Month: June 2020

How US protests affect European missions

“I don’t understand; I don’t think most Americans understand. Why are people in Germany and all over Europe protesting what is going on in the USA?”

This was my question to my German friend as he and I talked over coffee one day not long ago. He thought of several reasons that Europeans reacted in solidarity with the protesters in the U.S. First, America’s number one export is culture. Many Europeans love America, Americans and American culture. So, naturally, what happens in America very much affects Europeans.

However, another reason Europeans—especially Germans—reacted so strongly in protest was, perhaps, their own feelings of the mistreatment of immigrants here in Germany. Back in 2015, Middle Eastern and Northern African immigrants flooded into Germany seeking asylum and refuge. Some have built new lives for themselves, but many others still struggle and face discrimination. Many Germans want to see immigrants flourishing with a better life.

This provides wonderful opportunities for missionaries here in Europe. As the COVID-19 crisis seems to wind down here in Europe, many Europeans are angry, scared and confused. During this time, they are looking for answers and a way forward. As missionaries, we can provide some life-changing answers. 

God’s goodness in the world

One of the conversations we have regularly with our German partners, neighbors and friends is about the justice of God. The COVID-19 pandemic reminded the world in a powerful way that this world is broken. It needs to be redeemed. It needs to be made knew. Because of this, we have regular conversations about the problem of evil and the goodness and justice of God.

“Why doesn’t he just fix it all already?” or “Why doesn’t he do anything about it now?” are just some of the questions we frequently talk about. The answer is, God has done something, is doing something, and will do something about the brokenness and evil in the world. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, he defeated the powers of evil. He also began the process of restoring and redeeming all of creation. He is slowly healing the world and we as His followers get to be a part of that process.

The world is broken, and people are still struggling. But Jesus is the Savior and King of the world. And he has called everyone everywhere to repent and follow Him on His mission to make all things new. Missionaries are on the front line of that work, and that is exciting!

God’s justice for society

Because we have received the free gift of salvation, we share it with others. We share the message of hope and forgiveness in Christ. We show the love of God in our neighborhoods and in the context of our local church. We work to bring others to the kingdom and bring the kingdom to others. People can see and experience a better way of living—a more just way of living—and they can see a clear picture of the true just One who deeply loves them and invites them to join in His family.

However, with the issue of racism, we have to be even clearer. As Christians, our vision is that one day people from every nation, tribe and tongue will be together with King Jesus in the new creation. But we want to share a glimpse of that future in the world right now. We are forgiven people who are fully loved and accepted by God. We want to bring the radical peace to the lost and show them what it is like to live in a world without racism, discrimination, prejudice or hate. We give them a glimpse of what heaven is like. We show them how to live and love with Jesus as the center of their life.

Because of Jesus, we have a basis on which to say, “Racism is wrong.” Jesus’ people come from every nation, tribe and tongue. In his eyes, they are all equal—equally loved and equally valuable. We should eliminate racism from society not simply because it is “bad” or “wrong” or because it ruins other people’s lives (though those are certainly good reasons). We should eliminate racism from society because Jesus is building a new world where all people will live and love as one family. It is our job to take that message and that new world into our neighborhoods and cities and transform them by the power of the gospel. 

That’s why we work as missionaries. To bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a world that is asking questions. To bring them the one true answer to every question, the solution to every problem. The American protests are causing Europeans to ask good questions. Missionaries all over Europe are offering the gospel as the answer.

Lucas Wilburn* is an IMB missionary serving among European peoples.

*Name changed for security

Religious freedom suit filed on behalf of IBSA

A lawsuit filed June 10 challenges an Illinois law requiring that health insurance policies sold in the state provide coverage for elective chemical and surgical abortions, with no exemptions even for churches. The suit, filed by theThomas More Society, includes the Illinois Baptist State Association in its lists of plaintiffs.

“The Illinois State Baptist Association provides health coverage and pregnancy-related benefits through a third-party insurer to our employees,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Compelling the Association to provide and pay for coverage of abortion is a violation of the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

“This Association cannot morally participate in the funding of abortion—which we declare to be in conflict with our deeply held beliefs. The State of Illinois is forcing us to do that and that is illegal.”

The lawsuit, which also includes a dental practice and a freight company, seeks judicial review of the abortion coverage mandate, Thomas More Society said in a statement June 10. It asks the court to declare the mandate unlawful, and for an injunction that would prohibit the state from enforcing the requirements against the employers and their health insurance providers.

“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly condemned this sort of government coercion against people of faith, including in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. decision,” said senior counsel Peter Breen. “Illinois law protects the sincerely held beliefs of our state’s nonprofits and businesses, but our state’s politicians and bureaucrats have sat silent in response to the conscientious objections of people of faith to paying for elective abortions.”

Read the full Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief here.

FIRST-PERSON: Racial reconciliation resolution’s silver anniversary

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richard D. Land is the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and past president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (formerly Christian Life Commission).

CHARLOTTE, N.C.  Saturday (June 20) marks the 25th anniversary of a seminal moment in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. Messengers to the 1995 SBC Annual Meeting voted overwhelmingly to pass the “Resolution on Racial Reconciliation on the 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Every Southern Baptist I know who was privileged to be in Atlanta that day will tell you it was one of the most memorable events in their lives. But how did the Racial Reconciliation resolution come to be? What caused it to resonate at such a deep level with Southern Baptists, black and white?

