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SBC to bolster Cooperative Program, city outreach; Clinton again an issue

ATLANTA (BP)–Southern Baptists began intensified efforts to strengthen their unified muscle — the Cooperative Program — and to use it in an invigorated way to reach people who have not heard the gospel not only abroad but also in the nation’s mega-cities, as they met June 15-16 in Atlanta.
Introducing a “Partners in the Harvest” thrust to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program, Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, described the Cooperative Program as the “greatest voluntary funding program in the history of Christendom” involving an “alliance and partnership” between the SBC and state Baptist conventions in supporting missions and ministries globally as well as nationally.
Interjected, however, into the SBC annual meeting’s emphasis on the Cooperative Program and on reaching the nation’s burgeoning cities was another face-off in the nation’s culture war, prompted by President Bill Clinton’s first-ever proclamation of June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” A Southern Baptist church member, Clinton nevertheless has supported numerous homosexual rights initiatives during his presidency — and often has been criticized for doing so by Southern Baptist leaders, and the convention at large, this year included.
Also of significant interest to Baptists at this year’s annual meeting — the 142nd in the SBC’s 154-year history — is the OK given by messengers to a study of the convention’s statement of beliefs, the Baptist Faith and Message, a 1963 document expanded last year with an article on the family. A yet-to-be-appointed committee is to bring a report at next year’s annual meeting, June 13-14 in Orlando, Fla.
Final registration totaled 11,554 for the 1999 annual meeting in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, shortened to two days, from the previous three, by action taken during last year’s SBC sessions in Salt Lake City. Messengers were registered this year from all but three states.
In celebrating the CP’s 75th anniversary, three cooperative goals have been set for the “Partners in the Harvest” campaign by the SBC and state conventions:
— $750 million in CP giving by local churches and in their special offerings for international, North American and state missions in the 2000-2001 church year, which one leader described as moving “beyond business as usual.”
— baptizing 1 million people in the year 2000 — 500,000 in the United States and 500,000 in tandem with Baptist co-workers abroad.
— enlisting a record number of Baptists for volunteer missions projects.
“Southern Baptists, will you pray as never before?” SBC President Paige Patterson urged in his address to the convention. “Southern Baptists, will you go to the great population centers of our nation? Southern Baptists, will you give? Will you get your church to take a city? Will you ask your association to accept the challenge of the inner city? Southern Baptists, will you weep before God like Jesus wept over Jerusalem? … May God grant it.”
Reflecting a heightened SBC emphasis on the spiritual needs of the nation’s cities, Patterson told messengers, “Brothers and sisters, if we reach the cities of our country, it will take more than an affirmation of belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.” With 47 U.S. cities each numbering more than 1 million people, Patterson said the “great metropolises of our own nation have burgeoned into some of the world’s most demanding mission assignments.”
The city emphasis stretched from the convention theme — “His Tears — Our Task!” based on Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41 — to an array of activities and plans, including:
— Crossover Metro Atlanta, a multi-faceted evangelistic blitz June 6-19, which yielded more than 2,500 professions of faith as of June 16. The effort was part of a five-month Baptist effort called Arms Around Atlanta, involving the Georgia Baptist Convention and 10 metro-area Baptist associations and which is intended as a pilot for the much larger Strategic Focus Cities projects beginning next year. The North American Mission Board initiative will focus volunteers, funding and other resources on evangelism and starting churches in two major cities each year, beginning in 2000 in Chicago and Phoenix, followed by Boston and Las Vegas in 2001. The cities of Seattle and Phoenix were announced as the 2002 sites
— A “Multicultural Church Network” was officially launched on the premise that increasingly multicultural major cities can only be reached effectively by developing more multicultural churches. Existing models based on a dominant ethnic group or culture, leaders say, are often ineffective with second- and third-generation internationals uncomfortable in both traditional Anglo churches and the language churches of their parents.
— NAMB also reported to messengers the planned startup of 34 large flagship churches in the largest cities in the United States and Canada, each undertaken as a special project of one of Southern Baptists’ existing mega-churches.
Locking horns with President Clinton, meanwhile, the SBC protested the president’s June 11 proclamation encouraging Americans to observe June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” with fitting ceremonies and by honoring the homosexuals who have contributed to the life of the country.
