Month: April 2022

SBTC churches gave record CP amount in 2021, Lorick tells board

GEORGETOWN—Cooperative Program giving in 2021 was the highest it has ever been in Southern Baptists of Texas Convention history, Executive Director Nathan Lorick told the SBTC Executive Board at its quarterly meeting Tuesday.

Lorick attributed the record amount—$27,283,572.03—to two things: a belief in cooperative missions work that encourages faithful giving, and also the quality of missionaries, church planters, disaster relief workers, and all other efforts “that the Cooperative Program fuels and sends.”

The record giving, he noted, happened in the midst of uncertain times that some felt might lead to a decrease in giving.

“Let’s not miss that today,” Lorick added, “that in the midst of people saying the sky is falling, I think God’s just getting started.”

Convention taking a ‘whole life’ approach to ministry

In other action Tuesday, the executive board unanimously approved two motions that will provide ministry for the most vulnerable.

One of the motions approved a reserves funding grant to be given to the Psalm 139 Project, a pro-life ministry of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The funds specifically will be used to purchase six ultrasound machines and training for pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) in Texas.

Each of the six PRCs have made urgent requests for the machines, as there has been a drastic increase in the number of women being served since the passing of the Heartbeat Bill in Texas. One clinic in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has reported a 48% increase in clients over the previous year.

The Psalm 139 Project aims to place 50 ultrasound machines in PRCs across the U.S. by Jan. 22, 2023—the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade case that provided legal protections for women seeking abortions in the U.S. ERLC representatives say ultrasounds offer a “window into the womb” which ultimately leads more women to choose life after seeing their babies.

On the other end of the life spectrum, the board approved another reserves fund grant to Mission Dignity, a ministry of Guidestone Financial Resources which serves to honor retired Southern Baptists ministers, workers, and widows struggling to meet basic needs through advocacy and financial assistance.

Mission Dignity funds 12 monthly gifts to approximately 263 individuals in Texas, of which 178 are widows or widowers. The reserves fund grant approved by the executive board will be used to provide a 13th check as a bonus/love gift over and above the normal 12 monthly gifts.

The executive board’s next meeting is scheduled for August 9 at the SBTC office in Grapevine.

Prioritize ‘being’ over ‘doing’

We live in a “doing” culture. When things seem broken, we fix them. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. If there was a problem, yo, we solve it (let the reader understand).

Our culture respects hard work, and it should. Some of our favorite stories are those in which the protagonist sheds his or her rags for riches through a mix of fortune and hard work. Dear to our culture are the biographies of those achievers who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps (let the reader of a different generation understand).

The problem is, we often carry this kind of mindset into the realm of our faith. When we feel broken, distant from God, like we’re not as far along on the path of faith as we think we should be, we search for something we can “do” to make things better. We turn to the world of Christian publishing, where there are literally thousands of titles offering to help us be more like Jesus, think more like Jesus, lead more like Jesus, and so on. We tell ourselves that if we would just read an extra chapter of the Bible per day or serve more in the church, we would start feeling closer to our Father.

Such things sound reasonable, but in actuality they merely offer “doing” solutions to a “being” problem. What do I mean? I mean that instead of pressing closer to the Lord when we struggle, consuming our minds with who He is, what He has done, what He will do, what He promises, and His unchanging character—in other words, “being” with Him—we try to undertake a series of actions designed to fix our own spiritual problems. We do what we’ve been conditioned to do since our formative years, namely, we attempt to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps.

"If you find yourself in a season of spiritual struggle, may I challenge you to try to ‘do’ less for God and ‘be’ with Him more?"

I want to remind you that one of Satan’s great tools of deception is the counterfeit. He waves the banner of freedom, yanking on patriotic strings that resonate in the deepest parts of us, in an attempt to thwart God’s design for gender. There’s no bigger fan of unconditional love than Satan, at least when he is attempting to convince a culture that God’s design for marriage is outdated and exclusionary. And you better believe the devil, in an attempt to keep you from sitting quietly with the Lord and sharing your heart daily, will be the loudest voice in your life screaming, “Do more for God! Do more for the church! Just do more!” Broken men lie on the bed of such beliefs clutching their best intentions. 

I recently decided that of all the spiritual disciplines I observe, none will be more important than sitting and talking with my Lord. Instead of doing things to “make me stronger,” I just want to be a better friend and devoted follower of a God who has always been faithful to me and who is always right. I want to spend time thanking Him, telling Him what’s got me feeling flustered or angry, sharing with Him where I feel like I’m coming up short. Sometimes I just sit in silence and fight off a flood of thoughts as I learn to wait for Him to speak to me.

If you find yourself in a season of spiritual struggle, may I challenge you to try to “do” less for God and “be” with Him more? He didn’t create you because He needed your help getting things done. He created you to be in a relationship with Him, so that you may know the hope of His calling and the riches of His glorious inheritance.

Practice being with God, the much more difficult discipline of our time, and the doing will come.

SBC presidential candidates share hearts, vision as election draws closer

Editor’s note: Southern Baptists in June will meet in Anaheim to conduct business that will include selecting the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Texan correspondent and former editor Gary Ledbetter recently submitted questions to each of the three announced candidates about his desire to lead the SBC, the challenges it faces, and his vision for the future.

Click the images below to see the excerpts of their written responses, which reflect their opinions about the topics submitted. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Tom Ascol

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As

Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?

I have been pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., since June 1, 1986. In many ways, we are a normative Southern Baptist church. I was the only pastor for many years and today we only have one assistant pastor. We are intentionally simple in our structure, focusing on being faithful stewards of the gospel. Verse-by-verse expository, Christ-centered preaching is the norm in our worship gatherings. We encourage all our members to be engaged in discipleship relationships. Several of our men are open-air preachers. Being in South Florida, we have a variety of ethnicities and cultures in our congregation and leadership. We have sent several missionaries out, mostly to Muslim people groups, and have rejoiced in seeing churches planted among them. Twenty-two percent of our budget goes to Great Commission giving.

Why are you willing to be SBC president this year? 

I am concerned that over the last several years we have begun to drift in ways that makes our commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture largely theoretical. I wrote about that a couple of years ago. Because of these concerns I believe we need to change the direction.