It is a story worth telling. When I was elected in 1988 as the executive director of the Christian Life Commission (since renamed the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), I was the first undeniable conservative resurgence leader elected to lead a Southern Baptist entity. And the Christian Life Commission (CLC) was not just any entity. It was a gathering place where socially (and often theologically) liberal Southern Baptists encouraged one another in their social activism including civil rights and integration.

After my election, there was much speculation that with the CLC now becoming an uncompromising advocate for pro-life issues, civil rights issues would be deemphasized. This media speculation was given a rocket boost by negative remarks about Martin Luther King Jr. made by one of the CLC trustees.

What the public did not know was that the trustee’s attack on Dr. King was probably provoked by my having praised Dr. King and his tremendous contributions to our country during interviews and discussions leading up to my election as executive director.

In my interviews with the CLC search committee and in a multi-hour interview with the full board of trustees, I expressed my deep appreciation for the CLC’s uncompromising stand on racial equality and integration. I shared with the trustees that as a teenager in the 1960s, it had been very important to me that the CLC was on the right side of the race issue when far too many institutions in Southern Baptist and American life were on the wrong side.

I also expressed my great disappointment that America and Southern Baptists had not made more progress on race since the heady victories of the mid- and late-60s civil rights laws drove a stake through the heart of de jure legalized segregation.

Before the trustees voted to elect me, I told them that I believed the race issue was a right versus wrong issue, not right versus left or conservative versus liberal, and that under my leadership the CLC would champion racial reconciliation.

Immediately upon becoming executive director in October 1988, I began planning a CLC conference on racial reconciliation for January 1989—the first official public event under my administration. One of the first things I did was call Foy Valentine, who had been the CLC’s executive director for 27 years (1960-1987) and had taken bold stances on integration and civil rights from the 1950s onward.

I told Dr. Valentine that we were holding a conference on racial reconciliation and I wanted him to be one of the plenary speakers. I said, “Dr. Valentine, my friends will be very upset with me for inviting you, and your friends will be very angry if you accept, but the issue of racial reconciliation is bigger than our friends.” I believed it was very important that there be a seamless passing of the baton on the race issue from his administration to mine, and that it would be symbolized by his being a conference speaker.

He accepted the invitation and later informed me that his liberal friends were indeed livid that he had agreed to be a speaker. I assured him a verbal blow torch had been turned on me by some of my conservative friends for inviting him to speak, but the issue was indeed much more important than our friends, liberal or conservative. He agreed. The conference was well attended and succeeded in cementing racial reconciliation as a high priority for the CLC.

I also convened what the CLC called a “consultation,” an off-the-record, two-day meeting at the SBC building in Nashville with six black and six white Southern Baptist leaders to foster a frank and honest conversation about racial reconciliation in the SBC. We started with dinner in the evening, followed by an approximately three-hour discussion.

The next morning after breakfast, one of the black pastors opened up the discussion time with this pronouncement: “Dr. Land, you white people are very complicated people. You don’t always mean what you say, and you don’t always say what you mean. So, we caucused last night, and we’ve concluded that you mean what you say and so we are going to tell you the truth.”

He then said: “You don’t realize how badly you have hurt us. We don’t mean you personally, but white Christians. It is one thing to be discriminated against by white people. It is something entirely different when you are discriminated against by Christian brothers and sisters.”

I believe the real “birth” moment of what became the 1995 Racial Reconciliation Resolution was that consultation in Nashville. I believe the Holy Spirit used that opening statement—”You don’t realize how badly you have hurt us”—as the spiritual catalyst to help me understand, and to help others understand as well, that while the SBC had denounced racism from at least the 1960s onward, it had always been in the more impersonal third person, rather than the much more personal first person.

As months went by, it became clearer and clearer to me and to others I spoke with, black and white, that Southern Baptists needed to acknowledge our institutional complicity in having supported or at least acquiesced to racism and segregation. And that we needed to apologize to our African American brothers and sisters for the terrible hurt that support for grievous racism had caused.

I began to talk with an ever-growing group of Southern Baptists, black and white, about the need to pass such a “first-person” resolution, and when and where would be the best place to do it.

In the process we had to deal with those who objected to Southern Baptists’ “repenting” for the sin of our ancestors. People would say to me, “We are not Mormons; we can’t repent for our ancestors,” and that is certainly true.

I cannot repent before God for my direct ancestors who were slave holders any more than I can earn points with God for my direct ancestors who were abolitionists. However, we can, should and must express sorrow for the sins of our forbearers and apologize and seek forgiveness from those who suffered the enduring consequences of their sins.

Many of us felt the time had come as we approached the 1995 SBC Annual Meeting in Atlanta, where we would celebrate the 150th anniversary of our founding. I went to then-SBC President Jim Henry and shared with him that before we celebrated the anniversary, we had some really dirty linen in the closet that we needed to address. He enthusiastically affirmed this and agreed to suspend the Convention’s rules and have the resolution reported a day early so we could pass the Racial Reconciliation resolution before we celebrated our 150th birthday.

