GREENSBORO, N.C.–Many of the 540 Texas messengers to the annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., describe this year’s convention as unlike any they’ve attended in years, with a three-man presidential race and vigorous but civil floor debate on numerous and sometimes surprising issues.
Especially notable was the selection as president of South Carolinian Frank Page, a relatively unknown pastor from a small town church that champions the Cooperative Program and who pledged to uphold hard-won theological victories of past years.
With what one Texas pastor described as “both an undercurrent of discontent and an influx of enthusiasm,” the Greensboro meeting addressed familiar themes with new outcomes.
Two-time president Bobby Welch, in his final convention sermon, implored younger and older Southern Baptists to not abandon the missions network that Southern Baptists have built. Preaching from John 6 about the feeding of the 5,000 from a young boy’s five loaves and two fish, Welch said Jesus sees the multitude and their needs and he wants more converts.
“You look at the Lord and he wants more. You look at the lad and he had more,” Welch said, alluding to the lad’s meager offering in the hands of a faithful God.
The final evening included the unveiling of a larger-than-life sculpture of perhaps the best-known Southern Baptist–evangelist Billy Graham–created by sculptor Terrell O’Brien, a West Texas native and bi-vocational pastor in Wyoming.
The 7-foot-tall depiction of Graham shows his arms outstretched, holding a large Bible in one hand. The other hand is open, as if to signify an invitation to come to Jesus. A 17-foot cross towers over him.
Paid for with private funds, a Lubbock foundry, House Bronze, cast the mold into bronze and assembled the statue, which will be placed in downtown Nashville on the property of LifeWay Christian Resources.
“This represents a passion for the Word of God,” stated Cliff Barrows, longtime Graham crusade song director who later led the assembly in the familiar hymn “How Great Thou Art.”
The 2006 meeting had many similarities to a convention held 14 years ago in Indianapolis, the last time messengers chose between three presidential candidates.
This year messengers elected a candidate who serves a church with a long track record of giving more than 10 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ 81-year-old missions funding channel.
Unlike in 1992 when Houston pastor Ed Young was elected despite his church giving only a single digit percentage through CP and sounding a call to personalize missions through direct participation, this year a megachurch candidate whose church emphasizes direct missions participation, Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, came in second with a fourth of the vote. Even the entry of a third candidate, Nashville pastor Jerry Sutton, the week prior to voting did not deny Page a first-ballot victory with 50.48 percent of the vote.
Like the annual meetings during the theological battles of the 1970s and ’80s, issues arising from trustee boards often dominated messenger motions.
For example, in 1992 contention at the Foreign Mission Board spilled over into convention business. The outcome was different in 2006 when a motion to investigate alleged trustee improprieties at the International Mission Board was referred–to the satisfaction of messengers, the motion maker and the Committee on Order of Business.
While several hundred messengers to the 1992 Indy meeting walked out in protest of FMB President Keith Parks’ disparaging characterization of conservative leadership, a similarly sized crowd of 11,639 messengers at Greensboro welcomed strides toward peace among disagreeing members.
Welch, who presided over business, provided opportunities for messengers to vent disagreement with a few of his rulings, while early on sounding a call for civility after someone in the arena stands shouted tauntingly toward former SBC president and retired Florida pastor Jerry Vines.
Collegial disagreement was exemplified in the breakout sessions of the pre-convention Pastors’ Conference, which included a debate on “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election” between seminary presidents Al Mohler of Southern and Paige Patterson or Southwestern.
The debate—which more closely resembled a dialogue—drew standing room-only crowds of several thousand to repeated sessions at the convention hotel.
The first sign of a split vote during convention business came as some messengers loudly cheered Oklahoma IMB trustee Wade Burleson when he offered his well-publicized motion on IMB controversy. Messenger laughter followed the appearance of convention veteran Wiley Drake of Buena Park, Calif., as he offered “Wiley Drake motion number one.” Drake has been notable at past meetings, offering numerous business items from the floor.