I am willing to be nominated for president because I love the SBC and believe that it matters. We educate a third of all seminary students in the USA across a variety of denominational affiliations. We have the largest missionary sending force in the world. Our disaster relief ministry is second to none. Southern Baptist churches—who own all our SBC entities and agencies—have a stewardship to protect and keep mobilized all of these cooperative efforts for the glory of our king, the Lord Jesus.

What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?

Sadly, trust has been fractured at many levels of SBC life. Too often, our entities and agencies have been indifferent to or even dismissive of regular Southern Baptist churches and pastors. Trust is the connective tissue of our convention. If it is not repaired and carefully guarded, our cooperation will fall apart. 

In addition to this, we are living in a day of highly effective assaults by the powers of darkness on our civilization and churches. Worldly ideologies, like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Intersectionality (I), Queer Theory (QT), and radical feminism have come in like a flood throughout our society. We see it in our political, educational, sports, and health institutions as well as in our public discourse. Tragically, these ideologies and the new pagan religion that they have spawned do not respect the borders of Christian organizations and churches. This became undeniable during the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020. Christian leaders—including some Southern Baptists—were leading marches in the streets even while (and this compounds the problem) refusing to open the churches that they lead. We had Southern Baptist seminary professors as well as North American Mission Board leaders explaining away the violence under the guise that “rioting is the voice of the unheard.” 

So, while God’s common grace has awakened a growing number of moms and housewives across the United States to demand that their local boards quit teaching CRT/I and QT in public schools, the 2019 SBC resolutions committee led the convention to adopt Resolution 9 that tells us CRT/I are useful analytical tools for churches to use. And many Southern Baptists denounced our six seminary presidents when they finally offered a mild repudiation of CRT. 

Over the last few years, we have seen the language and many of the ideas of CRT/I being promoted by some whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches. We have been told that the stain of racism can never be removed from the SBC because of the tragic advocacy of chattel slavery by many Southern Baptists in the 19th century. Such attitudes betray a very low view of the gospel and the power of Jesus’ blood to make the vilest sinner clean and wash all our sins as white as snow. We have also been told that the gospel is not good news if it merely brings about spiritual reconciliation between God and sinners. For it to be good news it must also achieve economic, emotional, and social reconciliation. These distortions and misrepresentations of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ will lead us to lose the gospel altogether if they are not identified and renounced in no uncertain terms.

For Southern Baptists to maintain a viable, robust witness for Christ in the 21st century we must recalibrate our convictions by the Word of God. We need to wake up and recognize where such dangerous ways of thinking have subtly made inroads, repent of our spiritual laxity, repair the breech, and move forward joyfully and unapologetically preaching the lordship of Christ, who is willing and able to save anyone and everyone to turns from sin and trusts Him.

Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?

I think we are beginning to see cracks that reveal subterranean fault lines (to borrow Voddie Baucham’s analogy) that have gone unnoticed for a long time. One of the clearest of these is on the God-designed distinctions between men and women. The rise in defense of women preaching in our churches has been treated as an insignificant, and even laughable, matter. The language of the Baptist Faith and Message that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” has been turned into a wax nose to fit almost any face. We have been told that it means only that women may not hold the office of pastor but may function as a pastor. We have also been told that a woman may be a pastor in a Southern Baptist church as long as she does not hold the title of “senior pastor.” We have been told that Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he does “not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” means that we should permit women to teach or exercise authority over men.

The spirit of egalitarianism (which says that everyone must get a trophy) and an anti-authority mood (which holds all authority suspect and measures it in terms of power-dynamics) are permeating everything in our culture, and God’s people are not immune. Therefore, we must, as Scripture exhorts us, be watchful and stay alert. 

Another, related doctrinal issue confronting Southern Baptists is the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we really believe the inerrant Scriptures are sufficient in the ways that Paul says they are in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? We have been told that we need worldly wisdom to help us understand how to deal with racism, misogyny, abuse, disparities, and injustices. We must reassess what Scripture claims for itself as being able to thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work.

How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?

I would hope to promote open, honest conversations about all these things. I would plead with Southern Baptists at every level, from local church pastors all the way down to the heads of all our entities and institutions, to be open and transparent about these matters. It may be that some of our divisions are merely verbal. But it may also be that some of them are consequential. 

Most importantly, I would encourage my fellow pastors to work for a fresh awakening to the fear of God in our churches. We must again come to grips with the fundamental reality that we are in God’s world, serving in His churches, for His purposes, according to His revealed will. We must let the words of our Savior regularly ring in our hearts and minds, that we must not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul, but rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.    

Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?

I would plead, and have pled, that Southern Baptist churches would stay within the convention for the purpose of cooperating in the good work that we have done, are doing, and have potential to do even better. Obviously, staying or leaving is a local church decision and I would never criticize a church that decides differently about these things, but I love the SBC and believe it is a matter of stewardship to work to preserve and, where necessary, recover our clear mission to take the unadulterated gospel to the world.

Any final comment? 

Thanks for the opportunity to address these matters. The SBC is diverse and will inevitably remain so. But our diversity must be guarded by genuine unity in the important matters extending from the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. One of the most encouraging things that I have experienced since it was announced that I would be nominated is to hear from not only those Southern Baptists that agree with my soteriological views, but also from those who disagree with them. We have our differences, but we are genuinely united in Christian essentials and Baptist distinctives. If God, by His grace, enables us to stand against the prevailing winds of this evil day and recover ground that we have already lost, I will be happy to buy coffee for any of my brothers with whom I disagree and resume our fraternal, iron-sharpening-iron debates.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Robin Hadaway

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As

Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry? 

I was ordained at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., by Adrian Rogers and have been in the ministry for 42 years. This includes six years as a senior pastor, 18 years as an IMB missionary, and 18 years as a professor of missions. I now serve as the senior professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kansas City, Mo.). After an 18-year residential career as their residential professor of missions, I now teach online masters courses and on-campus doctoral seminars.  

