SBC mission boards will not fund abuse reform nonprofit
February 23, 2024
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS)—Leaders of the two major Southern Baptist mission boards said Send Relief money will not be used to help fund a proposed independent nonprofit meant to implement the denomination’s abuse reforms.
Plans for the nonprofit were announced Feb. 19 during a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
Leaders of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force said the new nonprofit is needed to make those reforms a reality.
“Given the current legal and financial challenges facing the SBC and the Executive Committee, the formation of a new, independent organization is the only viable path that will allow progress toward abuse reform to continue unencumbered and without delay,” Josh Wester, the North Carolina pastor who chairs the task force, told members of the SBC’s Executive Committee. “To do this, we have to do this together.”
Wester said he hoped leaders of the SBC’s entities, including its North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and seminaries, along with SBC President Bart Barber, would help find funding for the proposed nonprofit, known as the Abuse Response Commission.
Currently, the work of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force has been paid for out of $3 million set aside by Send Relief, a humanitarian effort run by the two mission boards, to get abuse reforms off the ground.
Send Relief officials said those funds cannot be used for the new nonprofit.
“While Send Relief has been privileged to make funds available to the ARITF to help care for survivors and assist churches in efforts to prevent abuse, those funds have never been committed to help form a separate organization outside the SBC, such as the proposed Abuse Response Commission,” Send Relief President Bryant Wright, IMB President Paul Chitwood and NAMB President Kevin Ezell said in a statement Feb. 21.
The three leaders said many questions remain about the structure and leadership of the proposed nonprofit. They did say the Send Relief funds can still be used by the task force.
“Though Send Relief funds are not available for a non-SBC organization, they do remain available to the ARITF for its assigned work within the SBC,” they wrote.
‘Original intent’ of the granted funds
In a follow-up response, a spokesperson for the IMB said the statement addressed the original intent of the Send Relief funds.
“The statement today represents the original intent of the granted funds and the reaffirmed commitment to that intent to fund work within the SBC, not outside the SBC,” the spokesman told Religion News Service.
Abuse reforms in the SBC have stalled over the past two years, largely due to legal and financial constraints, as well as the limits of a volunteer task force. That’s raised questions of whether those reforms—passed in 2022 during the SBC’s annual meeting—ever will be fully implemented.
During that meeting, local church messengers approved plans for a Ministry Check website that would include the names of pastors who have been convicted of abuse, had a civil judgment against them for abuse or been “credibly accused” of abuse. That website was launched last year but no names of abusive pastors have been listed.
The messengers also approved more training and resources to help churches prevent abuse and to respond appropriately when it happens. The task force, in a news conference Feb. 20, said new training materials will be available in time for the SBC’s annual meeting in June.
Wester said messengers at the SBC annual meeting in 2022 asked the task force to collaborate with SBC entity heads to find funding for reforms.
“We have been and remain committed to this directive as we work toward a long-term solution for sexual abuse reform. We are grateful for Send Relief’s investment in this cause, and we are hopeful that the SBC’s national leaders will help the ARITF determine the best path forward in financing future reform efforts,” he said.
A past proposal to fund abuse reforms from the Cooperative Program unified budget was shot down in 2022. That led Send Relief to set aside $3 million for the SBC’s response to sexual abuse and another million to pay for abuse survivor care.
No funds for the Abuse Response Commission were included in a proposed Cooperative Program budget passed during the most recent Executive Committee meeting, as the denomination’s rules require those funds to go to SBC entities. No rules would prohibit entities from donating to the work of an outside group.
Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he would ask trustees of the ERLC to contribute to the start-up costs of the Abuse Reform Commission.
Nightmare scenario fueled pastor’s commitment
February 23, 2024
A child shows up in a hypothetical situation but represents a real possibility—so real, it moved one South Carolina pastor deeply enough to embrace a seemingly impossible task and expend time, energy and money urging others to come alongside him.
Pastor Marshall Blalock joins a group of founding members already committed to the effort—a group that knew he needed to be included and extended the invitation.
Blalock of First Baptist Church in Charleston and the other five Abuse Response Commission incorporators are serving or have served on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.
“My conviction about this has grown more and more over the course of time,” Blalock said. “Serving on this task force was not an easy job by any stretch. It takes a lot of extra time and hard work, but as each day passes, I’m more convinced of the necessity of getting this right. Every ounce of energy that has been spent on this has been worth it.”
Finding a path forward with the Abuse Response Commission involves costs and time, he added.
“But it’s worth it for leadership to have the best information and resources—and to have the opportunity for churches to become the safest places on earth to hear the gospel. It’s an overarching goal, but our churches deserve that from us,” he said.
‘A little girl out there somewhere’
For Blalock personally, remembering that child—a little girl—keeps him energized and focused.
“Over a year ago now, I had this dream—in some ways a nightmare—about a 12-year-old girl at a Baptist church. The little girl said, ‘If you had just gotten this done sooner, it wouldn’t have happened to me.’
“All this time later, my eyes still well up with tears when I think of or tell someone about the dream,” he said.
“Why did I say ‘yes’ to the invitation (to help launch the Abuse Response Commission)? I did this for her,” he said.
