More than 8,100 messengers gathered in Legacy Arena at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center June 11-12. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index
By Erin Roach
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — Southern Baptists acted in support of sexual abuse survivors, embraced ethnic and gender diversity and rallied around the Great Commission at their annual meeting June 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Messengers strengthened their stance against sexual abuse and racism by overwhelmingly approving two amendments to the SBC Constitution specifically stating that sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity are grounds for a church to be deemed "not in friendly cooperation" with the convention.
Also approved was an amendment to the SBC's Bylaws to repurpose the convention's Credentials Committee into a standing committee to make inquiries and recommendations for action regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism, or other issues that call a church's relationship with the SBC into question.
The constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds messenger vote at next year's SBC annual meeting in Orlando. The repurposing of the Credentials Committee required only a two-thirds vote this year as an amendment to the convention's Bylaws.
The annual meeting drew 8,183 messengers, SBC registration secretary Don Currence said in releasing the unofficial total. There were nearly 2,000 registered guests and more than 1,800 registered exhibitors, bringing the total attendance close to 12,000.
Three days before the annual meeting, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study issued a report after 10 months of work with the hope that God will use it to "spark a movement of healing and reform." The 52-page report was produced by a fluid study group formed last July by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear.
In three sections, the report calls for the education of Southern Baptist churches to understand abuse, its prevalence, its effects, its underlying issues, and the failures of churches; the equipping of Southern Baptist churches to care for abuse survivors; and the preparation of Southern Baptist churches to prevent abuse. See related reports here and here.
Diversity among Southern Baptists was conveyed in two key committee reports approved in Birmingham.
"The conversation about diversity is starting to yield a culture of diversity," said Georgia Baptist Bucky Kennedy, chairman of the Committee on Nominations, which recommends the trustees for the SBC's entities and members of its standing committees, including the newly repurposed Credentials Committee.
Kennedy reported that 32 percent of the new trustees and committee members are female or non-Caucasian.
Sky Pratt, associate pastor at Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart and chairman of this year's Committee on Committees, which nominated members of the coming year's 68-member Committee on Nominations, said great strides were made to ensure SBC entities are governed by men and women who reflect the ethnic diversity of the convention, and he called the results "truly historic."
The Committee on Nominations for 2020 will be 62 percent female or non-Caucasian, Pratt told messengers. By gender, the committee will have 41 men and 27 women.
An International Mission Board Sending Celebration was popular among messengers as they honored the appointment of 26 new Southern Baptist international missionaries. The service illuminated a dark Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center arena with colorful banners and praise music and included missionaries telling why they are going to the nations.
Moments earlier, IMB President Paul Chitwood had reported that Southern Baptists continue working toward seeing the vision of Revelation 7:9 fulfilled. He said fulfilling that vision will require cross-cultural missionaries from many nations.
Johnny Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board, promoted the "Who's Your One?" personal evangelism campaign, calling on Southern Baptists to think of one lost person they can pray for and share the Gospel with.
Hunt announced a Who's Your One tour starting this fall, going to at least 70 cities in the next three years. He hopes pastors and lay leaders will attend the Sunday evening events followed by Monday morning sessions on how to train and inspire churches in evangelism.
Kathy Litton, director of planter spouse development for the North American Mission Board, was elected registration secretary, becoming the first woman to serve in the position.
Greear was reelected by acclamation to a second term as president and will lead a diverse slate of officers including Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., first vice president; Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recording secretary; and Litton.
During his president's address, Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area, gave three defining values he believes should shape the future of the SBC: prioritize the Gospel above all, be willing to do whatever it takes to reach all people and commit to sending every member.
"The power to 'do' in the Christian life comes only from being soaked in the fuel of what has been done," Greear said.
"That's why has to be above all," he said, referencing the annual meeting's theme. "A church without the Gospel at the center is a church without power."
In his first report to messengers as president of the Executive Committee, Ronnie Floyd said he refuses "to accept doom, gloom, and despair. I refuse to believe that division, strife and disengagement is the will of God."
Rather, God wants to set Southern Baptists "on a course with a future that He has for us," Floyd said, noting, "One of our greatest needs is to create a new culture within our convention family" – one that is "healthy, life-giving and Christ-honoring in every way, the kind of culture that will help us flourish and be fruitful … [in] our work cooperatively to reach the world for Jesus Christ."
In other news:
The night included a dinner and various presentations by Hispanic SBC leaders, and Floyd pledged his support to Hispanic pastors and leaders.
Panelists included Bible teacher Beth Moore and advocate Rachael Denhollander, among others. The sexual abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention calls for lament, honesty, unity, and action, panelists said.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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