DALLAS (BP) — At an annual meeting that saw what chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty called an “extra heavy volume of business” on its opening day, the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as convention president and heard an address by Vice President Mike Pence.
Amid the national #MeToo movement, messengers to the June 12-13 SBC annual meeting in Dallas affirmed the dignity and worth of women and heard reports of policies SBC seminaries have enacted to address any allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. Several motions and messenger questions related to the May 30 firing of former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson, who allegedly mishandled a 2003 report of sexual assault at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during his presidency there.
The unofficial messenger registration total of 9,637 marked the highest total since 2010. Messengers presented 20 motions during two 15-minute slots for the introduction of new motions. In addition, messengers attempted to amend reports and recommendations and raised points of order.
McCarty told Baptist Press “the Committee on Order of Business, parliamentarians and attorneys had to work double time to process the high volume of motions. But the real pressure came in correctly handling a couple of complex and controversial motions,” including one to remove trustees from office at Southwestern.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., received 68.62 percent of the vote for president. Ken Hemphill, a North Greenville University administrator and former Southwestern Seminary president, received 31.19 percent.
At a press conference following his election, Greear said his priorities as president will include Gospel focus, diversity, evangelism, church planting, collegiate ministry and engaging younger Baptists in the SBC’s cooperative mission. He also said women should “sit at the seats of influence” in the convention and that Southern Baptist entities and churches must be “safe places for women to report abuse.”
Pence’s June 13 address called Southern Baptists to pray for America and commended the SBC as “one of the greatest forces for good” in the world. Despite draming multiple standing ovations as he spoke of the sanctity of human life and Israel among other issues, he also received much criticism for heavily centering the speech on touting the Trump administration’s accomplishments.
Prior to Pence’s appearance, messengers considered an amendment to the order of business to replace Pence’s scheduled message with a time of prayer.
Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church, Alexandria, Va., stated that omitting Pence could further unity, especially among Southern Baptists of different ethnicities, clarify the Gospel’s centrality to the SBC and avoid putting overseas workers at risk.
In response, Grant Ethridge, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, explained that the White House approached Southern Baptist officials about Pence’s speaking during the annual meeting.
After emphasizing “The Southern Baptist Convention aligns itself with no political party. Our loyalty is to King Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, ” and quoting several Scriptures, Ethridge further stated, “As a committee we feel to not show hospitality to those in authority would be a bad testimony…. We respect the position, regardless of whether or not you supported or voted for the person,” adding that if President Barack Obama had requested to speak at Southern Baptists’ annual meeting when he was serving, that request would have been granted. He urged messengers to present a “biblical Christ-like welcome to the vice president of the United States.” The attempt was defeated by messenger vote.
A second motion was ruled out of order because the convention had already dealt with the issue. Two motions referred to the Executive Committee sought to prevent political leaders from addressing future SBC annual meetings. A point of order Wednesday expressing opposition to Pence’s address was ruled “not well taken” by the chair.
Women & abuse
Two resolutions addressed the dignity and protection of women: one “on the dignity and worth of women on the one hundredth anniversary of women as messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention” and another “on abuse.”
Two motions on protecting churches from sexual predators were referred to the Executive Committee, as was a motion asking the EC to study biblical authority for a woman to serve as SBC president. All six SBC seminary presidents addressed the issue of sexual abuse and misconduct during their reports.
Two seminary presidents — Chuck Kelley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — said the institutions they lead believe the Bible’s teaching on gender precludes women from service in some faculty roles, although women hold teaching and administrative roles at both seminaries. Kelley said women do not serve as preaching professors at New Orleans Seminary, and Mohler said women do not serve as professors in the School of Theology at Southern.
During the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission report, ERLC President Russell Moore announced the ERLC will partner with LifeWay Research to conduct a study on the extent of abuse in churches.
Beyond the convention floor, a panel discussion in the SBC exhibit hall considered “sexual abuse in the church” and the ERLC sponsored a panel discussion on “Gospel sexuality in a #MeToo culture.”
In the wake of Patterson’s termination at Southwestern and his June 8 withdrawal from preaching the convention sermon, interim Southwestern Seminary president Jeffrey Bingham said his “priority is to create a safe environment and a campus culture that protects and cares for the victims of abuse.” He also expressed confidence in the seminary’s trustee executive committee, the body that fired Patterson after the full board had shifted him to president emeritus status the previous week.
Some messengers, however, apparently felt the trustee executive committee overstepped its bounds. Following debate on the convention floor, messengers defeated a motion that would have removed all trustee executive committee members from the board immediately.
