INDIANAPOLIS—The Southern Baptist Convention will consider rejoining the Baptist World Alliance, removing churches that hire women pastors and restricting agency heads from serving as SBC president.
Messengers presented those and 20 other motions during the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis June 10-11. Motions request the convention to take action, and they typically are referred to various SBC agencies for consideration and report to the following year’s annual meeting.
In Indianapolis, messengers referred 10 motions to the Executive Committee, ruled six motions out of order, sent five to various agencies or committees, saw one withdrawn and affirmed, but took no action on another.
Motions referred to the Executive Committee included proposals to:
• Reconsider the SBC’s 2004 decision to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance, composed of more than 200 Baptist conventions and other organizations around the globe.
At the time, BWA critics charged the worldwide body as being “too liberal,” echoing a refrain from the schism that split the SBC in the latter decades of the 20th century. More recently, the SBC has sought to build an organization of conservative groups worldwide, apparently attempting to siphon some Baptist unions, particularly in parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, from the BWA.
Larry Walker, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Dallas, proposed the SBC-BWA reconciliation.
In an interview, Walker stressed that many small Baptist conventions and unions—many of them located where Baptists and other Christians face daily persecution—need the support and encouragement of the SBC, the world’s largest Baptist convention. And, he noted, the SBC would benefit from relationships with faithful Baptists who bravely and humbly persist in the face of overwhelming odds.
• Amend the SBC’s constitution to disallow affiliation by “churches which have female senior pastors.”
This proposal would modify the SBC constitution, which regulates convention membership. The convention’s Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement asserts, “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
• Change SBC bylaws to disqualify presidents of SBC agencies and institutions from serving as president of the convention.
In the early part of the 20th century, agency heads frequently led the convention as president. The only living institutional head who simultaneously served as SBC president is Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the architects of the ultra-conservative movement that gained control of the SBC in the 1980s and ’90s.
Early this year, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., planned to run for president. But an illness and springtime surgery forced him to withdraw.
• Declare Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to be not “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC. The church has engaged in a public dispute regarding whether or not homosexual couples could be pictured together as families in the church’s directory. The church ultimately determined to publish a historical booklet with directory information, but it would not include photographs of families.
Since the church did not send messengers to the Indianapolis meeting, the order-of-business committee determined the convention did not face a credentials issue. But it suggested compliance with the SBC’s policy against affiliating with churches that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” merits study.
• Change the terms of service for SBC agency trustees. The proposal would eliminate multiple terms of three and four years, limiting each trustee to a single seven-year term.
• Set new eligibility requirements for service on SBC committees, commissions and boards. Nominees would be required to “give evidence of having received Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior,” hold membership in a church that supports the SBC Cooperative Program unified budget, be in good standing with a local church, abstain from using alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs, and “support all the principles” in the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement.
• Change SBC election procedures so that, if no candidate receives a majority vote on the first ballot, the two candidates with the most votes would face each other in a second round. Currently, as many as half the candidates could face off on the second ballot.
• Create a “standardized form” on which the SBC’s six seminaries would report their enrolment and other data.
• Amend SBC bylaws to direct convention agencies and institutions to “accommodate other events that support the work and mission of Southern Baptists” during the week in which the annual meeting is held each summer.
• Study how to improve cooperation with other denominations and “work with all men of goodwill to improve society and the establishment of righteousness rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and his word.”
Messengers referred one motion to all 12 SBC agencies and institutions. It asked the SBC organizations to be “more child-friendly and family-oriented” when they plan events in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.
LifeWay Christian Resources, the convention’s publishing house, received two motions. They asked the convention to:
• Print the Baptist Faith & Message in the five most dominant languages represented within the convention.
• Provide technology that will allow churches and associations with the capability to videoconfernce and/or teleconference through their websites “in a secure and Christian environment.”
The SBC Committee on Order of Business received two motions. They suggested:
• When a candidate is nominated for SBC office, either the candidate be presented on stage or his picture be shown to messengers on video screens.
• After the SBC president calls the annual meeting to order, the American flag would be posted in the meeting hall, accompanied by an honor guard composed of representatives of the five U.S. armed services.
Messengers agreed with the order-of-business committee and President Frank Page, declaring six motions out of order. Primarily, these motions failed to pass SBC muster because they sought to instruct convention trustees or other groups—an action beyond the messengers’ scope of authority. They urged the SBC to:
• Forbid program personalities at SBC annual meetings from reading from or citing LifeWay Christian Resources’ Holman Christian Standard Bible “or any translation that questions the validity of any Scripture or verse.” Messenger Eric Williams of Belle Rive, Ill., claimed editors of the Holman Christian Standard Bible “believe that there are verses in the (biblical) text that do not belong in the Bible.”
• Instruct the six SBC seminaries to charge students who take classes over the Internet the same tuition rates they charge on-campus students.
• Mandate that “all colleges, universities and seminaries that receive Cooperative Program support be responsible to report … that they teach creation science in their science programs as the true beginnings of life on earth as recorded in Genesis.”
• Provide at cost compact disks of the sermons preached at the SBC Pastors’ Conference and the annual meeting.
• Accommodate hearing-impaired messengers to the annual meeting by providing amplification devices and/or closed captioning. Hearing devices already are available.
• Provide direct financial support for Watseka Baptist Church in Watseka, Ill.
One motion was withdrawn. Messenger Rick Reeder asked the convention to receive a love offering to support disaster-relief efforts provided by the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana in the wake of floods that ravaged southern Indiana the weekend before the annual meeting. The order-of-business committee countered that collecting such an offering would be difficult logistically. It also suggested the best method for helping flood victims was being implemented through the SBC North American Mission Board’s disaster-relief program.
President Page urged messengers and other Southern Baptists to support the NAMB disaster relief program by contributing online through the NAMB website. Reeder then agreed to withdraw his motion.
A final motion generated no specific action, but received a strong endorsement from Page. The motion called on the SBC Executive Committee to “lead our SBC to repentance and a new emphasis on biblical holiness and godly living.”
“A Holy Ghost revival is the only hope we have,” Page said. “Any call like this comes from the heart of God.”