Southern Baptist Convention

Is It Heresy for Baptists to Baptize a Baby? One Pastor’s Example Sets Off a Debate

Photo via Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

Baptism of infant in Orthodox Church. Photo via Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

In April, an influential American Baptist Churches USA pastor performed the rite, which most Baptists believe is reserved for Christians who are able to make a mature confession of faith. Although there are dozens of Baptist denominations in the U.S., the news made instant waves among those who know and understand Baptist teachings.

Before long, a Southern Baptist seminary president compared the notion of Baptists baptizing infants to vegetarians eating steak.

Southern Baptists to Open Their Ranks to Missionaries Who Speak in Tongues

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Anita Hensley of Kansas City, Mo., at the 2013 National Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia, and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice.

5 Faith Facts about Ben Carson: Retired Neurosurgeon, Seventh-Day Adventist

Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Ben Carson. Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon once best known for separating conjoined baby twins, is expected to announce May 4 that he will pursue a GOP candidacy for U.S. president. Carson is now known as a culture warrior whose criticisms of President Obama have made him a favorite of conservatives.

Here are five faith facts about him.

 

Charles Stanley Declines Award After Jews Question His Views on Gays

Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Dr. Charles Stanley. Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Amid a heated debate over his vocal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley will decline an award he planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta on April 23.

News that the longtime pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention would be honored by the JNF angered many Jews who pointed to his history of vitriolic anti-gay comments.

Stanley said the award was causing too much strife within the Jewish community, and for the sake of his love for Israel, he would not accept it, according to the JNF, a nonprofit that sponsors environmental and educational programs in the Jewish state.

It was Stanley’s idea not to accept the award, JNF spokesman Adam Brill said Tuesday.

“Dr. Stanley feels that he did not want to see any further controversy and I think it’s a laudable and heartfelt decision, and we totally support and embrace it.”

Decrying Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) led a campaign to get JNF to change its mind on bestowing Stanley with its Tree of Life award, which was to be given to him for his support for Israel by the JNF’s Atlanta chapter on Thursday, Israel’s independence day.

“We respect Dr. Charles Stanley’s decision,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of Atlanta-based SOJOURN, on Tuesday.

“We are so grateful for the strong support of hundreds of people across the country. We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel.”

As One Evangelical Church ‘Comes Out’ for LGBT Rights, Others Cast a Wary Eye

The GracePointe Church choir performs during Easter service in 2014. Photo via GracePointe Church / RNS

Pastor Stan Mitchell’s announcement that his evangelical GracePointe Church would fully affirm gay members met with a standing ovation from some, stunned silence from others, but everybody prayed together quietly at the end of it.

A month and a half later, Mitchell routinely receives emails inviting him to kill himself, often including the assurance they were sent in love from other Christians. Half of his 12-member board has left, along with half the average offering and about a third of the weekly attendance — once at 800 to 1,000 people.

He’s met with dozens of disenchanted members and plans to see dozens more, apologizing almost compulsively for his handling of the issue. But there’s no going back, he says. He doesn’t even want to.

One of his biggest fears is that talking publicly about what happened at GracePointe could discourage countless other evangelical pastors who he says are ready to make the same move.

“I’m watching LGBT people finally make peace with themselves because they couldn’t get away from the authority of Scripture and what they thought it said about them,” said Mitchell, 46.

“The upsides — my God, they’re everywhere in this.”

Southern Baptists Urge Obama to Defend ‘the Least of These’ against ISIS

Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pasto

Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. Image courtesy RNS.

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and former leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination on March 2 called on President Obama to defend “the least of these” against the Islamic State, the militant Islamist group that’s also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities,” wrote Floyd and his predecessors in an open letter to Obama.

“The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, was joined by 16 former presidents in the “urgent appeal” that came after recent reports that the Islamic State was responsible for the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya and the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians.

The letter also was released just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which recalls the deliverance of Persian Jews by Queen Esther. The Baptist leaders told Obama he had a similar mandate to save an imperiled population from extinction.

Southern Baptists Try to Diversify Churches — But Will It Work?

Photo via Tate Music Group / RNS

Erskin Anavitarte, a Southern Baptist pastor-turned-musician. Photo via Tate Music Group / RNS

How tough is it to create a racially diverse denomination? Consider a recent luncheon organized by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

About 100 Nashville-area evangelical leaders accepted invitations to a lunch hosted by the denomination’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On the agenda: a pitch for a spring summit and a short discussion by ERLC President Russell Moore about the need for churches to become more racially diverse.

The number of African-Americans who showed up for the lunch? Four (two of them denomination employees).

ERLC leaders originally planned a summit on bioethics. They quickly shifted gears after grand juries in November and December failed to indict police officers for the deaths of young unarmed black men. Moore’s social media remarks condemning the New York City jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner were met with an angry backlash, some from people filling Southern Baptist pews and pulpits.

Black church leaders are greeting news of the summit with reactions ranging from polite skepticism to hopeful support.

Are #Christian Hashtags Rallying the Faithful or Just Luring Trolls?

Photo via Sarah Pulliam Bailey / RNS.

Some leaders use trending topics or hashtags to build momentum around a certain conversation. The idea is that by pointing followers to a catchy hashtag, activists can spark conversation and rally supporters around a cause. On Nov. 24, for example, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #PrayForFerguson after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot a black teenager.

One of the earlier noteworthy mobilizing campaigns included #KONY2012, a movement founded by a Christian, who launched a campaign to try to capture African Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. First Lady Michelle Obama famously participated in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign after more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

But everyone on Twitter is learning that a hashtag cuts both ways — it can be hijacked or lampooned by detractors, and it’s a key way that online activists are pushing back against opposing messages or what some might even call hate speech.

Welton Gaddy Retires from Interfaith Alliance

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy hosts the Interfaith Alliance’s “State of Belief” radio show and podcast. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS

Like the lawmakers he lobbies on Capitol Hill, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy has a foot in two worlds — Washington during the week, his hometown on the weekends.

So when Gaddy boards a flight each Friday from Washington to Monroe, La., he ignores the person sitting next to him. It may not seem very pastoral, but in fact, it is: He has a sermon to write.

Gaddy, a progressive defender of religious freedom, will retire next month as president of the Interfaith Alliance. But he plans to continue as pastor of Northminster Church, an Alliance of Baptists congregation that his members describe as an island of liberalism in a sea of Louisiana conservatism.

For 16 years, the former Southern Baptist has worn two hats — preaching most Sundays and advocating for equal treatment of people of all beliefs on weekdays in Washington.

“A lot of the people in Washington who talk about religion don’t understand religion; it’s more of a subject of theoretical discussion,” said Gaddy, 73, in an interview in his small office near Georgetown. “And I think that’s why it has been important that I have my one foot in a local congregation and one foot in a national agency.”

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