A separate motion was referred to Southwestern asking the full board to reconsider Patterson’s firing.
Southwestern trustee Kie Bowman — who does not serve on the trustee executive committee — was this year’s alternate convention preacher and delivered the convention sermon after Patterson withdrew.
Two actions by messengers dealt with the ERLC. A motion was defeated to defund the ERLC by shifting its portion of the 2018-19 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget to the International Mission Board, nade by Nathan Rager from The Peoples Church in Clearwater, Fla. The amendment focused primarily on ERLC President Russell Moore, for his outspoken criticism of Donald Trump during the last presidential election before SBC President Steve Gaines admonished him “not to disparage” anyone. In discussion messengers both defended the ERLC leadership, and others called for the ERLC itself to not be defunded, but return to a more “conservative voice.”
Later, ERLC trustee chairman Trevor Atwood moved that the Committee on Nominations’ report be amended to grant trustee Dan Anderson a second term, which the committee had proposed to deny him, stating, “I’m asking messengers to right a wrong.” Messengers approved Atwood’s amendment before adopting the Committee on Nominations report.
Southern Baptists elected to committees, boards and other leadership positions included women and members of ethnic minority groups. First Vice President A.B. Vines is African American, and Second Vice President Felix Cabrera is Hispanic.
Of the Committee on Nominations’ nominees elected to committees and boards, 12.6 percent were non-Anglo. Forty-three percent of the nominees not serving in pastoral roles were women.
Of the Committee on Committees’ nominees elected to next year’s Committee on Nominations, 21 percent were non-Anglo and 28 percent were women.
A resolution adopted by messengers denounced the so-called “curse of Ham” sometimes used “as a justification for racism.”
At a Tuesday evening commissioning service, the IMB sent out 79 new missionaries and led messengers in prayer for all 11,700 people groups in the world.
During the IMB report, president David Platt urged Southern Baptists to focus on the work of missionaries on the field rather than the board’s search for his successor as he transitions back to local church ministry. Missionaries “are the IMB,” he said.
The North American Mission Board report included presentation of a report by a disciple-making task force appointed two years ago by NAMB and LifeWay Christian Resources. In addition, NAMB President Kevin Ezell reported that the board’s church plants are healthy and effective overall, with plants 67 percent ahead of established churches in their attendance-to-baptism ratio.
In other news:
— Southern Baptists memorialized the mass shooting last summer at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 worship attendees dead. First Baptist pastor Frank Pomeroy spoke at the June 10-11 SBC Pastors’ Conference, and his wife Sherri addressed the June 11 Pastors’ Wives Conference. The Pomeroys also appeared at NAMB’s June 11 Send Luncheon.
— An evangelism task force appointed last year by outgoing SBC President Steve Gaines presented a report that included eight recommendations to help Southern Baptists at all levels of convention life become more effective in evangelism.
— The 38 resolutions submitted to the Resolutions Committee marked the highest total since 1997. The 16 resolutions adopted by the convention addressed sexual purity among Christian leaders, gun violence and the proper use of social media among other topics.
— The Crossover evangelism emphasis preceding the annual meeting yielded a record 4,229 professions of faith, including 2,339 at the June 10 Harvest America crusade with evangelist Greg Laurie.
— Gaines, in his presidential address, encouraged Southern Baptists to renew their belief in the supernatural God. “God’s supernatural power is greater than any problem Southern Baptists have…. Stop talking about how big your problem is and start talking about how big your God is,” Gaines said.
— The SBC Executive Committee continued to promote a partnership with personal finance author and speaker Dave Ramsey to help teach believers principles of biblical stewardship. Ramsey addressed the SBC annual meeting Tuesday and participated in the president’s panel on stewardship Wednesday.
— Interim EC president D. August Boto reported that despite numerous indicators of health in the SBC, there are also causes for concern. A “simple” remedy that would yield “gigantic” increases in Cooperative Program receipts and souls won to Christ would be for every Southern Baptist to witness and tithe, he said.
— Texas Gov. Greg Abbott greeted annual meeting attendees, thanking Southern Baptists for their prayers and support following a shooting at Santa Fe (Texas) High School last month, Hurricane Harvey last year and the Sutherland Springs shooting.
— Recording Secretary John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convntion, and Registration Secretary Don Currence. minister of administration at First Baptist, Ozark, Mo., both were reelected without opposition.
This story was updated with additional wire reports.