist Faith & Message, the confession most widely employed by Southern Baptists. The revised confession was adopted in 2000.
The rise of Calvinism among the 16 million Southern Baptists in the country shed light on existing divides within the denomination, prompting greater efforts for cooperation.
Hundreds of Southern Baptists joined together last week for what was said to be a historic meeting on Calvinism. As leaders pushed for understanding and “building bridges” during the three-day conference, many recognized a broad range of beliefs increasingly influencing Southern Baptist life.
“We cannot say there is one stream that has made us,” David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., told some 550 Southern Baptists at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. “We find ourselves shaped by fundamentalists, by revivalists, by evangelicals, and by Calvinists.
“We are at a time when we need to understand who we are, where we have been and where we are going. By and large, we don’t understand our heritage.”
Dockery’s comments come at a time when an increasing number of SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) seminary graduates are affirming Calvinism, according to LifeWay Research director and missiologist Ed Stetzer.
The majority of Southern Baptists have not been consistent with the five major points of Calvinism – total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saint – Dockery noted, and many have concerns about its rising influence.
In an effort to break stereotypes hindering dialogue on Calvinism, or Reformed theology, and push for cooperative unity, Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary co-sponsored the meeting aptly titled “Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism.”
One of the myths argued against was that Calvinism is a threat to evangelism. Nathan Finn, instructor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest N.C., noted that the lack of evangelistic activity among Southern Baptist Calvinists is similar to the little evangelism seen among other churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Stetzer revealed from recent studies that the number of annual baptisms relative to total membership of Calvinistic churches is virtually identical to that of non-Calvinistic churches.
Some went farther to say the rise of Calvinism can help evangelistic activity.
“I believe that the doctrines of grace (Calvinism) will help us restore true evangelism,” said Jeff Noblit, senior past or First Baptist church in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
“And perhaps to say that it will restore true evangelism is a shocking statement to many. After all, many have already declared that the rise in Calvinism will kill evangelism,” he added. “You can’t pin the deadness and lack of evangelism of roughly 10,000 Southern Baptists churches on the fact that Calvinism killed evangelism. It was dead already.”
The number of baptisms in SBC churches declined for the second consecutive year in 2006.
Noblit noted that “probably” the most used and copied witnessing tool Southern Baptists have ever embraced is “Evangelism Explosion,” developed by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, a Presbyterian and five-point Calvinist.
At the same time, Noblit said he was not suggesting that Calvinists are “the perfect models.”
Yet some Calvinists accuse non-Calvinists of being less than gospel preachers because they do not accept the five points of Calvinism. It’s that very accusation that concerns non-Calvinists, said Charles Lawless – dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. - dispelling the stereotype that non-Calvinists do not like Calvinists.
During the conference, Southern Baptist theologians debated on the five points, including unconditional election – that God chooses every person who will be saved, not based on an individual’s merit or on his looking forward to discover who would accept the offer of the gospel but solely upon the counsel of His own will – and limited atonement – that Christ died for the elect and not all.
Southern Baptists were urged to be committed to defending their particular convictions but not at the expense of cooperation with each other.
“The Calvinism issue is not going to go away, so Southern Baptists must be willing to openly discuss and debate the doctrines of grace in an effort to be biblically accurate and, just maybe, come to a greater theological consensus in the years to come,” said Finn.
“I believe our Baptist fellowship is big enough in all the right ways,” Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the attendants. “We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission.”
[KH: political liberals not including Southern Baptists]
For the first time in more than 160 years, Baptists in North America will have a major convocation next month and differences of race, politics, or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures will not threaten their unity, said former president Jimmy Carter.
Some 20,000 Baptists are expected to join a historic effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, aimed at dispelling an image of division among Baptist groups and in hopes of emerging with a new Baptist voice. The meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta.
“One of the basic premises will be that the doors will be open to all Baptists who choose to share this long-awaited experience,” said Carter, who spearheaded the initiative, in a statement this week in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Leaders from more than 30 Baptist organizations will be gathering under the theme “Unity in Christ” but notably absent from the convocation will be leaders from the largest Baptist group in America - the Southern Baptist Convention.
Conservative Southern Baptist leaders have been critical of the list of speakers lined up for the New Baptist Covenant celebration. Along with Carter, former president Bill Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former vice president Al Gore, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley, and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman are among those scheduled to speak at the meeting.
Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page said he would not take part in a “smokescreen leftwing liberal agenda” and others have alleged there are political overtones, considering the line-up of speakers and the timing of the event - which takes place during the U.S. presidential election year.
Rising Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee withdrew his participation from the convocation in May and commented last week that being president would be “a heck of a lot easier job than getting all the Baptists to agree on everything.”
At the time of his decision to withdraw from the meeting, he said it would be best for him not to participate and to “not appear to be giving approval to what could be a political, rather than spiritual agenda,” he told Florida Baptist Witness.
Organizers of the New Baptist Covenant, including Bill Underwood - president of Mercer University - have denied any political motives and instead emphasized the compassion platform they will be pushing.
One of the major prongs to the New Baptist Covenant is following the compassion mandate through social work in the capacity of poverty, HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking and also addressing religious diversity and evangelism among other issues. Carter has said he wants to bring together as many Baptists as possible on the ground of accomplishing the mission of Jesus.
“Our common ground will be the words of our Savior when he returned to his home town in Nazareth after his miraculous ministry had been demonstrated around the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee: The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” Carter said in his opinion piece this week.
“These words are both inspirational and a call to action as we strive to emulate, in our own individual ways, the perfect life of Jesus Christ,” he added.
The New Baptist Covenant Celebration is being organized under the umbrella of the North American Baptist Fellowship - a division of the Baptist World Alliance - which the Southern Baptist group left following concerns over its “leftward drift.”
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist head Page has expressed concerns of divisions within their own 16.3 million-member convention. A negative image of Baptists as “legalistic and mean-spirited” - which the New Baptist Covenant is also trying to counter - has been highlighted by the media. And despite ongoing mission works and the provision of millions of meals to needy communities, Page, like many, says Baptists are more known for what they’re against and not what they are for.
Baptists need to do a better job of “presenting reality,” Page told Southern Baptists at a Tulsa, Okla., church in October. That reality is that Southern Baptists are loving, caring people, said Page.
The Baptist groups supporting the New Baptist Covenant include the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Several historically African-American Baptist denominations, including the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., have also joined the effort.