One year ago, my wife and I moved to Oceanside, Calif., (North San Diego County) where we joined New Song Community Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial Southern Baptist congregation. I preach once a month at my first pastorate, First Southern Baptist Church of Monterey Park, Calif., (Los Angeles County) and teach Bible classes at my local church. I teach missiology to masters students 45 weeks a year. 

Why are you willing to be SBC president this year? 

Remember the mission.

After graduating from Southwestern Seminary, Kathy and I left for the pioneer West where I spent six years as a senior pastor. We then spent 18 years as missionaries with the IMB in Africa and Brazil. Due to our fourth child’s disability, we returned from the mission field to become the professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For 18 years I trained students to love and appreciate Southern Baptist cooperative missions. I have been employed by Southern Baptists as a missionary and missions professor for over 36 years. I have a nationwide and global view of the Southern Baptist Convention and her people and mission outreach. 

As the IMB Regional Leader for Eastern South America, I supervised over 300 missionaries and their families from a budget derived from the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I attended three IMB trustee meetings annually and implemented IMB policies on the field. While interim president of Midwestern Seminary, I guided the institution through a financial crisis. For the next five years, I served on the MBTS president’s cabinet and attended every SBC Executive Committee meeting. Additionally, I served on the 2000 SBC Committee on Committees and the 2006 and 2007 SBC Resolutions Committee. I know how the SBC works and more importantly, how it does not work. In agreeing to be nominated for SBC president, I am offering my experience, wisdom, and vision to the messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim this June. 

My vision is to see 500 new churches started in North America; to see 2,000 new churches planted overseas; to see thousands sent out as home and foreign missionaries; to see 1,000 new WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) chapters started nationwide to support our missionaries; to “call out the called;” and see thousands of Southern Baptist men and women appointed as home and foreign missionaries. 

What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions? 

There are always challenges in any era of missions. The year Adoniram and Anne Judson, the first Baptist missionaries, departed America for India and Burma in 1812, the British burned Washington, D.C. Southern Baptist missions survived the American Civil War of the 1860s, World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the civil unrest of the 1960s, and the Cold War. A number of our missionaries were martyred in the service of Christ and on behalf of Southern Baptists. Brazilian Baptist missionaries took secular jobs on the field because the Foreign Mission Board could not pay them during the Great Depression. 

The last chapter of my recent book, “A Survey of World Missions” (B&H Academic, 2020, p. 281-283) attempts to envision the challenges of the church in the first part of this century: 

Although nuclear bombs were last detonated in 1945, there is no assurance this could not happen again. Furthermore, globalization has increased the possibility of another great plague sweeping the earth. The earth’s interdependency could spawn an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. The rise of cryptocurrencies might spell disaster for financial markets… Despite its unlikeliness, a direct hit on the planet by a large meteor might occur… Into this bleak narrative, Christ offers hope. Missions and missionaries both overseas and in North America will always be needed.

I do not know what the future holds, but whatever Satan throws at us, with Jesus’ help Southern Baptists can overcome the world. As I John 5:4-5 says, “because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world; our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?
During the 1980s all our seminaries had problems with neo-orthodox, moderate, and some liberal professors. The Christian Life Commission (precursor to the ERLC) supported abortion. Although there were conservatives serving with our mission entities, many within those agencies followed a “look the other way” policy when it came to theological drift within SBC institutions. Very, very slowly what came to be known as the Conservative Resurgence installed conservative trustees in every SBC entity. Each SBC agency, as openings occurred, began to choose conservative presidents who would, in turn, employ conservative staff, missionaries, professors. 

This process took about 20 years. In some ways it never ends. I only spent eight months as the head of an SBC entity (2012), but during that time I personally scrutinized every prospective adjunct MBTS professor to ensure they adhered to the BF&M 2000, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality did not yet exist). 

The doctrinal issues of the 80s and 90s included, but are not limited to, the historicity of the Old Testament, the reality of the miracles of Jesus, and the inerrancy of Scripture. The issues of today, however, are less about orthodoxy and more about orthopraxy. The latter involves the implementation of one’s interpretation of Bible doctrine. 

At the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting, the messengers approved an updated Baptist Faith and Message. The members of this committee, chaired by my former pastor, Adrian Rogers, carefully constructed a document that Southern Baptists could affirm that was biblical, conservative, and evangelistic. I believe the BF&M should be the document that guides our faith, doctrine, and practice. 

Of course, the BF&M 2000 does not cover every base regarding faith and practice. For instance, abstinence from alcoholic beverages, illicit drugs, and gambling are not mentioned. Baptist seminaries and colleges are advised as follows in the BF&M 2000: “In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute.” Entity staff, professors, and missionaries have the right to express their opinions but are accountable to their agency’s administration and trustees. 

Furthermore, the BF&M 2000 states:

Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.

The BF&M 2000 was never intended to cross every “t” and dot every “i” regarding every matter of faith and practice. Rather, it was written by those holding differing views on many topics, but the committee members found places of agreement where Southern Baptists could cooperate in missions, education, and benevolent ministries. 

Cultural, political, and theological flashpoints will continue to arise. They are important in our day. Past generations of Southern Baptists dealt with women receiving the right to vote (1920), as well as “mixed bathing” and dancing in the 1950s and 1960s. Yes, today’s cultural issues are much more challenging, but Southern Baptists will overcome as the they cooperate together. 

How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see? 

The SBC president has no power, no pay, and only a fraction of Southern Baptists even know who he is. The prominent person in the SBC is the local pastor of each independent cooperating Southern Baptist church—and that’s as it should be. 

But the SBC president does have some influence. He starts the committee process in the SBC by appointing the Committee on Committees. This committee fills the members of the Committee on Nominations which recommends new members for the various trustee boards for the many SBC entities. Also, the SBC president sets the tone and emphasis for the annual meetings of his presidency and in the SBC Executive Committee meetings where he speaks. I would use my presidency to remind Southern Baptists to “Remember the mission” as described in Acts 1:6-11:

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” 

Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?

