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WRAP-UP: Southern Baptists focus on evangelism, end Disney boycott, hear from President Bush at Nashville meeting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Under the banner of “Everyone Can,” Southern Baptists June 22 launched an ambitious effort to baptize one million people in a year, capping an annual meeting that also saw an end to the Disney boycott, a special recognition of Billy Graham and an address via satellite from President Bush.

It was the first time since 1914 that the meeting was held in Nashville, Tenn., with the largest number of messengers since 2000. The 11,641 registered messengers were the most since 11,918 registered for the meeting in Orlando, Fla., five years ago.

Although messengers dealt with a handful of contentious issues during the June 21-22 meeting — such as the approval of the corporate model known as sole membership for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary — the emphasis was on evangelism.

The nearly week-long convergence on Nashville began with a record 10,000-plus volunteers doing door-to-door evangelism as part of Crossover Nashville on Saturday and ended with a message from LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. during Wednesday evening’s finale, complete with fireworks, confetti, a balloon drop and a performance from the contemporary Christian music group Casting Crowns. Over the course of the weekend and week, there were more than 2,500 recorded professions of faith in Christ.

SBC President Bobby Welch, who was re-elected to a second one-year term, has dubbed the one-year emphasis on evangelism the “Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge.”

“The only thing we can do down here that we cannot do in heaven is win the lost,” Draper said, pointing to plateaued baptismal statistics in recent years.

Referring to the conservative resurgence, he added: “It’s now time for us to build on what’s been accomplished.”

After Draper spoke, music artist Ricky Skaggs blew a shofar, or ram’s horn, signaling the beginning of the evangelism emphasis.

“We are going to go out there and we are going to attack the gates of hell … for the sake of souls,” Welch shouted to applause.

On Tuesday Welch delivered a presidential address that will be remembered for years to come. He held up several flattened dead frogs he found on the road in front of his house. A concrete truck, he said, killed all of them.

“You know where I found these little dead frogs? Following this big dead frog,” Welch said, holding up an even bigger frog to laughter.

Welch then made his point: “This frog belonged in the deep but he hopped in the street, and that’s where his end came.”

Welch was preaching from Luke 5, the account where Jesus’ disciples cast their nets in the deep and caught so many fish that their nets tore.

Much like the frogs were heading in the wrong direction, Welch said, many Southern Baptists are doing the same. They are “fishing far too close to the shore” and have lost their passion for evangelism.

“We can go further. We can go deeper,” he said. “We can do more for the glory of God and the sake of souls if we will get off the bank and go to the deep.”

Welch’s emphasis on evangelism was nearly endless. Throughout the two days he prompted messengers to shout in unison, “Everyone can, and I’m it!” — a reference to the fact that every believer is gifted to share the Gospel. In one impromptu moment he even grabbed a microphone and went into the audience, asking messengers to tell about their Crossover experiences.

As part of the evangelism emphasis, eight people — including a soldier who served in Iraq — were baptized by their pastor during the annual meeting. Because baptism is an ordinance of the church, all baptisms were conducted with the full approval of the sponsoring home churches, with members from each church present to witness.

In other noteworthy matters:

— Bush addressed messengers via satellite, restating his support for a constitutional marriage amendment and his desire to build a “culture of life” in America. He told Southern Baptists their belief in a “free church in a free state” requires establishing a culture of compassion.

Southern Baptists, Bush said, “know that freedom is a divine gift that carries serious responsibilities.” He added, “We are called by our Creator to use this gift of freedom to build a more compassionate society.” Establishing a compassionate society involves strengthening families, protecting life and helping the needy, Bush said.

— Messengers passed a resolution ending an eight-year boycott of The Disney Company. The boycott began in 1997. The resolution, passed nearly unanimously, said the boycott has been effective in expressing Southern Baptists’ disagreement with Disney “products and policies that violate moral righteousness and traditional family values.”