When you read the resolution, you will see the spirit of repentance, grief and yearning for spiritual reconciliation that energized it. It was graciously received by so many of our African American brothers and sisters. The resolution made a real difference, thank God.

However, I am grieved that we have not made more progress in transforming our Southern Baptist Convention and our nation in dealing with America’s “original sin” of racism.

When dealing with racial issues, I always go to the Bible first and then to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the Bible, I see racism condemned from beginning to end. Genesis tells us “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him” (Genesis 1:27) and “Adam called his wife’s name Eve: because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20, emphasis added). Consequently, there is only one race—the human race. Scientific research is now confirming what the Bible told us all along—we all come from one common ancestor.

In the New Testament, we are informed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 1:34), and “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26).

And finally, of course, we have the all-encompassing language of the best-known verse in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

When I turn to Dr. King, I find him never wavering from a deep commitment to racial reconciliation. As Dr. King’s niece Alveda recently reiterated, “Martin Luther King preached love, not hate; peace, not violence; universal brotherhood, not racism.”

Dr. King, in his incandescent 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (which I believe ought to be required reading before any American high school senior may graduate, right up there with the “Gettysburg Address”), Dr. King reminded Christians that our divine command is to be spiritual thermostats, setting the spiritual temperature of society, not merely thermometers recording its temperature.

Am I disappointed that we have not been more successful in quelling the demons of racism in the last quarter-century? Yes! However, one of the consolations of advancing years is the gift of context provided by time and experience.

Born in the first year (1946) of the “Baby Boom,” I am a child of the civil rights era. I saw the death of Jim Crow and segregated drinking fountains and restrooms. I witnessed the enfranchisement of millions of African Americans in the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts and the 1967 Voting Rights Act. I have witnessed and experienced the highs and lows since then. Consequently, I not only see the gap that remains, but the distance traveled and the progress that has been achieved.

May we all draw inspiration to complete the journey to the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of a country where all people are “judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”

If length of years has taught me anything, it has taught me this—the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to complete the journey to the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream for our country.

The salt of the law can change actions, but only the light of the Gospel can change attitudes. The salt of the law can change behaviors, but only the light of the Gospel can change beliefs. The salt of the law can change habits, but only the light of the Gospel can change hearts.

Let us not weary in well doing. May God give us the strength and the wisdom to finish the journey together, arm in arm, redeemed and reconciled heart to heart. Let us be about our Father’s business.

August 8 EQUIP Conference to go Virtual

Due to social distancing impacting gatherings in small spaces, the SBTC Church Ministries leadership has determined to make EQUIP, the convention’s major church training event, virtual this year. The conference, this year known as the EQUIP Online Conference, was originally scheduled to meet on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The training will be live using an online event portal.

Mark Yoakum, director of Church Ministries, said, “Our date and schedule for the day will be the same. We see some opportunities to expand the reach of the training since people will not have to travel to participate; churches from all over Texas will be able to join us. We hope we’ll even get some participants from other states since it’s more easily accessible.” 

The online conference will begin with a 9:00 a.m. plenary session and then move to breakouts at 10:00, 10:45, 12:30 and 1:15. Panel discussions will take place during the 11:30-12:30 lunch break. The conference features 280 breakouts and 88 expert presenters. Last year’s conference drew 2,555 registrants. A detailed schedule, instructions for accessing the online conference and registration will be available at Call 817.552.2500 and ask for Church Ministries for more information. 

African American leaders call for Southern Baptists to address racism in unity

NASHVILLE—Calling the racial unrest roiling the nation “spiritual warfare,” and saying “unless hearts change, nothing will change in America,” Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams urged Southern Baptists to stand together in unity against injustice.

“The world is waiting for us to come together,” said Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church of Philadelphia. “Because Beloved, truth be told, this is just a dress rehearsal for when we get around the throne. I think maybe God is stripping us. I don’t know about you, but this has been a stripping time for me, a pruning time for me, a time in the refiner’s fire, that God would see what he really has as far as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Williams’ comments came during “A 60 Minute Conversation on Race in America,” a panel discussion hosted online June 17 by Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, who brought together five African American Southern Baptist pastors and leaders. Along with Williams, panelists included Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church of El Cajon, California, and newly elected chairman of the SBC Executive Committee; Charlie Dates, pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago; Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; and Willie McLaurin, vice president of Great Commission relations and mobilization of the SBC EC.

While thanking Floyd for convening the call, Dates said “this is a very tiring conversation, not simply because of the events of recent weeks … [but] because this has been a 401-year struggle for African Americans.” Dates added that real change would come from pastors joining together to combat racism.

“If the persons who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ are not in the front lines of strategy and demonstration then the world will simply be blowing hot air in trying to bring change,” Dates said. “We can demonstrate the gospel in power and in witness in leading them in peaceful protesting.”

Smith encouraged believers to view the topic through a biblical lens and to use biblical rhetoric rather than “the combat rhetoric that’s going on all around us,” adding: “If we start with the Lordship of Christ and the Scripture, we can engage with some of these tough subjects.”

McLaurin expressed a need for SBC ministry pipelines available to develop vocational leaders from an ethnically diverse perspective. While agreeing, Smith said it should extend to include discipleship for laypersons “to live as salt and light out in their communities.”

