Like many of you, I will be in New Orleans next week for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. This will be my 10th SBC annual meeting. I haven’t missed an annual meeting since my first one in 2013 in Houston.
My feelings about our upcoming annual meeting are about the same as they always are. I am excited to see friends I haven’t seen since we left Anaheim. I am certainly a little nervous about how everything will turn out once all the votes are counted. I am also hopeful that Southern Baptists will be able to come together, do the business of our convention of churches, and leave New Orleans more united than social media seems to indicate.
I made a conscious decision when I left Anaheim to spend less time this year obsessing over the SBC and every little controversy. The most important step in that direction was removing myself from Twitter. However, as we make our way to New Orleans, I’ve felt a little bit out of the loop on what to expect next week when it comes to the various things concerning which messengers will be asked to vote. So, I took the time to go through the published order of business and put together a list of “big votes.” Things could always pop up between now and Tuesday, but these are the big ones I am expecting right now.
1. Election of President
There are currently two announced candidates. Incumbent Bart Barber from Farmersville, TX will be challenged by Mike Stone from Blackshear, GA. The election is scheduled for 3:10pm on Tuesday afternoon.
We elect a president of the Southern Baptist Convention every year at the annual meeting. Presidents are limited to two 1-year terms. After their first term, incumbent presidents normally run unopposed. However, as Bart Barber has stated very plainly, that is a tradition not a rule. It has always been my belief that anyone who believes they should run for an office within the SBC should feel the freedom to do so.
The messengers will decide whether Bart should be granted another term or not. It is my opinion that Bart Barber is a tremendous leader, has done an excellent job as president, and I cannot think of anyone I would rather serve Southern Baptists as president this next year.
2. Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force Report
The report from the ARITF is scheduled for 5pm on Tuesday. We do not yet know for sure if they will ask messengers to take any action. You can read their latest update here. Since messengers have already approved the creation of the ministry check website, it does not seem that there will be anything presented by the ARITF for a vote. Chairman Marshall Blalock has told Baptist Press that the ministry check website will be revealed during the ARITF report in New Orleans.
Southern Baptists have shown their commitment to fighting the scourge of sexual abuse in our churches through big votes at both of the last two annual meetings. It’s essential that we remain committed to doing all we can to ensure the safety of the people in our churches. I believe we can do that while also maintaining our commitment to local church autonomy.
3. Potential Constitutional Amendment
Last year in Anaheim, Virginia pastor Mike Law moved, “That Article III, Section 1, of the SBC Constitution be amended to add ‘(6) Does not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as pastor of any kind.” The motion was referred to the Executive Committee. In the Book of Reports, the Executive Committee states, “The SBC Executive Committee reports it discussed the motion during its February 20-21, 2023, meeting and will consider the matter again during its June 12, 2023, meeting. The SBC Executive Committee will report any action taken in the SBC Daily Bulletin.”
Because the EC will discuss the matter further at their Monday meeting, we do not yet know if they will have a recommended action for the convention to take. Mike Law has certainly had a lot to say about his proposed amendment. SBC President Bart Barber has spoken clearly on the issue. I like what Nate Akin has said about the issue.
I am confident that the vast majority of Southern Baptist messengers believe that the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. How we apply that belief to our cooperative efforts seems to be evolving some. Southern Baptists have never previously removed a church from cooperation for having a female pastor. I am open to change to the way we have handled this in the past as it relates to cooperation, but I do believe we need to be very careful.
There seem to be some on one side who want Southern Baptists to change our position on this issue. That’s a non-starter for me. The Bible is clear. The office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. However, there also seem to be those on the other side who want uniformity of belief rather than consensus and cooperation.
The culture of suspicion in the SBC is killing us. We have to figure out a way forward together. I believe most Southern Baptists want to be clear about who we are and what we believe while also recognizing that we do not all agree 100% on everything. I am hopeful that any motion coming to the floor for a vote will help us build consensus so we can move forward in cooperation.
4. Appeals from Saddleback, Fern Creek, and Freedom
The book of reports details EC action on all three churches.
“That the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the SBC Executive Committee during its February 20-21, 2023, meeting that Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California, be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, on the basis that the church has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church continuing to have a female teaching pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
“That the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the SBC Executive Committee during its February 20-21, 2023, meeting that Fern Creek Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky, be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, on the basis that the church has a faith and practice that does not closely identify with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith, as demonstrated by the church having a female lead pastor functioning in the office of pastor.”
“That the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommend to the SBC Executive Committee during its February 20-21, 2023, meeting, that Freedom Church, Vero Beach, Florida, be deemed not in friendly cooperation with the Convention, based on a lack of intent to cooperate in resolving concerns regarding a sexual abuse allegation.”
Other churches have been deemed by the EC to not be in friendly cooperation with the SBC. You can find those churches in the Book of Reports. These are the three churches that have indicated they will appeal the EC decision. Those appeals will take place at 3:45pm on Tuesday afternoon.
A lot has been said about these churches and their cases. Here are BP stories on the Saddleback, Fern Creek, and Freedom Church appeals. I plan to listen to the presentations from the Credentials Committee and the church representatives and will make my decision based on the information presented at that time.
Other items will be voted on during the meeting. We’ll elect other officers. We’ll hear a report from the Resolutions Committee. There could be other motions that come to the floor for a vote. these are the big items that we know about ahead of time. I hope this article and the links provided throughout will help you as you prepare for our SBC Annual Meeting next week.
See you in New Orleans!