My church, New Song Community Church, was planted by another Baptist denomination 29 years ago. Our pastor, Hal Seed, tells me that New Song joined Southern Baptists 10 years ago because they were head and shoulders above anyone else in church planting and evangelism. Churches in the USA should affiliate and/or remain Southern Baptist because our denomination excels in home and foreign missions. What’s good about our fellowship? Our mission boards are filled with outstanding missionaries who start strong, biblical churches. My wife and I served as missionaries, and I have trained many of them since becoming a mission professor. Furthermore, our seminaries are filled with godly professors who believe the Bible and teach according to the BF&M 2000. These professors are my colleagues and friends. 

Any final comment? 

I heard Adrian Rogers say once, “Southern Baptists, we are many, but we’re not much.” Indeed, in 2020, Southern Baptists numbered about 14 million persons worshipping in a little over 47,500 churches. It took all of us to send and maintain a little less than 4,000 missionaries overseas. Interestingly, when a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier leaves port they carry just a few more sailors on board than that to accomplish their mission. In other words, it takes 14 million of us to send enough people to almost fill one aircraft carrier. We need to do better. I plan to herald the need for more Southern Baptists to drop what they are doing, listen to God’s call on their lives and surrender to a career in home missions, foreign missions and church planting. Remember the mission. 

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Bart Barber

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As

Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?

I have served at First Baptist Church of Farmersville since 1999—23 years. We had 323 in Sunday School last Sunday, and that’s a pretty exciting day for us! First Baptist Church has ministered to the Farmersville area since 1865.

Why are you willing to be SBC president this year?

The messengers to our annual meetings set our vision long ago. We’re providing the best theological education available in the world. We’re sending missionaries all around the world and planting churches all around the country. We have one of the greatest disaster relief organizations around. Those things are just the highlights. The messengers from our churches and the people who serve them have already given us a wonderful vision. We really don’t need any elected official, in my opinion, to come in for two years and expect the whole apparatus to fall in line with his temporary emphases. The actual constitutional duties of the president of the SBC are important, but modest in a convention structure that rightfully decentralizes power.

I believe that it is time to decrease partisanship and bring Southern Baptists together, as many of them as are willing to cooperate with one another. There have been concerted efforts, I think on more than one side, to undermine trust in the convention. The actual constitutional duties of the president make important contributions to this effort [to decrease partisanship]. 

First, the president moderates the annual meeting. I will make it my top priority to moderate the meeting fairly, safeguarding the rights of every messenger. Fairness will help to bring us together. 

Second, the president appoints several key committees. Among those are the Committee on Committees, which is the first step in the process by which our messenger body appoints the trustees who govern our entities. I believe that our trustees need better and more independent training. Although it does not lie within the authority of the president to set policies for trustee orientation, it does lie within the president’s authority, where he makes appointments, to appoint people who understand the need—always present, but acute right now—for transparency and accountability in the manner of operation of our entities. Transparency and accountability will help to bring us together.

Third, the president serves often as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, and he therefore has the chance to affect the tone of discourse within our convention. While we maintain our commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, we ought not to lose sight of those passages the teach us about the fruit of the Spirit, the command to avoid foolish quarrels, or the obligation, as much as it lies within us, to live at peace with all men. Civility will help to bring us together.

What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?

Challenges? We are the spiritual descendants of martyrs. The idea that God is bigger than all our challenges is not mere theory; our present challenges pale in comparison to those that we have seen God overcome for us already. I believe that the cultural changes brought on by the internet pose substantial challenges for us. Whether by corralling us into opposing factions on social media, permeating every aspect of our society with a caustic brew of pornography, or even by causing more and more of us to pursue our theological education alone in a living room with a screen rather than building lifelong relationships with classmates, the internet is making fundamental changes to our society, the depth and breadth of which we may not realize for decades. Against this challenge stands the work of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and to fit us together, stone by stone, into a living temple.

The report of the Sex Abuse Task Force is going to pose substantial challenges for us as a convention. As someone who has demonstrated both an earnest commitment to doing the right thing about sex abuse and an earnest commitment to Baptist polity, I believe I am well equipped to lead us during this time. Sex abuse in Baptist churches looks different than it does in Roman Catholic parishes because of our unique theological and ecclesiological attributes. The way we address sex abuse must also be adapted to our polity. I believe that the decentralized nature of Baptist ecclesiology will prove to be an asset for us as we face this challenge.

Against this challenge stands a God who hears the cry of Abel’s blood from the ground while also showing compassion to murderous Cain even as He administered justice against him. He is the God who called to mourning a Corinthian church who, while themselves not guilty of the infamous incestuous relationship among them, arrogantly disregarded the unholiness in their midst.

The largest challenge we face is the growing hostility in American culture toward anyone who affirms biblical truth on any number of topics, but especially with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. People are going to compromise all around us, but Southern Baptists must hold the ground of biblical truth at all costs. This is actually a good reason for us to avoid foolish quarrels now. We are going to need one another more and more as time passes.

But again, it has never been a profitable move to bet against the church of Jesus Christ. Against this challenge stands a God who brought Sodom to ruins while delivering Abraham and Lot. I am not afraid of our challenges.

Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?

Yes. I believe that a number of the core distinctive beliefs that make us Baptist have been attenuated in recent decades. Tom Ascol and I have both expressed concern and have taken action to try to shore up our commitment to meaningful regenerate church membership. Our commitment to congregational church polity is as weak as it has been since our inception as a convention. Frightening cracks are appearing in our commitment to the biblical doctrine of religious liberty. An open approach to receiving infant baptism, once all-but-absent among Southern Baptists, is sometimes now found among us. 

Our commitment to (and understanding of) the priesthood of all believers is sometimes eroded by a celebrity culture that fixes a wide gulf between the pulpit and the pew. Our embrace of local church autonomy has faced new tests as we have experimented with multi-site churches. The rise of Internet remote worship calls into question the meaning of having a “gathered church.” The addition of more and more staff positions has caused us to lack clarity about how the biblical offices of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon fit in to the growing category of “staff members.” Our commitment to associationalism and the doctrine of cooperation have waned as our churches have grown more isolated. We are losing sight of what it means to be Southern Baptists. In almost every one of these doctrines, the Southern Baptist position has been a range on the continuum rather than a single, fixed point. There are a lot of ways to practice congregationalism that all are legitimately congregationalism, for example. But sometimes our flirtations at the boundaries seem to denude a weakening attraction toward the center of Southern Baptist theology. 

