Baptists experience monumental year: I Stand for Life initiative, record GOTM gifts among top news stories
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Top news stories in the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 2019 included the “I Stand for Life” initiative in support of SB (Senate Bill) 1236, the election of Charles Fowler as president of Carson-Newman University and record giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board initiated the I Stand for Life initiative on July 23 to garner thousands of signatures from Tennessee Baptists in an effort to let Tennessee lawmakers know that Tennessee Baptists would like to see legislation passed that protects the lives of unborn children.
The petition campaign was initiated by Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB who had a desire to make sure Tennessee Baptists were informed about the issue and that their voices were heard.
“I believe Tennessee Baptists are strongly pro-life and the laws being considered are too important for us to miss an opportunity to be heard on the issue of life and abortion,” he said.
In August, Davis took a petition with more than 16,000 Tennessee Baptist signatures when he addressed the nine-member Tennessee Senate Judiciary Study Committee Aug. 12. Signatures have since increased to more than 22,000.
The Senate committee heard testimony from both pro-life and abortion advocates concerning the Tennessee Heartbeat Bill (SB 1236).
The I Stand for Life initiative will continue to be an ongoing concern of Tennessee Baptists throughout 2020. See Davis’ Clarity column here.
Carson-Newman University trustees elected long-time Tennessee Baptist pastor and former college administrator Charles Fowler as the institution’s 23rd president on June 7 during a special called meeting.
Fowler, then pastor of Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, was the first Tennessee Baptist pastor elected to lead C-N since at least the 1920s.
In addition to his perspective of a pastor, Fowler spent 15 years in higher education, having served as a professor and in several administrative roles at Union University in Jackson.
In 2019, Tennessee Baptists gave the largest amount ever through the 2018-19 Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions — $1,920,733.
The total was $77,222 over the old record of $1,843,511 which was set in 2016-17.
Davis observed that Tennessee Baptists fully understand that “any way you slice it,” Tennessee is a missions field. More than 50 percent of the residents of Tennessee are unchurched, Davis noted.
In addition to the record GOTM offering, Tennessee Baptists exceeded the 2018-19 Cooperative Program budget, giving $34,719,604, an increase of 0.3 percent over the previous year and 0.64 percent above budget.
Among other major stories last year, Tennessee Baptists saw two other milestones.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board paid off the remaining balance of an $8 million loan that originated in 1999 to begin construction of Carson-Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport and Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden, leaving the TBMB debt-free.
In addition, the TBMB sent a check to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that pushed total giving to the Cooperative Program from Tennessee Baptist churches to $500,000,000 since the inception of the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program was initially approved during the 1925 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention held in Memphis that year.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board also took stronger steps to help churches prevent sexual abuse following articles released last year by the Houston Chronicle detailing sexual abuse of children in Southern Baptist churches over a number of years.
In April, during the meeting of the TBMB board of directors, Davis announced plans for a Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Task Force. He noted that though the issue of sexual abuse had been in the forefront in recent weeks, the TBMB has been assisting churches in taking steps to prevent sexual abuse for 20 years.
“There is a great desire to make sure we are doing all we can possibly do to serve our churches in this area,” he told the directors. Bill Choate, collegiate ministries director for the TBMB, is serving as chairman of the task force. In addition, the Baptist and Reflector ran special articles focusing on church safety and risk management in its Feb. 20 and March 6 issues.
In actions related to Baptist Campus Ministries across the state, the TBMB sold a small section of its property (6,480 square feet or eight parking spaces and half an alleyway) on the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville for $2.3 million. The board also bought additional property for the Tennessee Tech BCM in Cookeville and the UT-Martin BCM which will enhance the ministries at both locations, Davis said.
Other notable stories of 2019 include:
- Tennessee Baptists continued City Reach initiatives in Nashville and Memphis. City Reach is a five-city missions initiative designed and implemented by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board approximately three years ago. Initiatives have been held in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis with upcoming emphases scheduled for Chattanooga and Clarksville.
- Vision teams from across Tennessee traveled to Germany in an effort to help Tennessee Baptist churches and associations find places to engage missions in the country. IMB missionary Kevin Sweeny said it is important for people to come and engage Germans in conversations. “They seek genuine relationships. They are not hostile about talking religion. Fewer than one percent have a relationship with Christ even though statistically you’ll see a much higher number,” he said. “The key to reaching Germans for Christ is building bridges that open doors for conversations. That is an effective way Tennessee Baptist volunteers could contribute to the work here.”
- During the Youth Evangelism Conference held March 15-16 in Nashville, more than 6,000 teenagers, youth ministers and leaders attended the event and 780 salvation decisions were recorded.
- The Go Tell America Lakeway Area Crusade, which involved four local Baptist associations (Nolachucky, Grainger, East Tennessee and Jefferson County) drew more than 17,500 people over four days, resulting in more than 850 decisions including 341 professions of faith, according to Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown, and chairman of the crusade committee.
- Tennessee Baptists provided more than 5,000 Christmas backpacks in an effort sponsored for the second year by the TBMB to provide toys, hygiene items, clothing, food and Bibles to needy children throughout Tennessee. It was the second year Tennessee Baptists have been involved in the project, said Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the TBMB. In the first year of the effort, Tennessee Baptists provided 3,500 backpacks.
- Bruce Chesser, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, was elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the annual meeting held during the Summit at First Baptist Concord in Knoxville in November.
- Tennessee native Paul Chitwood, who was born in LaFollette and raised in Jellico, was elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in February. He credits First Baptist Church in Jellico as having a major impact on his life. In an interview with the Baptist and Reflector, Chitwood said, “I would not be the president of the International Mission Board today were it not for deacons of First Baptist Church, Jellico, knocking on our door and inviting us to church.”
- Also at Summit, messengers adopted a resolution denouncing Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, a secular worldview that has been embraced by some Baptists. In June, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention also adopted a resolution on CRT and intersectionality but stopped short of denouncing the secular worldview.