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Tenn. Baptists adopt resolution against racism

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Messengers to the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s annual meeting overwhelmingly spoke against racism during the Nov. 12-16 sessions of The Summit at First Baptist Church in Henderson.

David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Millington in West Tennessee, was elected president during the meeting, which drew 993 messengers from 422 churches.

The total did not include eight messengers from First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, as the convention voted overwhelmingly not to seat those from the church, which called a woman as senior pastor earlier this year. See Baptist Press story on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Among other actions, messengers also adopted a reduced budget from last year and referred a motion to expand the definition of a cooperating Tennessee Baptist church back to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

The annual meeting also focused on spiritual lostness in the state as reflected in the convention theme, “Rescue Now.”

Racism & the Great Commission

Tennessee Baptists adopted their resolution on “Racism and the Great Commission” during The Summit’s final session.

Citing numerous verses of Scripture, the resolution noted that people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); that salvation is available to all people regardless of race or ethnicity because Jesus Christ gave His life so that “whosoever would believe” might be saved (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4); and that people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be gathered before the throne of Jesus (Revelation 7:9).

The resolution noted that:

— “God is bringing the nations to Tennessee and is making Tennessee home to more than 145 different global people groups” and that the TBC is “comprised of racially and ethnically diverse churches.”

— the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 affirms “Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”

— Tennessee Baptists “are categorically opposed to all ideologies and movements of any race that diminish the dignity of any human being” and that they believe “one cannot be a devoted follower of Christ and harbor racism of any kind in one’s heart.”

— Tennessee Baptists “embrace Tennessee as a diverse mission field that God has called to reach through the fervent preaching of the gospel and acts of service to others, regardless of race or ethnicity,” pledging to “intensify our efforts to pray, give, and advance the Great Commission across the street to our closest neighbors and to the ends of the earth.”

The resolution exhorted Tennessee Baptists “to pray for the salvation of our neighbors regardless of race or ethnicity” and to pray “for our leaders and all who are in authority” as they make policy decisions related to issues of race (1 Timothy 2:2).

And the resolution called for Tennessee Baptists “to earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through the redeemed fellowship in the kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

Elections & budget

David Leavell, who served as the TBC’s vice president in 2015, was unopposed for the presidency in a session moderated by the TBC’s outgoing president, Steve Freeman, senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Springfield.

Leavell currently serves on the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board; he was a member of the 2017 Committee on Resolutions for the Southern Baptist Convention; and he is a trustee of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where his late father, Landrum P. Leavell II, served as president from 1975-1994.

Also elected as officers were Todd Stinnett, vice president, and Brian Carmichael, second vice president. Stinnett, who served this past year as second vice president, is senior pastor at Black Oak Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville; Carmichael is senior pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church in Memphis. Both were unopposed.

Messengers adopted a Cooperative Program allocation budget of $34.5 million for 2017-2018, $500,000 less than the 2016-2017 budget goal. It continues to move toward an equal distribution between TBC and Southern Baptist Convention causes but is a smaller step than originally planned due to a decline in Cooperative Program giving following an increase the previous year. The adopted budget will be distributed 53.36 percent to TBC causes and 46.64 percent to SBC causes; this year’s percentages have been TBC, 54.48 percent; SBC, 45.52 percent.

Messengers were to have considered a recommendation from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to expand the definition of a cooperating Baptist church to include those churches that give through the TBC portion of the Cooperative Program budget without restriction or designation.

The recommendation noted that “some churches across the state have expressed frustration with actions and activities occurring on the SBC level. Some of them wish to direct funds around those entities but want to continue to fully support the activities at the TBC level. Failure to contribute to the Cooperative Program without any restriction has prohibited churches from sending messengers to the annual meeting.”

The recommendation noted that “the change will allow churches to make the decision” of which SBC entities they wish to continue to support, “while supporting all ministries of the TBC and have full rights to participate in the governance of the TBC.”

Messenger Jim Cross, pastor of First Baptist Church in Donelson, spoke against the recommendation, noting that messengers need to send a clear message that “we are for the Cooperative Program.”

Larry Robertson, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville, introduced a motion to refer the recommendation back to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. He acknowledged that he had just rotated off the TBMB and had approved the recommendation earlier this year. “The more I thought about it, the more concerned I was,” he stated. “I want the board to reconsider the recommendation.”

Robertson expressed concern that adopting the recommendation could hurt one of the TBC’s key objectives, which is to realize an increase in annual local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024. “I fear this amendment may not help our objective be accomplished. I think it needs more study.”

Robertson’s motion was seconded and during discussion on whether to refer back to the TBMB, messengers expressed opinions on both sides of the issue.

Steve Tiebout, pastor of The River Church in Cookeville, said it would be best to send the recommendation back for further study in order to develop a better plan. It goes against the fourth objective, he said, noting the recommendation has “some elements we need,” but not all.

Bill Seale, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Morristown, spoke against the referral, noting that it would have to be discussed again next year anyway because it takes two votes to change the constitution.

After others expressed opinions, messengers voted overwhelmingly to refer the recommendation back to the TBMB for further study.

Other actions:

— The convention authorized the renewal of a missions partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio in the area of Greater Cincinnati/Dayton and to expand it to include western Ohio beginning Jan. 1 and concluding Dec. 31, 2020. Messengers also recognized the ending of a missions partnership in Italy and signed a partnership agreement with Nashville Baptist Association for City Reach Nashville.

— Messengers adopted a report from the Committee on Arrangements for Jordan Easley, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, to preach the 2018 convention sermon, with Clay Hallmark, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lexington, as the alternate.

The 2018 meeting will be Nov. 11-14 at West Jackson Baptist Church in Jackson. The dates of the 146th annual meeting set for Nov. 12-13, 2019, in Knoxville will be changed to Nov. 19-20 due to a conflict of dates with the Knoxville Convention Center where it will be held. Future meetings are: 2021, Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Nov. 9-10, and 2022, Chattanooga Convention Center, Chattanooga, Nov. 15-16.