By Lonnie Wilkey/David Roach
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the decision of the United States Supreme Court on whether all states must recognize same-sex marriage still to come, Southern Baptists have made it clear where they stand.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus passed a resolution June 16 that declared that “no matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage.”
The meeting, with the theme “Great Awakening” was highlighted by a Tuesday night prayer gathering led by SBC President Ronnie Floyd, at which an estimated 7,000 Southern Baptists spent two hours asking God for a third Great Awakening in America and the global advance of the gospel. The gathering was watched by an additional 8,000 people online and broadcast on Daystar television.
Religious liberty and spiritual awakening also were focal points of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention which was held June 16-17 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. It marked the first time the convention has ever been held in Columbus.
The annual meeting drew 5,407 registered messengers, up 2 percent from the 5,294 who attended last year’s convention meeting in Baltimore.
Ohio led states with 714 registered messengers, followed by Tennessee with 459 and Kentucky with 446.
Messengers also re-elected Floyd of Arkansas for a second term as SBC president. Elected as vice president and second vice president, respectively, were Steve Dighton, Lenexa, Kansas, and Chad Keck, Kettering, Ohio.
Messengers adopted eight other resolutions in addition to the one on same-sex marriage and heard a myriad of reports.
The defense of marriage, however, received a great deal of attention and focus.
The day after the resolution was approved, (June 17) all 17 former living SBC presidents (including Floyd) since 1980 issued a statement on marriage and religious liberty. The signers included Bobby Welch, associate executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, who served as president in 2005-06 while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Prior to reading the statement during a press conference, SBC President Ronnie Floyd stressed that the former presidents were speaking for themselves, not the convention.
He noted the idea for the joint statement was born during the recent National Day of Prayer while he was in Washington with Texas pastor Jack Graham, a former SBC president himself. Graham took the lead in getting the statement drafted and approved by the former presidents, Floyd said.
Graham said the statement is important because “no one needs to wonder where we stand as Christians in these days. …
“We are responding to what many believe is the most critical issue of our times – religious freedom and the definition of marriage,” Graham said.
The statement reads:
“As Southern Baptist Christians, we are committed to Biblical faith and ethics. As a result, this body of believers stands on the authority of Scripture and God’s Truth as central to our lives.
“What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive, and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable. We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
“Consequently, we will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court. We will not recognize same-sex “marriages,” our churches will not host same-sex ceremonies, and we will not perform such ceremonies.
“While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction, we cannot and will not affirm the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior or any behavior that deviates from God’s design for marriage. We also believe religious freedom is at stake within this critical issue – that our first duty is to love and obey God, not man.
“Therefore, we strongly encourage all Southern Baptist pastors, leaders, educators, and churches to openly reject any mandated legal definition of marriage and to use their influence to affirm God’s design for life and relationships. As the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination with over 16 million members, we stake our very lives and future on the Truth of God’s Word.
“We also join together to support those who stand for natural marriage in the corporate world, the marketplace, education, entertainment, media, and elsewhere with our prayers and influence, and resources.”
Floyd observed that some denominations have not taken a strong stand on biblical marriage. “Today we are willing to stand (on biblical truth) and may all evangelicals, America, and the world know it. May the Lord be praised.”
In response to questions raised during the press conference, former presidents stressed that churches must be prepared for the challenges that will come should the Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, urged churches and Southern Baptist entities to make sure they are clear in their bylaws and operational manuals on what they deem acceptable.
“Right now, that will sustain you in most courts of law,” he said. “We see a time when that may not be true,” he added.
Patterson encouraged smaller churches especially to get prepared. Many small churches have never thought about a constitution and bylaws, he observed. Patterson predicted that when challenges come from same-sex marriage proponents, they may come to the smaller churches because they will be the least prepared. Churches need to get ready for this by getting polices in place, he said.
The former presidents also stressed churches must support their members who already face challenges in the corporate world and elsewhere.
Floyd made a final observation about the joint statement and the resolution approved by SBC messengers.
“The Southern Baptist Convention has not moved. The culture has moved. We stand on the Word of God that abides forever,” he said.
Floyd called in his presidential address for Southern Baptists to provide spiritual and moral leadership amid a time of crisis in the world that also is “our most defining hour as Southern Baptists.”