One might read this list of doctrinal concerns and expect to find an angry man behind them. Not at all. Quite the opposite. I care very much when the churches I love so much are struggling to know who they are. I am not angry because I cannot help but love us. Also, I am not angry because I believe it is good strategy to live in the fruit of the Spirit—these spiritual attributes are profitable. Love and kindness are rare, powerful, and persuasive. For example, I think we’ve seen great improvement in the past 30 years among Southern Baptists in the areas of congregationalism, the understanding of biblical offices, and regenerate church membership. Much of the credit for that goes to one man, Mark Dever, who with a conspicuous absence of belligerence has winsomely led Southern Baptists (among others) back toward our biblical heritage in these areas. I believe that historians will call IX Marks the most successful theological movement of the turn of the 21st century, and none of it is built upon insult and slander.

In a similar way, we are going to have to find the center of complementarianism that pulls us together toward a continuum of practice that is closely and tightly centered upon biblical truth. But that work is going to need to be done with love and kindness. I think we cannot wander off over the edges and pretend that we are embarrassed of this doctrinal commitment or that it is unimportant. As I wrote in my chapter, “A Denomination of Churches: Biblical and Useful” in the book “Upon This Rock: A Baptist Understanding of the Church,” I believe that denominations are, essentially, families of churches that freely exchange members and pastors without much in the way of barriers, and that this lack of barriers is indispensable. Profound differences about pastoral qualifications always eventually split families of churches. We cannot pretend that this question is unimportant, and we cannot square egalitarianism with our commitment to biblical inerrancy. But the way I have chosen is one that can take issue with early indications of Beth Moore’s movement away from that complementarian center without losing all sight of what it means to be a Christian gentleman. I am not ashamed of being a strict complementarian. I am not ashamed of telling people who move away from complementarianism that I think they are wandering away from biblical truth. I am also not ashamed to call Beth Moore a friend. We disagree about complementarianism, but she’s never deliberately tweeted a dishonest half-snippet of something I’ve said to suggest fraudulently that I hate democracy and prefer totalitarianism.

I think loving people in such a manner even while taking firm doctrinal stands is the way of Jesus, much more so than is the conjuring up of shock-jock phraseology to throw red meat to a (paying) mob. This is the double-tragedy of the way that secular political questions have invaded our discourse of late. They commit us to the losing strategy of anger and slanderous false accusation. Even if you win with that strategy, you lose. Those salacious questions also take all the oxygen out of the room and leave us very little room to discuss looming problems in what have for centuries been the core doctrines of our churches. Who wants to talk about the autonomy of the local church when you can have a good fight about wokeness instead?

How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?

I believe that our family of churches contains an army of peacemakers who are steadfastly committed to cooperation on the basis of the Baptist Faith & Message and the Cooperative Program. Some of them are just afraid to stick their heads out of their doors while shooting is taking place in the streets. I want to stand up first and give them courage and resolve to do it themselves. If we can do that, they will solve these problems for us.

To be frank, I have long suspected that this could better be accomplished without my being encumbered with official denominational office. If Southern Baptists elect someone else, I will be content to continue this mission in that way and will take it as divine validation of that theory. Nevertheless, contrary to my previous expectation, I believe that God may be leading me to call out to those peacemakers from the podium of our convention, and I will undertake that task if Southern Baptists entrust it to me. 

But mark my words, no matter who is elected, no elective office will ever be powerful enough to overcome that army of peacemakers once they have stepped out of their trenches and begun to march.

Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists? 

You can’t love the Bible without loving efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t love efforts to fulfill the Great Commission without loving what God has used the Southern Baptist Convention to do. The Baptist Faith & Message is a wise and helpful statement of faith. The Cooperative Program is a work of genius that has helped us to accomplish so much more together than we could accomplish on our own.

Do we debate issues? Every year. But the topics we are debating in 2022 are completely different than the ones that we were debating in 2014. Our system for making decisions really works to help us resolve differences and move on. I believe that will continue to be true into the future.

What’s more, even in our times of division, our God who works all things together for good for us is using those seasons to bring us closer together. Some of my closest friendships in this convention were forged during times of denominational conflict. Whatever you think the climate may be today, the Southern Baptist Convention remains a great place to combat lostness and loneliness, and I commend it to everyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me.

Any final comment?

Dear Southern Baptists, I may never again have as prominent a place to say it. You funded half of my seminary education. You sent out church planters long before I was born to plant the churches who taught me about Jesus, won me to faith, and sent me out into ministry. You connected my church with missionary opportunities that have changed my life. You created a disaster relief ministry through which my wife has enjoyed years of fulfilling service. You have been a place where my children have made friends and built memories that they will keep forever. Thank you.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

Stress tops mental challenges pastors face

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—In the current fast-paced, high-pressure American culture, pastors are stressed, and they know that needs to change.

According to the latest release in Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, of all the mental challenges U.S. Protestant pastors face, stress stands out above the rest. Distractions and discouragement are also significant factors for pastors when it comes to mental challenges in ministry.

Top mental challenges

In this study, Lifeway Research interviewed 200 U.S. Protestant pastors who identified 44 issues they face in their roles and then surveyed 1,000 additional pastors to determine the greatest needs U.S. Protestant pastors face today. The nearly four dozen needs were divided into seven categories: ministry difficulties, spiritual needs, mental challenges, personal life, self-care, people dynamics and areas of skill development.

Of these seven categories, 6 percent of pastors say mental challenges are currently the most challenging area for them or the area that requires the most attention. This study identified six specific mental challenges in ministry: depression, discouragement, distraction, loneliness or lack of friendship, lack of contentment and stress.

Most pastors point to stress as a mental challenge they are facing in ministry (63 percent). Nearly half of pastors say discouragement (48 percent) and distraction (48 percent) are ministry mental challenges, while less than one-third of pastors point to loneliness or lack of friendship (28 percent), depression (18 percent) or lack of contentment (17 percent). Another 14 percent aren’t sure or say none of these are mental challenges for them.