Boisterous calls were voiced randomly from the crowd during the extended debate on the Executive Committee recommendation that messengers receive an amended version of a Cooperative Program Ad Hoc Committee report that was three years in the making. Some messengers took strong exception to the decision of EC officers to remove references to a 10 percent minimal goal for CP giving from local churches, urging reinstatement of language to encourage what a Georgia messenger called “an exemplary and sacrificial level.”
Bart Barber, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Farmersville, north of Dallas, took the debate a step further, noting his own church gives 10 percent of offerings through CP.
“The thing that bothers me is it specifies a percentage down to the dollar amount for individual believers of local churches, but acts so felicitously toward state conventions. We’ve got an 81-year-old standard of a 50-50 split from state conventions that’s not been met.
Barber speculated that churches are following the example of those state conventions that have continued to reduce the portion of local church receipts they send on the SBC endeavors. He proposed, “Nobody can serve in office unless they come from a state convention that gives at least 50 percent to Southern Baptist causes,” an approach that would allow representation from only two conventions.
Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins followed with his conventions’ pledge to move toward the 50-50 target.
Vines and former SBC president Jack Graham of Plano joined EC chairman Rob Zion to defend the report as recommended, concerned that any reference to a percentage might be misconstrued as a mandate to churches. Vines reminded messengers of the dual concerns for methodology and theology issued by the Peace Committee on which he served in 1987, allowing for “deeply held convictions without intimidation or criticism.”
When vines called for the question of voting in order to end debate, a messenger reminded Welch of a ruling at the 2005 meeting that a person offering an opinion on a motion could not end by calling for the question.
“Just because his name is Jerry Vines doesn’t mean he gets special privileges,” hollered one messenger from what appeared to be an upper deck of the arena.
“That is going to be a point of order,” Welch quickly responded. Looking around the coliseum, he stated, “I’d like you to demonstrate something here. We’re here to do the Lord’s business,” he said, interrupted by overwhelming applause. “We’re going to do it the right way. We want to do it in the spirit of Christ. You heard that, whoever you are, and somebody else will, too. Let’s just move along and take time to get where we’re going.”
Messengers to the annual meeting seemed eager to camp out among familiar points of unity—evangelistic zeal, Cooperative Program support, and inerrancy of Scripture—while adding the flavor of a “sweet spirit” to the mix. All four are conditions Page, the new SBC president, established as criteria for future appointments.
Back in 1992, it was then-SBC President Morris Chapman who appealed for the Woman’s Missionary Union to “not falter now” in support of Southern Baptist missions. This year trustees of the Executive Committee where he serves as president were refused their recommendation to ask the WMU to reaffirm its loyalty to the SBC and consider becoming an SBC entity.
“Churches that have WMU are far stronger supporters [of Southern Baptist missions and the Cooperative Program] than churches without WMU,” reminded Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania South Jersey Executive Director David Waltz. He said the recommendation seemed to cast a cloud over WMU, asking, “Don’t distract a great organization for Southern Baptist missions.”
Numerous motions were referred to particular SBC entities from messengers who appealed for studies as varied as the emergent church movement to unregenerate church members.
In 1992, newly elected president Ed Young asked Southern Baptists to “put down the guns and go fishing again.” In 2006, SBC President Bobby Welch offered a unified purpose, proclaiming, “Everyone Can! I’m It!” as an evangelistic mandate reiterated by the newly elected Page.
The pre-convention Crossover evangelistic effort, field tested in Indianapolis in 1992, this year yielded over 830 professions of faith and 26 new church starts in the Triad Crossover outreach on June 10-11 near Greesboro.
“We will baptize a million in a year,” Welch predicted. “I don’t know if it will be this year. [But] we could baptize a million this year if you’d get up and get out of here and go to work,” he said to affirming applause on the final night of the annual meeting.
The 2006 body applauded the mandate Welch gave to the Committee on Nominations to “reach down into the body life of this convention and find more folks to fill more places at a time like this.”
Of the 105 new trustees of SBC entities only three have ever served on an SBC board, messengers were told in approving the slate.