A resolution adopted by messengers, however, deplores Clinton’s “most public endorsement of that which is contrary to the Word of God” and calls on him to rescind the proclamation. An amendment added from the floor also calls on Clinton to pull his recent appointment of James Hormel, a professed homosexual, as ambassador to Luxembourg.
The resolution also affirmed love for the president and “for people enslaved in sins of all types, including homosexual sins” but noted that rebuke indeed can be a loving corrective.
Concerning the issue of church discipline, “The fact that he is the president of the United States ought to make no difference,” Patterson said during a June 14 appearance on the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s radio program, “For Faith and Family.”
Said Patterson, “When a member of a Southern Baptist church takes the position that he has taken in outright contradistinction to the Word of God, that church should act to bring about church discipline in that case.” A motion formally suggesting that Clinton’s home church in Little Rock, Ark., exercise church discipline, and another motion requesting Immanuel’s formal position regarding Clinton’s policies, however, were ruled out of order. Like many Southern Baptist churches, Immanuel has not practiced formal church discipline in decades, but pastor Rex Horne has acknowledged discussing the issues privately with Clinton.
Also during the convention:
— The Baptist Faith and Message study was approved in a 2,327-1,963 vote, or 54-46 percent. In proposing the action, T.C. Pinckney, of Good News Baptist Church, Alexandria, Va., and editor of the Baptist Banner Virginia conservative journal, said the intervening 36 years since the BFM’s 1963 revision “have been momentous ones for the Southern Baptist Convention.” Said Pinckney: “I believe it is appropriate at this time that the Baptist Faith and Message be reviewed and that it be made consistent with the current stand of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
— The heartache of school violence was vented often while messengers were in Atlanta. Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Joy Scott’s father, Darrell, and brother, Craig, spoke at a Saturday night youth concert and Sunday morning worship in Centennial Olympic Park.
“I believe with all my heart that Columbine was a spiritual event,” Darrell Scott said, and “not just a tragedy … . It was a signpost that God has allowed to wake up our nation.” The youth concert included a somber time of prayer and memorial, as 13 students — including Rachel’s other brother, Mike — stood on stage with 13 large wooden crosses representing the innocent victims in Littleton, Colo. Brad and Misty Bernall, parents of Cassie Bernall, another Columbine student hailed as a Christian martyr, addressed messengers during NAMB’s Tuesday evening report. “If we didn’t have the faith in the Lord Jesus,” Brad told the SBC crowd, “we would never have gotten through it. … We hope that everyone would see that we’ve not been hateful or angry, but rather we’ve exercised the God-given ability to be forgiving.”
Among youth-oriented resolutions adopted by messengers was a commendation of students and teachers “who have stood faithfully, courageously and publicly for their faith in the midst of such violence” and another resolution addressing the effect of violence in the media on young people, particularly in the proliferation of violence on television, in computer games and music and at hate-filled Internet sites.
— Efforts to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, spearheaded by Michigan pastor Blaine Barber, a member of the Executive Committee, fell “overwhelmingly” short on a raised-hand, show-of-ballots vote, as assessed by Patterson, on conducting a straw poll of messengers about the possible name of “International Baptist Convention.” In floor debate, Barber contended a new name would bolster church planting and racial reconciliation, while messenger Jeff Johnson of Grants, N.M., countered, “‘Southern Baptist’ is a term for a theology — not a term for a location. It is a term we’ve come to respect.”
— Messengers endorsed an Executive Committee response to a referral to remove Orlando as the site of next year’s annual meeting. By approving the committee report, which included the committee’s “declines to act” response to the referral, the Orlando meeting was affirmed for next year. The location had become an issue in light of the SBC’s vote in 1997 encouraging Baptists concerned about various anti-family practices of the Disney conglomerate not to patronize its far-flung businesses, including Walt Disney World in Orlando.
— More than 1,350 individuals responded on a signed commitment card to a North American Mission Board call to make their homes “Lighthouses of Prayer” — a commitment that includes praying and caring for and sharing Christ with families in their respective neighborhoods. The Lighthouses of Prayer concept encourages Christians to pray for five neighbors on each side of them, as well as 10 neighbors across the street. Part of the interdenominational Celebrate Jesus 2000 movement, it is one of the key strategies for praying for and sharing Christ with everyone in the nation by the end of the year 2000.
