Month: June 2012

Looking forward, optimistically

A number of people have already presented their recap of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans. Our dearly beloved editor, Gary Ledbetter, will give you a more detailed review in his column. Of course the historic moment was the election of Fred Luter, the first African American president of the SBC. Because of this I want to take my comments to the future rather than the past.

The Southern Baptist Convention is at a defining moment. White, rural Southerners who founded the convention and personified it for over 165 years will no longer be the future. The ethnic mix of our nation has permeated every community. Projections show that in a few decades America’s population will have no racial majority. Texas is already experiencing this diversity. We are no longer rural. The urbanization of America is a reality. While local tribalism and regional identification might exist in some corners, it is rapidly being replaced by the MacDonald’s-ification of the world. I have Hindus living in my subdivision. There is a Buddhist temple in my town. Resist it if you wish, but the world is here.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not subject to a Southern culture or a truncated worldview. We are to represent our Lord to all peoples everywhere. Having an African American president is the first step but is only a first step. The SBC welcomes as leaders all who share our biblical convictions regardless of race, color or language.

SBC entities established the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as a minimalist doctrinal statement. Entities can and should be able to establish other necessary criteria for service. Behavioral practices such as use of tobacco, alcohol or appropriate apparel are not addressed directly in the BF&M but ministries can set their own standards. Good practices for mission boards are to consider the health, family conditions and other personal assessments of candidates for appointment. These go beyond the BF&M but rightly so. Doctrinally, Calvinism, non-Calvinism and other positions that fit in the BF&M should be welcomed. There will always be some issue that rises to the top every so often. Controversy sells newspapers. Actually, in many circles it makes you read blogs. There is nothing like a little dust up to get the attention of preachers and others. The future of the SBC will be healthy if we can keep most of the discussion in the hallways and appropriate forums. As long as advocates accept the validity of the other’s position within the BF&M, then we will have continued unity.

Streamlining the program is the future. Multiple business sessions may fade from view. A young pastor attending his first convention commented to me that the sessions seemed “clunky.” I think he meant that while much of the SBC has progressed to the 21st century, the business apparatus of the SBC is somewhere in the Byzantine Era. Because of our polity we must allow time for messenger involvement. Yet, much of what takes place in the form of business could be done in one session. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has moved in that direction over the last couple of years. Those who want to participate can. Those who prefer the more inspirational or informational times might stay for business with the new format. Many of churches have gone to fewer business meetings. I wish that had been my life experience. The first 15 years of my pastoral ministry I faced the dreaded monthly business meeting. Today’s pastors and people care less about the details. Just give them the big picture and debate only the weighty matters.

I left New Orleans more optimistic about the Southern Baptist Convention. I also left several pounds heavier due to Drago’s oysters and Café Du Monde’s beignets. The SBC must change as our entire existence is changing. Some change is not good but much is. I believe we can change for the better. The young pastor attending the convention for the first time told me he felt like he had a family. The sense of belonging is important. Sure, there are a few crazy uncles in the family. Families squabble from time to time. But there is nothing sweeter than the love you find with family.

Put it on your calendar to attend the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, June 11-12, 2013. You can help shape the future.

A week of doing well in New Orleans

It was the first time I’d seen New Orleans since Katrina. Some buildings were still being demolished; some neighborhoods were still empty but the city was functioning. One thing I noticed that may have been fallout from the hurricane was the prices. New Orleans is a pricy place to visit these days. Our Southern Baptist Convention messengers left behind over 800 newly professed Christians, a pile of money, and a good reputation when we adjourned and headed north toward home. This was the most interesting Southern Baptist Convention we’ve had in more than a decade. Three or four things were in the news as we enjoyed an unusual visitation from non-Baptist media. Our new president’s press conference was packed with visiting press as they sought to understand Baptists and why we do things. Here are a couple of major items of discussion, in no particular order.

Name change: We didn’t really change our name, or even consider doing so. What we did was officially endorse a “descriptor” for those who consider “Southern” to be a confusing term in their own context. In some cases, the SBC is thought to have an unfortunate reputation because of things we’ve done, not done, or are believed to have done over the course of 167 years. The vote was affirmative but close, not a mandate or a game changer. It will be interesting to see how those who prefer to call themselves “Great Commission Baptists” will benefit from doing that. In all likelihood, if Southern Baptist institutions or spokesmen begin to use it widely, it will lose its panache.

President Fred Luter: THE news, by far, the most significant news of the 2012 SBC. And it was more than a gesture. This election was the inevitable result of changes in the SBC for a generation. It did not begin in 1995 with the resolution on racial reconciliation. That effort was itself co-led by Gary Frost, an African American SBC vice president. Neither Frost’s election, the resolution, nor Luter’s election were mere gestures. They were substantive reflections of a reality in the SBC. The leaders of our convention, the employees of our convention, and the messengers to our convention have for decades embraced the common parentage of all men and the equality of all men before God and before American law. Fred Luter is an exemplary pastor and leader quite apart from his race. I believe he will have a new perspective to offer as he represents us and offers well-proven leadership across our convention.  