The average age of nominees is 48; the churches they represent give an average of 9 percent of their budgets to the cooperative Program; and baptisms average 48 per church. “If we all did that, we’d baptize 2 million a year,” chairman Guy Sanders of New Port Richey, Fla. Said.
Average attendance in trustees’ churches ranges from 43 in a newly planted church to congregations with thousands of members. The youngest nominees are two pastors, both 29, and the oldest is a 75-year-old woman.
“Our committee has worked very diligently to present to this convention a slate of nominees full of diversity, free of personal agenda and faithful the Great Commission through Southern Baptist cooperation,” Sanders said. “It follows the full gamut of who we are as Southern Baptists.”
Rising to question the Committee on Nominations report, Arlington pastor Ben Cole of Parkview Baptist Church quizzed Sanders to reveal the repeated service of Bill Sutton of McAllen, Texas, who was recommended for a traditional second term as an IMB trustee after having earlier served two terms on what was then called the Foreign Mission Board.
Cole then turned his attention to the nomination of a father and son from Texas to two different boards, referring to Northeast Houston Baptist pastor Nathan Lino of Humble, who was nominated to the IMB, and David Lino of Kingswood, who was nominated to LifeWay Christian Resources board.
“I understand that does not speak exactly to the nepotism amendment,” Cole argued, referring to a host of changes messengers approved to reduce the likelihood of repeated service by family members.
“Unless there has been some ethical or moral failure or unless that person is no longer eligible or qualified to serve,” Sanders explained, the committee has “always allowed a person to serve out terms they would be eligible for.”
Referring to Sutton’s term renewal, Sanders said, “We felt like that was the right thing to do in this case and saw no reason not to extend another term.”
With no challenge to the recommended trustees, messengers affirmed the slate of nominees.
While messengers applauded Welch’s insistence on a broader base of involvement in this year’s trustees, he insisted that experience counts in particular assignments. He bragged on his appointment of Louisianan T.C. French to chair this year’s Resolutions Committee.
“He’s been around and served on a couple of things,” Welch said in a reference to the chairman’s service on the Baptist Sunday School Board and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where controversial issues arose during his tenure.
“Exactly! That’s why I asked him to do this,” Welch explained. “We don’t need a novice,” he added, noting that French had “enough backup to keep him straight,” referring to the diverse composition of the committee that included the SBC president.
Gratitude for the contributions of those who paved the way for agreeable debate was expressed during a tribute to the late Adrian Rogers, the first in a series of conservative candidates endorsing the resurgence effort begun in 1979.
Forer SBC presidents yielded their time on the program to videotaped expressions of thanks to Rogers. Earlier in the week, his widow, Joyce, drew applause at the Pastors’ Conference after encouraging Southern Baptists to “graciously work for unity in the body of Christ” and criticizing alleged movement in the convention toward “getting narrower and narrower about very highly interpretive issues.”
Chapman sounded a similar call in his Executive Committee president’s report.
“It is time to cease narrowing the parameters of our collective convictions and widen the parameters of our vision for world missions.”
He called for an end to politicization of the SBC to avoid “turning conservative brother against conservative brother.”
During reports from SBC entities, those who take the gospel internationally attempted to inspire messengers with their testimonies of service. In his report to this year’s convention, IMB President Jerry Rankin encouraged Southern Baptists to “stay focused” on missions, thanking them for the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in history in the amount of $137.0 million.
“This reflects your heart for reaching a lost world, your passion for our mission task and your obedience to our Lord,” Rankin said.
IMB Vice President Tom Elliff, before a corporate prayer time for the IMB’s work, told the crowd, “It’s a sin to send people and not go with our hearts.”
Fielding a question from messenger Boyd Luter of First Baptist Church of Fairfield about what he charged was a continuous string of IMB trustee “executive sessions” during board meetings, trustee chairman John Floyd replied that at its most recent meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., no executive session was called.
Floyd called on messengers to “trust the 87 men and women that represent a cross setion of our convention to do what needs to be done.”
