WRAPUP: Southern Baptists hear from Bush, elect new president

ST. LOUIS (BP)--President Bush heralded the Southern Baptist Convention as "a powerful voice for some of the great issues of our time" during remarks live via satellite to thousands of messengers gathered for the 145th annual meeting of the nation's largest evangelical body.

Bush's address was among the highlights of the June 11-12 convention that featured the election of a new president, patriotic musical celebrations, former Taliban prisoners Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, and reports on two new ministry initiatives, Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) and the Family Life Council.

During Crossover St. Louis evangelistic efforts, 1,868 professions of faith were reported by churches and volunteers.

The final SBC registration count indicated 9,609 messengers attended the convention from across the country plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Hundreds of guests also attended the convention at St. Louis' America's Center.

The president's remarks contained references to his personal faith in God, his commitment to preserving the traditional family and social issues important to Southern Baptists.

"I want to thank all of you for your good works," Bush said. "You're believers, and you're patriots, faithful followers of God and good citizens of America. And one day, I believe that it will be said of you, 'Well done, good and faithful servants.'"

JAMES MERRITT

Bush also expressed his appreciation to James Merritt, outgoing SBC president and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga. Merritt was one of several ministers Bush sought out for spiritual counsel in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Mr. President, we want you to know that Southern Baptists love you and appreciate all you are doing to lead our country," Merritt said. "We fully stand behind you and are praying for you on a daily basis."

Merritt, who completed his second, one-year term as SBC president, left office issuing the same passionate appeal that he first uttered at the 2000 annual meeting in Orlando -- Southern Baptists must share their faith.

"Every Southern Baptist pastor, every Southern Baptist church and this entire denomination has been given the highest power to carry out the greatest task," Merritt said in his final presidential address. Freeing the world from the tyranny of sin, he said, surpasses even the task of freeing the world from the horror of terrorism.

"Until he comes, let us exercise this highest power, let us carry out that greatest task, being faithful to the fight, being faithful to the faith, and faithful to the finish. Even so, come Lord Jesus," Merritt exhorted SBC messengers.

NEW SBC PRESIDENT

The SBC's first baby boomer president handed off the gavel to the man who first nominated him in Orlando -- Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Graham, 51, was elected June 11 by acclamation, continuing a 23-year span of theological conservatives elected to the presidency. He was nominated by Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.

Graham accepted Christ when he was eight years old. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

The Conway, Ark., native was ordained to preach in 1970 and served his first pastorate at East Side Baptist Church in Cross Plains, Texas. Graham was called to Prestonwood in 1989 and the church has since grown to more than 20,000 members.

Graham and his wife, Deb, have three children -- Jason, Kelly and Joshua.

Graham promised during his inaugural new conference June 11 to continue the SBC's emphasis on reaching the world for Christ.

"Being a Texan, I'm confident in thinking big -- that the world and the opportunities of the world are bigger and greater than ever before for Southern Baptists," Graham said. "There has never been a better time, a better opportunity than right now for us to get the message of the gospel around the world."

Citing Romans 1:16 as a "life verse," Graham said he is not ashamed of the gospel message and hopes to reflect that conviction as SBC president.

Graham also affirmed his belief that Southern Baptist missionaries should affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, a decision that has drawn fire from moderate and liberal Baptists and some state Baptist newspaper editors.

"It's a good idea to ask our missionaries to affirm the faith statement," Graham said. "We're not a creedal people, but we are a confessional people."

The new president described the BF&M as an instrument of accountability. "Our doctrinal accountability is vital. It's a good idea that all who serve Southern Baptist churches respond to the will of the people, that all who serve us will share our faith and do it in a way that is conscientious."

EMPOWERING KINGDOM GROWTH

Of particular interest to Graham is Empowering Kingdom Growth, a major ministry initiative signed by SBC leaders at the St. Louis convention.

"We believe God laid on our hearts to cast a vision -- Empowering Kingdom Growth," said Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee and one of five leaders to sign the covenant agreement.

EKG, which is not a program, calls for SBC leaders and churches to "seek first the King and His kingdom."