The youngest pastors (ages 18-44) are most likely to say they deal with stress in ministry (78 percent), while the oldest pastors (ages 65 and older) are the least likely (47 percent). Furthermore, pastors of the smallest churches (with worship service attendance of fewer than 50), are less likely than pastors of churches of any other size to say they face stress in their pastoral ministry (52 percent).

Age similarly affects a pastor’s likelihood of saying they face discouragement in ministry, with pastors over the age of 65 being least likely to say they struggle with this issue (35 percent). Pastors with doctoral degrees (30 percent) are also less likely than pastors with any other educational background to say they face discouragement.

Younger pastors are also more likely to say they face distractions and loneliness in ministry. Pastors ages 18 to 44 (54 percent) and 45 to 54 (51 percent) are more likely to say distractions are challenging for them compared to pastors over 65 (39 percent). Furthermore, pastors ages 18 to 44 (37 percent) and 45 to 54 (30 percent) are more likely than pastors over 65 (20 percent) to say loneliness and lack of friendships are a challenge for them.

“Americans have become much more aware of mental wellbeing, and young pastors have grown up in a culture with much greater transparency around these challenges than previous generations,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “The high number of young pastors wanting to address these mental challenges means although awareness is higher among them, many have not yet successfully embraced the boundaries, habits and preventative measures they need.”

In half of the categories of mental challenges explored in this study, white pastors were more likely than African American pastors to say they face that challenge in ministry. Whereas half of white pastors (50 percent) say they face discouragement in ministry, 35 percent of African American pastors say the same. Similarly, nearly half of white pastors (49 percent) say distractions are a challenge for them, while 37 percent of African American pastors agree. When it comes to stress, the most cited mental challenge in this study, white pastors (64 percent) are once again more likely than African American pastors (52 percent) to say this is a ministry challenge they face.

Greatest mental challenge

When asked to narrow it down to the area of mental challenges they most need to address today, stress, distractions and discouragement top pastors’ list. More pastors identify stress (31 percent) as their greatest mental challenge in ministry than any other challenge. Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) say distraction is their greatest mental challenge in ministry, and 18 percent say discouragement.

Fewer identify loneliness or lack of friendship (9 percent), depression (2 percent) or lack of contentment (2 percent) as the mental challenge they most need to address today. And 15 percent of pastors say they’re not sure or none of these are their primary mental challenge in ministry.

“Being a pastor is stressful,” McConnell said. “It’s important for pastors to learn healthy ways of maintaining their mental health amidst the variety of pressures that continue to come their way. Ignoring stress is not the answer. Resilience requires investment.”

Once again, younger pastors are more likely than the oldest pastors to say stress is the primary mental challenge they face in ministry. Whereas 37 percent of pastors ages 18 to 44 and 33 percent of pastors ages 45 to 54 say stress is their greatest mental challenge, 23 percent of pastors over the age of 65 say the same.

Pastors of large churches are also more likely to identify stress as their greatest mental challenge than pastors of smaller churches. While 41 percent of pastors of churches with attendance greater than 250 say stress is their primary challenge, pastors of churches with attendance of 0-49 (22 percent) and 100-249 (31 percent) are less likely to agree.

“While the Word certainly calls us to lean on the Lord in times of trouble, Scripture also reminds us we are not an island,” said Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “When the weight of feeling overwhelmed seems too much to bear, I encourage pastors to seek the help of trained professionals to help navigate mental challenges.”

El rector del Seminario Bautista de la Habana defiende la fe en Cubavisión

El Rector del Seminario Bautista de la Habana y presidente de la Convención Bautista de Cuba Occidental, Dr. Bárbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, fue invitado a participar en un panel de discusión sobre la consulta popular acerca del nuevo Código de las Familias cubano, en el programa Palabra Precisa (PP) en Cubavisión.

El programa fue televisado el 1ro de abril y estuvo accesible a cristianos en todo el mundo por medio del internet y las redes sociales. “No puedo dejar de decir que percibí la presencia de Dios guiándome y el respaldo en oración de numerosos hermanos de diferentes denominaciones y lugares de nuestro país. Somos un gran pueblo, unidos en un mismo sentir,” compartió Marrero.

El Dr. Marrero, agradeciendo haber tenido la oportunidad de dirigirse al pueblo cubano dijo que, “en primer lugar, quiero agradecer al Señor y a las autoridades del país por conceder a la iglesia evangélica conservadora esta oportunidad que por mucho tiempo hemos anhelado y pedido.” También añadió que es bueno “reconocer el respeto, profesionalidad y cordialidad con los que nos trataron la periodista Bárbara Betancourt, el conductor Alienn Fernández y el productor Pablo Santos, así como la directora del programa y el resto del equipo involucrado en la grabación.”

En la entrevista también se incluyó a la Secretaria Ejecutiva de la iglesia Presbiteriana Reformada de Cuba, la pastora Dora E. Arce Valentín. El Dr. Marrero, quien tiene un Ph.D. en Estudios Cristianos Mundiales del Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) ubicado en Texas, explicó, “considero que nunca deberíamos atacar a las personas, sino al argumento.” También añadió, que “con la pastora Dora Arce pude conversar amablemente antes y después de la entrevista. Aunque tengamos posiciones éticas y teológicas diferentes, no somos enemigos. “Porque no tenemos lucha contra sangre y carne, sino contra principados, contra potestades, contra los gobernadores de las tinieblas de este siglo, contra huestes espirituales de maldad en las regiones celestes” Efesios 6:12—RV1960.

El Código de las familias incluye formas para disciplinar a los niños en Cuba que dice que “cualquier tipo de castigo corporal está prohibido” dijo Marrero. Expresando su desacuerdo al abuso físico hacia los niños, y añadió que el código “limita los derechos de los padres hacia los hijos.”

El Dr. Marrero recomendó que, si se aprueba el Código de las Familias tal y como está, dónde se expresa la aprobación del matrimonio igualitario y se limita la disciplina a los padres, él pide que “se cree una cláusula de excepción para personas con motivo de conciencia y que se cree la posibilidad de que los padres tengan otras opciones de educar a sus hijos.”