Building on Floyd’s address, the June 16 prayer time featured intercession led by 11 pastors and was punctuated by hundreds, if not thousands, of believers kneeling and prostrated at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Dozens more from a broad array of racial and ethnic groups voiced prayers from the platform.
A resolution on “revival and spiritual awakening” said Southern Baptists “faithfully and fervently plead with our great God to open the windows of heaven and come down among His people with a fresh filling of His Spirit.”
To help combat global religious persecution, the ERLC announced the opening of an international religious freedom office in the Mideast and appointed Travis Wussow of Austin, Texas, as director of international justice and religious liberty.
Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist held liable by her state’s government for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, received a standing ovation when she was introduced during the ERLC report. Naghmeh Abedini, wife of a U.S. pastor imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith, briefly addressed the SBC Pastors’ Conference June 15 and spoke at the Pastors’ Wives Conference. Floyd asked God specifically for Saeed Abedini’s release during the convention’s evening of prayer.
Two resolutions spotlighted religious persecution, with one pledging prayer for “the persecuted church worldwide” and the other specifically denouncing religious persecution and human rights violations in North Korea.
The marriage resolution said “the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage.”
Messengers received a report from the SBC Executive Committee reviewing the convention’s progress on racial reconciliation between 1995-2015. A motion from the floor to commend the EC for its work was adopted, and a resolution pledged messengers’ rededication to the work of racial reconciliation.
The Committee on Nominations elected for the coming year is the most diverse in the SBC’s history, with 27 percent of members coming from ethnic and minority groups, reported Bryan Smith, chair of the Committee on Committees.
• SBC messengers adopted a budget of 186,500,000 for 2015-16.
• Southern Baptists honored veterans of the Vietnam War during the opening session on June 16. This year marks the culmination of a three-year, nationwide effort endorsed by President Barack Obama to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Vietnam War — a conflict that is often remembered more for its home-front protests than hometown heroes. Of the three million who served “in country,” an estimated one million were Southern Baptist. Following remarks from retired Chaplain Major General Doug Carver, the current executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board, Floyd invited first the Vietnam veterans, then all veterans to come to the front of the hall. The group — several soldiers deep stretching across the front of the platform and down the aisles of the auditorium — joined Carver in leading the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag.
• IMB President David Platt denied reports that a new personnel policy lowers standards for missionaries. The policy seeks to align the IMB’s requirements with the Baptist Faith and Message and does not signal a shift in practice related to speaking in tongues or divorce among other missionary qualifications, Platt said. Messengers did not ask Platt any questions despite media reports that some planned to voice concerns about the revised personnel policy.
• NAMB President Kevin Ezell reported 985 church starts in 2014, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Some 58 percent of last year’s church plants were non-Anglo, he said.
• Messengers amended an EC recommendation that would have allowed the messengers present at any session of an SBC annual meeting to constitute a quorum. As amended, the EC recommendation maintains the current SBC Bylaw 35 definition of a quorum as “a minimum of 25 percent of those duly registered and seated messengers.”
• An EC recommendation was approved to change the name of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. During the first-ever joint report of the six SBC seminaries, Golden Gate reported that the relocation of its primary campus to Southern California should be complete by the summer of 2016.
• Messengers approved an EC recommendation to amend NAMB’s ministry assignment, enabling the convention’s entity charged with facilitating North American missions to “provide specialized, defined, and agreed upon assistance to the International Mission Board in assisting churches to plant churches for specific groups outside the United States and Canada.” EC leaders said in February that the possibility of military chaplains facing religious liberty constraints in their ministry to troops overseas was a key factor in the recommendation.
• WMU elected Linda Cooper of Bowling Green, Ky., as president during the missions auxiliary’s Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting, June 14-15. Cooper, a member of Forest Park Baptist Church, will replace Debby Akerman, who has served as president for five years.
• Nine resolutions addressed pornography, the sanctity of human life, the Cooperative Program, appreciation for host city and convention, revival and spiritual awakening, racial reconciliation, public witness on marriage, the persecuted church worldwide, and religious persecution and human rights violations in North Korea.
• Messengers approved membership of the 2015-16 SBC Committee on Nominations. Elected from Tennessee were Pastor Robby Gallaty of Brainerd Baptist Church, Chattanooga, and Donna Gaines, a member of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova.
• The report of the 2014-15 SBC Committee on Nominations were approved, electing trustees and members of various SBC boards and committees.