By David Roach
PHOENIX (BP) — Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.
In addition, messengers honored 15-term registration secretary Jim Wells with a resolution of appreciation after hearing a report he was in the advanced stages of cancer. Wells died Saturday, June 17.
Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.
The unofficial total of 5,018 registered messengers, down from 7,321 last year, expanded representation on the Executive Committee to include four states or defined territories which had not previously qualified for representation under Bylaw 30. Southern Baptists also gave the EC authority to sell the SBC Building in Nashville and received a multimillion-dollar gift through the Cooperative Program from the Florida Baptist Convention stemming from the sale of its building in Jacksonville.
When registered guests, exhibitors, and others were included, the count of those at the annual meeting was tallied, as of June 15, at 9,318.
A resolution on “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” decried “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and pledged to pray “both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived.”
A vote to approve the resolution June 14 was followed by a standing ovation from messengers.
In its initial report, the Resolutions Committee declined to recommend convention action on a resolution submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic condemning the white supremacist movements sometimes known as “white nationalism” or the “alt-right.” Two June 13 motions to consider the resolution on the convention floor each failed to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority. Amid ongoing discussion, however, the Resolutions Committee requested and was granted by the convention an opportunity to reverse its decision and present a resolution on alt-right racist ideology.
Resolutions Committee chairman Barrett Duke, in presenting the resolution, told messengers, “We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and a watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on alt-right racism.” The committee abhors racism, Duke said, adding the initial decision not to recommend a resolution condemning alt-right racist ideology did not reflect sympathy with that ideology.
Evangelism task force
SBC President Steve Gaines, who was reelected to a second term, recommended creation of the evangelism task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell made a motion, later approved by messengers, that the convention authorize Gaines to appoint the group.
In the annual meeting’s final session, Gaines announced the members of the 19-person task force, including chairman Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The group will report to the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
Creation of the task force was in keeping with an evangelism emphasis in Gaines’ presidential address. “I want to encourage you to be a soul winner,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, TN.
A Tuesday-evening message by California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie urged preachers to extend public invitations for people to follow Christ whenever they proclaim the Gospel. In his message, Laurie announced that Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA, where he is pastor, has begun cooperating with the SBC.
The resolution of appreciation for Wells, recommended by the Executive Committee, expressed “deepest and most sincere gratitude to God” that Wells “has fulfilled the role as an officer of the Convention with godliness, integrity, kindness, and thoroughness, assuring that each duly elected messenger from churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention was properly certified and that each messenger’s ballot was accurately counted and reported in every balloted vote.”
Wells, who was first elected registration secretary in 2002, was not present at the annual meeting. The EC appointed his chief assistant Don Currence, minister of administration and children’s pastor of First Baptist Church in Ozark, MO, as acting registration secretary. Messengers elected Currence as 2018 registration secretary on the second ballot from a field of five nominees.
Executive Committee report
Among 11 Executive Committee recommendations approved by messengers was one authorizing the EC “to continue studying the advisability of a sale of the SBC Building, and to sell the property upon such terms and conditions, and at such a time, if any, as the Executive Committee may hereafter approve.”
Another recommendation approved by messengers granted EC representation to four regions even though they have too few church members to apply for EC representation under the provisions of SBC Bylaw 30. The recommendation amended Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana as each being entitled to a single EC representative.
During the EC’s report, Florida Baptist Convention executive director Tommy Green presented a check for $3,156,500 to help fund SBC Cooperative Program ministries. The gift represented 51 percent of proceeds from the sale of the Florida convention’s building. EC President Frank S. Page said the gift brought 2016-17 CP Allocation Budget overage above last year’s surplus total.
Page’s report to the SBC included the launch of a convention-wide stewardship emphasis featuring a partnership with Ramsey Solutions, the organization led by radio host Dave Ramsey. The stewardship emphasis continued June 14 with a president’s panel discussion on stewardship moderated by Gaines.
In addition to Gaines and Currence, newly elected SBC officers included first vice president Walter Strickland, a leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Kingdom Diversity Initiative, and Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church, a bilingual congregation in Miami. Recording secretary John Yeats was reelected to a 21st term.
Patterson was elected as the 2018 convention preacher.
Messengers made 11 motions. The only one to receive approval at the annual meeting was the proposal to create an evangelism task force. Two motions were ruled out of order, and eight were referred to SBC entities or committees.
Among motions to be referred were a proposal to study merging NAMB and the International Mission Board and a request that NAMB, the IMB, and LifeWay Christian Resources consider expanding their trustee boards to grant broader representation.
A motion to let messengers consider defunding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was ruled out of order because it was made after the convention approved the 2017-18 CP Allocation Budget, which establishes the percentage of CP receipts distributed to each CP-funded entity.
In other news:
- IMB President David Platt said the board’s finances are on “stable ground” and urged messengers to focus on the “present work we are doing” rather than “past financial struggles.” The IMB presentation included a commissioning service at which messengers gathered around newly appointed missionaries to pray.
- In the NAMB report, Ezell said 732 new churches were planted by Southern Baptists in 2016 and 232 existing churches began cooperating with the SBC.
- The annual Crossover evangelism emphasis and the tandem Harvest America crusade yielded 3,549 professions of faith.
- A group of about 50 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix Convention Center June 13, asking the SBC to remove homosexuality and transgenderism from its “sin list.” The group distributed flyers that included the 2017 SBC logo and theme.
- Messengers approved changing the IMB’s fiscal year to Oct. 1-Sept. 30.
- The Global Hunger Relief Run June 14 allowed messengers and other annual meeting attendees to participate in either a 5K run or one-mile family-oriented fun run to raise money for hunger relief projects in North America and internationally.
- A full 80 percent of members elected to the 2017-18 Committee on Nominations have never served on an SBC board or committee, said Randy Davis, chairman of the Committee on Committees, the body which nominates the Committee on Nominations.
- All speakers at the June 11-12 SBC Pastors’ Conference were pastors of churches with approximately 500 or fewer in average attendance.
- All annual meeting attendees are asked to fill out a survey available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/sbcam17.