An MSNBC reporter implied that the SBC elected an African American as president because we were worried about declining numbers; and that we adopted the Great Commission Baptists nickname to distance ourselves from an unfortunate reputation. Ignorance on display. Consistently, those who ever listen to what we say or read what we write will hear that we are concerned about one number, only one. We are genuinely concerned about the number of people who follow the example of Christ in baptism as a testimony of new life in him. That’s it. Cooperative Program numbers, membership numbers, number of church plants, number of missionaries or seminary students—those are all servants of our Great Commission ministry.

And I guess it’s time we stop wincing when we hear someone say we have a bad reputation. Everyone who’s ever done anything has a bad reputation with someone. Folks, the gospel has a bad reputation, so does the Word of God. Yes, we are capable of doing the dumb things that large groups of people do, but mostly the people who scoff at us simply disagree with us on things about which we are merely trying to follow the plain teaching of God. When we reach the point where relevance or reputation or bragging numbers become more than data that help us track our effectiveness in reaching the world with the gospel, we are useless. And to those within and without who aren’t sure, I say that we are not useless in this day.

Congratulations to our own Nathan Lino, elected first vice president of the convention. Pastor Lino is a naturalized citizen and pastors Northeast Houston Baptist Church. Another exemplary pastor we look forward to seeing at the podium next year.

And congratulations also to Pastors’ Conference President Greg Matte from Houston’s First Baptist. It’s a great affirmation for pastors to recognize one of their own for leadership of this meeting next year. Pastor Matte led our own pastors’ conference (we call it a Bible Conference now) in 2008 and did a great job. I look forward to seeing what he does with the conference next year in Houston.

Calvinism: Let me use the “C” word as shorthand for our efforts to understand what the inerrant Bible says about how we are saved. It’s a big issue and important. It’s not one we need to settle once for all. That’s good, because most of us are not as smart or dedicated to the task of offering the final word on Calvinism as those who have gone to their graves having failed to do so. At one point during our 2012 SBC meeting, we discussed an aspect of Calvinism for about 30 minutes. During this time, messengers went to microphones in an orderly fashion, waited their turns, and often quoted Scripture at one another. At the end of the time, we voted and then went on with our business. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve already heard a couple of people talk about this as an example of “feuding Baptists.” It’s not that. Instead I’d call it the necessary deliberation that undergirds our voluntary cooperation. Sometimes we debate theology, sometimes procedure, sometimes some pretty trivial things. Families with convictions and purpose will do that.

I honor the desire for unity that powers Executive Committee President Frank Page’s intent to appoint an advisory group to guide him (and us) through our core mission with theological integrity, missionary energy, and gospel fellowship. No such group, no pronouncement can end the discussion. The closest we’ll come was adopted in 2000 when we rolled out the latest Baptist Faith and Message. That document, in article IV (Salvation) and article V (God’s Purpose of Grace) says that God’s election of sinners for salvation is “consistent with the free agency of man” and “the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness.” We won’t do better, and we will debate the implications of various (there are more than two) interpretations of Scripture in the future. Grown-ups can do that without being haughty or unkind. And it is not too trivial for our attention. Those who are impatient with even dignified theological debate need to stand by graciously while we talk.

Homosexual marriage: It’s a footnote to us but not to the world outside. Our resolution affirming the biblical definition of family expresses a significant disagreement we have with President Obama’s recent pronouncement on the subject. We shouldn’t expect lost people to understand our convictions on family issues. In fact, it’s a place where human reason, our sense of fairness, our desire to be compassionate, or even our wish that the Bible said something else must be subject to what God has actually said. The demonstrable best interests of our communities must also trump shallow affirmations of tolerance for its own sake. “Other” sorts of marriage, whether it is between two men, two women, a mother and son, or a man and two women are corrosive to the foundation of our culture. No argument based on sentimental anecdotes of people who are happy in an “other” marriage or are sad outside it is pertinent.  

I believe it is still worthwhile for Southern Baptists to express their opinions on timely issues like this, by the way. We have been judicious in the subjects we choose and in how we express our opinions but it is part of our witness to say “here is how we see the revelation of God applied to the news of the day.”
In addition to the normal business of passing an annual budget, appointing boards, and responding to good and not-so-good ideas from across our fellowship, we did some unusually interesting things this year. This was a meeting that advanced our Great Commission purpose as well as our fellowship within that purpose. When Christians come together, treat one another well, share the gospel with those around, and take care of business that can’t be handled in any other context, it’s a good day and one that glorifies our Father in heaven. Houston next year; you should plan to be there.

CBF seeks new leadership after Vestal

FORT WORTH–Participants in the June 20-22 General Assembly meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship considered what moderator-elect Keith Herron described as “life in the wrinkle of time between the past and the present” as Coordinator Daniel Vestal was honored for 15 years of leadership and a plan to refocus and streamline organizational structures was embraced unanimously.

Moderator Colleen Burroughs recalled highlights of the past year, including the New Baptist Covenant II meeting, the work of the strategic task force and the April Conference on Sexuality and Covenant which she carefully described as “a rousing success.”

Twenty-one years after Fellowship organizers broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention, Burroughs praised a refusal to “sign on the dotted line” as she offered her final report as moderator. “The neighborhood of networks and partners escape conventional definition,” resisting a traditional model of what it means to be a Baptist, she said.

“You refuse to paint your lips red with creeds or wear skinny jean theology that flatters no one and just makes you unable to breathe,” Burroughs added, urging young leaders who have no memory of “the holy war” to remember their first name by demonstrating a picture of cooperation.