“The pipeline that is hurting us as regards race in America, as regards a lot of things in America — materialism, greed, consumerism — is discipling [church] members in such a way that when they go out in the community, they are just different than other people,” Smith said.

Asked whether the SBC is progressing on racial issues, McLaurin noted his experience as an interim pastor of 16 “predominantly Anglo churches” in Tennessee. Saying he was the first black man to preach in some of the churches, he recounted a moment when a 10-year-old boy responded to an invitation. The boy’s father came down the aisle, hugged McLaurin and asked to speak to the congregation.

“He said, ‘I wasn’t for this black man coming to be our interim pastor,'” McLaurin said, “‘but my 10-year-old son has gotten saved today and today this black pastor is my brother in the Lord. And any of you who have a racist bone in your heart, you need to come to the altar today and get it right with Jesus.’

“I don’t know what happened after that, because I was filled with tears,” McLaurin continued. “But we are making progress.”

Smith acknowledged significant positive change since the SBC’s founding 175 years ago in a split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery, as well as since the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. But he said he has been discouraged in recent years by “indifference and insensitivity” from many white Christians.

“I’m certainly encouraged. Things have certainly moved and changed since 1845 and I’m comfortable saying they’ve changed since 1945,” Smith said. “But I don’t think the last decade or so … has been the best window in that long story of Christians in the United States dealing with the issue of race. And I really have a burden about it, because I think it matters evangelistically and missiologically.”

Dates added, “It’s hard for me, apart from personal relationships that I’m developing … to chart significant progress to the point where younger black people, younger black pastors, will actually want to become a part of this convention.

“If some strategic moves are made beyond resolutions and declarations … then the Southern Baptist Convention actually has a strong hope of putting feet to its gospel proclamation within America’s original sin,” Dates said. “But if every time God’s appointed man for a particular position is a white man, and if all of these conversations are initiated by and led by white people, then really what you have are—and I say this gingerly—but what you have are opportunities for black people to be heard, but not for black people to actually affect change and lead indigenously.”

But Dates noted he’s “hopeful” for the SBC that “it will not simply be black faces with white voices … but black people who can lead within this convention and actually bring about change.”

Affirming Southern Baptists’ strong, passionate stands against abortion and sexual immorality, Williams said he wanted “us to be as passionate about racism and injustice, because it’s part of the biblical mandate, Micah 6:8, to do justice.”

“I don’t think we need to write any more resolutions,” he said. “We need to put some shoe leather in it and effect some change. … Our younger generation wants to see practical application of the biblical principle. And for us right now, our hypocrisy because we haven’t acted on it and dealt with America’s original sin, it has hindered the heathen from hearing when we holler about the holy. They can’t hear us.

“And so we have a great opportunity. That’s why I’m here. That we might be a bridge-builder, a unifier, that we might stand as a collective, incarnational presence.”

Slade, who was elected June 16 to chair the SBC Executive Committee, challenged Floyd, whom he described as “a man of action,” to press forward into the issues of racial injustice discussed Wednesday.

“We knew that when you called, we’re gonna do something,” Slade said. “We’re gonna have a call, but I know … it’s gonna be more than just talk. This is the launching pad. We’re going on from here.”

Floyd urged viewers to engage in conversations like the one on June 17, saying Psalm 133 has been “on my heart for churches and for our Southern Baptist Convention,” and quoting: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”

He added: “I appeal to all of you, regardless of the color of your skin, we must fulfill what Jesus said in John 17:21,” and then quoted the verse: “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I am in You. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me.”

A recording of the “A 60-Minute Conversation: On Race in America,” can be viewed here.

With reporting by Josh Owens.

Digital M3 Camp: free resource now available online

GRAPEVINE  Summer church youth camp means swimming, campfires, Bible study and, for many young people, their first meaningful encounter with Jesus. But what happens when a global pandemic cancels camps?

To help student ministers and churches fill the gap caused by COVID-19 cancellations, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has created digital M3 Camp—a flexible, free resource to assist youth departments in providing a camp experience for 7th graders to graduating seniors when traditional camp is impossible.

Youth directors know that youth camp, properly done, changes lives.

“Every summer, God uses youth camps. Teenagers are saved at youth camps. Teenagers are called into ministry at youth camp,” Shane Pruitt, NAMB director of next gen evangelism, told the TEXAN, adding: “I am so thankful that in this unique season, people are finding unique ways to still do camp.”

M3 Camp: online, flexible, free

This March, as traditional youth camp started looking like a no-go thanks to the pandemic, the SBTC’s student ministry department began working on digital M3 Camp to provide churches with an alternative. Their work proved timely, because when the initial May 18 (revised June 3) minimum standard health protocols for reopening camps came from the Texas governor’s office, regulations advised the separation of groups, negating the cross-congregational bonding that is a hallmark of Baptist youth camp life.

The digital resource launched online June 15, coinciding with would have been the first week of M3 Camp at Highlands Lake in Spicewood, Texas, said Nathaniel Kuhns, SBTC student associate.

Digital M3 Camp features eight 20-28 minute stand-alone videos on Colossians accompanied by devotionals and small group activities.