“There’s a little girl out there somewhere. And if we get this right, and her church looks at this database and decides they can’t hire a person they are considering because the name shows up, then that little girl is not abused. And it is worth every minute of my time and every cent of my money.”
Blalock expressed appreciation for the diligence of those in the SBC who already worked on its initial Sexual Abuse Task Force and the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.
“While the task forces have not always known what to do and how to do it, they have kept working,” he said. “My personal goal is to serve that little girl, to protect her. She matters to me.
“When people hear and understand what’s actually being suggested and understand there are still some things that are yet to be worked out, I believe they will see that this plan accomplishes the goal.”
Blalock confirmed an independent institution in this case is “not to be free of the SBC.”
“The point is to serve the churches of our convention while not creating liability for the SBC.”
The plan is not fully developed and many unanswered questions remain. Asking those questions is appropriate and the team is working hard to answer them, he said.
SBC Executive Committee cuts ties with four churches
February 23, 2024
NASHVILLE (RNS)—The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Board voted to cut ties with four churches on Feb. 20.
One hired a woman pastor. Two allegedly mismanaged sexual abuse. The other failed to give to SBC missions causes.
All four were designated as “being out of friendly cooperation” with the nation’s largest Protestant denomination after its credentials committee recommended they be removed.
Immanuel Baptist Church, in Paducah, Ky., was deemed “not in friendly cooperation” for having a woman who serves as senior minister.
The SBC statement of faith—the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message—says that the office of pastor, also known as an overseer or elder, is limited to men.
The SBC is considering a constitutional amendment that would bar churches that allow women to hold the title of pastor, no matter what their role at the church.
Last February, the Executive Committee expelled five churches, including Saddleback Church in Southern California, one of the nation’s largest churches, for giving a woman, the wife of its new senior pastor, the title of preaching pastor.
The Executive Committee determined Grove Road Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., had shown “a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving a concern regarding the pastor’s mishandling of an allegation of sexual abuse.”
The committee also decided West Hendersonville Baptist Church, in Hendersonville, N.C., had broken denominational rules on dealing with abuse by retaining a pastor who was “biblically disqualified.”
Trustees also decided that the SBC’s relationship with New Hope Baptist Church, of Gastonia, N.C., had been “discontinued” because the church, according to the Executive Committee, had not given to SBC causes for five years.
A question about the faith and practice of New Hope had also been raised, and the church had a “lack of intent to cooperate” in resolving that question.
Southern Baptist churches are required to donate to the SBC’s Cooperative Program unified budget or to a denominational entity, such as a seminary or a mission board.
Historically, churches are rarely removed for not giving. After joining via a state convention or by filling out a simple online form and making an initial donation, a church will remain on the SBC rolls unless someone takes action to have it removed.
Donations are checked when a church registers messengers for the SBC annual meeting but are not monitored otherwise. Currently, fewer than 60 percent of churches give to the Cooperative Program, its joint missions fund, down from about 75 percent in the mid-1980s.
At their regularly scheduled meeting this week, Executive Committee members approved a budget for fiscal year 2023-2024, which will be presented at the SBC meeting in June.
They learned the Executive Committee’s assets declined by more than $2 million last year, part of an ongoing fiscal crunch.
They also heard an update from the search committee looking for a new permanent Executive Committee leader. That committee hopes to name a candidate next month. The Executive Committee has been without a permanent president since 2022 and has had a pair of interim leaders.
New nonprofit to oversee SBC abuse database and reforms
February 23, 2024
NASHVILLE (RNS)—Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s abuse reform task force announced plans Feb. 19 to launch a new, independent nonprofit to host a database of abuse pastors and to implement other reforms.
They still need the money to run it.
The new nonprofit will oversee a proposed Ministry Check website listing abusive pastors, which has stalled since a website for the abuse reforms was launched last year. Currently, no names of pastors are included on the website, sbcabuseprevention.com.
Josh Wester, a North Carolina pastor who chairs the SBC’s abuse reform implementation task force, said the new nonprofit, which he called an abuse response commission, will be independent of the SBC’s current structure.
The job of abuse reform was too big for a task force of volunteers to accomplish on their own, he said. That led to the plan to launch a new organization.
“Given the current legal and financial challenges facing the SBC and the Executive Committee, the formation of a new independent organization is the only viable path that will allow progress toward abuse reform to continue unencumbered and without delay,” Wester told members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “To do this, we have to do this together.”
The Ministry Check website will include the names of Southern Baptists convicted of abuse and those who have had civil judgments against them, Wester explained. The task force has run into legal and financial delays in getting those names published, Wester said in his report.
The commission will also create an expanded Ministry Toolkit designed to help churches prevent abuse and to deal with cases of abuse when they happen. That toolkit will give a step-by-step plan for churches to address abuse, members of the task force said at Monday’s meeting. They plan to have video-based training materials for churches available in time for the SBC’s annual meeting.
“We really believe this could be a watershed moment for the SBC,” said task force member Brad Eubank.
Not ‘move on from the abuse crisis’ too soon
During his remarks, Wester recounted the recent history of the SBC’s abuse crisis, including the 2019 “Abuse of Faith” investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, a follow-up investigation and report from Guidepost Solutions, and a series of reforms passed in 2022 aimed to help prevent abuse and to care for survivors.
The reforms might lose momentum if Southern Baptists try to move on from the abuse crisis too quickly, he said.
