Florida Baptists celebrate unity, address sexual abuse By Barbara Denman/Florida Baptist Convention LAKELAND, Fla. (BP) – Florida Baptists celebrated the tie that binds during the 2021 Florida Baptist State Convention meeting Nov. 8-9 at Lakes Church in Lakeland. The theme of the two-day event, “Blessed Be the Tie,” and scripture found in Philippians 1:27 was the focus of the President’s Message given by Erik Cummings, lead pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Carol City located in metro Miami-Dade. “It’s easy to get together. It’s a little tricky to stay together,” said Cummings, who has served as president for the past three years after the 2020 meeting was cancelled due to COVID concerns. “The reality is we’ve dealt with some bad … tough … sad times. These have been some interesting days in our lives individually and collectively. “We have seen our Baptist battles play out on national media. We have seen ugliness spill out on social media where the casualties of friendly fire have been great … all while it seems our purpose and mission have taken a back seat, sadly.” Other speakers during the meeting and Pastors’ Conference lamented the strife within the Southern Baptist Convention yet offered reassurance and hope that God is still in control. The 970 messengers overwhelmingly approved a recommendation to create a nine-person special committee to examine policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care and sexual abuse prevention within all cooperating ministries of the Florida Baptist State Convention. In presenting the recommendation from the State Board of Missions, President Brian Stowe said, “It is reprehensible that this sin exists,” adding that the State Board “has worked proactively in this area for years.” In 2019, the State Board underwent a comprehensive review of existing policies governing the prevention of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care that resulted in establishing several new policies, including the background screening of all board members. Stowe reported that over the past weeks, “We have wrestled with the question of what more should we do? We believe our actions in the past are appropriate and designed to address the areas of sexual abuse, abuse reporting and care but we want to go a step further.” In other business, messengers approved a 2022 Cooperative Program goal of $29,150,000 to be distributed 51 percent to Southern Baptist Convention causes and 49 percent for Florida Baptist Convention causes. The 51/49 split is the same distribution Florida Baptists have approved since 2016, the first budget recommendation after Tommy Green became executive director-treasurer in 2015. Florida’s 2022 budget is a $650,000 increase over the 2021 budget of $28,500,000. A slate of FBSC officers for 2022 was nominated and elected without opposition: President Paul Purvis, pastor of Mission Hill Church in Tampa, First Vice President Dwight Woods, senior pastor of Family of God Baptist Church in Panama City, Second Vice President John Bozard, a layman at First Baptist Church in Orlando and Secretary Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dade City. The 2022 Florida Baptist State Convention is set for Nov. 14-15 at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola.
Human trafficking among top issues at Georgia Baptists’ annual meeting By Roger Alford/The Christian Index JONESBORO, Ga. (BP) – The Georgia Baptist Convention will focus more of their energies and resources on helping victims of human trafficking in the coming year. W. Thomas Hammond Jr., executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, challenged the state’s 1.4 million Southern Baptists to increase their engagement on behalf of victims of the criminal enterprise. Hammond delivered that challenge to nearly 1,000 Georgia Baptists who had gathered in Jonesboro on Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 8-9) for an annual meeting in which messengers also voted to create a committee to recommend ways for churches to protect against sex abuse, amend the convention’s constitution and bylaws to include the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and admit 23 new churches to the convention, nearly a third of them bearing names that reflect the state’s broadening ethnicities. “It’s sad that Georgia is one of the leading states for human trafficking,” Hammond said. “We as Georgia Baptists need to be the solution to this problem.” Human trafficking has long been one of the major areas of focus for the Georgia Baptist Convention, but Hammond called for churches to increase their involvement by providing homes for survivors to use as they begin new lives. On the opening day of the annual meeting, the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted to create a Special Committee on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse “to make recommendations for developing programs, best practices, and policy guidelines for preventing sexual abuse.” Pastor Tommy Fountain, chairman of the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee, made the motion to add the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 into the Constitution and Bylaws. The motion passed unanimously. “We’re excited about passing this,” Fountain said. “It’s long overdue.” Messengers approved Tuesday at Cooperative Program budget of almost $37 million, a 3 percent decrease from last year. The percentage forwarded to national and international Southern Baptist Convention causes remained the same at 40 percent. New Georgia Baptist Convention officers include President Kevin Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, who was reelected by acclamation; First Vice President Kyle Walker, senior pastor of Cartersville First Baptist Church; Second Vice President Rafael Valter, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Ágape in Stone Mountain; Third Vice President Brian Moore, senior pastor of New Providence Baptist Church in Forsyth; and Fourth Vice President Brian Parker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Kingsland. Messengers also celebrated their growing ethnic diversity. With a population of about 10 million, Georgia is home to about 1 million people who were born in other countries, and they’re finding spiritual kinship in the state’s evangelical community. “It’s exciting to have these new churches coming onboard with us,” said Georgia Baptist Convention President Kevin Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Villa Rica. “Our international brothers and sisters have a zeal for evangelism and for missions, and our denomination is stronger because they’re joining us in our efforts to reach our state, nation and world with the Gospel.”