Main session speakers include Pruitt, Ryan Fontenot of R.A.G.E. Ministries, Dallas Christian comedian Jason Earls and Christian hip hop artist Dillon Chase, all presenters popular at M3 Camp in normal times.

Each speaker also recorded a 7-minute training video patterned after a TED Talk and designed for student pastors, focusing on practical ministry. Crosspoint Community Church worship leader Nick Gainey contributed training videos on using student interns and starting a student praise band, too.

The digital M3 Camp resource also includes a downloadable leader’s guide with discussion questions, recreation ideas and mission project suggestions. The site even features a link to Lone Star Threads, a t-shirt company.

“We wanted to create as diverse a resource as we could,” Kuhns said.

Pruitt said he was “honored” to be included in the project and applauded its flexible design which lets churches offer overnight camp at their facilities or follow day camp formats. Others plan to do weekend events akin to Disciple Now, while some will use the resource as curriculum for weekly small groups, Pruitt said.

Brandon Bales, student pastor at Northeast Houston Baptist Church, advised the digital M3 Camp team and will use the resource at NEHBC July 5-8 as the church offers in-person and online camp for 75-100 youth.

“It’ll be M3 Camp condensed into three hours a night for four days,” Bales said of the plan.

About 50 youth are expected to come physically to the church where they will watch the videos, participate in small group discussions, do worship indoors spread out across the large worship center, and have recreation and closing rallies outdoors, practicing social distancing throughout. Other youth will participate online.

“There’s other platforms out there, other digital youth camps,” Bales said. “We decided on M3. We trust the quality of speakers. They stick to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. They are aligned with us doctrinally. As student pastor, it gives me confidence to know my students are going to be given a good dose and a healthy dose of God’s Word.”

Bales said he would encourage other youth ministers, Southern Baptist or not, to consider M3 because they could trust its quality.

“It’s designed with the student pastor and local churches in mind. It’s free, which makes it great,” Bales said. “They put us as student pastors first.”

The digital M3 Camp resource lacks one typical camp element: music, the addition of which would have been cost prohibitive due to royalty fees, and time-consuming, requiring additional editing, Kuhns said.

Accessing digital M3 Camp

M3 Camp is available free to any interested church or ministry, not just SBTC churches, Kuhns said, noting that congregations from Colorado and Arkansas had planned to send student groups to the physical M3 Camps this summer before COVID-19 interfered.

Student pastors or staff can access digital M3 Camp resources by filling out a Wufoo form at They will receive a password to download videos, the leader’s guide and other resources.

Kuhns and Mitch Tidwell, SBTC lead student and collegiate associate, expressed hope that the digital resource would enable churches to include kids who wouldn’t come to camp or couldn’t afford it, noting its cost effectiveness for churches in the tenuous COVID-19 financial climate.

The choice of Colossians as a subject was appropriate, Kuhns and Tidwell also said, calling it “a timely message of hope during these times,” and a book “all about the supremacy of Jesus.”

“We just wanted to say, ‘Thinking of you, helping you get through this time,’” Kuhns said of the free resource.

In historic election, SBC Executive Committee elects first African American chair

NASHVILLE — The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee elected its first African American chair in a special called meeting June 16. 

Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, was unopposed as EC chair and was unanimously elected by ballot vote. Outgoing chair Mike Stone called for a ballot vote, he said, to mark the historic moment. 

“I think we all realize by what is going on in this country as well as in our convention, this timing is in many ways the providence of our Lord,” said Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia.

Many, including Slade, attributed his election to God. 

“I don’t think there was ever a plan for me to be in this position,” Slade told Baptist Press. “I think it’s what God has done. … I believe God loves diversity; he created us and we are all diverse. I think for us to not embrace it is saying that, ‘We’ve got a better idea than You [God].'”

In other business, the EC voted to recommend SBC Annual Meeting sites for 2025 and 2027 in Dallas and Salt Lake City, respectively; elected a complete slate of officers and EC committee chairs; voted to allow the EC to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program if deemed necessary; and received Cooperative Program allocation and EC operating budget reports.

The called meeting was conducted on Zoom and livestreamed, as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the EC from meeting at its Nashville headquarters. The EC conducted business delayed by the cancellation last March of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting, originally slated June 9-10 in Orlando, Fla.

Slade served the last two years as EC vice chair. As EC chair, Slade leads the SBC’s fiduciary, fiscal and executive arm. He was nominated by EC member Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. After the vote, Slade thanked EC members, his family and his church for their support.

“We praise God together and let’s pray together and let’s stay together,” he said, “because I’ve learned that a family that prays together, stays together.”

Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president, said Slade’s election shows how far the SBC has come, and also shows the “mighty hand of God at work.”

“His election shows the positive transformation that is occurring in the Convention,” said Ausberry, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia. “When you think of the founding of the SBC in 1845, largely over the issue concerning the ownership of enslaved persons by missionaries, to the election of Rolland Slade in the 175th year, this is a seminal moment for the Convention and all Southern Baptists.”

Slade served on the EC search committee that recommended in 2019 the hiring of Ronnie Floyd as SBC EC president and CEO.

“For the first time in the 103-year history of the SBC Executive Committee, we have today elected our first African American chairman,” Floyd commented during the meeting. “God bless [him] and may others follow [him] in days to come.”

