TIGERVILLE, South Carolina—The TEXAN interviewed SBC presidential candidate Kenneth Hemphill by phone three weeks following the Q & A with J.D. Greear.
Priorities as president: The IMB, NAMB & the Great Commission
TEXAN: What will your priorities be as SBC president, including fulfilling the Great Commission? Will you encourage this through agencies, churches or a combination?
HEMPHILL: I think it has to be a combination. It always starts at the local church.
Revitalization has been the theme of my life… I want to talk about attendance, baptism and Cooperative Program (CP) giving which impacts our missional force as well.
Church revitalization is a spiritual matter before it is a practical one. We must continue the emphasis on prayer and revival that Steve Gaines initiated. It’s important we restore trust and vitality in our partner relationships. The local church, association, state conventions, national convention are strategic partnerships that we need not to ignore, but revitalize.
We must renew our commitment to biblical literacy … knowing the Word of God and fulfilling his will.
I am going to focus on small group Bible study or Sunday school. [Hemphill cited statistics indicating a decline in church attendance, stating he would produce resources to help churches facilitate small groups].
Our emphasis on church planting must continue. That’s been a real function of NAMB. It’s important that we establish new churches for different ethnic groups, strategic groups in [unreached] communities and new housing developments.
I want to focus on the revitalization of existing churches. Churches with a worship attendance of 250 of less give more than 60 percent of our CP resources…. We need to help [legacy churches] in revitalization. They need to know they are important and that we are as committed to helping them as we are to planting new churches. It’s not an either/or strategy; it’s both/and.
I have plans for a total revitalization initiative called Together We Can to encourage growth in baptisms, attendance and giving.
TEXAN: Do you see a need for ethnic and racial diversity in the SBC and the increased involvement of the next generation?
HEMPHILL: This is critical. The value of diversity is spoken of so often in Scripture: 1 Cor. 12, the whole body imagery there … speaks to diversity. We need each other.
The denomination must reflect the diversity we see in heaven as every tribe, tongue and nation gather. It would be naïve for me to suggest I know how to resolve this issue. People in our state and national conventions are already working toward this end, and I would cooperate with them, sit down, listen and talk to them. I would listen and pray with those we need to hear from … ask them how we can help. What can we do as a denomination to assist? In my preaching and sharing, I plan to be open as invitations occur.
[Hemphill confirmed he would make minority appointments so that SBC committees will “start looking like heaven.” Regarding the next generation, he said he has contacted young pastors he regularly mentors at North Greenville University for recommendations].
The Wide Tent
TEXAN: You affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. About what non-essentials do Baptists disagree?
HEMPHILL: We signed the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 at Southwestern when I was president.
Non-essentials might include style of worship, how we organize small groups…. We get into too many unnecessary methodological arguments.
We’ve got to embrace every style of church and worship, ethnic diversity, all generations…. We need everybody in this thing to work together.
TEXAN: How do you balance the constitutional right of freedom of religion with the church’s response to LGBTs?
HEMPHILL: If gender identity and sexual orientation are grouped under the discrimination classes, and the historically Christian university or church is not allowed an exemption [at NGU] that would mean things like allowing the open expression of same sex affection. We would be required to recognize gender dysphoria [affecting] dorms, locker rooms….
If this is already being brought out over the design of wedding cakes, we would be foolish to think that it could not affect churches in their right to practice marriage based on their biblical convictions. We are facing a real issue here…that any religion upholding a traditional definition of human sexuality based on biblical convictions could be boxed out of the system. That could be a violation of our first amendment rights… [Hemphill recommended vigilance, cautioned against compromise for the “sake of the gospel,” and confirmed he preached the “biblical standard of purity for everyone”].
Funding the Mission
TEXAN: Do you support the Cooperative Program?
HEMPHILL: The reason I allowed my name to be placed in [nomination] is because I am such a strong advocate of the CP. [Hemphill cited statistics reflecting a decline in overall CP giving from over 10 percent in the 1980s to 5.16 percent today].
That is a serious issue…if we don’t address it, we aren’t going to just be bringing hundreds or thousands of missionaries home, we will be addressing the whole missional enterprise of Southern Baptist life.
We need to renew our commitment to a cooperative mission strategy and the giving mechanism.
I believe CP giving follows a biblical pattern. [Hemphill cited 1 Cor. 16, and 2 Cor. 8-9].
There was a volitional decision against societal giving at a critical moment in our history, when societal giving was found to be inefficient and ineffective…. [Asked about Great Commission Giving, Hemphill cited a 2008-2017 decline from $542 million to $475 million].
Part of GCG is really a neo-societal method of giving. I don’t think we’ve turned back to a societal method, but we have gone to where churches select budget items they like or … go outside the SBC and give to some entities, ignoring others. GCG may have inadvertently inspired that.
I do recognize in the autonomy of the local church, that every church has the right and responsibility to make decisions as to how they will give their mission dollars. That is part of SBC life and heritage, but the default method should be the regular CP.
TEXAN: Are state conventions important?
HEMPHILL: I am an advocate of the strategic partnerships. They all begin at local church, then association level, then the state and SBC. For many smaller churches, the local association is their lifeline. I spend so much time speaking for DOMs at associations to see the value in terms of evangelism and outreach in that local area. The state convention also has an integral relationship with those associations and churches, forming a bridge to the national convention.
Related to church revitalization and church planting, in cooperation with NAMB, a state executive or staff probably has better insights on where to plant churches in their locale than somebody sitting in an office or somewhere in Atlanta. We’ve got to learn to trust the states to make wise decisions concerning needs and budgets….
Rather than attempting to redesign the wheel, we need to affirm our commitment to all of these partnerships and revitalize them for the sake of the kingdom.
TEXAN: Any comments on the influence of Calvinism?
HEMPHILL: We have always had those whose theology was reformed or Calvinistic. They have always felt welcomed. It’s not an issue in that way. I am not sure that, at least in our recent history, we have had as many well-placed and visible leaders who endorse that theological position….
There’s always been a healthy tension in our denomination, and it’s been good for us, causing us to consider the incomprehensible mystery of God’s grace. I personally believe his atonement is unlimited. I am eternally grateful that he died for a sinner like me.
TEXAN: What is your stance on alcohol use?
HEMPHILL: My wife and I practice total abstinence. This has always been our posture… from generation to generation. My reasoning is that alcohol is a drug, one of the most abused because of its wide acceptance… My issue has always been my personal testimony and possible impact on a weaker brother. Now that I have 10 grandchildren, it’s even more important to me. I am glad to belong to a denomination that has stood steadfastly against alcohol use. I agree with the many resolutions the SBC has passed concerning the use of alcohol.