Described as a network of partner churches and individual Christians, communications director Lance Wallace said the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not a denomination, has no doctrine and does not make statements of beliefs or take official stances on social issues, according to an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Instead, the General Assembly provides an opportunity for networking and a place for churches to share ideas, Wallace said.

Vestal spoke to a crowd of 1,625 Fellowship Baptists, referring to the meeting theme of “Infinitely More” drawn from Eph. 3:20-21 to remind the audience that God is both transcendent and immanent.

“The mission of God has been around for a long time before we arrived on the scene,” Vestal said, “and it will be here for a long time after we're gone. And yet we are a part of it,” he said, referring to the contributions offered and places served. “Our voice, our witness and our work matters.”

He encouraged Fellowship Baptists to “go into the future boldly” as new leadership emerges in “new wineskins.”  At the close of the final session, participants took communion by intinction in observance of the Lord's Supper.

Earlier in the week, Quaker folk singer Carrie Newcomer offered a concert where Vestal was honored in anticipation of his retirement on June 30. “She helped us grieve Daniel’s moving on while giving us hope for the future at the same time,” shared Wallace.

Newly appointed field personnel include Andy and Jutta Cowie of the United Kingdom serving in community and vocational development in Haiti; Jessica and Joshua Hearne of Saginaw, Mich., serving in the area of poverty and community development in Danville, Va.; and Missy Ward of Merritt Island, Fla., serving in the area of women's advocacy in Uganda.

Vestal said he had been surprised “by the caliber of the people who continue to step forward and say, 'I want to serve God in the hard places, the remote places, the forgotten places.” Offerings collected for CBF Global Missions amounted to $32,847 during the meeting.

Three church starters were appointed, including Andy Hale of Clayton, N.C., serving Mosaic, John Norwood of Houston serving the Heights Church and Brickson Sam of West Africa serving The Early Church Ministries in Charlotte, N.C.

“Throughout our history, we have started around 150 new churches,” stated David King, associate for church planting. “We also partnered with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baptist General Association of Virginia in an Hispanic initiative to engage over 200 mostly house congregations,” he added. The number of field personnel serving in other countries amounts to 132, with five area coordinators located stateside.

Following Rob Nash's resignation as global missions coordinator, field ministries director Jim Smith will fill the vacancy on an interim basis, while disaster response coordinator Charles Ray will move into the area of fundraising.

New officers for the 64-member Coordinating Council include Herron as moderator, Bill McConnell, a partner with Rogers and Morgan, Inc., and member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., as moderator-elect; Renee Bennett, a marriage and family therapist and member of Highland Hills Baptist in Macon, Ga., continuing as recorder; and Burroughs as past-moderator.

Of the more than 1,800 partnering congregations, 1,500 are dually affiliated with another Baptist organization and 171 were identified by coordinator search committee chairman George Mason as the “most deeply engaged in CBF” according to affinity markers that include attending general assemblies, endorsing chaplains, giving certain amounts of money, supporting CBF missionaries and sending students to the 15 partnering schools of theology (three of them connected to colleges funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas).

In addition to conversing with pastors of those “engaged” churches, the search committee met with ministry partners, prompting Mason, the pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, to conclude, “We are finding confidence that we will be able to take this next step together.”

Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., recalled the challenge of former moderator Hal Bass of Fort Worth when he created the task force to put the Fellowship under the microscope” and bring back recommendations for the future.

In place of the current Coordinating Council, a governing board will work with the executive coordinator, a missions council will guide global missions staff, while the larger ministries council “empowers the entire Fellowship community to use a networking model for development of resources that are needed by our congregations.”

Cooperative agreements will be developed between national CBF and state/regional organizations in the hope of encouraging generous stewardship. The plan also calls on the Fellowship community to become “increasingly committed to generosity without strings,” allowing leaders the freedom to allocate funds necessary to fulfill CBF's mission.

“There's no missing the point we're living in the wrinkle of time between the past and the future, between leaders, between structures, living in the interim, seeking, praying, working and trusting,” Herron said, calling the period a preparation to “realign our sights and refocus our energies and rearrange our priorities.”

David Hull, pastor of First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Ala., chaired the 2012 Task Force, describing the transition to a time of implementation. Calling the region Big Sky Country, Hull said, “West of here you'll see a big horizon and the road is as straight as an arrow.”

Referring to the future path of CBF, Hull said, “That road does not exist. The task is to build a road to the horizon,” he explained, announcing a plan to gather leaders to develop “a strategic playbook” by October.

A relatively flat $12.4 million operating budget was approved for the fiscal year 2012-2013, providing a quarter million dollars for Baptist Identity and Partnerships, including Associated Baptist Press, Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist World Alliance, Christian Churches Together, Church Benefits Board and North American Baptist Fellowship.

The area of Missional Congregations has an allocation of $2.6 million, with $6.4 million earmarked for Global Missions and Ministries, nearly $1 million for Fellowship Advancement, and just over $2 million for administration.

Workshops and partner meetings filled out the schedule over the course of three days. One of the best attended workshops showcased the products of CBF partner schools as six young preachers provided the crowd of about 60 people with samples of their style.

