CORDOVA — Responding to questions about his committee appointments and controversy involving a Southern Baptist seminary leader, SBC President Steve Gaines released a statement today (May 11) to Baptist Press.
Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., specifically addresses the controversy involving past statements by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson on women, divorce and domestic violence. Gaines’ statement also touched on racial diversity and ways Southern Baptists can pray for the SBC leading up to its annual meeting in Dallas, June 12-13.
See full statement below.
Thank you, Southern Baptists, for allowing me the privilege of serving as your president for the past two years. It has been a joy and honor to travel and see what our Lord is doing throughout our SBC family at the local church, association, state and national levels. As we approach our annual convention in Dallas, I want to address some issues that affect all of us.
Many have discussed the need for racial diversity in the various levels of SBC leadership. That has been a priority of my presidency. The church I pastor is becoming increasingly racially diverse and I am grateful for that. All who love God and believe the Bible should love all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. I believe the vast majority of Southern Baptists genuinely feel the same way. I have sought racial diversity in the appointments I have made and I am confident my successors will do the same.
I also want to address the issues regarding comments made by one of our seminary presidents, Dr. Paige Patterson. I praise God for the leadership he gave to the SBC during the Conservative Resurgence. I am also grateful for his leadership at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have talked with him in person and by phone regarding his comments and told him that I disagree with the counsel he gave to a woman who was married to an abusive husband. I personally believe that if a husband abuses his wife physically, the wife should immediately: 1) notify the police and follow their instructions, 2) remove herself and her children physically from the abusive husband under the protection of police for her safety, and 3) notify the family’s pastor so the church can engage in church discipline toward the abuser. The church should also seek to come alongside the woman and help her in any way possible to ensure her protection and care.
Regarding Dr. Patterson’s more recent remarks about a teenage girl, I believe they were improper. While I love him and appreciate him, I disagree with what he said. Preachers should never refer to women in any way that could be considered demeaning. SBC pastors must do everything we can to protect all women from being subjected to any form of abuse.
On behalf of the SBC, I ask for the forgiveness of all women who have been hurt by these comments and the issue of ill treatment of women within churches in particular. I believe we should esteem and regard women in the same way Jesus did during His earthly ministry. Women are created in the image of God and are of great value and worth. The church especially is no place for misogyny or disrespect for anyone. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women being messengers to the SBC annual meeting. It is my prayer that this year will also mark a renewed commitment to honoring women and their contributions to our churches and convention.
Some have called for me to stop Dr. Patterson from preaching the Convention Sermon in Dallas. The SBC president does not have the authority to make that decision. Neither does the SBC Committee on Order of Business. It was the messengers of the 2017 SBC meeting that selected Dr. Patterson to preach the 2018 Convention Sermon. There are only two scenarios in which Dr. Patterson will not preach the Convention Sermon: 1) the messengers of the SBC vote at the annual meeting in Dallas for him not to do so, or 2) Dr. Patterson personally withdraws from that responsibility. In either case, the alternate preacher, Dr. Kie Bowman, would preach the Convention Sermon.
Some have asked how our SBC process functions regarding SBC entity heads and to whom they are accountable. All SBC employees, including presidents, answer ultimately to their respective trustee boards. SBC trustees are elected by and accountable to the SBC churches, not to the entity heads. SBC messengers from our churches elect all SBC trustees at our annual conventions. Ultimately, the trustees have the right to decide all matters regarding any SBC entity, including matters related to any entity president. The trustees alone are invested with ultimate authority by the SBC.
Southwestern Seminary’s trustees have a special meeting planned for Tuesday, May 22. I encourage all of you to pray for that meeting and to trust this process prescribed by our SBC Bylaws that ensures that all proceedings will be handled fairly and in a suitable setting.
Southern Baptists are at a pivotal time. In the very near future, we will elect a new president of the SBC, the International Mission Board will elect a new president, and the SBC Executive Committee will also elect a new president.
For such a time as this, I’m asking all Southern Baptists to do four things:
— Pray for the SBC. Ultimately, our struggle is not with people, but with Satan and demonic spirits (cf. Ephesians 6:12). We must stop fighting one another, and start fighting the devil on our knees.
— Fast and pray 21 days for our SBC meeting in Dallas. I call all Southern Baptists to participate in a 21-day fast beginning Tuesday, May 22 through Monday, June 11. That will enable us to fast for 21 days immediately prior to the SBC meeting that begins on Tuesday, June 12. Some can do a regular fast (liquids but no food). Most anyone can do some sort of partial fast (i.e. eliminate certain foods, or eliminate a meal or two per day).
— Speak positively and constructively. Every word we speak, in private or public conversation, even on social media, should be Christlike and filled with grace. If anyone reviles you, do not respond in kind. Far better to be wronged than to participate in an ungodly exchange of words before a lost world that is listening and watching.
— Pray for our SBC trustees. They are accountable to the Lord and to our SBC churches, not to the employees of the SBC entities. Let them do their work as we pray for them.
The Southern Baptist Convention needs your help. God has allowed us to live during such a time as this. Let’s unite in Jesus Christ and come together in Dallas and show a lost world that we really do love Jesus, love each other, and love them as well.
God bless you.
Steve Gaines, PhD
Pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
President of the Southern Baptist Convention