Many Southern Baptists arrived in Birmingham wary of what to expect from their first annual meeting in the city since 1941.
The major topics to be addressed were set well in advance: response to sexual abuse, a call to denounce racism in SBC churches, and welcoming new leaders at several Southern Baptist entities. Less clear was how ready the city itself would be. Massive construction downtown and other challenges—including the loss of hundreds of hotel rooms due to flooding—set the stage for a messy meeting, at least in terms of logistics.
But when Baptists left Birmingham after their meeting, they did so having made unified statements on sexual abuse and racism, and after engaging in multiple open conversations about the roles men and women fill in ministry leadership. Like the city they met in, they took decisive steps toward improvement, while acknowledging their current trajectory is a work in progress. Just under 8,200 messengers were registered in Birmingham, including 146 from Illinois.
“I do sense that we may look back at 2019 as a milestone in a direction that Southern Baptists are choosing to go,” SBC President J.D. Greear said at a press conference immediately following the meeting. “And I believe it is a helpful one that says we are going to be people that are marked by an awareness, transparency, a willingness to own mistakes that have been made, and a desire to treat each other charitably and to make the gospel be above all in how we relate to the world.”
Send them out
Southern Baptists’ commitment to global missions was on display at a Sending Celebration in Birmingham. New missionaries lined up across the darkened stage with International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood, sharing brief testimonies of where God is sending them, and who is waiting there in need of the gospel.
They’ll go to Central Asia, where, as one missionary said, there’s great spiritual darkness, increasing humanitarian need, and a growing refugee crisis. They’ll go to reach university students who haven’t yet heard the gospel, another said.
“The commissioning and sending of our new IMB Journeymen and long-term missionaries was the highlight of this year’s meeting for me,” said Scott Foshie, pastor of Steeleville Baptist Church. “It was moving to hear their testimonies and to get to commit to pray for them as they lead people to Christ around the globe.”
Chitwood was one of four new SBC entity heads who appeared on platform. Adam Greenway delivered a report as the new president of Southwestern Seminary. New Orleans Seminary’s incoming president Jamie Dew spoke briefly. And Ronnie Floyd made his first appearance as president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
Immediately following the convention, LifeWay announced a report on its presidential search will be made June 28.
The church must lead
Baptists in Birmingham voted on a constitutional amendment that would add ethnic discrimination to characteristics that exclude churches from fellowship with the SBC. The amendment passed without discussion and will need a two-thirds majority at next year’s annual meeting to take effect. Messengers also approved a similar amendment on sexual abuse.
“This is good and right and God-pleasing. Christ’s church must lead on these issues,” said Scott Nichols, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream. “Both sexual abuse and racism should be dealt with as the sins that they are. They have no place in Christ’s church.
“These sins against the dignity of humans created in the image of God harm the church’s evangelistic mission and are condemned in the Scriptures.”
Be it resolved
On the annual meeting’s final day, Baptists adopted 13 resolutions clarifying the SBC’s positions on a diverse slate of issues. They approved a resolution on the evil of sexual abuse, calling for decisive action, immediate reporting, and intervention on behalf of the abused. Other resolutions:
Celebrated pro-life legislation passed by state lawmakers
Reaffirmed the doctrine of local church autonomy, while repudiating any who use it to hide the sin of sexual abuse
Called Southern Baptists to pray for relief of religious persecution in China and North Korea
Committed to address social brokenness and injustice through gospel proclamation and advocating for the oppressed
Condemned human germline editing, which results in the destruction of human embryos.
The full text of all 13 resolutions is available at sbc.net/resolutions. The 2020 Southern Baptist Convention is June 9-10 in Orlando.