— Messengers likewise registered support for a lifestyle of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs by approving the report of a drug task force and then backing up their vote by signing commitments to a life of abstinence from “any substance that would impact negatively” their Christian witness. The commitments represent the start of a convention-wide emphasis on abstinence from alcohol, including a request to the six SBC seminaries to incorporate components on alcohol and other drug use into their curriculum to better prepare pastors to deal with these issues in the local church.
In presenting the report, the task force’s chairman, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the alcohol problem is America’s number one drug problem, later saying in a news conference, “It is wreaking untold havoc on our nation and our nation’s families.” Among research findings cited by the task force: When parents use alcohol as a beverage, 66 percent of their children experiment with alcohol at some point during their lives. When parents abstain, only 16 percent of the children try the beverage.
— Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, said in his report to the convention God “continues to weep over the nations and people of the world who reject him and the multitudes who have no opportunity to know of his redemptive love.” The IMB “continues to press forward,” he said, “driven by our vision to lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to bring all the peoples of the world to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.”
Among hopeful signs Rankin cited was the spread of church-planting movements in many places throughout the world. “We are seeing church-planing movements emerge where rapid reproduction of local congregations multiply into a network that envelops a city, a people group and a nation,” he said.
He also noted that in 1998 the net increase of new missionaries was greater than any increase in previous history and also noted that baptisms overseas, new churches and new mission points were all up substantially.
— Dellanna O’Brien addressed the convention for the final time as executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union, with her retirement upcoming in September after 10 years as the SBC auxiliary’s leader. During the June 13-14 WMU annual meeting in Atlanta, speakers cited a number of highlights from O’Brien’s 10-year tenure, including the establishment of the Christian Woman’s Job Corps to aid women in poverty and Project Help for raising awareness about one major social issue each year.
Crossover Metro Atlanta continued such traditional pre-SBC outreach as door-to-door surveying and evangelistic block parties and added several high-profile activities, like the “Getting’ Free” youth concert and a “Jesus Celebration” sponsored by 37 language churches representing four ethnic groups, featuring food, drink, games and the gospel and free medical and dental care via a Baptist mobile health ministry.
Amid the celebration of Crossover, however, there was also tragedy, with the death of the 13-year-old son of Mt. Zion Second Baptist Church pastor Marty Henderson. Kristen Jarrod Henderson, 13, was playing basketball at the Atlanta church’s block party when an undectable pinched heart valve prompted two heart attacks.
Henderson later asked that people pray for the family members, who are “up and down” in coping with the death, and to pray “for young people everywhere to understand the brevity of life.”
— Future National Football League Hall of Famer Reggie White, in a Wednesday evening message, nudged the media: “Why don’t you report more on the people who come out of [the homosexual lifestyle]? Why don’t you give them any credit for their change?” White, an ordained minister, reiterated what Scripture says about homosexual behavior, a stance that caused a firestorm against him in the media last year: “In Leviticus 1 we read, ‘The Lord said to Moses … .’ Now, let’s see what the Lord said to Moses. In Leviticus 18:22, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.'” White then related, “About three weeks ago a man came to me after I preached and said, ‘God brought me out of this lifestyle. Thanks for what you had the courage to say, because now I’m saved.'”
— Patterson was elected by acclamation to a traditional, second one-year term as president. He was nominated by Alabama evangelist Junior Hill, who called Patterson a man “who has the passion to make the main thing” of evangelism “the main thing” and has been “thoughtful and wise in his leadership.” Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta, was elected first vice president; Jerry Spencer, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Dothan, Ala., second vice president. Re-elected were Lee Porter as registration secretary, a retired denomination worker and Alpharetta, Ga., church member who has held the post 22 years, and John Yeats, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger newsjournal, as recording secretary.
— Evangelist Bailey Smith was named to deliver the convention sermon at next year’s annual meeting in Orlando, with Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., as the alternative. The music director will be Scott White, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
— A $159,583,743 Cooperative Program Allocation budget for 1999-2000 was approved by messengers. The new budget represents a $4.6 million increase over the 1997-98 budget and is based on actual receipts for 1997-98. Also adopted: a 1999-2000 convention operating budget of 6,544,490.