Selected by the Academy of Preachers associated with , featured speakers included SMU Perkins School of Theology student Terrell Crudup who delivered a fast-paced topical sermon on breaking down walls that hold believers captive, using Eph. 2:14-16 as his text, illustrated by a reference to the Berlin Wall.

Society builds walls to hold the poor and undereducated, to safeguard prosperity and to keep out the foreigners, he said. Christians ask questions like: “Should we break away from the convention” and “where do women fit in in the church?” he said, leading to building more walls. Church business meetings, capital stewardship campaigns and painting the church build more walls, he added. “We love building walls.”

The failure to understand the complexity involved in saying sexuality is a choice leads to building walls based on stereotypes of the different viewpoints, said Crudup, a Belmont University graduate. Those who oppose welcoming homosexuals into the church are described as “bigots and homophobic” while those who stand their ground on the issue fail to recognize that “the Lord found friendship and followers amongst those who were openly struggling with holiness.”

Instead, he said, “The writer of Ephesians was concerned with the unity of the church against the cosmic battle between God and the powers and principalities,” reminding listeners that Christ tore down the walls that separated us from the holy places. “If you want unity, tear down the walls that we build up.”

Georgetown College graduate Zac Bailes who is a student at Wake Forest Divinity School and ABP columnist introduced his sermon encouraging ministers to “keep the course,” referencing Matt. 21:1-6, while Maziel Dani, an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate now studying at TCU's Brite Divinity School offered her sermon from the perspective of the slave girl described in Acts 16:16-34.

Two other men,  Southwest Baptist University student Josh Johannes and Campbellsville University graduate Micah Spicer, a student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, spoke in the second round of sermons, along with a woman, Samford University graduate Caitlin Jones, who is a recent recipient of CBF funding as a ministry fellow at Campbell Divinity School.

Nearby Broadway Baptist Church provided an introduction to Taize, a contemplative style of worship, and Vespers, a reflective service utilizing dimmed lights and candles, silence and ancient prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

Leading worship for Baptist Women in Ministry were Meredith Stone, women in ministry specialist at BGCT and Jana Harwell of Arlington, Texas.

State and regional meetings were offered for CBF groups in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mid-Atlantic, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Central, Northeast, Oklahoma-Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the West.

Partner seminaries had opportunity to update messengers over a meal, although CBF printed a disclaimer stating that the views expressed at Partner Events coinciding with the General Assembly do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of, or endorsement by CBF or its members.

Among those featured were Central Baptist Theological Seminary led by President Molly T. Marshall; Mercer University professor David Gushee at a Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors luncheon as well as the Baptist Peace Fellowship's breakfast, and Wake Forest Divinity School professor Bill Leonard at the Baptist Joint Committee's annual Religious Liberty Luncheon where he received the J.M. Dawson Religious Liberty Award.

While alumni events were offered by Campbell University, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Baptist University of the Americas, Mercer University McAfee School of Theology and Duke Divinity School, the Baptist General Convention of Texas was the only state convention featured at partner events and on the program as choirs from Baptist University of the Americas, Hardin-Simmons University and Baylor's Truett Seminary led in worship.

BGCT's Christian Life Commission co-sponsored the luncheon with the Baptist Center for Ethics where Texas state senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) was honored for legislation aimed at curbing predatory lending practices in the state. The church architecture division, BaptistWay Press, Baptist Standard newspaper, Buckner and many of the BGCT-affiliated schools provided exhibits.

The Greg Warner Lifetime Service Award went to Toby Druin, former editor of the Baptist Standard, during the Friends of Associated Baptist Press Dinner.  Current editor Marv Knox praised Druin as “an exceptional war correspondent” who covered Baptist controversies of the 1980's and 1990's.

The 2013 CBF General Assembly will be held June 26-29 in Greensboro, N.C.

 

CBF moderator praises refusal to wear skinny jean theology

FORT WORTH–Messengers to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meeting June 20-23 heard Moderator Colleen Burroughs describe a “full-blown ecclesiastical earthquake” that led to the formation of CBF in 1991. She told of “prophets” who sang a lullaby to the generation that had no memory of the “holy war” that “made our family name a laughing stock.”

Borrowing from her memory of “love notes” from her mother that were tucked away in her suitcase as she headed off to boarding school, Burroughs offered her own love letter to the now-grown child of CBF, expressing gratitude at having been born in a world without borders to “resist being defined by traditional models of being Baptist.”

Instead, she said, describing that CBF offspring, “You don’t sign on the dotted line. You refuse to paint your lips red with creeds or wear skinny jean theology that flatters no one and just makes you unable to breathe,” prompting laughter and applause from her audience of about 600 messengers and guests to the Friday morning business session.

With networks and partners that “escape conventional definition–even when your critics try to press you down,” Burroughs encouraged the next generation of CBF leaders not to worry when they are misunderstood. “From the moment you were born you refused easy identifiers that would confine you inside the walls of another institutional McMansion.”

Instead, that once-every-500-years earthquake shook the foundation of every brick and mortar religious institution, she aid. “We didn’t construct walls for you on purpose. The fluid, nimble nature of your networks and partners’ identity is actually what will save you from sure destruction.”

While CBF parents dreamed about what the child would become, Burroughs said, “Now, on your twenty-first birthday, you have grown into a beautiful young mother yourself, having given life to countless children who fill in your address as the only Baptist home they have ever known.”

