Southern Baptists called for unity and a renewed focus on their core mission as they left their Annual Meeting in Dallas Wednesday. During the two-day meeting, which grew contentious at times, messengers to the Convention heard reports from mission agencies and seminaries, elected a new Convention President, heard from Vice President Mike Pence, and addressed how they will handle cases of sexual harassment and abuse.
Messengers elected North Carolina J.D. Greear to serve as Convention President for the next year. Greear will replace Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Germantown, TN, who served the previous two years.
Greear, pastor at the Summit Church in Raleigh, conceded a close vote for Southern Baptist Convention President to Gaines in 2016 after neither of them reached a majority of votes on a second ballot. Gaines, in keeping with a long-standing tradition of presidents serving two one-year terms, won a second term in 2017 without opposition.
Ken Whitten, pastor at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, FL, nominated Greear in a speech before the over 9,000 messengers who had registered at the time. He touted the work Greear has done in leading Summit to an attendance of almost 10,000 each week and baptizing over 600 people in the previous year. Summit Church has also taken part in planting almost 250 churches under Greear’s leadership.
The 45-year-old Greear faced Ken Hemphill in the election for President. Brad Jurkinson, pastor at First Baptist Church in Bossier City, LA nominated Hemphill. Hemphill formerly served as president at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX and currently works as an administrator at North Greenville University in Greenville, SC. Greear won by a vote of 5,410 to 2,459.
Messengers learned Monday that they would hear from Vice President Mike Pence on the Annual Meeting’s second day. Pence came to thank Southern Baptists for their witness and contribution to the moral fabric of the nation, but also spent a good portion of his remarks touting the accomplishments of the Trump administration’s first five hundred days.
In a speech whose tone often reflected that of a campaign rally, he told the messengers that, “It's been 500 days of action, 500 days of accomplishment, 500 days of promises made and promises kept.” He spoke about the President’s victory’s against ISIS and push to make the borders more secure, while also championing his record on pro-life issues, religious freedom, and moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
There was opposition to Pence’s speech at the Convention. Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, made a motion to rescind Pence’s invitation to speak and replace it with a time of prayer. He believed Pence’s speech could affect the unity of the Convention, send confusing signals about the Gospel, and endanger SBC workers overseas. Messengers voted down Kell’s motion. However, during the time to make motions for the Convention’s consideration, several messengers proposed never allowing an elected official or candidate for office address the meeting again. These will be considered by the SBC’s Executive Committee.
While contentious issues at the SBC’s Annual Meeting draw the most press, messengers spend most of their time hearing reports about their shared mission work. The Convention’s International Mission Board Commissioned 79 missionaries during a service Tuesday night. Messengers heard reports on work taking place in North American church planting, chaplaincy work among soldiers, and ministry taking place on college campuses. Speakers encouraged pastors and churches to be faithful in evangelism and missions.
CNN religion editor Daniel Burke summed up the ethos of the meeting in a tweet Wednesday afternoon. He said, “I've spent the last couple of days covering the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. They've spent the vast majority of that time talking about evangelism. Not politics, not the role of women, not the culture wars. Church planting and baptisms are the core focus.”
Messengers also overwhelmingly passed resolutions condemning abuse and encouraging churches to report accusations of abuse to the authorities. With the firing of Paige Patterson two weeks ago fresh on messengers’ minds, several seminary presidents made strong statements about how women will be cared for and how abuse reports will be handled on their campuses.
Greear’s first term as President began at the end of the Annual Meeting, with Gaines ceremonially handing the gavel over to him. Greear will preside over next year’s meeting, which will be held in Birmingham, AL.
Photo courtesy: Facebook/J. D. Greear
Publication date: June 14, 2018