Southern Baptists elected a new president, passed recommendations from a sexual abuse task force, and commissioned more than 50 new missionaries during their annual meeting, which was held this week in Anaheim, California.
All total, the convention drew 8,133 messengers, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was the highest-attended annual meeting in a western state since 1998 when the convention was held in Salt Lake City. Meetings in Phoenix in 2017 and 2011 drew less than 5,500 messengers.
Here are five key takeaways from the convention:
1. A New President Was Elected
Bart Barber, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, was elected the new president of the SBC in a runoff, receiving 60 percent of the vote to 38 percent by Tom Ascol, the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Ascol was endorsed by the Conservative Baptist Network.
“It’s hard to find a denomination of churches that is more ethnically diverse than the Southern Baptist Convention, and I hope to lead our continued growth in that way,” Barber said after he was elected.
He has built a reputation as a peacemaker within the convention, urging various factions to work toward a common goal of advancing the Gospel.
Barber supported the work of a sexual abuse task force that investigated sexual abuse within SBC churches.
2. Recommendations by the Sexual Abuse Task Force Were Approved
SBC messengers approved recommendations presented by the Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was tasked with investigating sexual abuse within the convention.
Among those recommendations was the creation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force – whose members are appointed by the president – and the launching of a “Ministry Check” website which would include the “record of pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse.”
“One of the problems in our churches is the ability of abusers to move from one church to another to perpetuate their abuse,” the task force said. “This often happens because churches don’t have the means to communicate with one another.”
3. Resolutions on Abortion, the Prosperity Gospel and Sexual Abuse Passed
Southern Baptist messengers passed nine resolutions, including – for the first time – one denouncing the prosperity gospel.
“The prosperity gospel distorts biblical generosity, preys on the most vulnerable, solely blames people for their own sickness due to lack of faith, and corrupts a biblical understanding of suffering,” the resolution reads.
A resolution on abortion urges the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and encourages state legislators to “enact pro-life policies that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, including both vulnerable women and children.”
Messengers passed two resolutions on sexual abuse, including one that says, “we publicly repent and acknowledge our need for comprehensive change in caring well for survivors of sexual abuse.”
4. Female Pastors, Saddleback Were Debated
Saddleback Church’s ordaining of three women as pastors in 2021 sparked a debate about the denomination’s statement of belief (the Baptist Faith and Message), which states that the “office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” The congregation, which was founded by Rick Warren, is Southern Baptist.
A committee was tasked in 2021 to study if Saddleback should be disfellowshipped.
That committee recommended to the 2022 annual meeting that a “study committee” be formed to provide clarity to the definition of “pastor,” noting that some SBC churches have staff with “pastor” in the title but with different responsibilities than “that of the lead pastor.”
But after pushback from messengers, the recommendation was withdrawn. The committee could issue another recommendation in the future.
5. 52 New Missionaries Were Commissioned
The SBC’s International Mission Board commissioned 52 new missionaries during the annual meeting. All total, the SBC has approximately 3,600 international missionaries around the world.
“Spiritual lostness is the world’s greatest problem, for it is the one problem with eternal consequence,” said International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood, according to Baptist Press. “Lostness is the world’s greatest problem, but God has given us a solution. That solution is the Gospel.”
In 2021 alone, 107,000 individuals around the world were baptized, and 22,000 new churches were started, Chitwood said.
“Together, we get to share the Good News of Jesus with people and places where that news has never been heard,” he said.
Photo courtesy: ©SBC/Public Domain
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.