Instead of recalling “a holy war,” she said their “Baptist family photo albums only include the images of you living and working among the invisible people that Jesus never overlooked, citing CBF ministry in Haiti, New York City, Miami and Romania.

A “neighborhood full of seminaries” now cultivate “even more neighborhoods of ministers trained to think critically about the Bible and theology,” carrying with them the saving gospel of Jesus Christ with “their GPS locked on Micah 6:8.”

Praising the evidence of celebrating their giftedness “just like we knew you would back when women were not allowed to preach,” Burroughs said, “You’re doing it. You have become exactly what we dreamed you would become.”

She reminded the child to remember her first name, urging her children “to cooperate and work together” in spite of their diversity. “If you keep your hands extended and heart wide open, believing in what God has in store for you as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, your children’s children will be singing our lullaby a long, long time from now,” she added, describing the song as a way to be gracious, thoughtful, hard-working and risk-taking so that all children will be blessed.

Burroughs is vice-president of an international student ministry known as Passport, Inc., a non-profit she founded with her husband, David, in 1993 at the invitation of the CBF of Florida.

DR responds to New Mexico wildfires

SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers are responding to the New Mexico wildfires at the request of the disaster relief ministry of the New Mexico Baptist Convention.

Volunteers trained in cleanup and recovery, communications and chaplaincy were scheduled to begin working near the mountain resort town of Ruidoso, in the southern part of the state, on July 9, SBC DR Director Jim Richardson said.

A wildfire near Ruidoso that destroyed 242 homes and businesses was 95 percent contained on June 29, according to the Associated Press.

Battles against the 69-square-mile Little Bear fire was helped by rains along the southern edge of the blaze, the AP reported. The lightning-caused fire began on June 4.

In southwestern New Mexico, firefighters were battling the record-setting Whitewater-Baldy fire covering more than 465 square miles. It was considered 87 percent contained on June 29, news reports said.

Disaster relief volunteers are being housed at First Baptist Church of Ruidoso.

Richardson requested prayer for those who have been affected by wildfires and for DR volunteers.

Keeping the dream alive

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brethren to dwell together in unity!
-Psalm 133:1

Martin Luther King. Jr has given us a vision of hope, a dream that we must keep alive in America. It is a dream that continues to overshadow a history steeped in the despair of godless attitudes and relationships. This dream provides all Americans the inspiration to contest the unholy norms of separatism that have been interwoven into our society for hundreds of years. It’s good to see that Southern Baptist are leading the way to break institutionalized bias and are on the path to total inclusion and acceptance of all people in leadership.

While the excitement of the occasion is still high in the hearts of all who attended this historic election, I hope to portray the joy we experienced with our brothers and sisters who did not attend the meeting. I wish every member of the SBC and SBTC could have felt the excitement present at this historic convention. From my viewpoint, the 2012 SBC annual meeting had the greatest display of diversity of any convention I have attended in my 21 years as a Southern Baptist pastor. It was the largest reflection of what I envision heaven will look like because of the diverse multicultural presence of men and women who were involved in kingdom affairs.

What a marvelous opportunity to be present at the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans; the excitement and joy that filled the almost 8,000 messengers at Rev. Fred Luter’s election for president was without a doubt one of the highlights of my life as a Southern Baptist. It was wonderful to witness how God is moving in the life of Southern Baptists and to observe God bringing our convention together in such a spectacular way. It was exceptional and inspirational to be a part of God stirring the hearts of Christian men and women with the power of His love. The experience was overwhelming.

Filled with emotions, I openly wept as I noticed the men and women around me weeping for joy as they waved their ballots high above their heads in favor of his presidency. It was great to see the enthusiasm of people from all ethnicities weeping as they made history by putting all racial barriers aside. America has always been a great nation, but in moments like this she continues to reveal her greatness. The words of Samuel Frances Smith’s “America,” written in 1831, echoes with pride, even today: “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

It is my prayer that we will keep the dream alive that makes us one people in Christ and one as Americans.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

These words from Dr. King’s dream speech represent an American dream, a dream that our convention is one step closer to fulfilling with this election. We see the wheels of brotherhood turning within our convention and it’s an occasion to be excited about! The psalmist reminds us how good it is when Christian brothers and sisters fellowship in oneness of spirit. Keeping the dream alive.

Terry Turner is the president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite.

Garland pastor pens letters to White House, NAACP

GARLAND—Though he is too young to remember the hard-fought victories of America’s civil rights movement, Tony Mathews is keenly aware of what was fought for and won by his family, their friends, and co-laborers. Framing the issue of same-sex marriage in the context of a national civil rights battle disregards the moral foundation on which African Americans stood to make their case, Mathews maintains.

Thus, Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland and vice president of the African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, has sent letters to President Obama and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) decrying their support, couched in the language of Christian virtue and civil rights, for homosexual marriage.  

In his letters to the president and the national leadership of the NAACP, Mathews said he wished “to address you with respect but at the same time with candor and correction.”

Mathews does not stand alone on this issue. Fred Luter, elected June 19 as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has publically supported the biblical standard for marriage and his recent election will “add veracity to this discussion,” Mathews said.

