Most significant Baptist stories of 2022

The year 2022 saw the most troop activity in Europe since World War II as well as a major victory for pro-life warriors in the U.S. A year of historic giving in the SBC was also a year of major natural disasters and the ongoing challenge of confronting sexual abuse. Here’s what we saw as the most important stories of the year.

Guidepost Solutions’ report; Southern Baptists’ response

In May, the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Task Force released a report compiled by Guidepost Solutions that was based on a months-long investigation of the SBC Executive Committee spanning more than 20 years of action and inaction. The report outlined a pattern at the EC of resistance to addressing sexual abuse claims.

Investigators also reported that an SBC pastor and his wife came forward alleging former SBC President Johnny Hunt “had sexually assaulted the wife.” Hunt resigned from his position as vice president of the North American Mission Board days before the report’s release.

Response to the report came from all corners — including SBC entity leaders, presidential candidates, state Baptist leaders and ethnic leaders. Some of those named  in the report also issued their own responses.

Days later, a list of accused sexual abusers that had been compiled from news reports over a number of years was released to the public.

The next month at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., messengers overwhelmingly adopted the task force’s recommendations.

A few weeks after the annual meeting, new SBC President Bart Barber named members of a standing group — Abuse Response and Implementation Task Force — tasked with carrying out the will of the messengers in the recommendations.

The group held its first meeting in September.

Overturn of Roe v. Wade

After nearly 50 years and decades of pro-life activism, Southern Baptists welcomed the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court. Southern Baptists leaders responded with joy, some of them on a video broadcast hosted by BP.

Longtime pro-life leaders in the SBC rejoiced to see the fruit of their labor, and Baptist Press took a look at the SBC’s journey on the abortion issue.

Some abortion proponents have responded with violence, attacking and vandalizing pregnancy support centers and disrupting pro-life events.

Department of Justice investigation of SBC

In August, the SBC Executive Committee was informed that the United States Department of Justice had initiated an investigation into the SBC that will include “multiple SBC entities,” according to a statement from all SBC entity leaders and SBC President Bart Barber.

“Individually and collectively, each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” the statement said.

Russian invasion of Ukraine

Within days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, Southern Baptists had mobilized to minister to refugees. International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood visited the Ukraine-Poland border where workers were providing food, shelter, transportation and many other physical as well as spiritual needs.

Baptist Press has continued to cover the conflict and its effect on Ukraine’s churches, displaced people and those meeting the physical and spiritual needs. Much of its coverage has centered on Ukraine Baptist Theological Seminary:

Leadership changes in the SBC

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary announced in September the resignation of President Adam W. Greenway after three and a half years in the role. Recently retired GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins took over as interim immediately, and within a few days, it was announced Hawkins’ role would transition to senior adviser and ambassador-at-large while the interim presidency would be filled by SWBTS theology professor and former longtime president of Union University David Dockery. The two men continue to work jointly to guide the institution that, while not in a crisis, has financial needs that must be addressed.

Also in September, trustees for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission elected Brent Leatherwood as the entity’s president. Leatherwood had filled the role in an interim capacity for a year, which led the search team to conclude that he was the right man for the permanent position.

Earlier this year, Hance Dilbeck took over as president of GuideStone Financial Resources after being announced in May 2021 as the replacement for Hawkins. He presented a report to messengers for the first time at the SBC annual meeting in June.

Southern Baptists’ historic generosity

Despite the lingering pandemic, high inflation and economic uncertainty, Southern Baptists gave generously this year. Giving to the Cooperative Program, the funding fuel for all national and international Southern Baptist ministry, topped $200 million for the first time since 2008.

And both the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions reached record highs of $203.7 million and $68.9 million, respectively.

2022 SBC Annual Meeting and its results

More than 10,000 Southern Baptists showed up in Anaheim, Calif. including 8,133 messengers — the largest messenger count for an SBC annual meeting in the West in a generation. Significant measures taken by those messengers include adopting the Sexual Abuse Task Force’s recommendations (see above), electing new officers (one of whom made it to a runoff by one vote) and passing notable resolutions, such as one affirming rural mission, one denouncing the prosperity gospel and one lamenting the harsh treatment and forced conversion of Native peoples. That last one became especially important after the meeting, as it was shared by its author, Oklahoma pastor and Native American Mike Keahbone, at an event for survivors of such treatment.

Messengers also passed a resolution anticipating and affirming the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade and pledging to help women in crisis pregnancies.

Other significant resolutions were one of lament and repentance for sexual abuse and one encouraging state legislatures to make it easier for churches to share information about potential predators — resolutions that went hand-in-hand with the recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Task Force adopted the day before (see above).

Soon after being elected president in a run-off, Texas pastor Bart Barber continued the theme, saying in a press conference, “Sexual predators have used our decentralized polity to try to turn our churches into a hunting ground. … Predators have realized the vulnerabilities of our system; it is time for Southern Baptists to realize how nimble and resilient our Baptist polity can be to put sexual predators on notice that Southern Baptist churches are a dangerous place for them.”

Since the annual meeting, Barber has spoken out frequently about sexual abuse, named a task force to implement recommended changes (see above) and addressed the issue (among others) in a widely praised interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes.”

McLaurin’s interim EC presidency

In February, SBC Executive Committee members tapped Willie McLaurin to be interim president of the organization. McLaurin had previously served as the EC’s vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, and EC members expressed hope that McLaurin would “help us reset the tone by which the EC serves Southern Baptists,” then-Chairman Rolland Slade said. McLaurin became the first African-American to serve as president of an SBC entity, and his selection was affirmed by the Convention’s ethnic fellowships. Significantly, his tenure overlapped that of Slade, the first African-American EC chairman.

Southern Baptist response to natural disasters

When Hurricane Ian, a massive, slow-moving category 4 storm, devastated Southwest Florida in September, Southern Baptists were already stationed, ready to help in the aftermath. Within days, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Send Relief operations were up and running, feeding thousands of people, assisting devastated homeowners and ministering to those whose lives would never be the same. The efforts were noticed (and even joined) by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey, who commended Southern Baptist relief operations and oversaw a $400,000 donation from the State of Florida.

Historic flooding in Kentucky, which killed dozens of people, also generated a large DR response. At least eight state Baptist conventions had DR boots on the ground, ministering and serving.

2023 meeting moved to New Orleans

In a highly unusual move, the SBC Executive Committee leadership announced in April that the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting would not be held in Charlotte, N.C., as originally planned. Planners presented New Orleans as an option, and the full EC voted in favor of the move later that month. Though the change of venue is significant, the reasons for doing so are perhaps even more so. In recent years, attendance at annual meetings has grown substantially, rendering Charlotte’s convention facilities too small for the anticipated crowds and the large number of exhibitors.

— Laura Erlanson is managing editor of Baptist Press.