Steve Gaines (center), senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., passes the gavel and presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention to J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., June 13 during the final moments of the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas. At right is Gaines' wife, Donna. Photo by Caleb Yarbrough
SBC wrap-up: Greear, Pence, #MeToo draw SBC's focus; decision on Patterson upheld by messengers
DALLAS – 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 (SBC) 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 was up 92 percent from last year's 5,015 in Phoenix and 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 said, “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. The vice president drew multiple standing ovations as he spoke of the sanctity of human life and Israel among other issues.
Prior to Pence’s appearance, messengers made two motions to amend the convention’s agenda to exclude the vice president’s address. The first attempt was defeated by messenger vote, and the second was ruled out of order because the convention had already dealt with the issue. Two motions referred to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) sought to prevent political leaders from addressing future SBC 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 SBC EC, 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 Seminary.
During the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) report, ERLC President Russell Moore announced the entity 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 Seminary and his June 8 withdrawal from preaching the convention sermon, Jeffrey Bingham, interim Southwestern Seminary president, 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.
Thomas Hatley, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church Global Outreach Center in Rogers, who made the motion, said his proposal was based on his perception the trustee executive committee acted with “haste, lack of proper investigation,” apparent disregard of the seminary’s founding documents and failure to allow Patterson to respond to accusations against him. The executive committee's action “could place the future of the school in jeopardy,” Hatley, a former International Mission Board (IMB) trustee chairman, said.
Former SBC President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church northwest Arkansas, spoke against Hatley’s motion.
“Dr. Hatley's motion is a great and needed reminder to every trustee in Southern Baptist life” that trustees are “accountable to messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd said. But he urged messengers to look past whether these trustees made the right or wrong decision and recognize that adopting a motion to remove trustees “would destroy our own system of government.” The trustee system “depends on trust,” he said.
Wayne Dickard of South Carolina, a Southwestern Seminary trustee, spoke for the motion. During the May 22 meeting of the full board, trustees “overwhelmingly” offered Patterson president emeritus status with housing and salary, he said. “If we can be overruled by the executive committee, why serve?” Also, trustees gave “Patterson our word,” which “should mean something.”
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church, Farmersville, Texas, and a member of the Southwestern executive committee, said, “If you've been impatient with what we've done, you should blame me personally. I was the last person on the executive committee” to reach the conclusion the committee should fire Patterson.
Barber alleged that, as Southwestern's president, Patterson attempted to remove a trustee, disregarded a request from trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert and refused to attend trustee executive committee meetings when asked to do so. Once Patterson was president emeritus, his attorney “sent an email questioning the legal validity” of the full board’s action.
“What is your seminary to do when a president emeritus is working to undermine the legitimacy and validity of the seminary's board of trustees?” Barber asked.
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 (IMB).
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. 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 (NAMB) report included a presentation 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.
– 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. (To read all of the resolutions in their entirety, visit arkansasbaptist.org/2018sbcresolutions.)
– 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, 875 recorded online and 1,015 through area door-to-door witnessing.
– 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 EC continued to promote a partnership with personal finance author and speaker Dave Ramsey to help teach believers principles of biblical stewardship. Ramsey addressed the 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 people 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 and Registration Secretary Don Currence both were reelected without opposition.
This story was compiled from reporting by Baptist Press and the Arkansas Baptist News.