ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–While celebrating the 75th anniversary of the “greatest voluntary funding program in the history of Christendom,” messengers to the 143rd meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a revision of their Baptist Faith and Message statement and elected their first baby boomer president.
The June 13-14 SBC annual meeting at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., featured a festive gathering of speakers, musicians, celebrity guests and 11,918 messengers from 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Messengers approved the SBC’s Cooperative Program Allocation of $167,996,385, with the International Mission Board to receive 50 percent of the budget and the North American Mission Board to receive 22.79 percent.
Inside the convention hall, the “Partners in the Harvest” Cooperative Program celebration featured an array of Christian entertainers, a video tribute to the martyred missionary nurse Mavis Pate and the inaugural presentation of the M.E. Dodd award.
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, presented the award to Jim Henry, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., and a former president of the SBC.
The Dodd award is for lifetime achievement to a person or congregation who has demonstrated continuous excellence in giving to the Cooperative Program. First Baptist, Orlando, has led all SBC churches in yearly gifts since 1991.
Since 1925, more than $1.6 billion has been given through the Cooperative Program. A total of 6,181,393 international baptisms have been recorded and more than 13,000 missionaries have been sent around the world. On the home front, the Cooperative Program has supported 6,683 missionaries, helping Baptists record 24 million baptisms.
Dodd, a longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Shreveport, La., chaired the committee that in 1925 recommended creation of the Cooperative Program.
Responding, Henry said, “This is for Dr. Dodd and our spiritual forefathers who had heart and vision to fulfill what God had for the Southern Baptist Convention in diagramming the most magnificent way to reach the world for Christ.”
The Cooperative Program celebration also included videotaped birthday greetings from Christian entertainers Sandi Patti and Rebecca St. James, actor Kirk Cameron, Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes, author and speaker Jon Ereckson Tada, Christian television personality Pat Robertson, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former Seattle Seahawks football player Ken Hutcherson.
In adopting the report of the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly embraced biblical authority and rejected a theology that divides Christ and the Bible one from another, noted Adrian Rogers, committee chairman and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn.
“We have said one more time as Baptists that we believe the Bible and we want to live by the Bible,” Rogers said. “We love Jesus Christ passionately and devotedly. But the Jesus we love is the Jesus of the Bible — not the Jesus of imagination, subjectivity or personal revelation. That really is the watershed.”
While Southern Baptists focused on the biblical aspects of the BFM, the secular media honed in on the document’s stance against women serving as pastors.
“We would never presume to tell another church whom they may call as a pastor or tell another person whether or not they may serve as pastor,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., and a member of the BFM study committee.
Committee member Suzy Hawkins of Dallas said she objected to misrepresentations of her committee’s revisions to the BFM –specifically the perceptions of some that it says women can’t be in ministry.
“No one has ever said those words except the people who question what we’re doing. Jesus never said that as far as ministering and using your gifts. But there are some very specific guidelines in the Bible about the role of pastor — his marriage, character and conduct. It is a noble task and the fact that he is to be a male is just one of those guidelines,” Hawkins said.
Rogers said Baptists would not split over the gender issue.
“No, not even a splinter,” Rogers said. “The proof of that is that out of 42,000 some-odd Baptist churches … less than one-tenth of 1 percent have a female for pastor — somewhere between 50 and 70 in the entire convention. That would not portend any kind of a split at all.”
Convention proceedings were live over the Internet via video and audio, with an audience of 2,200, for example, during the BFM debate.
Messengers elected James G. Merritt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., as president of the 15.8-million member denomination. Merritt, who was nominated without opposition, is the third-youngest SBC president and the first baby boomer elected to the office.
“I am humbled and overwhelmed that God has brought me to this responsibility,” Merritt said. “I covet the prayers of my Southern Baptist family that I would lead with the distinction and wisdom of my predecessors.”
A Georgia native, Merritt has been pastor of the 12,000-member suburban Atlanta church since 1985. During his tenure the congregation has baptized 7,826 people and seen average Sunday school attendance grow from 800 to 3,250. In 1999, the congregation gave approximately $300,000 to the Cooperative Program, about 5 percent of undesignated giving.
Merritt succeeds Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who completed a second one-year term as president.
Messengers also addressed the ever-escalating culture war, approving 10 resolutions including a ground-breaking one in support of capital punishment.
The resolution, in support of the death penalty, was met with overwhelming approval from messengers.
That resolution affirms the use of capital punishment “by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.”
The death penalty should only be used when there is “clear and overwhelming evidence of guilt,” the resolution states. It also calls for “vigilance, justice and equity in the criminal justice system with capital punishment applied as justly and as fairly as possible without undue delay, without reference to the race, class or status of the guilty.”
The resolution cites several biblical passages, including Genesis 9 and Romans 13, in providing support for the use of capital punishment.
Several resolutions focused on liberty. These included: the right to proclaim the gospel of Christ in the United States; religious freedom in China and Sudan; the elimination of sexual trafficking in women and children; and the right of the Boy Scouts of America to determine its own leadership and membership in the face of pressure to include homosexuals.
A group of 27 protesters representing Soulforce, a national network of homosexual activists, and four representatives of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were arrested June 14 in a plaza area outside the convention center. They were charged with illegal assembly. Organizers originally predicted 2,000 protesters would participate. Only 63 showed up, including a man dressed like a chicken.