Retired Southwestern Seminary evangelism professor Roy Fish was introduced as interim president of the North American Mission Board while board chairman Bill Curtis celebrated missionaries and mission partners who “have made a tremendous kingdom impact on the lives of countless millions of people.”
LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer pledged “more evangelistic opportunities” through its products. Earlier in the meeting, messengers approved moving responsibility for stewardship education within the SBC to the Executive Committee from LifeWay Christian Resources.
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land said that underneath a “camouflage net” of pagan and irresponsible behavior, a “genuine, heaven-sent, Spirit-led revival” is taking place. Noting researcher George Barna’s evidence that some 20 million believers are “sold out to lives of radical obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Land said most of those people are in their 20s and 30s.
“They are going to revolutionize America. It is up to us to grab that spiritual energy and harness it within our churches.”
Reports from the six SBC seminaries included:
> Golden Gate’s new partnership with Korean Baptist Theological University and Seminary in South Korea;
> news of three straight years of record-breaking student headcounts at Midwestern;
> the hand of God’s providence was clearly evident through increased Cooperative Program gifts to New Orleans in the midst of the “unspeakable tragedy” of Hurricane Katrina;
> ”tangible acts of service” like disaster relief and a “2 2 missions program at Southeastern that reveal a passion for souls;
> an emphasis on the centrality of congregationalism and regenerate church membership at Southern, where students are taught to preach the Word and shepherd their church members;
> an accounting of the importance of seminary education at Southwestern, where expository preaching and engaging the culture are encouraged;
GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins noted more that 557 percent of personal plan medical participants received a decrease in rates for 2006.
“The second step is your responsibility to improve your overall health through proper diet and exercise,” he said.
In contrast to an earlier messenger’s contention that Southern Baptists aren’t addressing sins like gluttony, Hawkins said 70 percent of pastors have a medium-to-high risk for cardiovascular disease, calling for more “work to be done” in helping ministers improve their health. Through reports gleaned from a free wellness center offered in SBC exhibit hall, Hawkins praised the news that “total cholesterol count is down, blood pressure is dropping and blood sugar numbers are dropping” in comparison to earlier years.
In other actions recommended by the Executive Committee, messengers:
> approved the proposed 2006-07 SBC Operating Budget in the amount of $9.02 million;
> approved the 2006-2007 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of nearly $196 million;
> amended SBC Bylaw 26 so that no person may serve on an entity board while his or her spouse is serving on another entity board, and added a stipulation to ensure that any person elected as a trustee must have been continuously a resident member for at least the preceding three years of a church or churches which were in those years in friendly cooperation with the convention.
Messenger turned back a proposal that “no person who has served as an employee of an entity would be eligible to serve as a trustee of that entity” after a messenger offered the examples of a seminary student working at the campus bookstore being prevented from service as a LifeWay trustee or a missionary appointed short-term serving as an IMB trustee.
Other approved actions called for posting the Organization Manual of the SBC be posted online, collaborating among entities to provide consistent ministry reports, and updating articles of incorporation for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
Messengers heard President George W. Bush speak via video message and secretary of State Condolezza Rice in person. Both thanked Southern Baptist for the “acts of compassion” in southern Asia following an earthquake and tsunami; in Africa where they are drilling wells and caring for AIDS patients; and in recent disaster relief efforts at home.
“Here in our own country, few have done more than Southern Baptists to ease the suffering of those who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Rice said. “Whenever tragedy brings people to their knees, Southern Baptists have been there to help them get back on their feet.”
One of Southern Baptists’ own, however, reminded members of the denomination they have “some serious confessing and forgiving to do.” South Carolina pastor Don Wilton of First Baptist, Spartanburg, delivered the convention sermon and called for Southern Baptists to “wake up” and “stop the nonsense.”
Wilton declared, “It is time to roll up our sleeves and go to work and become the soul-winners that we claim to be. If we do not obey what God teaches us to do….God will no longer bless this denomination.”