For years Mathews has addressed the issue of same-sex marriage from the pulpit at North Garland Baptist Fellowship and in personal conversations. From a scriptural and, pragmatically, from an anatomical point of view, he said the practice is indefensible and the collateral damage to society is incalculable.

“When we have pastors preaching a gospel of tolerance and acceptance of a lifestyle that God clearly rejects, unfortunately, after a time such a false message will permeate throughout the church,” he told the TEXAN. “I say this because the next generation will be taught that there are no moral absolutes.”

In his letter to Obama, Mathews wrote, “Mr. President, endorsement of same-sex marriage ‘is not’ the Christian thing to do … God does not welcome attempts to rewrite what’s in His book. Mr. President, you are wrong on this issue.”

In declaring same-sex marriage as acceptable to God, Mathews said that pastors, the president, and the NAACP leadership risk diminishing the gravity of all sin. He added that Christians must speak the truth in love on any matter of sin.

He said to “love loudly” is to call attention to sin and the forgiveness that is found in a relationship with Christ. Conversely, “lousy love” rejects God’s standard so as not to offend the person caught up in a sinful lifestyle.

He said the rejection of Scripture and its parameters for marriage makes him wonder if there ever was an “evolution” of thought for the president and the NAACP leadership.

“Any pastor, regardless of his race or ethnicity, will pay a great price for teaching and preaching another gospel; namely, one that Jesus died for our sins, but because Christ loves us, it’s all right to consistently live, happily so, in our sins.”

At 50 years old, Mathews’ recollection of the civil rights movement comes from family and loved ones recounting stories of discrimination and harsh treatment “just because of the color of our skin.” His life, too, has been influenced by bigotry, forcing Mathews to pray “that I would not be overcome with bitterness.”

Because of these experiences, Mathews said he and other African Americans take umbrage with the homosexual lobby couching the issue of same-sex marriage as a matter of “civil rights.”

Messengers at the SBC annual meeting overwhelmingly approved a resolution denouncing the use of civil rights language in the same-sex marriage debate.

In his letter, Mathews told the NAACP that he supported civil rights for all Americans but argued same-sex marriage is a matter of “special rights.” Mathews went on to list the life-and-death struggles of African Americans since the days of slavery. There has been no comparable “systematic, strategic, coordinated effort to put the homosexual community through any of [these] atrocities,” he wrote.
The equivocation of the same-sex marriage debate with America’s late 20th-century civil rights movement is “deeply disturbing” to many African Americans, he added.

In his endorsement of same-sex marriage, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous choked back tears recalling that the marriage of his parents, a white man to a black woman, was against the law in Maryland where they lived. The couple traveled to Washington D.C. to get married. The country’s anti-miscegenation laws were struck down following the Loving vs. Virginia case of 1967.

But the constitutional foundation for that court decision, based on the 14th Amendment, cannot be used to bolster the “right” of two men or two women to marry, Mathews said.

He wrote, “This case to which you point involved racism against this couple, and the Word of God condemns racism.”

The benchmark in the same-sex marriage debate is the Word of God, Mathews said, declaring racism and acts perpetuated against African Americans a direct violation of Scripture. Those same codes of conduct should guide Christians’ words and actions toward homosexuals and those who champion their causes. But, he concluded, the Bible defines homosexual acts as sin and, as such, cannot be condoned by Christians or sanctioned by society.

Christians cannot be ambivalent on this issue, he urged.

“To raise the next generation with no moral absolutes will bring this country to its knees. Ironically, or providentially, that may be the silver lining in all of this.”

SBC agencies respond to Supreme Court decision

DALLAS—GuideStone Financial Resources, which administers health insurance and retirement for Southern Baptist ministers, and the denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s June 28 announcement upholding the federal Affordable Care Act.

GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins said has been on record expressing its concern that the healthcare reform law neither acknowledges, nor addresses, the unique needs of church health plans.

“The decision has no immediate impact on rates, benefits or eligibility for any of our health plan participants,” a GuideStone news release said.

“GuideStone’s health plans already included many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that benefitted participants, such as no life time annual limits, comprehensive coverage for preventive care services, and the ability to cover children as dependents until age 26. Additionally, GuideStone has never canceled a participant’s health coverage for excessive claims,” Hawkins said. “We remain committed to providing the coverage uniquely designed to meet the needs of ministers, regardless of legal or regulatory developments. We will maintain our advocacy on behalf of the ministers we are privileged to serve.”

While GuideStone teams have been diligently working to address the unique needs of ministers with respect to the law’s requirements, it remains unclear how some of the mandate affects church plans. One area where it remains unclear how church plans are addressed is in regards to the contraceptive mandate exemption, Hawkins said.

“As I told messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans last week, we will never allow this Administration, or any other, to tell us that we have to provide abortive drugs like morning-after pills or provide for same-sex marriages,” Hawkins said. “We will maintain our advocacy on behalf of the ministers we are privileged to serve.”

The ERLC’s president, Richard D. Land, said in a statement: “It is astonishing that the majority of the justices did not see the bill for what it really is: a blatant violation of the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and perhaps a mortal blow to the concept of federalism,” said Richard Land, president of the ERLC.

Land noted, because of this bill, every individual not already covered through an employer would be required to purchase health care coverage or pay a fine. “When a government begins forcing citizens to purchase what it thinks is important or necessary, that government takes a dangerous step away from the freedom-embracing, democratic model,” Land said.