— a resolution expressing gratitude to God for the Cooperative Program, the unified mission giving plan of the convention on its 75th anniversary;
— a call for a recommitment to personal evangelism, affirming the right to proclaim Jesus in a pluralistic society;
— support for the work of the congressionally established Commission on International Religious Freedom;
— condemnation of the recently revealed trade in unborn baby parts for research purposes and asking public officials to stop it;
— encouragement to the federal government to protect the family and national sovereignty amid the rise of New Age globalism;
— support for the traditional method of calendar dating with the designations B.C. and A.D. instead of the revised BCE (before common era) and C.E. (common era).
In other convention business:
— Chapman announced plans to launch a Save-A-Family Council to build awareness of families’ needs. The council will be lead by Tom Elliff, a former SBC president and pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church, Del City Okla. The council will be under the umbrella of the Executive Committee.
Elliff will spearhead the council’s initiatives to heighten awareness of the needs of families throughout the SBC, Chapman said, and will work with other SBC agencies to provide needed resources and materials for local churches.
“We must wait no longer to answer the question, ‘Is it well with our Southern Baptist soul?'” Chapman told the convention. “May all over the world, Southern Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention be known as a body of believers upon whom the fire fell.”
— LifeWay Christian Resources highlighted its new “Sunday School for a New Century” curriculum — including a Family Bible Study line of materials in which every age group in the family will study the same Scripture theme.
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and a LifeWay trustee, told messengers the Sunday School for a New Century “can strengthen family ties by giving parents a new way to connect with their children.” And it will be strongly evangelistic, he said, declaring “What if every husband, every wife, every child got saved? Think about it.”
Highlighting the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy, LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. reported nearly 4,100 churches and more than 120,000 people have been involved since its national launch in 1998.
Andy Lanford, a 13-year-old FAITH team leader from First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, S.C., told messengers of a home visit in which he planned to share the gospel with one of his friends. But arriving at the door, he was met by the friend’s father at the door.
Learning his friend wasn’t home, Lanford shared the gospel with his friend’s father and “then asked if he’d like to accept Christ and he said yes.”
LifeWay’s new Internet service, LifeWayonline, meanwhile, offers filtering against 20 categories of offensive material, including pornography, alcohol and drug use, gambling, violence, hate/discrimination, profane language and selected chat rooms, Draper told messengers, noting the need to protect families amid the pervasiveness of pornography today on the Internet.
— Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla., was elected first vice president of the convention. Last year Traylor’s congregation baptized 309 people and contributed 11 percent of undesignated receipts to the CP.
Tommy French, pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, La., was elected by messengers to the position of second vice president. French’s church has started at least four other congregations and the church contributes 10 percent of undesignated offerings to CP.
John Yeats of Oklahoma and Lee Porter of Georgia were re-elected as recording secretary and registration secretary, respectively.
Yeats, elected to his fourth term as recording secretary, is editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger. Porter, a retired pastor and denominational employee, is in his 24th year as registration secretary, having first been elected to the office in 1977.
— In the annual Crossover evangelistic outreach, Southern Baptist volunteers shared the gospel through a massive International Festival at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, over hot dogs and chips at neighborhood block parties, on doorsteps and in living rooms and during late-night encounters on city streets. A total of 1,954 people made professions of faith in Christ through the cooperative endeavor of the North American Mission Board and Orlando-area churches.
“Overall, I would rate the entire effort somewhere between outstanding and phenomenal,” said James Fortinberry, executive director of the Greater Orlando Baptist Association.
NAMB’s president, Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, described Crossover as the part of each convention that says, “How can we give ourselves away to the city to which we’ve come.”
At Riverside Baptist Church’s block party, neighborhood resident Ida Gainey said, “It’s what people seem to have forgotten. They’ve forgotten the love and forgotten to bring people together as a family.”
Seven professions of faith came from a single home visit. Darrell Robinson, who retired earlier this year from his post with the NAMB’s evangelism department, and his wife, Kathy, led a Hispanic family through a gospel tract as they stood in their crowded house for about 20 minutes.
“It was so refreshing just to see the simple trust of those sweet people,” Robinson recounted.
In inner-city Orlando, Michael West, a member of Central Baptist Church in Hixson, Tenn., and NAMB’s Inner-City Evangelism team, told of 10 people finding faith in Christ in one spot as they told of friends who also needed to hear the Baptists’ witness.
“As they came to receive Christ, they would say, ‘You need to see this one’ or ‘You have to see that one,'” West said as he walked through the Washington Shores Village public housing development.
In outreach to young women on the streets and in the strip clubs that litter Orlando’s Orange Blossom Trail, 25 Baptist women distributed gold one dollar coins pointing to the profile of Sacagawea, a guide to explorers Lewis and Clark, on one side and a rendering of an eagle on the other.
“To God, you are more precious than gold,” a volunteer would tell the “ladies of the night,” explaining, “This coin is a gift to you so you’ll remember the strength you have as a woman and your ability to soar like an eagle.”
NAMB also sponsored a media campaign featuring television spots with “A Message of Hope from Central Florida Southern Baptists.”
The media campaign was designed to specifically coincide with the SBC convention and Crossover Orlando. The spots were televised on all major network stations in the city. “Anybody living in central Florida will see these prime time spots,” said Tom McEachin of NAMB.
A tag line at the end of each spot referred viewers to a toll-free number, 1-888-JESUS-2000. Callers willing to give their names were contacted by local Florida Baptist churches within 72 hours.
The 2001 SBC annual meeting will be June 14-15 in New Orleans.