“But after some time passes from these events, we’re tempted to move on,” he said. “We grow fatigued and weary of the issue. In extreme cases, some of us like to pretend like we never really had a problem at all.”
Wester mentioned two recent high-profile cases that show the scope of the problem—the settlement of a lawsuit against legendary SBC leader Paul Pressler, who was accused of decades of alleged abuse, and the recent story of megachurch worship pastor and author Aaron Ivey, who was fired for allegedly exchanging inappropriate texts with men and, in one case, a teenager.
Abuse is not a big-church or a small-church problem—and not a theology problem, he said.
“It’s heroes from the past like Paul Pressler,” he said. “It’s heroes from the present like Aaron Ivey.”
Wester’s report did not include any plan to permanently fund the new nonprofit. Currently, the task force’s work is being paid for by funds set aside by the SBC’s two mission boards. Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, plans to ask ERLC’s trustees to contribute to the new group, he noted.
SBC president Bart Barber and leaders of the SBC’s national entities have been supportive, he said, and he was confident a plan would be in place in time for the SBC’s annual meeting in June.
“We are asking President Barber and other SBC entity leaders to assist the ARITF in securing the financial resources required to launch this new organization,” he said.
Will the SBC Cooperative Program crumble?
February 23, 2024
WASHINGTON (RNS)—For most of their history, members of the Southern Baptist Convention have fought over the Bible, politics, race, sex, gender roles, music, dancing, Calvinism and almost anything else they can think of.
All that feuding has overshadowed their remarkable ability to work together. The SBC Cooperative Program—which pools money to fund missions, evangelism and seminaries—has successfully collected more than $20 billion since 1925 and become the lifeblood of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
But as the Cooperative Program approaches its 100th anniversary in 2025, the trust that made the program possible has frayed.
Southern Baptists have faced a sexual abuse crisis that has undermined confidence in denominational leaders. Feuds over politics, race and the role of women in the church—which parallel the polarization of American culture—have dominated recent denominational meetings and caused some churches to withhold their mission giving.
More may follow suit, angered at a proposed rule change—known as the Law Amendment—that would bar churches with any women leaders who hold the title of pastor, whether they are a children’s pastor or a church’s senior pastor. Passing the amendment could lead hundreds of churches to be expelled or to leave because they disagree.
Not passing it could also lead to an exodus.
“We are going to lose some people regardless of what happens,” said Adam Wyatt, a Mississippi pastor and member of the SBC’s Executive Committee. “What does that mean long term? I don’t know.”
Law Amendment vote will impact CP
Whatever happens will likely affect the Cooperative Program, which is already facing pressures as churches have reduced the percentage of money they share with the denomination.
In the 1980s, SBC churches gave about 10 percent of their income to the Cooperative Program. Today, they give less than 5 percent, meaning national ministries like the SBC’s seminaries and mission boards—which get about a quarter and a third of their income from the Cooperative Program, respectively—have to rely more on direct giving.
For example, in fiscal year 1982, the SBC’s national entities received $102 million from the Cooperative Program, or the equivalent of more than $300 million today, when adjusted for inflation. In fiscal year 2022—reported in the SBC’s 2023 annual report—those entities received $195.9 million from the Cooperative Program.
Giving to the Cooperative Program for this year is currently down about 2 percent—and 3.6 percent under budget, according to the SBC Executive Committee. A pair of special offerings that go directly to the denomination’s mission boards also have dropped, resulting in a combined decrease of about 4 percent in giving from last year.
The number of Southern Baptists has also declined significantly over the past two decades, from a high of 16.3 million members in 2006 to 13.2 million members in 2023. That decline includes nearly half a million members from 2022 to 2023 and 1.5 million since 2018. Fewer members means fewer givers.
The number of churches giving to the Cooperative Program has declined in recent decades. In the mid-2000s, about three-quarters of churches gave to the program. Today, less than 60 percent give, according to data from the Executive Committee.
Denominational loyalty at low point
Denominational loyalty is also at a low, said Thom Rainer, former CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Rainer said the loss of confidence in denominations is part of a larger societal distrust of institutional leaders, which has an impact on denominational funding.
“If you don’t trust the leadership, you are not going to trust the funding model,” he said.
The SBC Executive Committee is meeting this week in Nashville to set the Cooperative Program budget for 2024, which will be voted on at the SBC annual meeting this summer.
They’ll do so while not knowing what the outcome of the vote on the Law Amendment will be. They’ll also have to deal with the Executive Committee finances—which have been under stress due to legal costs related to sex abuse lawsuits, as well as discussing options to permanently fund a series of abuse reforms.
Some churches, like New Song Fellowship in Virginia Beach, have had enough of the Cooperative Program. Last month, New Song ended its giving to the Cooperative Program in protest of an amicus brief filed by the Executive Committee and other SBC entities in a Kentucky sex abuse case.
The lawsuit in question was over whether a change to the Kentucky statute of limitations in abuse cases would allow third parties like churches or schools to be sued for past abuse.
Brent Hobbs, New Song’s pastor, said the church already had concerns about the SBC before the brief was filed. The amicus brief, which was denounced by abuse survivors and surprised SBC leaders working on reforms, pushed them over the edge.