Another immediate implication of the decision is that the foundation of the “contraceptive mandate” issued by the Department of Health and Human Services remains intact, Land continued. This mandate requires health insurers to provide free access to contraceptives and abortion-inducing products. Because this mandate includes only an extremely narrow exemption for churches that meet specific criteria, thousands of faith-based organizations will be forced to enable their employees to obtain access to these services, services that many of them find morally reprehensible, Land said.

“Greater government involvement in medical care also means that the sick, elderly and terminally ill will suffer,” Land said, suggesting many patients in need will have to wait longer to receive treatment as the government decides how to “best” allocate resources.

Admitting healthcare reform is needed, Land said the Obama healthcare law is not the solution. “With its far-reaching effects, Obamacare will destroy much of what Americans hold dear,” Land said.

“The ERLC will continue to fight for policy that promotes affordable, high quality, and universal health care that is consistent with our biblical convictions and the United States Constitution,” he concluded.

Huckabee, French honored at SWBTS luncheon

NEW ORLEANS—Retired Louisiana pastor T.C. French and former pastor and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee received awards as distinguished alumni at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Alumni Luncheon on June 20 during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.  

Both men credited the Texas school with providing them a biblically based education driven by an evangelistic zeal that prepared them for the different paths their lives took.

“Few things have meant more to me,” Huckabee said in receiving the award, recalling his impoverished condition when he arrived in Fort Worth at age 20, the youngest student on campus. “We were not just financially broke, but broken from having gone through what we didn’t think two kids should experience,” Huckabee said, referring to his wife’s battle with cancer in their first year of marriage.

Wearing a pair of shoes from which the soles had separated and occasionally sporting a $12 blue polyester suit that would fray when it rubbed against anything, Huckabee said their seminary house was set against the railroad tracks and called “the Winnebago” by friends—a nickname he said was insulting to the RV manufacturer.

“But what wonderful days,” he remarked, recalling President Robert Naylor’s quotation of long passages of Scripture and his challenge to “not just prepare intellectually,” but “to be on fire” for the gospel. Friends who went to “lesser seminaries” ridiculed Southwestern as “a three-year camp meeting,” he added.

“I considered it a badge of great honor, for it was a hotbed of evangelism and missions. I remember hearing that the sun never sits on a Southwesterner because somewhere in the world someone is presenting the gospel,” he remembered, pausing to add, “I was so insignificant and small to be a part of something so big.”

Huckabee pastored for 12 years, first at Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff and later at Beech Street Baptist Church in Texarkana, before his election as Lt. Governor of Arkansas, followed by 11 years as governor, and a popular presidential run in 2008. Often asked why he thought he was “tough enough” to be president, Huckabee recalled telling a South Carolina voter, “’Partner, have you ever been to a Baptist business meeting?” prompting sympathetic laughter from the seminary audience.

Despite his success as host of a top-rated weekend television show, daily radio host, commentator for FOX News and author of nine books, Huckabee said, “This award means a lot to me personally because Southwestern means a lot to me personally. I was a nobody when I was on campus,” he reminded.

Struggling at times to contain his emotion, Huckabee said, “Many were the times when I would go to chapel, then afterward I’d go to the prayer room in the basement and my heart would be so filled with what I had heard in the chapel. I’d go to that prayer room and just say, ‘God, if there’s a place for me, use me,’” he added.

“That prayer is answered every time we ask God to use us,” he insisted. “He chooses to use us in very different ways,” he added, praising the bivocational pastor who might question his own worth. “I know just how he feels, but God has a place for every single one of us. It may not be in the spotlight or limelight,” he said, adding that “being on the front page of the newspaper or lead story on the 6 o’clock news ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Huckabee expressed gratitude for sharing the honor with French, a 1957 graduate who retired after pastoring Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., for 50 years. The Mary French Priscilla Scholarship provides tuition and other expenses for the wife of a student preparing for ministry—an honor to his late wife Mary who died in 2008.

French was involved in the Conservative Resurgence and was instrumental as a trustee in reforming the Baptist Sunday School Board, where the administration had tolerated heresy in educational materials and mismanagement. He served in various other areas of state and national leadership in the denomination, most recently chairing the seminary’s alumni association.

He recalled sitting in Truett Auditorium at a time when a 35mm projector was considered a cutting-edge visual aid. When he received a B on a test in his Old Testament class, French appealed the grade to his professor because he had scored a 97 percent.

“I asked, ‘What did it take to make an A?’ and he said, ‘A 98!’ I said, ‘I guess I’m not A material,’ and he said, ‘I guess not.’” By that point, French said he decided it made more sense to build churches instead of going into academia.

“Southwestern gave me a set of tools with which to work, an evangelistic fervor and a set of principles by which to live.”

-30-

Luter: SBC presidency more than symbolic

NEW ORLEANS—Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter Jr. enthusiastically engaged a room full of reporters June 19, sharing his surprise at “the confidence Southern Baptists are putting in me and my leadership skills and what God has done in my life.”

The unopposed election of the first African American to serve in the position is more than symbolic, Luter said, though he understands why fellow blacks might view it as such, waiting to see that “this is not a one-and-done deal.”

