Southern Baptist Convention

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014 panel. RNS photo courtesy Paul W. Lee

The issues sound like they belong on the therapist’s couch:

The couple that hasn’t had sex eight months into their marriage.

The parents who can’t deal with their son’s homosexuality.

The male teen who wants to be called by a girl’s name.

But they’re also the kinds of topics that frequently crowd the inbox of Russell Moore, who recently marked his first anniversary as the Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy expert.

Though he often grapples with contentious political issues — the Hobby Lobby case, religious persecution, and, most recently, the immigrant border crisis — Moore has spent much of his first year at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writing blog posts on Christian sexual ethics.

“Probably day to day I’m dealing with more church issues of how do we deal with these tough ethical issues,” he said recently.

Photo of the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention. Via Matt and Cyndi Maxson/Flickr.

Southern Baptists prayed Wednesday that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Green family, the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain that challenged the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

“God, we ask for a favorable, favorable ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States for the cause of religious liberty,” prayed the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Historians said the prayer from the podium during the SBC’s annual meeting about a pending court decision was noteworthy, though Southern Baptists have preached and issued statements for years on current events.

“I think it’s unusual for it to happen at a convention event,” said Bill Sumners, director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.

Megachurch pastor Rick Warren on a panel on religious liberty at the SBC's Pastors' Converence. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Sharing how he has coped after his son’s suicide last year, megachurch pastor Rick Warren, urged Southern Baptist pastors to let their times of suffering be acts of ministry.

“Behind every publicly successful ministry, there is private pain,” Warren said at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference. “Pain is God’s megaphone. There is no testimony without a test. There is no message without a mess. There is no impact without criticism.”

Warren’s son, Matthew, 27, who suffered from mental illness, killed himself five days after Easter in 2013.

“If your brain doesn’t work right and you take a pill, why are you supposed to be ashamed of that?” Warren asked. “It’s just an organ, and we have to remove that stigma.”

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. RNS photo courtesy of Baptist Press.

For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse, and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. Photo by Bill Bangham, courtesy Baptist Press

The president of Southern Baptist retailer LifeWay Christian Resources has apologized for publishing Vacation Bible School material nearly 10 years ago that “used racial stereotypes that offended many in the Asian American community.”

Thom Rainer, who became president and CEO in 2006, said Wednesday in a video message at the Mosaix conference in Long Beach, Calif., that the “Rickshaw Rally” curriculum is “still a point of hurt for some.”

“I am sincerely sorry stereotypes were used in our materials, and I apologize for the pain they caused,” Rainer said.

Katherine Burgess 11-06-2013

Rev Kev, Doc., and Gladamere of the new show. Photo via RNS/Credit: T Group Productions, courtesy National Geographic Channel

They’ve rescued bars and restaurants and shabby houses, but this month reality television stars are set to rescue something new.

Church Rescue will debut Monday on the National Geographic Channel, featuring the most unlikely of reality TV stars: church consultants.

The series will feature three “Church Hoppers”: the Rev. Kevin “Rev Kev” Annas, a business analyst; the Rev. Anthony “Gladamere” Lockhart, a marketing specialist; and the Rev. Jerry “Doc” Bentley, a spiritual counselor.

“The Church Hoppers exist to build balance in church through systems, business, and marketing,” said Lockhart, who like his fellow rescuers comes out of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Rev. Frank Page baptizes Stephen Allmond in 2008, near Greenville, S.C. Photo via RNS/courtesy Rev. Frank Page.

The rite of baptism got big press as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby christened Prince George, a future king of England on Wednesday.

Welby made it a teachable moment for a country where only one in six are baptized. In a YouTube video, he explains that by bringing their son forward for baptism, Prince William and Duchess Catherine are “bringing God into the middle of it all.”

Last month, Pope Francis gave the sacrament a boost when he called a pregnant, unmarried woman to encourage her faith and offered to baptize her baby. While his main message was anti-abortion, his call also reminded Catholics that children of unmarried parents are welcome in the church.

Air Force Capt. Mike Carey, a chaplain at Scott Air Force Base in Ill. RNS photo by Robert Cohen/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”

But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.

Photo courtesy RNS.

More than 5,100 Southern Baptist “messengers” met in Houston for an annual meeting. Photo courtesy RNS.

Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to stand with churches and families that drop ties with the Boy Scouts of America over its decision to allow openly gay Scouts, and urged the BSA to remove leaders who supported the change in policy.

Members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, gathered on the final day of their annual meeting in Houston, also acknowledged the right of churches to remain in Scouting, urging them to “seek to impact as many boys as possible with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

While expected, the Baptists’ resolution stopped far short of calling for an all-out boycott, as they did in 1997 with the Walt Disney Co. to combat what they saw as the company’s gay-friendly policies. That boycott was ended in 2005.

 'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

'Here is the Steeple' hand game, Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

A movement of lay advocates speaking out against sexual violence is gaining steam in the faith communities. But are similar efforts happening inside church doors?

When it comes to leading denominational conversations on sexual violence, clergy across traditions express twin reactions: encouragement over the protocols already in place and the efforts of fellow advocates; and frustration with a culture of silence around sexual violence in the church. Despite strikingly different experiences across denominations — and church by church — the clergy, church staff, and seminarians who spoke with Sojourners are in agreement that addressing this issue in one’s own house is complicated at every level.

