The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., last week (June 9-11), drawing 5,000-plus messengers to the late Annie Armstrong’s city.
Messengers took note of the missions stalwart who tirelessly worked toward the support of domestic and overseas Southern Baptist missions and was eventually honored by having what is today the North American Mission Board’s annual offering named for her.
Annie Armstrong was the first leader of Woman’s Missionary Union, organized in 1888, by the way. National WMU held its annual gathering just prior to the SBC annual meeting and took appropriate note of the surroundings. Hundreds of messengers toured the significant Baptist historical sites locally and in nearby Virginia.
Under the auspices of NAMB, the convention utilized several hundred volunteers in various evangelical and missions endeavors in downtown Baltimore and the surrounding area through what has become the annual Crossover series of evangelistic events held days prior to the start of the convention meeting itself.
Southern Baptists lauded their first and to date only African-American president upon the conclusion of his second consecutive one-year term of service, prompting New Orleans Pastor Fred Luter’s gratitude for the opportunity and the convention’s appreciation for his service.
Messengers elected an Arkansas multi-site pastor with a long list of SBC contributions, Ronnie Floyd, to succeed Luter. Floyd and others suggested the convention needed to focus on evangelism like never before as a denomination. Floyd himself appealed for Southern Baptists to seek a great awakening.
Each annual meeting has its distinctives; this one was no exception.
Lifeway Christian Resources President Thom Rainer fielded a question from a messenger who holds a lease on a house at Glorieta Baptist Conference Center in New Mexico, a longtime money-losing venture sold last year to another Christian ministry. The leaseholder appealed for a fairer buy-out on his lease.
That prompted an explanation of Lifeway’s decision to sell, including a reminder that there never were any guarantees for leaseholders if the conference center ever changed hands. What the new owners have done to provide buy-outs was more than required, he said.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson apologized for embarrassing messengers and others by making a personal decision to waive seminary admittance guidelines and admit a Muslim student to Southwestern’s doctoral program.
While apologizing to messengers, Patterson acknowledged that if he had to give an account of his action when standing before God some day, he would defend the decision on evangelical grounds, which he described as his primary reason for bending the rules in the first place.
He and the board of trustees will take up the matter at their next regular meeting, according to the seminary’s board chair.
Always of interest to messengers is the annual process of considering resolutions, statements of the sentiments of a majority of messengers present at that point in time.
This year a resolution on heaven surfaced that warned against books and movies suggesting that near-death experiences prove the existence of heaven or hell.
Titled “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife,” the resolution warned that many books and movies purporting an experience in the afterlife “cannot be corroborated” and “contain details that are antithetical to Scripture.”
One messenger brought a motion that Lifeway Christian Resources cease sales, support and distribution of “Heaven is for Real,” a 2010 best-selling Christian book and 2014 movie about the true story of a 4-year-old son of a Nebraska pastor who reported he visited heaven during a near-death experience in 2003.
Predictably, another resolution noted that the trans-gender experience is not supported by Scripture, but messengers also condemned acts of abuse or bullying against people who identify as a gender different than the one assigned at birth. The resolution condemned medical treatments of “gender dysphoria” and attempts by groups to “normalize the trans-gender experience,” as well as public schools “allowing access to restrooms and locker rooms according to children’s self-perception of gender and not according to their biological sex.”
Evangelism, heritage, discussion and a little bit of debate are constants when Southern Baptists get together each June for their meeting.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.