PLANO, Texas (BP)–The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention adopted a $19.2 million budget and passed resolutions on such topics as activist judges, the war on terrorism, abortion and embryonic stem cell research during its Oct. 25-26 annual meeting.
Messengers also honored Joe Atchison, a native Texan and longtime pastor and director of missions in Arkansas, with the H. Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award “for sacrificial and extraordinary service” in Southern Baptists’ conservative theological resurgence.
Formed in 1998 with 120 churches, the SBTC marked its seventh annual meeting, registering a record 2,040 people, including 1,035 messengers, for sessions at the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, one of the convention’s 1,550-plus affiliate churches.
The evening session Oct. 26 drew an estimated 4,500 people during a “Hope and Heritage Rally” co-hosted by the SBTC and Prestonwood that featured the Prestonwood choir and orchestra and a message from Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and founder of the Moral Majority organization that mobilized millions of evangelical voters in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Calling Christians to be “the conscience of the culture” one week before the Nov. 2 election, Falwell, who this year has had his ministry’s tax-exempt status threatened for his public support of President Bush, said evangelicals support the president because of his values, not because he’s a Republican.
“We couldn’t care less that Bush is a Republican. If [Bush] were a Democrat, we’d still be behind him because of who he is and what he believes,” Falwell said to applause.
The former independent Baptist who joined Southern Baptist ranks in the mid-1990s said he didn’t involve himself in cultural issues until the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer confronted him in the 1960s, complimenting Falwell on his Gospel proclamation but telling him he was a “total failure in confronting the culture.”
Falwell said Schaeffer convinced him America was on the verge of a death culture that warranted prophetic voices from the pulpit, though he admitted he thought Schaeffer was overstating his case.
“Turns out he was right,” Falwell said.
BUDGET AND OFFICERS
The convention elected as president for a second term Chris Osborne, pastor of Central Baptist Church in the College Station-Bryan area. The church has a large ministry to Texas A&M students.
Also elected were Ed Ethridge, director of missions of the North Texas Baptist Association, as first vice president; Bill Sutton, pastor at First Baptist Church, McAllen, second vice president; and Brenda Wills, First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, secretary-treasurer.
Ethridge, the only officer serving a first term and in the only contested election, succeeded Garland pastor David Galvan of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, who completed his second term. Ethridge received 299 votes, while Gil Lane of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo garnered 123 votes.
SBTC messengers adopted a 2004-05 budget of $19,245.933, up $2.9 million from the previous year. Of receipts SBTC churches give through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program (CP) Missions funding channel, the SBTC will forward 53 percent of funds to Southern Baptist Convention causes, up from 52 percent last year and towards a goal of 55 percent by 2009.
The SBTC remains the lone state convention passing more funds to the SBC than it keeps for in-state work. Of the SBTC operating budget, about 40 percent is earmarked for missions and evangelism, much of which funds church planting.
In the only resolution that generated debate, messengers overwhelmingly resolved to “instruct parents to ensure the godly education” of children, “whether in public schools, private schools, home schools, or through the church’s education program….”
Bruce Shortt, a Houston-area attorney who last summer called for Southern Baptists to withdraw their children from public schools, tried but failed to amend the resolution by replacing the words “public schools” with “Christian schools.” Shortt argued that public schools have been “godless by law since 1962.”
— called on Texas senators and others to confirm judges who will “not legislate from the bench,” asked the U.S. Senate to “bring presidential judicial nominees to the floor for a vote and called on Congress to “regulate and limit court jurisdiction.”
— cited ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Sudan, forced conversion to Islam and persecution of Christians and objected to “violence against any person for religious reasons,” noting that “retaliation against Muslims is not acceptable Christian practice.”
— affirmed that life begins at conception and lamented that embryonic stem cell research destroys a human life and resolved to be well-informed on related issues. The resolution also noted support for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
— voiced support for U.S. armed forces battling the war on terror.