Durante la entrevista Marrero compartió el evangelio y usó a Romanos 5:8, “Mas Dios muestra su amor para con nosotros, en que siendo aún pecadores, Cristo murió por nosotros,” para explicar el amor que tiene Dios hacia el hombre. El públicamente defendió su fe, defendió el matrimonio bíblico como una institución creada por Dios entre un hombre y una mujer y no igualitario, y dijo que, “el amor de Dios no es solamente palabras pero es demostrado en hechos.”

Durante la entrevista, el Dr. Marrero también pudo expresar su opinión acerca de la iglesia y la sociedad. “Yo considero que la iglesia no está llamada a emperrarse a los tiempos como se habla mucho hoy, si no que la iglesia está llamada a ser una luz para la sociedad. De hecho el mismo Jesucristo nos llamó a los cristianos y nos dijo que nosotros éramos la sal de la tierra y la luz del mundo. Y una de las cosas que hace la sal es precisamente evitar que una sociedad se corrompa y la luz lo que hace que las tinieblas no llenen un lugar, una sociedad, si no que pueda dar una esperanza. En ese sentido yo creo que la iglesia tiene una voz, tiene un llamado, no está llamada a adaptarse a la sociedad sino más bien, a procurar transformar esa sociedad positivamente.”

Marrero continuó, “de alguna forma la iglesia debe de tener un rol de conciencia de la sociedad. El apóstol Pablo cuando habló a los cristianos les dijo, ‘No os conforméis a este siglo sino transformaos por medio de la renovación de vuestro entendimiento.’ Así que la iglesia entendemos que no debe adaptarse si no que debe de ser un estímulo para que la sociedad cambie. Podemos poner la ilustración de que, la iglesia no es un termómetro que simplemente se adapta al clima que le rodea. La iglesia es un termostato que está llamada a establecer un clima saludable para que la sociedad no se corrompa.”

La oportunidad de estar en el programa de Cubavisión ha animado al Dr. Marrero a decir que a través de la entrevista, “creo que mostramos fehacientemente que es posible disentir desde el respeto mutuo y sería apropiado que, en base a esta experiencia, la población cubana pudiera disfrutar de programas de opinión con este formato, incluyendo otros sectores y temáticas relevantes a nuestra sociedad. Estos diálogos nos enriquecen a todos de disímiles maneras.”

Como resultado de la entrevista, Marrero añadió, “Esto ha sido una oportunidad de unidad con un pensamiento común y la mayoría de los evangélicos en Cuba se sienten apoyados y animados a defender su fe.”

El Dr. Marrero, quien comenzó como Rector en el Seminario Bautista de la Habana, sirviendo las iglesias afiliadas con la convención bautista occidental de Cuba desde en el 2014, dice que ha visto crecer el seminario. “Actualmente el seminario tiene 400 estudiantes y ofrece una maestría en Ministerio Cristiano y Educación Teológica, al igual que un ministerio para la esposa del pastor, varios certificados, y seis diferentes licenciaturas,” añadió Marrero

“Oren por la iglesia en Cuba, por los ataques, amenazas y rectos que ellos enfrentan diariamente y para que el Señor ayude a los cristianos a mantenerse fieles en un contexto hostil,” pidió Marrero.



SWBTS grad, now dean of seminary in Cuba, defends faith on Cubavisión

HAVANA (BP) – Bárbaro Abel Marrero Castellanos, dean of the Baptist Seminary in Havana and president of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, was invited to participate in a panel discussion concerning the public’s opinion of the new Cuban Family Code on Palabra Precisa (Precise Word), a TV show on the Cubavisión Network.

The show, broadcast April 1, was accessed by Christians all over the world via the internet and social media.

“I cannot stop saying that I felt the presence of God guiding me and the support in prayer of numerous brethren from different denominations and locations in our country,” Marrero told Baptist Press. “We are a great people, united and of one mind. …

“I want to thank the Lord and the authorities of the country for granting the conservative evangelical church this opportunity that we have yearned for and requested for a long time.”

Marrero, who has a Ph.D. in world Christian studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also expressed gratitude for the “professionalism and cordiality with which we were treated by journalist Bárbara Betancourt, host Alienn Fernández, producer Pablo Santos, as well as the director of the program and the rest of the team involved in the recording.”

The executive secretary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cuba, Dora E. Arce Valentín, was also included in the interview.

“I believe we should never attack the people, but the argument,” Marrero said. “I was able to have a friendly conversation with Pastor Dora Arce before and after the interview. Although we have different ethical and theological positions, we are not enemies.”

Cuba’s “Family Code” is a set of laws dealing with everything from marriage to divorce to the raising of children. It also includes rules for disciplining children in Cuba that prohibit “any type of corporal punishment,” Marrero said. Though Marrerro decries abuse of children, he said the Family Code “limits the rights of parents towards their own children.”

Marrero recommended that if the Family Code is approved as it is, including its endorsement of same-sex marriage and its limits on parents’ ability to discipline their children, it should also include “an exception clause be created for people whose conscience would be violated and that the possibility be created for parents to have other options to educate their children.”

During the interview, Marrero shared the Gospel and used Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – to explain God’s love for mankind. He defended his faith, defended the biblical union of marriage as an institution created by God between a man and a woman and said: “God’s love is not just words, but it is demonstrated in deeds.”

Marrero also was able to express his opinion about the church and society.

“I consider that the church is not called to conform to today’s times, but rather the church is called to be a light for society,” he said in the television interview. “In fact, Jesus Christ Himself called us Christians and told us that we were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And one of the things that salt does specifically is to prevent a society from being corrupted, and what the light does is to not allow darkness to fill a place, a society, but rather to provide hope. In that sense, I believe that the church has a voice, it has a calling, it is not called to adapt to society, but rather to try to transform that society positively.

“In some way, the church must have a role of conscience in society. The apostle Paul, when he spoke to Christians, said to them, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing your understanding.’ So, we understand that the church should not adapt, but should be a stimulus for the society to change. We can use the following illustration: the church is not a thermometer that simply adapts to the weather around it. The church is a thermostat that is called to establish a healthy climate so that society isn’t corrupted.”

The opportunity to be on the Cubavisión program was an important opportunity, he told BP.

