At SBC ’23, messengers continue to deal with abuse reforms, take stand on pastoral convictions

Messengers dealt with a number of key issues at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting June 13-14. The convention was originally scheduled to meet in Charlotte but was relocated to the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center due to larger crowds in recent years. There were 12,737 registered messengers at the meeting.

Messengers agree Saddleback, two other churches not in friendly cooperation

Messengers agreed with a February 2023 decision by the SBC Executive Committee to deem Fern Creek Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., Freedom Church in Vero Beach, Fla., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., not to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC.

Fern Creek was ruled not in friendly cooperation with the SBC based on the Baptist Faith & Message 2000’s statement that Scripture reserves the office of pastor for men. Linda Popham has pastored Fern Creek full-time since April 4, 1993, after a near three-year term as interim pastor.

Freedom Church was deemed not to be in friendly cooperation because the church failed to cooperate to resolve concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation. Freedom Church has denied the charge to Baptist Press, saying the matter was investigated and resolved by the Anglican Church of North America. However, the Executive Committee stands by its decision to oust the church, saying the pastor admitted to sexual misconduct and pointing to the fact that the local Baptist association and the Florida Baptist Convention have also removed the church.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responds to Rick Warren’s appeal on behalf of the Executive Committee to disfellowship of Saddleback Church. (Photo by Sonya Singh)

Saddleback Church was deemed not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, due to “the church continuing to have a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of a pastor.”

The SBC Credentials Committee, on whose recommendation the EC’s decision was based, specified the teaching pastor role of Stacie Wood, the wife of pastor Andy Wood. Since then, Saddleback announced May 7 that Katie Edwards would become the new campus pastor for its Lake Forest campus. Edwards was among three women ordained with the title of pastor at Saddleback in May 2021.

ARITF work to continue

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) received another vote of confidence June 14 from Southern Baptists to continue its work in the Convention.

During the ARITF’s report, Chairman Marshall Blalock unveiled the MinistryCheck website, which will include a searchable database and ministry toolkit for churches. The one-year extension will help lead to the completion of a working database, hopefully by the 2024 annual meeting, with “credibly accused folks’ names on there so that churches are safer next year than they are today,” Blalock said.

IMB missionaries share their stories during Sending Celebration

A total of 79 missionaries were recognized at the International Mission Board’s Sending Celebration June 13.

Of those missionaries present, seven had parents who have served with the IMB on the mission field, and 42 had parents who served in some capacity with the IMB. One of the new missionaries is a fifth-generation missionary, continuing her family’s long legacy of getting the Gospel to the nations through the IMB.

IMB President Paul Chitwood celebrated the 44 churches in 19 different states that the new missionaries represent. Those missionaries will soon spread across 33 countries, “taking the Good News with them, willing to leave behind comforts, friends and family, to answer God’s call upon their lives,” Chitwood said.

Crossover reaches New Orleans with Gospel hope

Southern Baptist seminary students walked the streets, presenting the hope of the Gospel. Churches hosted block parties for their neighbors. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) held an appreciation event for local law enforcement. These events barely scratch the surface of all that took place during the Serve Tour + Crossover outreach events for New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

A group of children enjoy the water slide at Memorial Baptist Church’s block party June 10 as part of Crossover, an evangelistic event held prior to the SBC annual meeting June 11-14 in New Orleans. (Photo by Elijah Hickman)

The event at NOBTS was one of a number of similar outreach efforts that took place throughout the city, as Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, worked with local partners to meet needs and create opportunities for sharing the Gospel. Among those projects was a Send Relief medical and dental unit to serve those who have had difficulty accessing health clinics.

Barber elected for second term

Bart Barber was endorsed by messengers for a second term as SBC president in a contested election with Georgia pastor Mike Stone.

Out of 11,014 votes, Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, received 7.531 (68.38 percent) of the ballots. Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., received 3,458 (31.4 percent) of the vote. Twenty-five votes were disallowed.

Amending the article on the church in the Baptist Faith & Message

Messengers voted to amend the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention, to amend the role of pastor.

The amended Article VI on the church now reads: “In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its two scriptural offices are that of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Motion to amend SBC Constitution over pastor role clears first hurdle

Messengers initiated a two-year process to amend the SBC Constitution after two-thirds of messengers approved a motion initially brought last year by Virginia pastor Mike Law.

The motion is to amend, or specifically, add a sixth point under the first paragraph of Article III that lists characteristics of churches in friendly cooperation with the SBC. The sixth point would describe churches that affirm, appoint or employ “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

Texas pastor Juan Sanchez brought a friendly amendment to Law’s original version that both deemed to be more positive language. The SBC Executive Committee announced at its June 12 meeting that Law’s motion would go before messengers. However, the EC registered its opposition to the motion itself over its placement within the constitution rather than addressing a theological matter through the Baptist Faith & Message.

The motion will be brought before messengers again at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis. Another two-thirds vote in the affirmative will amend the Constitution.

Full slate of resolutions passed in New Orleans

Messengers passed nine resolutions. They include what is believed to be the first statement from a religious convention or denomination on the development and use of artificial intelligence. Other resolutions dealt with issues of immigration and “gender transition.”

Messengers voted to “re-affirm our confessional heritage, grounded in Scripture, and recognize” only two biblical offices and “to encourage churches to uphold all the biblical qualifications for those who hold either office of bishop/elder/pastor or deacon.”

David Sons, chair of the SBC Resolutions Committee, says he believes the resolutions point to who Southern Baptists are becoming.

Messengers approve $195 million CP allocation budget

The Executive Committee presented three recommendations to messengers, all of which were approved.

Messengers approved Recommendation 1, the SBC Executive Committee 2023-2024 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $195,250,000, as recorded on page 39 of the 2023 Book of Reports; and Recommendation 2, the 2023-2024 SBC Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $8,305,500, on page 40 of the Book of Reports.

Recommendation 3 proposed an amendment to SBC Bylaw 20, impacting the timelines for submitting and reporting resolutions. Under the change, proposed resolutions should be submitted to the SBC Resolutions Committee as early as April 1, but no later than 20 days prior to the subsequent SBC annual meeting. Additionally, the initial Resolutions Committee report must be released at least 10 days prior to the annual meeting, and the first report shall be published in the annual meeting’s first Daily Bulletin.

More than 12,000 messengers attend

There were 12,737 registered messengers for the annual meeting. Aside from the 15,726 in Nashville in 2021, it is the largest group since 1996 in Atlanta, when 13,706 messengers attended. Last year’s gathering in Anaheim brought 8,133 messengers.

Including guests and exhibitors, the total number of those present at the annual meeting came to 18,901.

Texas registered the most attendees, with 1,291. Host state Louisiana followed closely with 1,286 while Florida was third with 1,052.

Messengers enjoy largest exhibit hall in recent history

Numerous displays and information presented themselves to messengers in the convention center exhibit hall that brought an earlier opening time on Sunday afternoon this year.

Those exhibits included SBC entities as well as affiliated groups such as schools and other parachurch ministries and organizations.

Various speakers appeared on the CP Stage, leading in discussions and panels on topics such as identifying the next generation of ministry leaders, the role of prayer in revival and sexual abuse reform.

— By Scott Barkley and Brandon Porter.