Hobbs said the SBC lacks leadership on a national level—and that means churches no longer trust those national leaders to do the right thing on abuse or other issues.
“We have to do the right thing or it is not worth keeping together,” he said.
Vote this summer may determine CP future
Steve Bezner, pastor of Houston Northwest Church in Houston, said his congregation still gives to the Cooperative Program as well as to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, an annual appeal that supports the SBC International Mission Board.
While entities like the IMB can accept donations directly from churches, in general they are barred from making direct appeals, which are seen as competing with the Cooperative Program. The Lottie Moon offering, and the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering that benefits the North American Mission Board—are two exceptions to that rule.
Some of their Cooperative Program giving goes to support ministry in Texas—funding things like humanitarian work at the border. Under the program, churches send their donations to their state conventions. Those conventions then forward a percentage of those funds to the Executive Committee.
Bezner suspects the future of the Cooperative Program will be determined during the SBC’s annual meeting, set for June 11-12 in Indianapolis.
“Lines of cooperation and lines of division will be drawn,” he said. “People will respond accordingly.”
Lifeline of support for mission boards
Chris Kennedy, chief advancement officer for the IMB, said the agency currently gets about a third of its funding from the Cooperative Program—currently about $100 million a year.
“And as Cooperative Program declines, which it has consistently for a number of years, that requires more dependency on offerings like Lottie Moon,” he said. “It’s definitely a point of concern.”
When churches have decided to give directly to the IMB, rather than the Cooperative Program, that can have unintended consequences, Kennedy said. The program, he said, supports the seminaries that train many of the IMB missionaries. Less funding for seminaries could mean fewer missionaries. Giving directly to the IMB could end up undermining a church’s good intentions, he said.
Replacing Cooperative Program funding would be difficult if the program declines. But something more than money would be lost if churches stopped participating and the program collapsed, said Kennedy.
“The Cooperative Program is one of the most beautiful mission programs out there,” he said. “Grieving the loss of something like that would take a toll on our denominational soul in so many ways that we would struggle to recover from.”
Currently, about two-thirds of the Cooperative Program funds go to the International Mission Board (50.41 percent) and the North American Mission Board (11.79 percent), while almost a quarter (22.16 percent) goes to the SBC’s six seminaries. About 3 percent goes to the Executive Committee (2.99 percent) while less than 2 percent goes to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (1.65 percent).
A proposal to use Cooperative Program money to fund abuse reforms was shot down in 2022. Currently, the reforms are being funded by money set aside by the two mission boards. No permanent plan is in place.
Financial squeeze at Executive Committee
The SBC’s Executive Committee also faces a financial squeeze, largely due to a series of lawsuits related to abuse reform that have led to “unsustainable” legal expenses, according to the group’s auditor. Last fall, the committee laid off five staffers and two contractors to cut expenses.
Malcolm Yarnell, a professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Cooperative Program will have to adapt. But it is unlikely to go away, he said, in large part because churches have written it in their budgets for years and may be reluctant to change that.
“There will be noticeable change,” he said. “But it will not be cataclysmic change.”
Overseeing the Cooperative Program money collected by the Executive Committee also has become complicated, Yarnell said. While SBC entities depend on those funds, they are also fiercely independent.
“The entities don’t necessarily like to see themselves as responsible to the Executive Committee,” he said. “It’s a very delicate dance of a relationship.”
Any permanent funding for abuse reforms or assistance for the Executive Committee will need the cooperation of the SBC entity heads.
SBC President Barber answers questions
During a question and answer session at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., SBC President Bart Barber was asked if the SBC was facing a financial crisis because of sexual abuse lawsuits against it.
No, he said, but the SBC’s legal costs are rising because of those lawsuits—and those costs were being borne by the Executive Committee, which runs on a shoestring budget, as Southern Baptists have always tried to send as much money as they can to missions.
“They are feeling the financial pinch right now,” he said. “But Southern Baptists are not out of money, and Southern Baptists are not anywhere close to being out of money.”
Barber, whose second term in office expires in June, said leaders are trying to be wise in how money is spent. He also said lawyers and legal fees are part of the costs needed to run the SBC and do mission work.
“So, the decisions that we’re going to face are not decisions about whether we have enough money to continue to operate,” he said. “The decisions we’re going to face are how to allocate our money to be able to cover the things that we need to do.”
In a follow-up interview, Barber said the SBC churches have enough money to fund their shared ministries. And he was optimistic about the SBC’s future, saying the Cooperative Program will make its 100th anniversary and beyond.
“Yes, it is going to survive for another 100 years,” he predicted. “I would not contemplate otherwise.”
Caregivers for dementia patients learn unconditional love
February 23, 2024
GRIFFIN, Ga. (BP)—“Therapeutic lying” was a new concept for Grady Caldwell Jr.
As the primary caregiver for his wife Kathleen in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, he couldn’t imagine allowing her to believe her mother Lois, deceased for years, just visited them at home.
Caldwell, senior pastor of New Mercy Baptist Church in Griffin, Ga., tried telling Kathleen the truth when she talked of speaking with her brother, who died 20 years earlier.
“And she fell into a state of depression that was unbelievable. And that’s what got me to begin to walk in the truth of that term, that there is such a thing as, ‘It’s better to just lie and go along with them than to try to get them to see the truth,’” Caldwell said.
