Southern Baptists tackle gender, ethnicity issues at 2018 meeting

Southern Baptists elected a new convention president, turned back a motion to dismiss a portion of a seminary’s board of trustees, adopted resolutions affirming women and denouncing abuse, and heard a message from vice president Mike Pence at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 12-13.

North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear was elected SBC president two years after conceding a closely contested election to lead the denomination. Greear, 45, received 5,410 votes, for a 68.62 percent margin.

Also nominated was Ken Hemphill, an administrator at North Greenville University and former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He received 2,459 votes, or 31.19 percent.

At a press conference, when asked whether he embodies the changing face of the SBC, Greear said, “What I don’t think this [election] represents is a passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new, young generation is in charge. We walk forward together.”

Greear called for cooperation across lines of gender and ethnicity. He described efforts toward greater ethnic diversity among SBC leadership as a “recognition that it’s something we desperately need in the days to come,” rather than a mere “act of generosity” by those already in seats of power.

Emphasizing his agreement with The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) on the role of men and women in the home and church, Greear said he wants convention offices and agencies to be “a place where women sit at the seats of influence.”

He also fielded questions about the role of state conventions in Southern Baptist life and declining baptism rates across the SBC. Greear affirmed the need for all ministries to conduct regular reviews of budgets and other resources to analyze their effectiveness, but denied that calls for such policies are “hostile” to state conventions.

Messengers defeated a motion that would have removed members of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee executive committee.

The motion stemmed from the trustee executive committee’s May 30 decision to terminate president emeritus Paige Patterson, who served as president until trustees moved him to president emeritus status May 22 (see related story).

Thomas Hatley, a former International Mission Board trustee chairman, made the motion, saying his proposal was based on his perception the trustee executive committee acted with haste and failed to allow Patterson to respond to accusations against him. 

Wayne Dickard, a retired South Carolina pastor and an SWBTS trustee, spoke for the motion. “If [the full board] can be overruled by the executive committee, why serve?” he said. Also, trustees gave Patterson “our word,” which “should mean something,” Dickard said.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, and a member of the Southwestern executive committee, spoke against the motion and alleged that Patterson attempted to remove a trustee, disregarded a request from trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert and refused to attend trustee executive committee meetings when asked to do so.

In adopting 16 resolutions, messengers affirmed the dignity and worth of women, denounced all forms of abuse and called for sexual purity among Christian leaders.

Passage of the resolutions by nearly unanimous votes came after months of disclosures of sexual abuse and misconduct by male leaders had rocked Southern Baptist and other evangelical churches and institutions.

The resolution on women affirmed women’s gifts “in their distinctive God-assigned roles” and urged Southern Baptists “to encourage, cultivate and celebrate the diverse gifts, callings and contributions of women in biblically appropriate ways.”

The measure on abuse renounced “all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful” and called for decisive action to report abuse allegations to law enforcement authorities. It also offered compassion to abuse victims, “being careful to remind the abused that such injustice is undeserved and not a result of personal guilt or fault.”

In the resolution on clergy purity, messengers repudiated actions that undermine the New Testament standard of holiness for Christian leaders and urged churches “to exercise appropriate redemptive church discipline” when needed.

Vice president Mike Pence affirmed Southern Baptists for their gospel witness and encouraged them to continue in that commitment, speaking at the annual meeting on Wednesday (June 13).

Southern Baptists, he said, “have always worked to bring about renewal of America and new beginnings.”

The day before Pence’s speaking to the annual gathering, messengers considered an amendment to the order of business to replace Pence’s scheduled message with a time of prayer. The amendment stated that omitting Pence could further unity, especially among Southern Baptists of different ethnicities, and clarify the gospel’s centrality to the SBC. The vote to amend the order of business failed.

Other motions presented later on Tuesday also addressed concerns related to allowing elected officials to speak at future Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings. The motions were referred to the Executive Committee for further consideration.  

— From Baptist Press reports.