After months of debate, Southern Baptist Convention messengers meeting June 15-16 adopted an amended version of the Great Commission Task Force report and also elected a new president, Bryant Wright.
It was the first time Southern Baptists had gathered in Orlando since 2000, the same year they debated and passed another significant document, the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message.
The 23-member Great Commission Task Force (GCTF), formed during the 2009 meeting by then-SBC President Johnny Hunt, released a preliminary report in February and a lengthy final report in May. Discussion on the report in newspapers, Internet blogs, and social media led to the largest messenger total at an annual meeting — just over 11,000 — since 2006.
In other top annual meeting news, messengers passed a resolution calling divorce a "scandal that has become all too commonplace in our own churches" and an oil spill resolution asserting that "our God-given dominion over the creation is not unlimited, as though we were gods and not creatures."
The Convention also voted in its first presidential runoff since 1982.
In addition, in its pre-Covention meeting, the Executive Committee elected Frank Page its next president.
The GCTF report dominated the messengers' attention. It had seven components: the adoption of a mission statement; the adoption of eight core values; and five specific requests for the SBC Executive Committee to consider, some in conjunction with the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the leadership of the state conventions.1 None of the components drew more discussion during the Tuesday afternoon session than the third component's call for a new category, "Great Commission Giving," that would encompass not only Cooperative Program giving but also designated giving to all SBC causes.
Critics argued the new category would de-emphasize CP giving, and when messenger John Waters (Georgia) offered an amendment striking the new category from the report, a vote via a show of ballots appeared too close to call. Rather than putting the amendment to a ballot vote that possibly would push discussion of the report into the evening, task force members offered two compromise amendments that strengthened the report's CP language. Both were amendments to Component No. 3 and both passed overwhelmingly.
The first amendment said Southern Baptists "continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach." The second amendment — which was written during a discussion on stage between task force members and Waters — said Southern Baptists affirm "that designated giving to special causes is to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving."2
Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia, spoke from the podium and said the compromise amendment was offered by him and task force members "in the spirit of unity and togetherness" so as "to find some common ground on which we can stand for the sake of" the Great Commission.
After the final amendment passed, the report itself passed via a show of ballots by an estimated three-to-one margin.
Following the historic vote, task force chairman Ronnie Floyd recalled the statement issued by northern and southern Baptists after the 1845 founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. He told messengers: "Following the pattern of our leaders of old, we also would say to the watching world that the differences between those who support the Great Commission Resurgence report and recommendations and those who do not should not be exaggerated. We are still brothers and sisters in Christ. We differ on no article of faith.
"We are guided by our shared commitment to the Gospel itself and to the articles of faith identified in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000," he added. "The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention of churches that is committed to a missional vision of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations. We are a Great Commission people."
Task force members said the amendments strengthened the report.
"The bottom line is that in an inelegant way we have a superior recommendation," task force member R. Albert Mohler Jr. said of the amendment process. "I think it's, in one sense, Southern Baptists at their very best — sometimes a bit clumsy but determined to get to the same place together. And I appreciated the spirit of the messengers."
SBC President Elected
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, was elected in a runoff for SBC president, winning 55 percent to 44 percent for Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. Speaking to reporters shortly after he was elected, Wright emphasized his church's spotlight on missions and said he would like to see more churches and pastors take mission trips.
"The pastor needs to experience what it's like to be out there in another culture, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ," Wright said.
Wright supported the task force's report.
"The task force leadership has led the convention in taking a very courageous step, but it is really just a beginning," Wright said. "If we're going to be radically serious about reaching this world for Christ, we as individuals and we as churches are going to have to really be prayerfully committed to fulfilling what God has called us to do with the Great Commission."
Wright also talked about how the leaders of his church expressed concern over the percentage of Cooperative Program dollars that remain in the United States. Consequently, they lowered their CP giving in order to raise contributions to the International Mission Board.
"We would very much prefer that all those funds go straight through CP," Wright said, "but there needs to be a radical reprioritization of that money."
Asked about a column he wrote urging state conventions to retain only 25 percent to 30 percent of undesignated CP gifts from churches, Wright said, "I'd love to see states move in that direction, knowing it will be a long, long process." Even a goal of splitting receipts 50/50 between state and SBC causes would allow funding for many more missionaries, he said.