SBC President J.D. Greear, who has made diversity a major emphasis of his term, has lamented that SBC leadership does not reflect current SBC diversity. He called Slade’s election an “exciting day for our convention.” 

“Rolland Slade’s election demonstrates we are moving in the right direction,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, told Baptist Press. “During my two years as SBC president, I have worked alongside Rolland and seen his leadership and character to lead this body at this time. 

Fred Luter, the only African American ever elected as SBC president, praised God for Slade’s election, especially in the midst of nationwide racial tension.

“Rolland is certainly deserving of this historical honor not just because of the color of his skin but because of his knowledge, skills, and leadership as a member of the Executive Committee through the years,” Luter said. “I am proud of Rolland and proud of the men and women of this committee for making this such a historic moment in the Southern Baptist Convention. To God be the glory for the things He has done!” 

Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was SBC president from 2012-2014.

Other elections

Tom Tucker, a vocational evangelist from Rock Hill, South Carolina, was elected as EC vice chair. Joe Knott, an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, was reelected EC secretary. 

The EC also elected four committee chairs: 

Robyn Hari, a financial advisor from Brentwood, Tennessee, was elected chairman of the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development. Rob Showers, an attorney from Leesburg, Virginia, was elected chairman of the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry. Jim Gregory, senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Mountain Home, Idaho, was elected to chair the Committee on Southern Baptist Relations. Rod Martin, CEO of The Martin Organization in Destin, Florida, was elected to chair the Committee on Convention Events and Strategic Planning.

Paycheck Protection Program

The EC granted permission for the entity to apply, if deemed necessary, for a Paycheck Protection Program loan of up to $750,000 through the U.S. Small Business Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. 

Bill Townes, SBC EC chief financial officer, noted that a loan could be used to potentially offset an anticipated decrease in Cooperative Program giving during the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Venue changes

The EC voted to recommend that messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting move the 2025 SBC Annual Meeting from Salt Lake City to Dallas. The proposed date of the Dallas meeting would be June 10-11, 2025.

EC members also voted to recommend to messengers that the 2027 SBC Annual Meeting be held June 8-9 in Salt Lake City. Both recommendations are contingent upon satisfactory contract negotiations.

Other business

At the close of the meeting, the Credentials Committee notified the EC of the election of a new chairman, Mike Lawson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sherman, Texas, and an EC member. Stacy Bramlett, the outgoing chairman who is also a member of the EC, remains a Credentials Committee member.

Messengers to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting established the committee to receive reports of a church’s suspected departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice and to make recommendations to the SBC Executive Committee regarding the possible disfellowship of churches from the SBC.

In other business, the EC received a 2019-2020 second quarter Cooperative Program budget report of $101,138,686, dated March 31, a 0.40 percent increase of the report for the same time the previous year.

The EC received a second quarter 2019-20 EC and SBC operating budget report, showing a negative total change in net assets of $1,882,883. During the first six months of the fiscal year through March, revenue was under budget by $395,098, and expenses were under budget by $441,131. 

Neither report reflected the impact of the economic downturn. The next EC meeting is scheduled for September 21-22 in Nashville.

Supreme Court rules in favor of gay, transgender rights

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court issued a watershed decision on gay and transgender rights June 15 by finding longstanding, non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law cover “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

In Bostock v. Clayton County, the justices ruled in a 6-3 opinion the category “sex” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applies to homosexual and transgender employees. Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch — typically among the high court’s more conservative members — joined the four-member liberal wing in the majority. Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and others disturbed by the decision expressed concerns about its impact on religious freedom and the meaning of words in laws.

The opinion “will have seismic implications for religious liberty, setting off potentially years of lawsuits and court struggles, about what this means, for example, for religious organizations with religious convictions about the meaning of sex and sexuality,” Moore wrote.

The decision’s precedents “will mean that legislators actually won’t know what they are voting to pass — because words might change cultural meaning dramatically between the time of passage and some future court case,” he said.

John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written release the inclusion of “sex” in civil rights laws was “to protect equal opportunities for women. Allowing a court or government bureaucrats to redefine a term with such a clear and important meaning undermines those very opportunities — the ones the law was designed to protect.”

Gay and transgender rights advocates celebrated the court’s decision.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, described the opinion as “a landmark victory” for gay and transgender rights.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, however, “should hardly be surprising, given how much has changed culturally on the meanings of sex and sexuality,” Moore wrote. “That the ‘sexual revolution’ is supported here by both ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ on the court should also be of little surprise to those who have watched developments in each of these ideological corners of American life.”

Writing for the majority, Gorsuch — one of two nominees by President Trump on the court — said, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Gorsuch acknowledged the congressional members who supported Title VII 56 years ago might not have expected the court’s ruling, but he said “the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. 

An employer who fires a male employee for an attraction to men while tolerating it in a female worker is guilty of discrimination, Gorsuch said. The male worker’s “sex plays an unmistakable and impermissible role in the discharge decision,” he wrote.

Alito took issue with the court’s opinion in a sharp dissent, describing it as “legislation” instead of a “judicial opinion.”

“A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall,” Alito wrote. “The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous.