“I think that we reliably showed that it is possible to dissent based on mutual respect,” Marrero said, “and it would be appropriate, based on this experience, that the Cuban population could enjoy opinion programs with this format, including other sectors and topics relevant to our society. These dialogues enrich us all in different ways. …

“This has been an opportunity for unity with like-minded thinking, and the majority of evangelicals in Cuba feel supported and encouraged to defend their faith.”

Marrero has served as dean at the Havana Baptist Seminary and served the churches affiliated with Cuba’s Western Baptist Convention since 2014. He has seen much growth in that time

“Currently the seminary has 400 students and offers a master’s degree in Christian ministry and theological education, as well as a ministry to pastor’s wives, several certificates, and six different bachelor’s degrees,” he said.

He asks other Christians to “pray for the church in Cuba, for the attacks, threats and challenges that are faced daily, and for the Lord to help Christians to remain faithful in a hostile setting.”

Supreme Court considers coach’s post-game prayers

WASHINGTON (BP)—The U.S. Supreme Court weighed lengthy arguments regarding whether a high school football coach’s post-game prayer at midfield violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

The justices questioned lawyers for Joseph Kennedy and the Bremerton (Wash.) School District during oral arguments that lasted more than one hour and 45 minutes in a case that involves the rights of public school teachers and coaches to exercise their religious beliefs freely. The high court is expected to issue an opinion in the case before it adjourns this summer.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco twice ruled against Kennedy, who was ultimately joined by some players and others in the on-field prayers. In a 2021 opinion, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court said the school district would have violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause had it permitted Kennedy to continue to engage in his on-field religious exercise after games.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined in three friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Kennedy, two urging the Supreme Court to review Ninth Circuit rulings and one in March calling for the justices to reverse the lower court. “The Establishment Clause, as properly interpreted, does not override the government’s duty to accommodate the free exercise of religion on a nondiscriminatory basis,” the brief said.

Chelsea Sobolik, the ERLC’s director of public policy, told Baptist Press Monday, “As Christians, our faith shapes the totality of how we live and the structure of our lives. The government must allow people of faith to live out their convictions according to their religious beliefs.

“Coach Kennedy was living out his faith in public and should have the ability to do so, without fear of punishment,” she said in written comments. “Teachers, administrators, students or coaches do not shed their religious beliefs simply because they enter the schoolhouse door.”

Representing Kennedy, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement told the justices when Kennedy knelt at midfield “to say a brief prayer of thanks, his expression was entirely his own,” protected by both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment.

The concerns expressed by the school district were not the safety of band members or the religious coercion of students, but the “sole driving force behind its actions has been avoiding endorsement” of religion, he said. “I think it is very clear what motivated the district, and it was endorsement, endorsement, endorsement, endorsement again.”

Richard Katskee, the lawyer for the Bremerton School District, told the high court, however, Kennedy’s actions pressured students to pray, divided the coaching staff, prompted bitterness toward school authorities and resulted in students being knocked down when the field was stormed.

Private speech does exist that “puts improper pressure on students to conform religiously or otherwise,” he said, adding the court would need to undermine previous decisions and “disregard students’ rights” for Kennedy to win.

During the arguments, various justices brought up the oft-criticized Lemon test, a standard offered in the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion that says a law must have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion” to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer questioned whether the court would need to rule on the Lemon test in the current case. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch asked whether the justices would be overruling Lemon if they did not apply it in this case. He also commented the court has not applied it in church-state cases for the last 20 to 30 years.

Clement described Lemon as “a stubborn fruit” and urged the court to “slice it in half.”

Lori Windham – senior counsel for Becket, a leading religious freedom advocacy organization – said afterward the justices “were wrestling with the Establishment Clause and the mess that has been left by the Lemon test.”

“It’s time for Lemon to go,” she said on Twitter. “Under Lemon, ‘neutrality’ toward religion means no religion in public. This is as unconstitutional as it is irrational.”

The Supreme Court “sounds like it will protect Coach Kennedy,” Windham tweeted.

A leading advocate for a strict separation between church and state issued a warning, however.

A ruling by the justices against the school district could result in “the greatest loss of religious freedom in generations,” said Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We’re on very dangerous ground if the Court is considering overturning decades of established law that prevents government employees from pressuring students to pray in public schools.”

Beginning in 2008, Kennedy – an assistant coach with the Bremerton (Wash.) High School varsity team – would walk to the 50-yard line after each game, kneel and briefly pray, thanking God for the players. Players eventually began joining him, and Kennedy, who was also head coach of the junior varsity team, continued the practice for the next seven years. He also reportedly gave motivational speeches to players on both teams who gathered around him.

During the 2015 season, the school district superintendent sent a letter to Kennedy telling him to refrain from the post-game prayers and from religious expression in his motivational talks to players. The superintendent said Kennedy’s practices likely violated the Establishment Clause. After abiding by the mandate for a few weeks, Kennedy returned to his former practice of praying at midfield and was joined by others.

The school district placed Kennedy on administrative leave as a result. The athletic director recommended the school not rehire him in 2016, and Kennedy declined to apply for a coaching position when a new head coach was hired for the next season.

After a federal judge dismissed Kennedy’s lawsuit against the school district, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco declined to grant him a preliminary injunction. The judges ruled Kennedy knelt and prayed “as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech, therefore, was constitutionally unprotected.”

In 2018, the ERLC joined eight other groups in a brief that called for Supreme Court review and repudiation of the Ninth Circuit in the case, but the justices declined to grant the request at the time. The case returned to federal court and worked its way back through the judicial system.

When the Supreme Court refused to review the decision in 2019, Associate Justice Samuel Alito and three of his colleagues explained in an opinion that “unresolved factual questions” made a decision at that point “very difficult if not impossible.” Alito said, however, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling might call for the high court’s review in the future.

After the Ninth Circuit panel upheld the judgment in May 2021, the appeals court rejected in July a request by Kennedy for a rehearing by the full court. He appealed to the Supreme Court.

Other organizations signing onto the ERLC-endorsed brief filed in March were the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, National Association of Evangelicals, Concerned Women for America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Anglican Church in North America, National Legal Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse, Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, Pacific Justice Institute, International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, Veterans in Defense of Liberty, Family Foundation and Illinois Family Institute.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.