“It’s better to live in her reality than to try to bring her into the reality of what’s actually going on.”
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jim Henry, caregiver to his wife Jeanette who died of Alzheimer’s in 2019, can relate to Caldwell.
Henry recalls the time—more than 50 years into their marriage—when he and Jeanette were driving to North Carolina for summer vacation early in her battle with the disease.
“And she said, ‘You can’t spend the night with me.’”
Why? “Well, we’re not married.”
Henry tried to convince her they’d been married decades, showing her his wedding ring.
“You can buy one of those anywhere,” Jeanette insisted, but she forgot the entire conversation by the time they reached their vacation home.
Caldwell, 74, is among 11 million Americans who serve as caregivers to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The Alzheimer’s Association reports the disease afflicts an estimated 6.7 million adults in the United States. Symptoms are progressive, with no known cure. By 2050, nearly 13 million Americans are projected to have the disease.
Kathleen, 73, was diagnosed five years ago, after Caldwell began to notice changes in his childhood sweetheart and wife of 55 years. He was accustomed to her being a studious, frugal and trustworthy multitasker.
Usually meticulous in keeping financial records for the church, she’d begun to slip. Bills were paid late or not at all, which was nothing like the Kathleen he had loved since eighth grade. She couldn’t recall names. Sentences no longer were cohesive.
A better understanding of God’s love
He cares for Kathleen while serving full time as pastor, utilizing a home office that allows him to keep her safe while leading the church of about 100 worshipers. His daughter Carmen, who serves on New Mercy’s staff, lives on the top floor of the Caldwell home, and a caregiver comes in twice a week.
But for all the love the couple has shared, he said, nothing has led him to understand God’s love as clearly as caring for Kathleen in these latter days.
“Through this, God has really given me a greater sense of his love for the church,” Caldwell said. “And he compels me to love her as he loves the church. But also, he shows me as much as I do, how short I still come. And that’s amazing to me, how much God loves us.”
Caldwell shared Kathleen’s diagnosis with his congregation five years ago, preparing them for his eventual retirement. But he continues to serve the church through the tremendous changes the disease has wrought, even as his responsibilities at home continue to increase.
“Through it all, God’s grace has kept us. I can see his hand throughout this entire process,” he said.
Caldwell believes his daughter Carmen’s return home years before Kathleen’s diagnosis was providential. Most days, Carmen gets Kathleen dressed in the morning, and Caldwell cares for her the remainder of the day. But on days when Carmen’s schedule doesn’t allow the usual routine, grooming duties are Caldwell’s responsibility.
“The days that (Carmen) can’t, I do everything,” Caldwell said. “And I’m still not good on doing hair. So the days when I have to do it all, she has on a cap that day. My wife has always been particular about her dress.”
The Southern Baptist Convention recognized the complexity of caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in 2016, passing the resolution “On Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, Caregiving, and the Church.”
Churches can support caregiving family members
Family members often are the predominant caregivers, messengers said. Recognizing the stress, depression, anxiety, isolation and interruption of church worship caregivers endure, messengers encouraged churches to learn about Alzheimer’s and dementia, assist caregivers with care and expand ministries to include outreaches to those suffering from the diseases.
Henry, who co-wrote with Deb Terry a 2019 book for Alzheimer’s caregivers and family members, said the church can play a crucial role in ministering to caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients.
“The churches, I think, need to reach out and start being very conscious of how many people are affected by it,” Henry told Baptist Press.
Before his first wife’s diagnosis, when Henry was pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla., a couple of church members asked Henry for permission to start an Alzheimer’s support group.
“I said ‘sure,’ not knowing that sometime later, my daughter would be going to those meetings and telling me what was happening, and reporting back to me, because this group became so helpful,” Henry recalled.
Many people inside and outside the church benefitted from the support group, Henry said. First Orlando has helped other churches in Florida and other states launch similar groups.
“Starting a support group for people who are caregivers and family, and even people who are going through dementia, is a powerful thing,” Henry said. “What happens is it becomes a ministry not only to people in the church, but … it becomes an outreach.”
Caldwell said his journey has taught him how much he must die to self in caring for his wife, just as Jesus died to save the world.
“(God) compels me to love her as Christ loves the church, where he was willing to die for the church,” Caldwell said. “And he’s showing me through this, how much I have to die to myself, and what I want to do, how I want to do it, to make sure she’s cared for.”
‘Experiencing God’ author Henry Blackaby dies at age 88
February 23, 2024
Henry Blackaby, co-author of Experiencing God and other discipleship books, died Feb. 10. He was 88.
“He is now experiencing God in ways that surely surpass even his most cherished dreams,” his son Richard wrote in a public statement announcing his father’s death. “We were privileged to have a spiritual giant for a father.”
Blackaby introduced a generation of pastors, missionaries and laypersons—as well as organizations such as Texas Baptist Men: Texans on Mission—to principles such as “God is always at work around you” and “God invites you to become involved with him in his work.”
“Henry Blackaby’s principle of watching to see where God is working and joining him has profoundly impacted TBM for decades. It has shaped how the ministry functions and why volunteers are flexible to respond to needs as they arise,” TBM Executive Director Mickey Lenamon said.
