Southern Baptist Convention
Religious freedom is a foundational tenet for Southern Baptists, but apparently one church official in Georgia didn’t get the memo, at least as it applies to Islam.
Now Gerald Harris is facing sharp criticism, but also the prospect of a Ramadan meal with local Muslims who have invited him so he can get to know them better.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, but it continues to lose members and baptize fewer people each year.
The latest statistics, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources from church reports, show membership has dropped by more than 204,000, down 1.3 percent to 15.3 million members in 2015. It’s the ninth year in a row there has been a membership decline.
Pastors Frederick Haynes and George Mason both lead Baptist churches in Dallas, but they had never met until the not-guilty verdict in the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin brought them together in 2013.
Now the two men — one the leader of a predominantly black megachurch, the other of a mostly white congregation — have signed a “covenant of action” spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter.
Russell Moore may be president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. But don’t call him an evangelical — at least not until the current election cycle ends.
Moore started introducing himself as a “gospel Christian” a few weeks ago. That’s because, he said, “The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Southern Baptist Convention will cut as many as 800 employees from its overseas missions agency to make up for significant shortfalls in revenue, officials announced Aug. 27.
The International Mission Board anticipates an annual budget shortfall of $21 million this year, following several consecutive years of shortfalls.
The developments are particularly painful for a denomination that was founded as a missionary-sending organization and that prides itself on making Christian converts across the globe.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is in the spotlight after interviewing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at an evangelical conference in Nashville on Aug. 4. Moore spoke with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt about a range of pressing issues and the message of Moore’s new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.
Fighting to allow people to live by their religious convictions, even if those convictions are unpopular or criticized, is a battle Jeb Bush believes the next president must lead.
The former Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate pledged to defend religious liberty in front of an estimated 13,000 evangelical pastors attending a massive Southern Baptist Convention event Aug. 4 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
When it comes to political partisanship in the 2016 presidential race, it might be said that Southern Baptists have taken one step forward and two steps back.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced in a press release that its president Russell Moore would be interviewing Republican candidates Jeb Bush (live) and Marco Rubio (via video) before 13,000 attendees at the denomination’s missions conference on August 4. Leading candidates from each major party were invited, the release states, but only Rubio and Bush accepted.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
When Southern Baptists convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.
Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.
No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”
“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.
“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”
The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have affirmed the school’s president, Paige Patterson, after investigating his decision to admit a Muslim student into the school’s Ph.D. program.
Patterson, one of the most revered Southern Baptist figures and an architect of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago, faced heavy criticism from some Baptists who accused him of violating the standards of his school in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson,” the trustee board said in a statement Oct. 22 as it concluded its fall meeting.
“Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.”
The trustees have closed their investigation, and Patterson explained after the meeting that the Muslim student, Ghassan Nagagreh, is no longer enrolled at the seminary.