“If we stop appointing African Americans or Asians or Hispanics to leadership roles in this convention after my term is over, we failed. We absolutely failed,” Luter related. Instead, he said, “This was a genuine, authentic move by this convention that says our doors are open and the only way they can see that is not just putting up an African American president, but seeing other ethnic groups in other areas of this convention. Time will tell and I’ll be a cheerleader promoting that.”

His only agenda, he said, is an effort to build bridges to help outsiders see Southern Baptists as “the church getting along” instead of folks who often fuss with one another, a concern he addressed one night earlier when speaking to the Pastors’ Conference.

Appealing for prayer in that effort, Luter said he hopes to get diverse groups together “to make sure the gospel of Christ and the Great Commission is not watered down because of the fact that it seems we don’t get together.” He asked Southern Baptists to pray that he would have wisdom in dealing with the media, so that nothing he says will hurt the convention, his church, his family or the kingdom of God.

“There will be some pitfalls, but I hope I will learn from them and study more on things I anticipate being asked,” he added, hopeful that he will be known as a person, pastor, husband, father and man of God who loves the city of New Orleans, his state and country, “and loves being part of this convention.”

He said he hopes his church’s reputation for having strong participation by men will serve as an example to other congregations. “When I became pastor of this church, I said, ‘Lord, I know the impact a man could have on a child’s life.’” He said he promised God he would be the role model in his own son’s life that he never had.

When he became pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church—what he described as a church in the “‘hood”—he noticed most of the members were women and children. He thanked them for their involvement, he said, and then sought a way to attract their husbands and other men. By inviting men of the neighborhood to his home to watch a pay-per-view broadcast of a fight between Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, he developed relationships that multiplied into a steady increase in the number of men attending the church.

“They came with boom boxes and loud music, with a beer can in one hand and a wine cooler in the other,” Luter recalled. “I appreciated them coming but they were going to have to throw away the beer and the wine cooler. It was not a problem. They wanted to see the fight.”

Insistent that the message of the gospel must remain the same, Luter said, “We cannot expect to reach this do-rag, tattoo-wearing, ear-pierced, iPod, iPad, iPhone generation with an eight-track ministry. Things are changing and so we’ve got to, some way, somehow, change the methods of how we do things.”

Luter’s election came on the same day many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of the last slaves, in Texas. Luter said it had not occurred to him until a reporter asked for his comment on the significance. While Southern Baptists cannot avoid their past as a convention born over a pro-slavery stance, Luter said, “All of us have done some things in our past we’re not happy about. We cannot do anything about that past. It’s over with. However, we can do a lot about our future.”

Luter recalled the 1995 SBC resolution that he helped write with Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, a man he described as his good friend and Christian brother, that repudiated past racism. “Ever since then I’ve seen us try to make changes, so much so that last year the Executive Committee wanted to make it known our doors are open to everyone,” he reminded.

“Here is a convention that has been talking this racial reconciliation thing and now they’re putting their money where their mouth is,” Luter said, describing his own tears of joy when the messengers and guests rose to their feet in celebration of his election.

“My mom and dad divorced when I was 6 years old and I’ve been through a lot, but God, in his grace and mercy allowed this to happen in my life. To see it embraced by so many people of so many different ethnic backgrounds and see it affirmed is a moment I will never forget as long as I live.”

That show of unity doesn’t mean Southern Baptists won’t disagree on issues as diverse as political candidates and whether to add the new descriptor of “Great Commission Baptists” as an option for local churches to use, he said. “It is a given that with a convention this size you have different people who think a lot of things about different things.”

Describing Southern Baptists as people who are passionate about their country and the candidates for whom they vote, Luter said, “We can do it in a way that it won’t offend other people simply because they don’t vote for the candidate we vote for.”

Asked about the new SBC descriptor of Great Commission Baptists, Luter said he supported the recommendation of the SBC Name Change Task Force and was surprised over the extended debate.

“I think it’s a win-win situation to still retain the name we’re known by,” he said, noting his agreement with the sentiment expressed by a church planter serving outside the South in believing another name would better serve their circumstances.

Having met President George W. Bush when he toured New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Luter said he looks forward to the possibility of meeting President Obama as well “and discuss some things that I would like to see happen,” adding, “It would be a joy to meet him.”

Luter brings a quarter century of experience of pastoring the same church that launched with 65 members and grew to over 8,000 in attendance by 2005. “We were booming and going and a woman named Katrina came and destroyed it all,” Luter told the media. He recalled thinking his life and ministry were over when he lost his home to five feet of water and the church was extensively damaged by eight-foot floodwaters.

“By the grace of God, he allowed us to come back,” Luter said, describing the rebirth of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 2008 and subsequent growth to a membership of around 5,000 people. “I’m honored the convention came back here so that messengers could see what many of their churches have done” in ministering to the city after the hurricane.

With the prospect of serving as president for two years, Luter admits his influence is limited. “You can start with a big agenda that may sound impressive to the media, but realistically, how much will you be able to accomplish? This position does not have a lot of power,” he said.

He said he plans to meet with SBC entity leaders who will be in place long after his term has ended and ask, “What can I do in two years to help you to fulfill the vision you are trying to fulfill so that we can work together and accomplish the things I mentioned last night?”

Expressing the confidence God had given him to embrace the new responsibility, Luter said, “I believe it can be done, but it will take a cooperative effort.”