“Gospel Above All” is the theme of the June 11-12 annual meeting of Southern Baptists.
“It is the gospel that is the source of our renewal, and it is the gospel that should be our defining characteristic as a people,” Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told the SBC Executive Committee last fall. “[The gospel] should be what people think about and talk about when they think and talk about us.”
When Baptists arrive in Birmingham, however, several other topics—some of them highly charged—will also be on the table. Chief among them is the SBC’s response to a Houston Chronicle report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers.
Greear and other SBC leaders have said it is crucial that Baptists leave Birmingham with a clear position against abuse and churches that exhibit indifference toward it. They also need to make strides toward caring well for survivors. During the business session, voters at the meeting (called “messengers”) will consider an amendment to the SBC Constitution to designate churches indifferent toward abuse as not in friendly cooperation with the convention.
Messengers will also consider a similar amendment on racism. In order to become part of the SBC Constitution, both measures must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Birmingham and at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.
New leaders on the platform
Paul Chitwood (International Mission Board), Adam Greenway (Southwestern Seminary), and Ronnie Floyd (Executive Committee) will each share their first reports as heads of Southern Baptist entities, although Floyd is a familiar face after serving two one-year terms as SBC president.
While in that role from 2014 to 2016, Floyd was known for consistent communication with fellow Southern Baptists through blog posts and social media. As newly elected president of the Executive Committee, he recently launched an online campaign to promote the annual meeting and get more Baptists to Birmingham by sharing 50 reasons to be there—one each day leading up to the convention.
Floyd’s new role positions him to play an integral part in the SBC’s actions on sexual abuse. After his election in April, he pledged to use the weeks before Birmingham to work with other SBC leaders on a unified response.
On Monday evening prior to the annual meeting, a study team appointed by Greear will co-host with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission a discussion on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. A new curriculum for churches—“Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused”—also will be unveiled at the meeting.
While serving as SBC president, Floyd brought leaders together for a memorable worship service devoted to praying for racial reconciliation. Greear has made it a goal of his presidency for Southern Baptist leadership to reflect the diversity of Southern Baptist churches. The Birmingham meeting will feature a panel discussion titled “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation,” as well as two additional panels: “Gospel Above All: Keeping Secondary Issues Secondary,” and “Indispensable Partners: The Value of Women in God’s Mission.”
Room at the table
As the SBC and the culture at large continue to wrestle with the ramifications of #metoo, several new and revamped events in Birmingham will focus on the role of women in the church and the denomination:
>The new SBC Women’s Leadership Network will be featured during a Women’s Session Monday morning, which takes the place of the former Pastors’ Wives Conference. Norine Brunson, wife of formerly imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson, will speak during the session, along with author Kandi Gallaty and “SBC This Week” podcast host Amy Whitfield, among others.
>Illinois’ own Becky Gardner will participate in a panel discussion on leadership development at the 5th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast June 12. Gardner, superintendent of Peoria Christian School, is chair of the trustees for breakfast sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
>Last year’s meeting in Dallas marked the first gathering of Women & Work, a group dedicated to helping women pursue God’s mission through their vocations. Teacher and author Jen Wilkin will speak at this year’s forum June 11, along with Tami Heim, president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance.
>The annual Ministers’ Wives Luncheon will feature Lauren Chandler, whose book “Steadfast Love: The Response of God to the Cries of Our Heart” will set the stage for the luncheon’s theme. Tickets are available at lifeway.com/en/events/ministers-wives-luncheon.
Our shared mission
The Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ main channel for sending support to missions and ministry around the world, has taken center stage—literally—at recent annual meetings. This year in Birmingham is no different. The CP stage in the exhibit hall is set to host interviews and panel discussions on how Baptists work together to get the good news of Jesus to more people around the world.
On Tuesday afternoon, annual meeting attendees will hear from current International Mission Board personnel and new appointees at a missionary Sending Celebration.
Also in Birmingham, numerous Baptist fellowship groups will meet, including:
• Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council
• Chinese Baptist Fellowship
• Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches
• National Asian Armerican Fellowship
• Second Generation Asian American Fellowship
• Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship
• Fellowship of Native American Christians
• Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship
In addition to those groups, the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) will meet in Birmingham to, among other goals, honor former slave and first North American missionary George Liele. NAAF will submit a resolution to add a George Liele Day to the SBC calendar and will ask SBC seminaries to consider creating Liele scholarships, NAAF President Marshal Ausberry told Baptist Press.
A 2012 SBC resolution formally recognizes Liele as the first overseas missionary from the U.S. Scholarships in his name could help train future African American missionaries, Ausberry said.
For more information about the SBC annual meeting, Pastors’ Conference, and other Birmingham events, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.
-Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press