“We are grateful for his teaching, kind spirit and desire to empower Christ-followers around the world to live out their faith. Because of his ministry, millions of people have and continue to share God’s love with those around them.”
Ben Mandrell, president of Blackaby’s longtime publisher Lifeway Christian Resources, described him as “a great man of God and minister to the body of Christ.”
Joining God where he is working
Born in Canada, Blackaby was serving at a church in Southern California when a Canadian Christian challenged him to return home to become pastor of a struggling congregation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
When members of Faith Baptist Church in Saskatoon extended a call to the pastorate, Blackaby and his wife Marilynn answered. In the next 12 years, a congregation that had 10 members when Blackaby arrived grew into a thriving church that started 38 mission congregations and Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College.
In 1987, while he was serving as director of missions in Vancouver, British Columbia, TBM leaders invited Blackaby to speak at their annual convention in Fort Worth. He talked about the critical importance of being willing to make radical adjustments to be in God’s will.
At that TBM event, he outlined principles that became the basis of an interactive workbook he co-wrote with Claude King. The Baptist Sunday School Board—now Lifeway Christian Resources—published Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God in 1990.
“Henry taught me to find where God is working and join him,” King said. “God has a plan, and he’s working in places we wouldn’t know. When we recognize where he’s working and join him, he does amazing things.”
King pointed to the number of pastors, missionaries and Christian workers who cite the principles of Experiencing God as life-changing influences.
“Only heaven would have an accounting,” King said. “There are thousands and thousands who have sensed God’s call to ministry because of Experiencing God. Through Henry, God has revealed what he can do through one ordinary man who is a humble servant and full of faith.”
Experiencing God has sold more than 8 million copies in English and was translated into 75 languages.
Blackaby’s teaching—particularly as expressed in Experiencing God, but also as presented in books such as Fresh Encounter and The Power of the Call—drastically transformed the ministry of TBM. The group moved from being driven by denominational programs to becoming a missional organization that now is international in scope.
“When we began looking at where God was working and responding to his invitations, we didn’t have to dream up things to do,” said the late Bob Dixon, longtime TBM executive director.
“The Father kept giving us assignments. And when we were faithful, he would give us another one.”
Blackaby described Experiencing God as “my life’s message.” He served as director of prayer and spiritual awakening at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and founded Blackaby Ministries International.
“Only eternity will reveal the extent of Henry’s impact on the church. I know of no published material that has impacted more churches in more ways than Experiencing God,” said Lifeway President Emeritus Jimmy Draper.
“Though Henry wrote more materials after Experiencing God, that book became the foundation upon which his entire ministry was built. It was obviously the hand of God upon Henry and his message. He will be forever remembered for his passion for spiritual awakening and for the practical working of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. The impact on the church will continue until the Lord returns.”
Blackaby was born April 15, 1935, in British Columbia. He is preceded in death by his wife Marilynn and survived by their five children and 14 grandchildren.
With reporting by Carol Pipes of Lifeway Christian Resources.
TBM helping Ukraine through a long, cold winter
February 23, 2024
Texas Baptist Men—also known as Texans on Mission—has worked quietly in and around western Ukraine since Russia invaded the Eastern European nation two years ago this month.
This winter, TBM has helped send firewood, food, household supplies and building materials.
Eleven Ukrainian government and Christian representatives met with TBM leaders in Dallas recently to discuss ongoing needs, including church buildings and houses.
“We’ve been working in Ukraine and with the Ukrainian people since the fourth day of the Russian invasion in 2022,” said Rand Jenkins, TBM’s chief strategy officer. “Our time together Monday was to see what God has done and to explore what God will do as we work alongside our neighbors to rebuild communities.”
Most of TBM’s efforts have focused on war refugees in neighboring Poland and Romania, but it has also worked in Ukraine itself. Jenkins visited Western Ukraine in 2022 to consult with local Christians there.
“In much of the country, city infrastructure has been destroyed,” Jenkins said. “People have fled those cities. What global Christians can pursue now is building homes and churches in western Ukrainian cities, which are housing 15,000, 30,000 or even 150,000 more people than they were before the war started.”
TBM already has “helped reconstruct a building in Western Ukraine to serve as a church, and we’ve had a few of our volunteers participate through our global partners in rebuilding efforts in Ukraine,” Jenkins said. “They want to go back.”
TBM has been heavily involved in ministering to Ukrainian refugees in neighboring Poland and Romania.
“Most recently, we have provided food and Bibles in Romania, near the Ukraine border,” Jenkins said.
TBM also has purchased vans to transport food, household supplies and building materials into Ukraine itself.
Igor Bandura, vice-president for international affairs with Ukrainian Baptist Union, told TBM leaders: “These cities need churches; they need homes. Schools are overflowing. But they are met by our Christian witness with welcoming arms. … We call upon our worldwide brothers and sisters to help us make a home.”
There are no specific new construction proposals on the table yet this year.
“Ukraine is the Bible belt of Europe,” Jenkins said. “It has a long-standing Christian witness, church growth and missionary-focused outlook. Since its founding, it has pushed back the forces of communism and has advanced the Christian witness. Ukraine is uniquely positioned geographically to be the in-between state of Russia and predominantly Muslim countries.”