— Messengers passed a resolution urging parents and churches to examine textbooks and programs in “community schools” and to “hold accountable” the institutions involved. The resolution included one paragraph addressing the homosexual agenda — a subject that had received much pre-convention attention in a proposed, but not adopted resolution submitted by two Texas leaders.
Other resolutions that passed include ones supporting military troops; supporting non-embryonic stem cell research while opposing embryonic stem cell research; and opposing congressional filibusters of federal judicial nominees.

— Messengers approved sole membership for New Orleans Seminary by a margin of 78-21 percent and also approved sole membership for the Executive Committee. Every SBC entity now has adopted sole membership.

— As part of a special recognition of Billy Graham’s ministry, a bronze model of the evangelist was unveiled. The actual, full-sized statue will be unveiled at next year’s meeting in Greensboro, N.C. William Franklin Graham IV — Graham’s grandson — appeared on his behalf. The younger Graham, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked messengers not to try to emulate his grandfather.

“My grandfather and I would say, you’re shooting too low,” Graham said. “… He’d say, aim higher. He’d say, just be faithful to the call that you have. … God’s going to use you, just like he used my grandfather.”

Graham, who is pastor of Wakefield Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., also told messengers: “I’m proud to be a Southern Baptist, along with my grandfather.”

— North American Mission Board President Robert E. (Bob) Reccord announced plans for a national evangelistic media campaign this fall and unveiled a new Internet broadcast media platform designed to help churches of all sizes share the Gospel throughout the world. The media campaign, “See Who Cares,” includes eight 30-second television commercials that deal with such life issues as crisis pregnancy, drug addiction and divorce. Each commercial poses the question: “Does anyone care?” Reccord said the commercials are available for free and can be customized for local SBC churches, Baptist associations and state conventions. NAMB has launched a website: www.seewhocares.com.

— International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin thanked Southern Baptists for giving $16 million to tsunami relief and more than $133 million to the 2004 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

The tsunami funds not only provided emergency aid to survivors of the tsunami but are “underwriting long-term rebuilding projects to minister to people and restore hope and livelihood” to the devastated region, Rankin said. “Hundreds of volunteers have gone at personal expense and with the help of churches and state conventions to participate in these projects.

“Most of this mobilization of volunteers and resources is being coordinated by the disaster relief staff of our state conventions, assisted by the North American Mission Board — a synergy that reflects the genius of cooperation among Southern Baptists,” Rankin told messengers.

— In his annual LifeWay report, Draper gave an update on his meetings with younger leaders within the SBC. The SBC is “wrong,” he said, if it allows younger leaders to walk away from the denomination by not engaging and involving them.

“Younger ministers are going where the action is, building relationships and bringing the wounded to the feet of Christ,” he said. “We need a healthy infusion of their passion to awaken in us the passion that drove the renegades who founded our denomination 160 years ago. We must set aside our territorialism, regain our focus and venture out into our culture. I’m banging this drum of younger ministers because I do not believe God is finished using the SBC, and that our best days lie ahead.”

— Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said last year’s iVoteValues effort registered more than 61,000 new voters. The initiative also distributed 90,000-plus bulletin inserts and some 306,000 party platform comparison guides for last November’s election.

Last November, Land said, the media “heard loud and clear that there is a new force loose in America and it is people who are going to vote traditional religious values, be they evangelicals, be they Catholics or be they Jewish….”

— Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., delivered the convention sermon, blending conservative resurgence history, a text out of Acts 27 and a line from the hymn “Rescue the Perishing.”

Praising the integrity of messengers who have clung to biblical infallibility since 1979, Whitten said, “I’d rather have 15,000 people in unity than 45,000 people fighting each other.”

— Welch ran unopposed and was re-elected president. Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., was elected first vice president, while Roy Fish, longtime evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, was elected second vice president.

John L. Yeats, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, was re-elected recording secretary, while James H. (Jim) Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Ozark, Mo., was re-elected registration secretary.

— Donald Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., was elected to preach the 2006 convention sermon, while Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was elected to serve as the alternate. James D. Whitmire, minister of music at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., was elected to serve as the director of music.

— Messengers gave final approval allowing the Annuity Board to change its name to GuideStone Financial Resources.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust