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Top Southern Baptist news stories of 2020

After ceasing in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, McKenzie Road Baptist is back to meeting in its building, with caveats. Half the chairs have been removed. The remainder have been positioned for single, double and triple sets, with generous space between each set. (Submitted Photo)

NASHVILLE (BP) – As days stretched into weeks stretched into months, COVID-19 seemed to spread everywhere – and into almost everything. Here’s a look at the top SBC stories of 2020 as selected by Baptist Press:

  • COVID-19 – a global pandemic arrives

2020 was the year of COVID-19, with virtually nothing in life left untouched – and much of life going virtual, so as not to touch much of anything. As the numbers of cases and deaths increased, Southern Baptists practiced social distancing, “attended” church on screens, waited for a vaccine – and continued to proclaim the Gospel throughout their communities, the nation and the world. See Baptist Press’ year-end report on the pandemic’s impact on Southern Baptists.

  • Cancellation of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting

For the first time since 1945, the annual meeting was canceled. Though essential business was still conducted, missing out on the opportunity to gather left a “very real void.” See a BP report on what was lost (and what was not) by the cancellation.

  • Racial tension and the SBC’s response

The death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in custody of Minneapolis police was the biggest spark of several incidents that set off waves of protests and riots nationwide. Southern Baptist leaders responded with a statement condemning racism. Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, moderated a virtual town hall meeting. Among other efforts, Southern Baptists endorsed a move by Mississippi to replace its Confederate-themed state flag. Within the SBC, controversy over critical race theory boiled late in the year, with various groups of leaders releasing statements.

  • LifeWay agrees to sell Ridgecrest

Amid continuing economic headwinds, LifeWay Christian Resources reached agreement with a newly formed group, the Ridgecrest Foundation, to sell Ridgecrest Conference Center and Summer Camps. A sale price for the 1,300-acre North Carolina property was not announced, but a public filing indicated the RidgeCrest Foundation, an independent, nonprofit ministry, was attempting to raise $12.5 million to finance the purchase. The foundation billed itself as a ministry “committed to honoring the history and legacy of Ridgecrest.” LifeWay President Ben Mandrell affirmed the group’s “hearty affirmation of evangelical essentials of faith.”

  • SBC entities go to court

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (and Baylor University) sued a charitable foundation set up solely to benefit the schools. LifeWay sued former president Thom Rainer over alleged violation of his separation agreement with the entity (they later reached resolution). And after an earlier dismissal was reversed by the Fifth Circuit, the North American Mission Board decided to petition the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed against the entity by a former state executive.

  • Withdrawing fellowship

In February, the SBC Executive Committee, acting on a recommendation by the SBC Credentials Committee, voted to disfellowship Ranchland Heights Baptist Church of Midland, Texas, from the SBC because of its employment of a lifetime registered sex offender as pastor. It was the first such action after a change in SBC bylaws to revise the function of the Credentials Committee.

  • Presidential election, Supreme Court shift

While the vast majority of self-described evangelicals voted for President Donald Trump, he was defeated in his bid for reelection by former Vice President Joe Biden. But one of Trump’s most important accomplishments occurred days before the election, when the U.S. Senate confirmed conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.

  • Historic election of SBC Executive Committee chairman

During a special called meeting in June, the Executive Committee elected Rolland Slade, a pastor from El Cajon, Calif., as its chairman. Slade is the first African American chairman of the EC.

  • NAMB, IMB team up in partnership with Send Relief

The two missions organizations announced a new working relationship to combine compassion ministry efforts in North America and abroad under the umbrella of Send Relief.

  • Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns amid scandal

The controversial Falwell resigned from his position as president of Liberty University, the university founded by his father, after allegations that he condoned an affair between his wife and a business partner he described as a family friend. Falwell later filed suit against Liberty, alleging the school damaged his reputation, but then dropped the suit.

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