Wright said state convention leaders "can be the real heroes in carrying out the Great Commission" since they control budgets and decide how much goes out of state for distribution to Southern Baptist causes.
A resolution on divorce, which passed with what appeared to be a unanimous vote, said the "acceleration in rates of divorce in Southern Baptist churches has not come through a shift in theological conviction about scriptural teaching on divorce but rather through cultural accommodation." It urged churches "to proclaim the Word of God on the permanence of marriage" and for "Southern Baptists in troubled or faltering marriages to seek godly assistance and, where possible, reconciliation." It further called on churches "to proclaim God's mercy and grace to all people — including those who have been divorced without biblical grounds." Resolutions Committee Chairman Russell Moore said it was the convention's first resolution since 1904 directly to address divorce.
A resolution on the Gulf oil spill, which passed nearly unanimously, called on Southern Baptists to help those in the region who are hurting and to pray for an end to the tragedy. It also acknowledged that "this tragedy should remind us to testify to the love of God in His creation and to the hope through the blood of Christ, of a fully restored creation in which the reign of God is seen 'on earth as it is in heaven' (Matthew 6:10)."
Messengers also passed resolutions:
• calling for reaffirmation of the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus.
• supporting family worship.
• opposing the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the overturning of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
EC President Elected
Frank Page, vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board, was elected the next Executive Committee president during a closed executive session of the EC meeting June 14, the day prior to the annual meeting. He said he hopes to be a unifying voice in the convention.
"There's great division amongst the brethren and to pull us together is going to be a God-ordained task that I shall deal with as best I can," he said. "One of my goals is to be a unifier. We've got to, based on John 17:21. It is imperative for our evangelistic efforts that we be unified."
In Other Matters
• More than 1,500 people professed faith in Christ during the pre-convention Crossover evangelism emphasis, which had 1,900-plus volunteers.
• International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin delivered his final report to messengers, applauding Southern Baptists for giving nearly $149 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering but saying it still was not enough to send all the Southern Baptists waiting for missionary appointment. "What will we sacrifice?" he asked. "What will we be willing to change in order for the missionaries that God is calling from our churches to go and touch the lost nations and peoples who are dying without Christ? I pray that that question will be implanted in our minds and stir our conscience with conviction."
• Richard Harris, interim president of the North American Mission Board, told messengers that three out of every four people in North America have no personal relationship with Christ. Yet Harris recounted several reasons for optimism, including a church in Painter, Alabama, that saw its Easter attendance double by using the God's Plan for Sharing (GPS) evangelism strategy. Harris also said that 85,000 Haitians have accepted Christ since the earthquake. "I have never been more excited than this day to move forward to penetrate lostness in North America, and the North American Mission Board is going to help you do it," he said.
• Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman delivered his final report to messengers, reminding them again of the need to uphold the priority of the Cooperative Program.
"The Cooperative Program has survived many years of tough times and brought us through every time," Chapman said. "The Cooperative Program has never given any entity all the money that the entity would need under visionary leadership, but at the same time the Cooperative Program has always provided some for every entity that Southern Baptists supported to do their work for the Lord Jesus Christ.
"If we abandon the methodology of cooperation, we shall be independent Baptists, not autonomous, cooperating Baptists," Chapman said.
• Messengers elected Tennessee evangelist Ron Herrod as first vice president and Eric Moffett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sparkman, Arkansas, as second vice president. Earlier in the convention, Moffett's church received the Executive Committee's M.E. Dodd Award for its commitment to the Cooperative Program. Over the past thirty years, the 100-member church has given an average of 32 percent to CP. By acclamation, messengers elected John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, as SBC recording secretary, and Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Missouri, as registration secretary. Messengers also elected David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, to preach the convention sermon at the 2011 annual meeting in Phoenix.
• The SBC Pastors' Conference spotlighted adoption and used the surplus from the conference offerings to fund a series of $2,000 scholarships for adopting couples. (Information is available at SBCAdoption.com). "Adoption is not God's Plan B ever. Adoption is always God's Plan A, if that's what He's called the family to," Cissy McNickle said during a short video that told her family's adoption story. She and her husband, Buff, received the first scholarship.