Mayors of various towns invited TBM to join their work, and Pavel Unguryan, coordinator of American-Ukrainian Partnership, invited TBM to join their work in the country, Jenkins said.
SBC Executive Committee faces more abuse lawsuits
February 23, 2024
(RNS)—Leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination face a pair of new lawsuits that accuse the denomination of covering up sexual abuse in local churches.
The lawsuits were filed—one in federal court, another in Arkansas—as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee is set to discuss the future of abuse reforms in the 13 million-member denomination.
One of the lawsuits was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on behalf of six survivors of alleged sexual abuse, who claim SBC leaders violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Better known by the acronym RICO, the act was initially passed to address organized crime.
The complaint, a civil matter filed in late December, names the SBC Executive Committee along with churches in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Alabama—and recounts the history of the SBC’s recent abuse crisis, including the 2021 Guidepost Solutions report commissioned by the denomination’s annual meeting.
The complaint also details the alleged abuse suffered by the plaintiffs and the consequences of that alleged abuse.
“Defendants have maliciously and systematically engaged in covering up and concealing instances of sexual abuse by the church members and employees as a strategy of denying the rights of sexual abuse survivors,” the complaint alleges.
A second lawsuit was filed on Jan. 24 in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of two men, who were not identified, who allege they were abused as children by a former music minister at First Baptist Church in Benton, Ark.
That former music director, David Kent Pierce, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual indecency with a child in 2009 and was released from prison in 2012, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The complaint in the Arkansas lawsuit, which names First Baptist, the Arkansas Baptist Convention, the SBC and its Executive Committee, alleges the pastor of First Baptist knew of the abuse and allowed Pierce to apologize and keep his job, at least for the short term, before he was fired and later convicted.
“The church will continue to cooperate with any investigation regarding the allegations made in this lawsuit, and will work with its legal counsel to respond appropriately to the lawsuit,” First Baptist told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A spokesman for the Executive Committee said the committee has not yet been served with either lawsuit.
RICO and religious groups
Jeffrey Grell, an attorney and expert on RICO cases, said religious groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention aren’t exempt from being accused of racketeering under RICO. However, he said, it is unlikely the plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit have standing to sue.
Grell, who taught classes on RICO at the University of Minnesota and authored a textbook on the topic, said the law is meant to address economic harm, rather than bodily harm. Religious groups can be held liable for abuse, he said, pointing to massive settlements by Catholic dioceses. But attempts to sue the Catholic Church under RICO have failed.
“Abuse is the worst thing you can do to somebody, apart from murder,” he said. “There’s just no standing for bodily harm under RICO. It doesn’t apply to pain and suffering.”
The SBC’s lack of a top-down hierarchy would also weaken any RICO claim, said Grell, as local congregations hire their pastors, rather than have a leader assigned by denominational leaders.
“It would be much more difficult to prove,” he said.
Grell said attorneys will file in part to pressure defendants into settling due to the negative publicity that comes from such lawsuits.
SBC financial and leadership woes
The RICO lawsuit was filed at a time when the Executive Committee faces an ongoing financial and leadership crisis. A series of abuse-related lawsuits—some filed by survivors of abuse and others by alleged abusers named in the Guidepost report—have drained the committee’s reserves. No permanent plan is yet in place to fund a set of reforms meant to address sexual abuse.
The Executive Committee—which oversees the business of the SBC between annual meetings—also has been without a permanent leader since 2021.
A team tasked with searching for a new leader had planned to announce its candidate for the job at the Executive Committee’s upcoming meeting, set for Feb. 19-20 in Nashville, Tenn. But Georgia Baptist leader Thomas Hammond decided to withdraw his name after “much prayer, fasting, and a desire to be in the center of God’s will.”
Texas CLC and ERLC partner to equip pregnancy center
February 23, 2024
The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission are partnering through the Psalm 139 Project to provide a new ultrasound machine at the Legacy Pregnancy Resource Center in Hobbs, N.M., four miles from the Texas border.
Although abortion essentially was banned in Texas following Roe v. Wade’s reversal and subsequent anti-abortion laws, New Mexico remains an option for women seeking abortions, said Katie Frugé, director of Texas Baptists’ Center for Cultural Engagement and the Christian Life Commission.
“We know several abortion-vulnerable women are now traveling out of state to seek services, and we want to help support the crisis pregnancy center in Hobbs as they experience an influx of women in need of support and services,” Frugé explained.
Texas Baptists “affirm the sanctity and dignity of all human life,” she added.
“This partnership with the ERLC is the result of our shared commitment to continuing to work to grow a culture of life in a post-Roe world,” she said.
The abortion industry has targeted Hobbs because of its location and already sees many clients from Texas, the ERLC noted. With a junior college and a four-year university in the city, Legacy has recently seen an increase in client appointments, averaging about 70 per month.
“At the ERLC, we are overjoyed when we can partner with state conventions as we stand for life together. This placement in Hobbs, N.M., in partnership with the BGCT, is unique since the state convention is reaching beyond its borders and giving with a missional mindset to serve their neighbors in an abortion-permissible state,” said Rachel Wiles, director of ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project.
Psalm 139 Project exists to make people aware of the life-saving potential of ultrasound technology in unplanned pregnancy situations and to help pregnancy centers minister to abortion-vulnerable women by providing ultrasound equipment for them to use.
