ST. LOUIS, MO (BP) – The election of Steve Gaines as president on the third ballot and a historic repudiation of the Confederate battle flag were among the highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 14-15 in St. Louis.
The convention's resolution on the Confederate battle flag capped an emphasis on racial reconciliation throughout the meeting that included the election of a 2017 Committee on Nominations with 25 percent of its members drawn from ethnic minority groups and a panel discussion on "racial unity in America" featuring Jerry Young, president of the historically African American National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
The unofficial total of 7,321 registered messengers -- up from 5,407 last year -- also devoted an entire session to praying for awakening in America, listened to a panel discussion on "pastors and the church in American politics today" and addressed on multiple occasions whether Baptists should support Muslims' right to build mosques in the United States. When registered guests, exhibitors and others are included, the count of those at the annual meeting was tallied, as of June 15, at 11,581.
On the second ballot, neither Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., nor North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear obtained a majority, with Gaines receiving 49.96 percent, Greear 47.80 percent and 108 ballots ruled illegal. Messengers would have had to choose for the second time among the same two presidential candidates for what chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty called the first time in SBC history, but Greear withdrew his candidacy and moved that the convention elect Gaines by acclamation. Recording secretary John Yeats said the presidential election has not gone to a third ballot in at least 20 years, the time that Yeats has served as recording secretary.
On the first ballot, Greear led with 44.97 percent of the vote. Louisiana pastor David Crosby was also nominated for president. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said he decided to withdraw after praying Tuesday night because Southern Baptists "need to leave St. Louis united." Gaines told the convention "there's no way God's not doing something in all of this."
The Resolutions Committee originally proposed a resolution calling believers "to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display," but also stating that for some the Confederate battle flag is not "a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism." But former SBC President James Merritt moved that the reference to the flag's not being a racist symbol for some be removed and that the convention call believers to "discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters."
Messengers adopted Merritt's amendment and the resolution by wide margins after he told the convention support of the flag hinders evangelism among African Americans and said, "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God." During a nationally televised prayer service that night, Young, of the NBC USA, said the wall of racism "is already down." Hours before the resolution's adoption, Young told Southern Baptists racism in America stems in part from the church's failure to be salt and light. "Somebody needs to pass the salt and turn on the lights," he said.
Young's comments came during the racial unity panel discussion, which also included a multiethnic array of Southern Baptist leaders. Outgoing SBC President Ronnie Floyd called racism "an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ" during his presidential address. He recognized the great great granddaughter of Dred Scott, the slave who was a party to the infamous Supreme Court decision bearing his name. "Any form of racism," Floyd said, "defies the dignity of human life."
Prayer for awakening
The Tuesday night "national call to prayer" featured two hours of prayer for awakening in America and around the world. Brief addresses were delivered by a multidenominational team of leaders, including former SBC President Johnny Hunt, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie and Young.
Pastors, politics and religious liberty
A Wednesday afternoon panel discussion considered the role of pastors and churches in American politics. The panel featured five pastors and written comments submitted by Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver, who was unable to attend. During the panel discussion, Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said the three most important issues in the 2016 U.S. presidential election are the sanctity of life, religious liberty and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, said believers should also consider "systemic racism and injustice" as well as "the pipeline from school to prison" among African American males.
A resolution adopted by messengers "encouraged Southern Baptists and all followers of Jesus Christ in the United States to participate in the democratic process by voting." On at least three occasions, messengers addressed Muslims' right to build mosques in America.
A motion from the floor asked the convention to remove from their positions Southern Baptist "officers" and "officials" who support Muslims' right to build mosques in America. A separate motion asked the SBC to withdraw its amicus brief in a federal lawsuit involving the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (N.J.). Both motions were ruled out of order, with the Committee on Order of Business noting the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission signed onto an amicus brief, not the SBC. The International Mission Board also signed the brief.
During the ERLC report, a messenger asked ERLC President Russell Moore how any Southern Baptist can defend the right to build mosques in light of the fact some Muslims are terrorists. Moore responded that part of "what it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everyone." The Gospel, not government coercion, is the answer to Islam, he said.
Missions and evangelism
Messengers adopted an Executive Committee resolution of appreciation for Wanda Lee, retiring executive director/treasurer of the Woman's Missionary Union. The resolution noted that during Lee's 16-plus years of service, WMU has helped raise nearly a combined $3 billion for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions -- "which constitutes more than one-half of the total amount raised through these two offerings since they began being reported."
IMB President David Platt reported that following a "difficult" reduction this year of more than 1,000 missionaries, "for 2017, we will be operating with a balanced budget with the stage set for a healthy financial future." He thanked Southern Baptists for a record Lottie Moon Offering for 2015-16, which exceeded the previous high mark by more than $11 million.
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell said NAMB planted 926 churches last year. Among all NAMB church plants, one person is baptized annually for every 14 church members. In established churches, the ratio is one baptism per 52 members, Ezell said.
Crossover St. Louis, the convention's evangelistic blitz preceding the annual meeting, yielded 556 professions of faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, the first increase in three years.
In other news:
– Messengers granted final approval for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary to change its name to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.
– A scheduled panel discussion in which all entity heads would have fielded messenger questions together was canceled because the Executive Committee did not approve an SBC bylaw change to allow the panel format for entity questions. Instead, each entity president fielded questions following his report.
– Messengers made 22 motions, with 12 ruled out of order and 10 referred to entities or committees.
– Twelve resolutions addressed topics including the June 12 terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla.; "biblical sexuality and the freedom of conscience"; requiring women to register for the military draft; and ministry to refugees.
– Illinois pastor Doug Munton was elected first vice president without opposition. Missouri pastor Malachi O'Brien was elected second vice president from among two other nominees. Yeats was reelected to a 20th term as recording secretary, and Jim Wells was reelected registration secretary for a 15th term.
– A Tuesday morning ceremony honored America and its veterans, with an appearance by one of the 2,000 remaining survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A messenger's motion requested that future SBC online registration forms ask messengers whether they have served in the military and that such service be indicated on messenger badges.
– Chief parliamentarian McCarty was honored upon the 30th anniversary of his first service to the convention. A former minister in the Stone-Campbell tradition, McCarty joined a Southern Baptist church by baptism last summer and accepted a position on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.