Online debate swiftly follows
“Motivated by a passionate desire to keep the Southern Baptist Convention anchored to the inerrancy and sufficiency of God’s Word,” a group identifying itself as the Conservative Baptist Network issued a press release Feb. 14, stating its intentions to push back against a perceived liberal drift within the SBC.
“A significant number of Southern Baptists are concerned about the apparent emphasis on social justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and the redefining of biblical gender roles,” stated the release. “Many fear that these issues have received more attention than evangelism and spiritual renewal – the emphases that helped to make Southern Baptists the largest evangelical denomination in the nation.”
On the group’s website can be found testimonials by Rod Martin, Florida layman and member of the SBC Executive Committee; Lorinne Spratt, a Southern Baptist layperson; and Chuck Kelley, former president of New Orleans Seminary. Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., was identified in an article with The Christian Post as the network’s spokesman.
The group also cited as another reason for their concern the controversy surrounding the visit of Vice President Mike Pence to the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
“When all attempts to keep the Vice President from speaking failed, scores of messengers exited the convention in protest as the Vice President began his address,” read the group’s statement. “The insolence and disrespect demonstrated by those who walked out on the Vice President of the United States was foreign to what the Bible teaches about respecting those in authority in I Peter 2:11-17.”
Baptist Press disputed that image, saying that according to video the meeting hall appeared full with many messengers standing to their feet and applauding during the speech. While a small number could be seen exiting, it was unclear as to whether or not it was done in protest.
Thousands reported to have joined
The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), which describes itself as a “grassroots” movement and maintains it is not a denomination or competing with other like-minded ministries, posted on Twitter Feb. 15 that “more than 2,000 have now signed up to join.”
In an interview with Baptist Press, Jurkovich said, “Right now, we haven’t really shared a lot of those names, et cetera, on a lot of fronts. So, and again, part of that is structurally, we’re still putting some things together that when we want to share that, we will certainly be ready to do that.”
In a radio interview on The Todd Starnes Show Feb. 14, Jurkovich responded “Absolutely” when asked if it was time for a second Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. When asked by Baptist Press, Jurkovich would neither confirm nor deny if former Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson, a prominent figure in the original Conservative Resurgence, was involved in the formation of the Conservative Baptist Network.
Leaders at Mid-America Seminary – while not a Southern Baptist school often seen as in alignment with SBC theological stances – have also voiced their support for the group.
Culminating an active week for the SBC
The Christian Post article Feb. 13 and CBN’s official launch the next day ended a tumultuous week for the SBC on social media. It began Monday with the lineup announcement for the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting in Orlando.
Almost immediately Conference president David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., had to answer criticism surrounding the inclusion of some speakers. Most notably among them was Hosanna Wong, identified as a “spoken word artist” in the original lineup but listed at Eastlake Church in the San Diego area as a “teaching pastor.” Eastlake is not affiliated with the SBC.
“My goal, my prayer was that we could open ourselves up to hear from people that maybe were good friends of ours, but not in our Southern Baptist Convention,” Uth told BP. “I feel like they have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it.
“She’s not preaching. She’s not coming as a preacher,” he added. “She’s coming as a musical artist.”
Georgia Baptists to remain focused
Online chatter over the SBC will continue up to and beyond the annual meeting. And while that may be the case, Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond, Jr., asserted that national discussion will have little to no bearing on ministry in the Peach State.
“Georgia Baptists are not moving one half of one centimeter away from our conservative theology,” he stated. “We will continue our complete devotion to the Word of God, our relentless commitment to the Great Commission, and total dependency on the Holy Spirit. No matter what happens nationally, our orders and resolve have not changed!”
Hammond hinted at big news coming soon regarding several strategic relationships with Baptist entities. Those relationships, he said, would be cultivated solely to provide greater missions opportunities for Georgia Baptists across the country as well as internationally.
“I pray earnestly that these efforts will start a missional movement that will last for generations,” he said. “Georgia should be sending out more missionaries than any state in the SBC. Fulfilling the Great Commission must be our driving passion and woven throughout the fabric of the GBC!”
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has been under a restructuring since last year. The “two rails” of the process, Hammond has repeated, are strengthening churches and increasing pastor wellness. Recent steps to that end have been a series of listening sessions regarding the latter. Recently several Discipleship consultants were added, mostly among the eastern regions of the state.
Scott Barkley is editor of The Christian Index.