NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pro-family issues once again dominated as the concerns most often expressed during the 41 state Baptist convention meetings this fall. Resolutions easily passed in defense of the sanctity of life, sexual purity and the traditional definition of marriage.
California and Florida Baptists celebrated the successful passage of marriage amendments in their states in November. Alabama Baptists commended the action of California voters and called for a federal marriage amendment, while Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) messengers affirmed the definition of marriage as a lifelong covenant only between a man and a woman. Maryland Baptists were told of a successful effort to oppose bills that would redefine marriage, set boundaries on covenant marriage and win approval of same-sex marriage.
As one of 20 remaining states yet to adopt a constitutional marriage amendment, West Virginia Southern Baptists view the matter as having “grave importance to the well-being of the human family.” Concerned that the state’s statute prohibiting “gay marriage” could be struck down through a court challenge similar to those that occurred in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, the resolution encourages a legislative solution while also urging West Virginia Baptists to demonstrate the love of Christ to those living a homosexual lifestyle.
In contrast, messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) heard speaker Tony Campolo criticize passage of Proposition 8 in California. The only thing gained, he said, was that protestors of the measure view Prop 8’s church-related advocates as their enemy.
Arkansas Baptists were encouraged to provide foster homes and serve as adoptive parents to at-risk children while also supporting passage of the Arkansas Adoption and Foster Care Act to prohibit cohabitating adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual, from serving as foster or adoptive parents.
Resolutions upholding the sanctity of life passed in Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas SBTC. Language in the Kentucky statement decried the efforts of some church leaders in the United States to convince others to “move beyond the abortion discussion,” relegating the issue to the background, while the South Carolina resolution sought state protection for infants born alive, especially those infants who survive an attempted abortion.
Both Oklahoma and SBTC messengers encouraged parents to make wise, biblically informed decisions regarding the education of their children. South Carolina messengers encouraged families to “recover … the lost act of family worship in their homes” and commended media outlets that promote positive or Christian family values.
The development and implementation of child protection policies and procedures for all churches was encouraged by Oklahoma Baptists. Louisiana and Oklahoma Baptists adopted statements encouraging sexual purity.
With most annual meetings held prior to the national election, many state conventions passed resolutions extending prayer and encouragement for elected officials or values-based voting, including Illinois, Kansas-Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri, Northwest and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) messengers urged prayer for peace, unity and wisdom in the transition of the nation’s governance. Support for the U.S. military was expressed by Northwest, Oklahoma and West Virginia Baptists.
APPRECIATION FOR MINISTRY
Expressions of appreciation to the host church were offered in nearly every state meeting and some messengers took the opportunity to express gratitude for particular ministries, including Iowa Baptists praising their partnership with Southern Baptist ministries and Alabama Baptists affirming Gideons International.
Disaster relief ministries were recognized through resolutions or other presentations in several conventions, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas-Nebraska, New Mexico, Penn-South Jersey, South Carolina and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention while Texas BGCT messengers passed a resolution urging prayer for relief and recovery efforts from recent hurricanes.
New executive directors were welcomed in several states, including Fred Hewitt in Montana, Jeff Ginn at SBCV, Randel Everett at BGCT and Rob Lee in Utah-Idaho. The 12-year tenure of Doyle Chauncey in Virginia was recognized by SBCV, following his retirement early this year. Florida Baptists honored the 20-year tenure of Executive Director John Sullivan while SBTC recognized Executive Director Jim Richards for having led since their founding in Texas in 1998.
In addition to the 10-year milestone of SBTC, anniversaries were in order for Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists for 25 years, New England Baptists for 25 years, Nevada Baptists for 30 years and Indiana Baptists in their 50th year. The ministries of James Currin, Ken Lyle and Gordon Thomas were highlighted during historical reflections of New England Baptists.
Indiana Baptists expressed appreciation to the sister conventions of Illinois and Kentucky in assisting in the convention’s formation, to former executive directors Charles Sullivan, Mark Coppenger, R.V. Haygood and E. Harmon Moore for their leadership, to the sister conventions in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Florida for ministry partnerships and all of the SBC entities and Woman’s Missionary Union as ministry partners.
OTHER ISSUES ADDRESSED
South Carolina Baptists emphasized the importance of the proper use of the Lord’s Day and affirmed the use of the word “Christmas” in opposition to growing secularization of the holiday. Concern for religious liberty was affirmed by Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas Baptists in SBTC.
Messengers in Alabama, Arkansas and Texas (BGCT) opposed new gambling efforts in their respective states while Maryland Baptists heard a report on efforts to oppose gambling in their state. West Virginia Baptists encouraged churches to educate members on the dangers of alcohol consumption.
A few states passed resolutions patterned after recent actions at the Southern Baptist Convention, including Michigan Baptists who adopted a statement on regenerate church membership and Missouri Baptists passing one on environmental stewardship.
Kentucky Baptists called for the development of young leaders and Northwest Baptists challenged churches “not to be bound by methods, traditions, fears, culture or selfish desires but to be led by the Lord Jesus Christ in reaching our communities.” Alabama Baptists encouraged broadened Sunday School enrollment and BGCT messengers asked their convention to research new ways to assist the majority of churches — those with fewer than 50 in weekly attendance. A BGCT resolution also encouraged efforts in adult education, ESL programs and literacy across Texas.