The Legacy Pregnancy Resource Center was established in 2012 to provide “help, hope and healing to all persons facing unplanned pregnancies in and around the communities of Lea County.”
The center serves the community through free and confidential pregnancy tests, peer counseling, options counseling and the Earn While You Learn program. Its underlying goal is to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with clients.
With the surge in clientele after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the center is preparing to transition into a medical pregnancy care center.
First Baptist Church of Hobbs provided Legacy with a new building to house its operation permanently and allow for the growth and expansion of services. Ten churches currently support the organization.
Working to ‘change hearts’
When Legacy’s director, Janet Waldrop, requested an ultrasound machine for the facility to serve abortion-vulnerable clients better, the Psalm 139 project was encouraged. Texas Baptists ministry staff had been in communication with First Baptist Church in Hobbs about the pregnancy center’s need, and CLC leaders were honored to be able to support the effort at Legacy.
“The ERLC helped facilitate the purchase and placement of the machine, and Texas Baptists paid the cost of the machine and the training for the staff to use it,” Frugé explained.
“Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we have seen a variety of responses across the United States.”
One recent study released toward the end of 2023 found since the Dobbs decision in 2022, the number of abortions in the United States actually have increased, she noted.
“We must work to change hearts, not just laws, as we support life going forward,” she said. “Ultrasound technology offers a unique window into a life that previous generations could never have imagined, and we are thrilled to be able to help pregnancy centers utilize this relatively new technology as a meaningful affirmation of our historic Baptist position.”
Frugé said the CLC emphasis on the sanctity of human life is based on Genesis 1:27, which notes all people are created in God’s image and that every human life has intrinsic value and worth.
“Christians have historically been champions for causes that support a culture of life,” she said. “The gospel itself is the good news of Jesus Christ, who tells us he is life in John 14:6.”
GuideStone releases its latest Ministers’ Tax Guide
February 23, 2024
DALLAS—GuideStone Financial Resources has released its 2024 Ministers’ Tax Guide for 2023 Returns.
The tax guide is prepared by Richard Hammar, CPA, attorney and widely published author who specializes in legal and tax issues for ministers.
The tax guide includes tax highlights for 2023 along with step-by-step filing instructions for ministers’ personal taxes and comprehensive examples and sample forms.
Additionally, GuideStone ministry partners and church administrators have access to the annual Federal Reporting Requirements for Churches. This publication is included in the full tax guide or as a separate electronic copy.
GuideStone members can receive both free resources by visiting GuideStone.org/TaxGuide or can request a free printed copy of the tax guide by calling (888) 98-GUIDE (888-984-8433). A limited number of printed copies are available.
“One of the joys of serving at GuideStone is coming alongside our members to help in our mission to enhance financial security and resilience for all who serve the Lord,” GuideStone President Hance Dilbeck said.
“Ministerial taxes come with their own unique issues and challenges. We trust this annual guide provides the information to help ministers as they prepare to file.”
Oklahoma pastor Keahbone nominee for SBC president
February 23, 2024
NASHVILLE (BP)—Oklahoma pastor Mike Keahbone—vice chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force—will be nominated for president of the SBC at the annual meeting in Indianapolis.
California pastor Victor Chayasirisobhon announced in a release Jan. 30 his intention to nominate Keahbone.
“Mike Keahbone is the real deal, a leader who loves the Lord, loves the SBC, and strives every day to make it better. He is a son of the SBC, and I am convinced he is more than ready to step up and step into the role of president,” Chayasirisobhon said.
Keahbone is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lawton, Okla. He has served as a member of the SBC Executive Committee since 2021. In addition to serving on the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, he also was a member of the Sexual Abuse Task Force.
“Mike led student ministries for more than two decades before spending two years as a full-time evangelist speaking at local churches throughout the country as well as multiple camps including Falls Creek and state evangelism conferences,” the release said.
The fiscal year for First Baptist Church in Lawton ends March 31. Therefore, the last completed year on record with the Annual Church Profile is 2022.
During that year, the church received $1,401,565 in undesignated receipts and gave $88,057.87 (6.28 percent) to the Cooperative Program, according to the ACP. The church also gave $45,762 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and $18,337.94 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering in 2022.
A church staff member told Baptist Press, “The 2023-2024 fiscal year has an approved undesignated receipt budget of $1,690,973 with Cooperative (Program) giving of $102,483 [6.06 percent].”
The church recorded 623 people in average weekly attendance in 2023 and 54 baptisms, the church staff member reported.
On Jan. 28, Keahbone asked church members for their blessing related to his nomination. According to a release from the church, they unanimously stated, “It is our joy to affirm God’s leadership in this decision, and we prayerfully commit to supporting our pastor in this endeavor.”
Keahbone served on the Oklahoma Baptist Board of Directors from 2015 to 2021, serving as vice president from 2017 to 2021.
A Native American with heritage from the Comanche, Kiowa and Cherokee tribes, Keahbone served on the 2023 SBC Resolutions Committee and helped write the resolution titled, “On Religious Liberty, Forced Conversion, and the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report,” which was adopted by SBC messengers.
One other anticipated presidential nomination has been announced so far—North Carolina pastor Clint Pressley.