— resolved to promote Christian citizenship by voting values and encouraging the same.
— acknowledged “that we are not holy,” “that we repent of our sins” and “that we are committed to living out God’s holiness” to reflect Christ to the culture.
— encouraged SBTC churches to double baptisms in 2005 over 2004.
Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director, challenged messengers to help double baptisms in SBTC churches, dubbing 2005 as the “Year of the Double Harvest.” He challenged pastors to set the pace as soul-winners.
H. PAUL PRESSLER AWARD
Messengers honored Atchison, the Arkansas pastor and missions director, with the H. Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award, named in honor of the Houston judge credited as an architect of Southern Baptists’ conservative resurgence.
Calling Atchison a “Texas treasure,” SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told of Atchison’s Navy service in World War II and Army combat duty in Korea and his subsequent ministry calling.
Richards said Atchison was instrumental in moving the SBC Christian Life Commission, now the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “from a liberal bias to a Bible-based approach” and in bringing in Richard Land as CLC president.
Pressler, the inaugural recipient of the award in 2000, presented the award to Atchison, calling him a “spiritual giant” and “a person I love very deeply,” noting that his wife, Betty, also deserved to be mentioned as receiving the award.
Helped from a wheelchair to stand at the podium, Atchison told the crowd he was honored to receive the award named in Pressler’s honor.
“In those early days of the resurgence, we were doing a lot of battling on the Christian Life Commission and the conservative trustees were having to stand against some pretty strong odds,” Atchison recalled.
After the conservatives elected a CLC trustee chairman by only two votes, Atchison was appointed to lead the search committee that eventually hired Land as CLC president.
Mike Gonzales, director of the Hispanic Initiative, an endeavor to increase the convention’s work among Texas Latinos, said Hispanics are 39 million strong in the United States with about 400,000 Hispanics immigrating to the U.S annually, making them the fastest-growing minority group.
“Texas is going to be home to a more diverse population of 35 million people by 2020, making Hispanics the number one ethnic group.” Hispanics comprise about 32 percent of Texas’ population.
“What are we to do as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention? We are to win Hispanics to Christ. We are to develop leaders to give guidance to our present congregations. We’re to start numerous Hispanic new works. …”
Gonzales also mentioned work on a “Hispanic Education Superhighway” to promote theological education “from the GED to the Ph.D.”
20/20 CONNECTION PROJECT
Robby Partain, SBTC missions director, reported the findings of the 20/20 Connection Project, an SBTC effort to involve younger pastors in denominational life.
Partain said dozens of field meetings with Texas pastors and church leaders under the age of 40 noted an overwhelming affirmation of the SBTC’s conservative theological beliefs and commitment to minimal bureaucracy, but also reflected concerns from these leaders about an articulate future vision for Southern Baptists and a need to meld together “both going and giving” into a “third way” missions approach to appeal to the postmodern mentality of the emerging generation.
Partain also cited a need for being “adept and sophisticated” in communicating the convention’s message and developing “a persuasive apologetic for cooperation” in strengthening Southern Baptists’ CP missions funding channel.
The Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, which immediately preceded the annual meeting, elected as president Rix Tillman, pastor of Exciting Immanuel Baptist Church in El Paso; first vice president, Carroll Hambrick, pastor of Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Waco; and secretary-treasurer, Domingo Ozuna, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Grand Prairie.
The inaugural SBTC African-American Fellowship meeting was held at Prestonwood Oct. 25, prior to the convention. The group elected the following officers: George Nelson, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, president; S.M. Wright II, pastor of People’s Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, first vice president; B.C. McPherson, pastor of Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Fort Worth, chief financial officer; and Kenneth Andrews, pastor of Deliverance Baptist Church in Dallas, director of communications. Rainey Matthews, an SBTC consultant, will serve as director of African-American mobilization.
Matthews said about 145 predominantly black churches are affiliated with the SBTC. Hispanic and Asian fellowships also relate to the convention.