Other resolutions passed by SBTC in Texas addressed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the centrality of Scripture, the primacy of the local church and a “fully biblical definition” in calling for a Great Commission resurgence.
EVANGELISM & MISSIONS
Much of the time in annual meetings was spent emphasizing the Great Commission mandate to make disciples while encouraging new evangelism initiatives locally. Reports of state and international mission partnerships were reported in most convention meetings. New churches affiliating within the prior year were welcomed, including the addition of Seoul International Church in South Korea by the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
Prayer and spiritual awakening were the focus of resolutions in Oklahoma and West Virginia and the annual meeting theme in Colorado. Dakota Baptists affirmed the challenge to live like a missionary with a passion for the salvation of souls and advancement of God’s Kingdom. New Mexico Baptists were challenged to lovingly proclaim God’s Word and build relationships to introduce others to Christ and New York Baptists heard an appeal to share the Gospel weekly through the end of the year.
Many state conventions encouraged specific plans for evangelistic outreach, including the Sturgis Evangelistic Outreach by Dakota Baptists, Reach Out to Others by Illinois Baptists, Peace of Jesus in New Orleans by Louisiana Baptists, Embrace Baltimore by Maryland-Delaware Baptists, Great Commission Strategy for Montana Baptists, Experiencing Kingdom Life in South Carolina, God’s Plan for Sharing in Tennessee and Texas Hope 2010 by BGCT.
While Kentucky Baptists were encouraged to participate in Crossover Louisville next year prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, several state conventions hosted local Crossover-type efforts prior to their own annual meetings. The combined efforts in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas (SBTC) were rewarded with 683 professions of faith.
Commissioning services for International Mission Board representatives were held in conjunction with the annual meetings in Alaska for the first time, as well as North Carolina and Texas (SBTC), prompting many individuals in the audiences to consider serving on mission internationally.
REORGANIZATION AND POLICY CHANGES
Messengers to the Northwest convention affirmed a recent change in staff structure that facilitates field-driven regional ministry. Two calls for changes to the state convention name were defeated, including a proposal to use Network of California Baptist Churches instead of California Baptist Convention and Texas Baptist Convention instead of Baptist General Convention of Texas. BGCT messengers referred the matter for further study.
A new policy passed by Georgia Baptists gives the state convention’s executive director and administration committee authority to refuse gifts from individuals and churches that are not in cooperation and harmony with the work and purpose of the convention. While it could prevent acceptance of property deemed impractical to maintain, the policy immediately applies to the financial support offered by a Decatur church pastored by a woman.
A spokesman said the church’s decision last year to call a woman as pastor conflicted with the Baptist Faith & Message statement that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
A constitutional amendment change fell short in Ohio to consider churches that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” or have female senior pastors as not being in cooperation with the purpose and work of the convention. Chuck Sams, director of missions for Ohio Valley Baptist Association, proposed the change which Ohio Baptists were informed of in advance of the meeting.
While a majority of messengers voted in favor of the motion, the number was short of the two-thirds required for passage. Some expressed a desire to clarify the convention’s perspective on those matters before a circumstance arises for it to be applied, while opponents questioned where a line might be drawn in determining the practices of churches.
BGAV established a financial criterion for affiliation, requiring a minimum contribution of $500 from Virginia churches.
Missouri Baptists heard a report of a Peace Committee which acknowledged an impasse in their process and called for assistance in mediation of differing factions by Peacemaker Ministries of Billings, Mont.
North Carolina Baptists launched three new ministries involving senior adults, women and church loans.
Alabama Baptists modified the funding formula for higher education while Dakota Baptists welcomed a theological and leadership development program in conjunction with Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary at three locations. Georgia Baptists approved a name change for Shorter College to Shorter University.
Two state conventions — Arizona and Kentucky — compressed their schedules to shorten annual meetings to one day. Alabama reported a record-setting turnout, while other meetings were marked by the lowest gathering in several decades in Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and the BGCT.
FUNDING COOPERATIVE MINISTRY
Seventeen of the state conventions continued a multi-year effort to send a greater portion of the undesignated receipts from local churches to fund Southern Baptist missions, theological education, moral and religious liberty concerns, as well as the work of the convention between annual meetings. The amount state conventions allocate for Southern Baptist ministry beyond the state varies from 13 to 55 percent.
In Florida, an ad-hoc Cooperative Program study committee recommended no change in the 40/60 distribution of receipts to in-state and SBC causes, having found “no voice to split CP funds in a 50/50 distribution.”
North Carolina Baptists modified the recommendation of a study committee to reduce their four giving plans to a single approach, rejecting an option to allow continued designated giving to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
A handful of state conventions cut their budgets by more than 5 percent from the previous year, due to a shortfall in projected income from local churches, including Maryland-Delaware, North Carolina, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Wyoming and Penn-South Jersey. Seven other state conventions cut a smaller portion from last year’s total budget while two-thirds of the 41 state conventions passed larger budgets this year.
A resolution passed by Kentucky Baptists urged continued support of the Gospel advance through tithes and offerings even during times of economic hardship while resolutions of Alabama and Mississippi Baptist affirmed the Cooperative Program.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.