The signed agreement, called "A Covenant Between Southern Baptist Denominational Leadership and the Churches," states, "Being fully committed to the proposition that Jesus Christ is the only hope for the world, and believing Southern Baptists are yearning for spiritual renewal and Christ-centered living, and recognizing the challenge of Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, we, the undersigned Southern Baptist denominational leaders, covenant with each other and every willing Southern Baptist under God,

"To make the kingdom of God the priority in our own personal lives.

"To dedicate the energies and resources of the ministries we lead to seeking first the King and his kingdom.

"To cooperate with each other and the family of Southern Baptists as we pursue kingdom principles and practices.

"To give ourselves to servant leadership that will assist and enable local churches in their ministry.

"To pray that a new passion for Jesus breaks out among our people, our families and our churches from which God can forge a spiritual movement marked by holy living, sacrificial service and global witness.

"To this end we affirm Empowering Kingdom Growth as a call for Southern Baptists to seek first the King and his kingdom."

The document was signed by Merritt, co-chair of the EKG Task Force; B. Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, co-chair of the EKG Task Force and a pioneer of the EKG vision; Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Fermin Whittaker of California, president of the Southern Baptist Association of State Executive Directors.

COUNCIL ON FAMILY LIFE

A key outreach event associated with EKG also was announced at the St. Louis meeting -- a "Kingdom Families Rally" June 19, 2003, in Phoenix sponsored by the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life.

Council chairman Tom Elliff, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., encouraged every pastor to bring his family to the rally. Among the speakers currently slated are James and Shirley Dobson, Gary D. Chapman, Dennis and Barbara Rainey and Christian music artists Steve and Marijean Green.

The SBC Kingdom Family strategy, Elliff said, will help divorce-proof the marriages in Southern Baptist churches.

Various elements of this focus on the family will be introduced throughout the year with much of the initiative relying on LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC, Elliff said.

SBC OFFICERS

In other convention action, retired appellate court Judge Paul Pressler of Texas was elected by acclamation as SBC first vice president. Pressler, widely regarded as a key leader of the conservative resurgence that returned the SBC to its historic roots, is a member of First Baptist Church, Houston.

E.W. McCall, Sr., a pastor from La Puente, Calif., was elected second vice president of the convention. McCall is pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church where he has served for 32 years.

John Yeats, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, was re-elected without opposition to a sixth term as recording secretary.

Jim Wells, a director of missions from Branson, Mo., edged out longtime registration secretary Lee Porter. Porter, a retired denominational employee from Georgia, held the post for 25 consecutive one-year terms. Outgoing SBC President James Merritt lauded Porter for his years of service to the convention.

RESOLUTIONS

By resolution, messengers called for churches and civil authorities to hold accountable clergy members guilty of sexual abuse.

The resolution addressing sexual integrity among spiritual leaders was one of 10 approved at the annual meeting. Messengers passed each of the 10 either unanimously or with only a few votes in opposition.

The resolution on sexual integrity in the clergy was presented in the context of the unfolding sexual abuse scandal among Roman Catholics, but it primarily called for actions by Southern Baptists and their leaders.

The messengers called for SBC churches to discipline those guilty of sexual abuse according to the pattern provided by Jesus in Matthew 18 and to work with government officials in prosecuting offenders. The resolution not only encouraged lives of "integrity and fidelity" among Southern Baptists, but it urged accountability by spiritual leaders to the "highest standards of Christian moral practice." Messengers called on the SBC's seminaries to focus on ministerial integrity in their training process.

The other approved resolutions included:

-- Another supporting the United States' anti-terrorism campaign and affirming salvation through Jesus as the "only ultimate answer to all forms of terrorism."

-- A resolution urging the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the president's judicial nominees in a timely way.

-- An affirmation of Christian counseling that depends upon Scripture amid a "therapeutic culture."

-- An expression of grief for the killing of missionary Martin Burnham in the Philippines and sympathy for his widow, Gracia, and their three children.

Messengers asked Southern Baptist entities not to use the Today's New International Version in a resolution addressing gender-language controversy in Bible translation. They overwhelmingly approved an amendment brought from the floor by Gary Richardson of Texas that called on LifeWay Christian Resources not to sell the translation in its stores. LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. had said earlier in the week the TNIV would not be sold in the stores.

