NEW ORLEANS (BP)–It wasn’t your standard annual report packed with facts and figures designed to assure Southern Baptists that the particular SBC ministry was a-okay. No, this year Richard Land brought some guests with him to the platform of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans June 13.
The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president stuck to the routine at first, asking if the messengers had any questions about the ERLC report as printed on page 145 in the SBC’s 2001 Book of Reports. The ERLC is the SBC’s ministry that addresses moral, social and public policy issues. Noting he was in his 13th year of service at the ERLC, he said the past few years have been some of the most challenging yet rewarding in his ministry.
Then Land began to ask some questions himself.
“How will our less fortunate neighbors know that we truly love them while we often ignore their struggle with gambling, drug & alcohol addiction, homelessness and hunger?” he asked.
“How will underprivileged children ever know the rich promise of this great nation while they languish in the despair of abject poverty, oblivious to the hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ?” Land continued, then adding, “How will we ever transform families, churches and communities while our nation is held hostage by a contemporary ‘culture of convenience’ where the sanctity of human life is wantonly discarded and the very foundation of the family — the covenant of marriage — is crumbling all around us?”
These weren’t off-the-cuff queries. Admitting there are “no easy answers to these or any of the critical social and moral issues facing families,” Land was preparing the convention crowd for the guests he was about to introduce — “ordinary Christian men & women who are doing extraordinary things in obedience to their Lord.” He called them “champions for the faith.”
Arcurtis Shanklin, whose ministry field is just blocks from the Superdome in the French Quarter at the Brantley Baptist Center, once wandered the streets of New Orleans lost and alone, Land recounted. Yet Shanklin found “eternal hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and instead of being served at the North American Mission Board’s Brantley Center, he is now the center’s services supervisor, serving men and women who come in off the street just like he once did, Land said.
“One of the greatest travesties our nation must address is the staggering number of children living in poverty,” Land said, noting that more than 65,000 children live in households below the poverty line in New Orleans alone. He recognized Perry Hancock and Dale Stone of Creative Ministries for the Children for their work in addressing the immediate needs of these children, helping their families to help themselves and providing a positive Christian witness through unique social services. Hancock is a dean at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Stone is a student at the seminary.
Families are being torn apart in a culture that “rejects commitment and embraces convenience,” Land continued. “Couples often view marriage as a negotiable contract rather than a sacred covenant made before God.”
He said Mike and Kelly Johnson of Baton Rouge, La., clearly understand the difference. “Inspired by their strong Christian faith and a deep personal commitment to one another, they have responded to God’s call by championing the cause of Covenant Marriage at home, in church, in the classroom, in the courtroom, at the state legislature and across the nation,” Land said.
“Solutions to the many serious problems that destroy people’s lives, torture their spirits and tear apart their families can only be found in Jesus Christ,” Land said, calling the Superdome crowd to “rise up and be obedient” in working “to restore and deliver this world into God’s hands.”
He encouraged Southern Baptists to do as those gathered on the platform have done: “Take a stand; speak the truth; and make a difference.
“Together,” Land promised, “we can transform our families, our churches, our communities and our nation.”