The result: a loss of potential by the American church to be a leading and vibrant institution of radical vulnerability and transformative healing.

Bob Smietana 6-04-2013

Boy Scouts of America uniform and flag. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Christian Piatt 4-04-2013
Victoria's Secret storefront. By Samantha Marx, via Flickr.com

Victoria's Secret storefront. By Samantha Marx, via Flickr.com

Jimmy Carter offered an open letter a few years ago explaining why he divorced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Basically, he contended that the SBC continued to legislate gender inequity from the top-down, cherry picking select verses to serve a desired patriarchal end, to which Carter responds:

It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

It’s easy, in the daily course of events, to forget how pervasive such judgments against the equality of women really are, especially as we have examples of powerful women in political office and business. But just as having a black President doesn’t solve racial inequities, neither do a handful of high-profile women indicate there isn’t an ongoing struggle for parity among millions of other women without such power.

With the Southern Baptist Convention poised to elect its first African-American president at its meeting next week in New Orleans, the mostly black congregation at Colonial Baptist Church is equal parts excited and astonished.

“The denomination has come from 180 degrees,” said Vernon T. Gaskins, 83, after the Sunday morning service at the church outside Baltimore. “I am quite shocked to see it, but I’m glad to see it.”

The small band of black members in the overwhelmingly white denomination isn't expecting wholesale changes in the expected election of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter next Tuesday (June 19). And Luter, for his part, is also trying to keep expectations low.

“I don’t think it will change drastically but I do think there will be a change, where African-Americans who really never considered being part of the SBC will now look at it,” Luter, 55, said in a phone interview from his Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.

Bob Smietana 5-30-2012
Richard Land. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Richard Land. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

For the past 24 years, Richard Land has used his folksy charm and fiery rhetoric to become one of the leading voices of the religious right and the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group.

Now Land's future is in doubt amid an investigation over his remarks about the Trayvon Martin shooting and for alleged plagiarism.

A church committee is scheduled to issue its report by Friday (June 1), and there's a possibility that Land could lose his job as president of the Southern Baptists' Nashville-based Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Dr. Richard Land testifying in 2010. Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty

Dr. Richard Land testifying in 2010. Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images

 

Southern Baptist leaders will investigate whether their top ethicist and public policy director plagiarized racially charged remarks about the Trayvon Martin case that many say set back the denomination's efforts on racial reconciliation.

Richard Land, who leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, was accused of lifting remarks for his radio show that accused Democrats and civil rights leaders of exploiting the case of the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

Even though Land has apologized for both the remarks and not attributing their source, the commission's executive committee said it was obligated “to ensure no stone is left unturned.”  An investigatory committee will "recommend appropriate action" to church leaders.

Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images

Dr. Richard Land testifying in 2010. Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call via Getty Images

The Southern Baptist Convention's top public policy official has apologized for controversial comments he made about the Trayvon Martin case, and the New Orleans pastor who's widely expected to be named the Southern Baptists' first black president has accepted his apology.

Richard Land, who leads the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to SBC president Bryant Wright to express his “deep regret for any hurt or misunderstanding"  his comments may have caused.

(Church sign image by Mark Lehigh/Shutterstock)

(Church sign image by Mark Lehigh/Shutterstock)

NEW YORK — Did leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention hurt their missionary cause by opting not to change the denomination's name to something a bit more, well, marketable?

Maybe, but as the advertising executives of Madison Avenue here could attest, as tempting as it is to try to solve a missionary slump with a marketing campaign, religious groups — like commercial businesses — should think twice before undergoing a brand overhaul.

After months of deliberations, an SBC task force on Feb. 20 recommended against trying to re-brand the denomination, an idea that has been bandied about for more than a century.

Proponents of a change made a good case: for a denomination that was born in 1845 out of a defense of slavery, the name has since saddled Southern Baptists with a problematic name and historical baggage.

When Southern Baptists gather for their annual meeting this June, they will not be asked to create a new official name after top leaders decided it was not worth pursuing.

Instead they will be asked to approve a recommendation that Baptists end the name change discussion but have the option of using the unofficial moniker "Great Commission Baptists."

The recommendation was adopted Feb. 21 by the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee after a task force deemed a name change impractical.

Choices image via Shutterstock

Choices image via Shutterstock

As the Southern Baptist Convention recently weighed changing its name, denominational leaders were bombarded with suggestions. Hundreds of them.

Most suggestions avoided the word "Southern" but one hinted at the denomination's regional flavor: Baptist Ultimate Bible Believing Alliance, or BUBBA.

In the end, leaders recommended the unofficial moniker "Great Commission Baptists."

Here's a sampling of some of the more intriguing rejected names...

Roy Hoffman 2-17-2012
The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala. RNS photo by

The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala. RNS photo by Bill Starling/The Press-Register.

FAIRHOPE, Ala. — For the Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fairhope, being Southern Baptist is a defining aspect of life.

He embraces the denomination's conservative social values, extols its evangelism — "We reach out to people instead of waiting for them to come to us" — and identifies with its name.

The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala., has struggled with whether the Southern Baptist Convention should change its name to reflect greater geographic diversity.

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