ANAHEIM, Calif. — With lots of drama and heavy decisions expected, Southern Baptists gathered Tuesday morning for the first official day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Highly anticipated events include a vote on sexual abuse reform recommendations and the election of the next SBC president. About 8,500 voting delegates, called messengers, are expected.
The decisions reached Tuesday will signal how the country’s largest Protestant denomination feels it should respond to a shocking report from Guidepost Solutions detailing how SBC leaders have handled widespread sexual abuse for the past two decades.
Similarly, the result of the presidential election will mark the political leanings of the majority of the messenger body. Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor, is considered the more conservative candidate and is backed by the Conservative Baptist Network. The other leading announced nominee, Bart Barber, a pastor from Texas, is considered less conservative than Ascol on some issues.
Robin Hadaway, a professor with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, is another announced nominee for SBC president. Additional people may be nominated from the floor.
Many Southern Baptists saw a series of events Monday as foreshadowing the days to follow. The SBC Executive Committee met Monday morning and elected new officers. Executive committee members seen as a stronger voice for transparency in Guidepost’s investigation were elected.
Follow along for the latest updates.
Amid of defining moment for the SBC and how it handles a sexual abuse crisis, SBC President Ed Litton called on Southern Baptists into the “the painful mercy of confronting our sins, repenting of our sins,” he said during his presidential address Tuesday morning.
The recent report from Guidepost Solutions containing findings of a sexual abuse investigation was a “gut punch,” said Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama.
Litton was elected by messengers at the 2021 SBC annual meeting and won in a run-off election against a candidate who was considered more conservative. Litton will not seek reelection at this year’s annual meeting.
In addition to his address, Litton is presiding over the business of the annual meeting.
“We make headlines not because we’re considered compassionate,” Litton said in his address, commenting on the past year and the attention on the SBC for how it has historically handled abuse.
Southern Baptists need to acknowledge the wrongdoing outlined in the Guidepost report and respond appropriately, he said.
“Our greatest danger is not our weakness, it’s the perception of strength,” Litton said. Messengers will vote on sexual abuse reform recommendations Tuesday afternoon.
In addition to abuse, Litton addressed other issues including homelessness, abortion, and racial reconciliation.
There’s an issue of Southern Baptists becoming “isolated from the pain and suffering from the world around us,” Litton said.
This week, Litton said he believes, “is a come to Jesus moment for us Southern Baptists.”
If a motion made from the convention floor Tuesday morning is approved, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, could cease to exist.
But motions made from the floor aren’t necessarily indicative of the positions of Southern Baptists as a whole: They’re largely dependent on who manages to get to a microphone first. And, those motions could end up going to a future vote, heading to committee or being ruled out of motion.
There was no time allotted for arguments in favor of motions Tuesday morning, but the ERLC has recently come under fire from some in the convention after its acting president signed a letter from National Right to Life that opposed any measures “seeking to criminalize or punish women” who have abortions.
Another motion made from the floor Tuesday morning sought to have Southern Baptists boycott Disney and its affiliates over Pride products. The convention, this year in Anaheim, is just steps from Disneyland.
And one called for the convention to not mandate missionaries receive vaccines, “especially vaccines created in or tested in aborted fetal tissue.”
Other motions called on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to study the feasibility of removing any name on buildings associated with slavery, to study editorial independence for the Baptist Press and to study the possibility of suspending resolutions in order to create more unity in the SBC.
Others dealt with the sexual abuse crisis currently roiling the convention. One motion called for a day to be added to the SBC’s annual calendar of events to raise awareness of the effects and prevention of abuse, including sexual, physical and spiritual abuse.
Frank Cox, a Georgia pastor, will be a fourth candidate for SBC president.
Baptist Press reported Tuesday morning Cox’s anticipated nomination, a last-minute announcement ahead of the SBC presidential election Tuesday afternoon.
Cox is the pastor of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a church with a weekly worship attendance of about 600 people, according to Baptist Press. Cox was president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and a candidate for SBC president in 2008.
An SBC committee responsible for evaluating which churches are part of the Southern Baptist Convention will make a recommendation to establish a committee to study whether the SBC should break with Saddleback Church, one of the convention’s largest churches led by well-known pastor Rick Warren.
The recommendation was released in a bulletin before Tuesday’s business began.
The credentials committee’s recommendation follows controversy about female leadership at Saddleback, located in Lake Forest, California, just a short drive from where the annual meeting is taking place. The SBC statement of beliefs says the “office of pastor” is reserved for men.
Last year, Saddleback ordained three women pastors, causing messengers at last year’s 2021 annual meeting to refer the matter to the credentials committee. The credentials committee’s response at the 2022 annual meeting shows the committee thought the concern was valid enough to pursue further.
If the messengers decide Tuesday to endorse the committee’s recommendation, the prospective Saddleback committee will present a report at the 2023 SBC annual meeting.
A few weeks ago, Warren announced he’s stepping down and that his successors will be a young couple from a San Francisco-area ch.
Two of the nine total resolutions that SBC messengers will vote to approve at the annual meeting are about sexual abuse, according to a copy of the resolutions released ahead of Tuesday’s events.
“We publicly apologize to and ask forgiveness from survivors of sexual abuse for our failure to care well for survivors, for our failure to hold perpetrators of sexual abuse adequately accountable in our churches and institutions,” read one of the resolutions.
The same resolution specifically apologizes to abuse survivors Christa Brown, Susan Codone, Megan Lively, Jennifer Lyell, Anne Marie Miller, David Pittman, Tiffany Thigpen, Debbie Vasquez, Hannah-Kate Williams and Jules Woodson.
The other abuse resolution calls on state lawmakers throughout the U.S. to pass laws to “empower churches by shielding them from civil liability when they share information about alleged abuse with other organizations or institutions,” the resolution said.
Resolutions are nonbinding statements meant to communicate the beliefs of the messenger body. The resolutions require approval from the messengers, the voting delegates for the Nashville-based SBC.
The other resolutions released by the 2022 SBC resolutions committee are about:
- Church building and missions work in rural areas within the U.S.
- Rejecting the prosperity gospel, or the teaching that one’s faith makes them wealthy
- Support for Ukraine and criticism of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine
- Denouncing the forced conversion of Indigenous people at boarding schools, as outlined in a recent Bureau of Indian Affairs report
- Celebrating the “historic moment in the pro-life movement” ahead of the potential the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in a ruling expected soon.
- A resolution about the idea of Imago Dei, or the image of God. The resolutions include statements denouncing LGBTQ identities and gun violence.
Daniel Dickard, pastor of Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in North Carolina, won the election for president of next year’s SBC Pastor’s Conference, a two-day event that occurs before the SBC annual meeting. Many saw the pastor’s conference election as a predictor of subsequent elections that could signify the political leanings of Southern Baptist Convention messengers, the denomination’s voting delegates.
Dickard’s opponent was Voddie Baucham, dean of theology at African Christian University in Zambia.
Baucham was one of three announced nominees backed by the Conservative Baptist Network, a group trying to pull the SBC further to the right.
A raised ballot vote early Monday evening between Baucham and Dickard was too close to call, triggering a second, secret ballot vote.
That resulted in 1,357 ballots cast, with 690 votes going for Dickard and 608 for Baucham. Another 59 votes were disallowed, but would not have changed the results.
The other Conservative Baptist Network-backed nominees include Tom Ascol, announced nominee for SBC president, and Javier Chavez, announced nominee for SBC recording secretary. Votes for those two are expected Tuesday.
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Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @liamsadams. Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at [email protected], 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.