“[T]he question in these cases is not whether discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity should be outlawed. The question is whether Congress did that in 1964. It indisputably did not.”

Congress has repeatedly considered legislation to include civil rights protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” but has failed to do so, Alito wrote. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would have protected both classifications, but the Senate has not acted on it. 

In his opinion, Gorsuch said the majority is concerned about preserving the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion for employers. He expressed hope the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — a 1993 federal law he said “operates as a kind of super statute” — may “supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”

How such religious freedom rules relate to Title VII “are questions for future cases too,” Gorsuch acknowledged, however.

Southern Baptist lawyer Michael Whitehead said the high court “left open for future cases the questions about the rights of religious organizations and religious citizens to live out their faith and religious conscience in the public square. Disagreement about the meaning of being male or female should not be treated as malicious discrimination.”

Whitehead and his son Jonathan, lawyers in Kansas City, Missouri, both wrote friend-of-the-court briefs, Michael for the Religious Freedom Institute and Jonathan for 24 state organizations of the Family Policy Council.

The ERLC’s Moore said the “legal and legislative challenges” produced by the ruling “are hardly the most important considerations. What is most important is for the church to see where a biblical vision of sexuality and family is out of step with the direction of American culture.”

Regarding sexuality, the church “has stood, and will stand” in its 2,000-year tradition grounded in the Bible, he wrote. For the church to do so, it “will mean teaching the next generation of Christians why [the distinctions between male and female] are good, and not endlessly elastic,” Moore said.

 ERLC and other religious organizations signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs filed last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that contended “sex” in Title VII does not include either “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion came in three consolidated cases it heard in oral arguments in October 2019, two addressing “sexual orientation” and one regarding “gender identity. 

The “sexual orientation” cases involved employees in New York and Georgia who said they were fired because they are gay, while the “gender identity” case regarded a male employee at a Michigan funeral home who was fired after he told the owner he identified as a female and planned to begin wearing women’s clothing.

Two appeals courts — the Second Circuit in New York City and the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati -– ruled in 2018 that gay and transgender individuals, respectively, are protected under the category of “sex” in federal employment law. The 11th Circuit in Atlanta, however, decided in the same year “sex” does not refer to “sexual orientation.” The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the employee in the “gender identity” case.

Though “sex” was long interpreted to refer only to whether a person is biologically male or female, the Justice Department under President Obama determined it also encompassed people who identify as gay or transgender. President Trump’s Justice Department has returned to the previous interpretation.

Racial unrest gives collegiate leaders opportunities for gospel-centered evangelism, discipleship

AUSTIN—For Mitchell Johnson, collegiate pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church, the last few weeks have been an opportunity for discipleship. As the nation has struggled with issues surrounding race, Johnson has centered the students he leads on what the Bible says on the topic.

“I have talked to them about Jesus, continually reminding them who Jesus is, what he stands for, why Jesus had to come, live the perfect life and die for us so that we can have a relationship with God and why those things matter,” Johnson said. “Then going from who Jesus was to the implications of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension and coming back to things like race. So we go from there into what does the Bible have to say about race or ethnicity and what does the Bible have to say about partiality and bias.”

Johnson and other church leaders throughout the United States charged with leading and mentoring college students haven’t had the option to ignore racial topics over the last month. Students have often been at the forefront of the protests that erupted after George Floyd’s death on May 25. 

For a little more than a year, Johnson has served as the student pastor for the approximately 1,000 local college students who call Austin Stone home. Johnson says about 40 percent of the church’s collegiate leaders are white and 40 percent Asian. The other 20 percent are either black or Hispanic. The student ministry’s attendance roughly matches that diversity level.

Johnson says he has emphasized the importance of listening during this time.

“Especially in our times right now, it’s easy to just see an article or a photo and respond without really leaning in and listening,” Johnson said. “We can be watching, but we may not be listening. We really encourage everyone to listen, specifically listening to black people to be learning from black voices in order to diversify. We try to help them and give them a bunch of resources on how to grow in their understanding of America’s history when it comes to race.”

Rashard Barnes, a native Texan who moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, three years ago to serve as a campus pastor of Mercy Church, has a different ministry context, but he is still trying to engage college students. His church is in the process of shuttering the campus he leads and opening up a new one in a diverse, mostly collegiate area of the city. Both Barnes and Johnson previously served on the staff of Redeemer Church Lubbock.

“I want them to understand, one, that racism is the sin of partiality, what it says inside James,” said Barnes, who helped to lead a peaceful protest of more than 3,000 people in the city last weekend. “Just because people aren’t being expressively hateful, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have some racism within them. Because there are a lot of subtle ways to how people do that. You see a minority walking across the street and you end up looking at him strange or women clutching their purses. It’s all those things.”

Barnes, who is writing his doctoral dissertation on unity in the church, describes a process where churches move from a place of lamenting to cross-cultural unity. He has been teaching a class at the church about these steps.

“In order to get [to cross-cultural unity], you have to first lament of what’s happening in our current state right now. That’s what I’m trying to get people to see,” Barnes said. “Then secondly, after you lament, then there’s repentance. And after there is repentance, then there’s justice. And after justice, there’s reconciliation, and after reconciliation, then there’s unity. I’m trying to get them to see that one conversation is not enough.”

