By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Tennessee Baptists were well represented among the 8,183 messengers who registered for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, held June 11-12, in Birmingham.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention ranked third among Baptist state conventions with 738 messengers. The Alabama Baptist Convention had 1,366 messengers while the Georgia Baptist Convention was represented with 834 messengers.
Prior to the start of the annual meeting, Southern Baptists knocked on the doors of 10,409 homes, had 1,817 gospel conversations, prayed with 2,251 people and saw 364 people place their faith in Jesus, according to organizers of the annual Crossover evangelism outreach.
During the two days of sessions, messengers strengthened their stance against sexual abuse and racism by overwhelmingly approving two amendments to the SBC Constitution specifically stating that sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity are grounds for a church to be deemed “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
Also approved was an amendment to the SBC’s Bylaws to repurpose the convention’s Credentials Committee into a standing committee to make inquiries and recommendations for action regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.
The constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds messenger vote at next year’s SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The repurposing of the Credentials Committee required only a two-thirds vote this year as an amendment to the convention’s Bylaws.
Sexual abuse prevention
Three days before the annual meeting, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study issued a report after 10 months of work with the hope that God will use it to “spark a movement of healing and reform.” The 52-page report was produced by a fluid study group formed last July by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear.
In three sections, the report calls for the education of Southern Baptist churches to understand abuse, its prevalence, its effects, its underlying issues and the failures of churches; the equipping of Southern Baptist churches to care for abuse survivors; and the preparation of Southern Baptist churches to prevent abuse.
Diversity among Southern Baptists was conveyed in two key committee reports approved in Birmingham.
“The conversation about diversity is starting to yield a culture of diversity,” said Bucky Kennedy, chairman of the Committee on Nominations, which recommends the trustees for the SBC’s entities and members of its standing committees, including the newly repurposed Credentials Committee.
Kennedy reported that 32 percent of the new trustees and committee members are female or non-Caucasian.
Sky Pratt, chairman of this year’s Committee on Committees, which nominated members of the coming year’s 68-member Committee on Nominations, said great strides were made to ensure SBC entities are governed by men and women who reflect the ethnic diversity of the convention, and he called the results “truly historic.”
The Committee on Nominations for 2020 will be 62 percent female or non-Caucasian, Pratt told messengers. By gender, the committee will have 41 men and 27 women.
J.D. Greear was re-elected by acclamation to a second term as president and will lead a diverse slate of officers including Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., first vice president; Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, recording secretary; and Kathy Litton, director of planter spouse development for the North American Mission Board, was elected registration secretary, becoming the first woman to serve in the position.
In his president’s address, Greear gave three defining values he believes should shape the future of the SBC: prioritize the gospel above all, be willing to do whatever it takes to reach all people and commit to sending every member.
An International Mission Board Sending Celebration was popular among messengers as during the appointment of 26 new Southern Baptist international missionaries. The service illuminated a dark Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center arena with colorful banners and praise music and included missionaries telling why they are going to the nations.
— Additional stories on the SBC and related meetings can be found at baptistandreflector.org. This article is based on reporting by Baptist Press writers Erin Roach and Brian Koonce.