Johnson, an African American pastor who leads a mostly Asian and white student ministry, notes both advantages and disadvantages to being of a different race than most of his students during this unique period. Many of the students he leads have never experienced African American leadership. At times, that can be tough. 

“But I see a lot of advantages of being a black person in leadership because most of the time, especially when our white students become leaders in our ministry, this is also discipling them to be under the leadership and authority and to listen to black people. I think it has a huge benefit. When any white person sits under the authority and leadership of any person of color, it is incredible. I think that helps them grow to be more empathetic people, especially if that leader is upfront and honest and real with them and is willing to share their life with them.”

Johnson sees his role as slightly different depending upon the background of the people he is engaging. For African American students, he is trying to encourage them and discern how they are processing current events. He encourages them to share their stories with him and their small group leaders. He also points them to the church’s counseling center for additional help if they need it.

For white students, he says conversations on race often go to the gospel. 

“I’ve been able to repeat and share the gospel with many people,” Johnson said. “There have been many moments I’ve had with white people over the past couple weeks, where I’m talking about race and where we’re discussing and I kind of feel some of their guilt and shame creeping into those conversations. I’ve been able to remind them that this is why Jesus came to die. You and I are not perfect. It’s okay to admit that you are racist. … But the beautiful thing about that is that you have a redeemer who died for all sin.”

Barnes said the gospel speaks directly to the issues brought out by the unrest of the last few weeks. Many people are responding to the racial pain unearthed with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Barnes says the Bible gives another answer—hope. 

Barnes recounts a story in which a neighbor who was angry with God about the unrest asked him “how a black man from the hood could work inside this majority-white church.”

He responded: “Because the gospel compels me to. He asked me, ‘Why?’ Because Jesus came from a place that was unknown into a world full of sin. And he became like us. And he dwelt among us. And therefore, he took upon our sin to get rid of our shame and guilt so we can be made right with him. If he did that for me, then I can live in an incarnational ministry and do that with others.”

9 Texans among 61 IMB missionaries appointed in virtual sending service

RICHMOND — When Brittany Lawrence told her mom she wanted to be a missionary, it didn’t surprise her the way Brittany thought it would.

“She said the Lord had been preparing her heart for me to be overseas since I was 5,” Brittany told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

And now she and her husband, Cody, along with their 5-year-old daughter, are headed to help plant churches in Europe. The International Mission Board commissioned them and seven other Texans among 61 new missionaries in a virtual sending service June 9.

The service—originally planned as part of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, which was cancelled because of COVID-19—featured a short message from IMB President Paul Chitwood, brief pre-recorded testimonies from all the appointees and a time of prayer for their future service.

Chitwood said he regretted not being able to gather in person with Southern Baptists but said he was glad they had the opportunity to use a “new and different way” to get to hear the stories of how God called these new missionaries.

“Throughout our 175-year history, Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations, in spite of famines, wars, civil unrest and even—as we are experiencing right now—a pandemic,” he said. “We’re grateful God has continued to expand his kingdom and allowed us to join him in His work. And there is still work to do. That is why IMB is still sending Southern Baptist missionaries.”

Even though the service didn’t happen as planned, the Lawrences said the virtual service was a great opportunity to get together with a small group of friends and family to watch and pray together, as well as for members of their sending church—First Baptist in Benbrook—to watch at home too.

Todd Pylant, pastor of FBC Benbrook, said the church has had a “deep connection” with the Lawrences as they have pursued a path to missions work.

“It’s been fun to watch them develop. They’ve always been involved in missions,” Pylant said. “We are excited to get to continue to partner with them on the field too.” 

Cody Lawrence said he’s eager to live out the call he feels God spoke directly to him through Isaiah 6 one day as he was reading in high school. 

“In this part of Europe, it’s getting more and more secular, as it is in many places in the West,” he said. “We grew up having these kinds of conversations with our friends in high school and noticed that the world is headed in that direction. We know it will be hard work [serving in secular Europe], but they need the gospel. 

The Lawrences’ sending service was the first since November 2018 to send out new missionaries to all nine affinity groups—American, Central Asian, Deaf, East Asian, European, Northern Africa and Middle Eastern, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Sub-Saharan African.

Like the Lawrences, Christopher and Julianna Williams—members of Grace Community Church in Glen Rose—are headed to Europe with their three children. During the service, Christopher shared that God called him to missions in high school while on a short-term trip to Argentina.

For Julianna, it was a little later.

“After my senior year in high school, I went on my first mission trip to Eastern Europe, unknowingly with my future in-laws,” she said. “That’s when God started to plant the seed in my heart to minister to the European peoples.”

Another Texan, Abigail Akins*, is headed to Central Asia.

“During my first overseas mission trip at 16, I felt the Lord asking me to prioritize my life around making his glory known among the nations,” she shared during the service. “Through many summer trips in college, international student ministry and having a church who faithfully prayed for the nations, the Lord grew in me a love for Muslims and confirmed my call to overseas ministry.”

And after spending two years there as a short-term missionary, she’s excited to be headed back “to continue to live out the 1 Thessalonians 2:8 idea of sharing not only the gospel but my life as well with my friends in Central Asia.”

To watch the service, visit