In a resolution pledging prayer for peace in the Middle East, messengers voiced support for Israel's existence but said it should be "held accountable to the same standards of national righteousness as any other nation." It called for Palestinians to reform their government to "repudiate terrorism and tyranny." The resolution urged both the Israelis and Palestinians to advance religious liberty and peace. It also affirmed prayer for the "true peace of our Lord" to rule in the lives of both peoples.

A resolution calling for President Bush to place a "high priority" on enacting a ban on partial-birth abortion was the only one approved by messengers that was not offered by the Resolutions Committee. Rick Reeder, a messenger from Kentucky, presented it from the floor, and messengers easily approved it. The SBC also approved a resolution condemning partial-birth abortion in 1996. The method involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

RESOLUTIONS CHANGES

Messengers also approved the method by which resolutions are introduced at the convention. Next year no resolution may be submitted later than 15 days before the convention. That means no resolution may be offered during the meeting.

Other major changes include:

-- The Resolutions Committee will be selected 75 days prior to the SBC annual meeting instead of 45 days.

-- Proposed resolutions must be accompanied by a letter from a church qualified to send a messenger to the SBC annual meeting certifying that the individual submitting the resolution is a member in good standing.

-- No person will be allowed to submit more than three resolutions per year.

SBC officials said the policy changes will allow both messengers and the committee a longer period of time to draft well-thought-out proposed stances for the SBC.

BAPTIST FAITH & MESSAGE

Controversy over the International Mission Board's recent request for missionaries to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message reached the floor of the SBC June 11. Two messengers moved that changes be made in the board's current practice of asking missionaries to affirm the faith statement.

One of the messengers, Bruce Prescott, from First Baptist Church, Norman, Okla., has been a frequent critic of the SBC in his role as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists.

Prescott, in a motion concerning missionary appointments, moved that messengers vote by ballot to instruct the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board to "grandfather in" those missionaries appointed to service under the 1925 and 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statements and rescind any policy requiring missionaries to sign the faith statement as a condition for continuing service.

Robert Casey, a messenger from Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla., a congregation affiliated with the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, made the second motion, that messengers vote by ballot to rescind the current policy of "requiring missionaries, called by God, faithfully tested and dually appointed by our missionary boards according to biblical standards, our Southern Baptist Convention constitution, article nine, and Baptist Faith and Message 1925, to sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a condition to continuing their appointment to serve."

The motions were made in response to a January letter from IMB President Jerry Rankin asking the missionaries to affirm the faith statement. Rankin explained in a February news release that missionaries were not being coerced into signing the document. "On the contrary," Rankin wrote, "missionaries are being asked to sign a statement that their beliefs are consistent with the current BF&M and that they will carry out their work in accordance with it."

The motions were referred to NAMB and the IMB for further study.

INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD

In response to a question posed from a messenger following his report to the convention, IMB President Jerry Rankin said most missionaries overwhelmingly have been understanding and cooperative, and have complied with the request.

No missionary has been terminated for failure to sign it although several have either resigned or retired rather than express that accountability to the convention. Rankin said he expected there to be a few other missionaries who will leave.

Rankin informed messengers that God is empowering Southern Baptists for his mission and they are responding in obedience as never before. During 2001, more than 34,000 volunteers and 1,155 new missionaries joined 5,100 long-term overseas workers, Rankin said. Southern Baptist missionaries and their co-workers overseas started 5,775 churches, 33,000 outreach groups and baptized more than 1,000 new believers every day.

Rankin especially noted the ministry work being accomplished in China. "As of now, this year alone, we have seen 1,632 of those people come to faith in Christ and be baptized," Rankin said. "God is at work, even though they are remote and hard to get to. We are reaching them with the gospel."

Even though Christians are reaping a great harvest in China, Rankin said most people have yet to have access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD

The North American Mission Board literally passed the baton to hundreds of messengers as they challenged them to consider their personal role in the "Go" part of the Great Commission by personally participating in a mission trip during 2003.

NAMB President Robert E. Reccord asked anyone willing to accept a mission commitment to accept a small aluminum baton from a Mission Service Corps missionary to remind them of their commitment.

Mobilization, Reccord said, will be a primary emphasis during 2003. The theme for the North American Mission Study, "Answer the Call," will underscore the emphasis.

Reccord also reported that in the first five years of the entity's existence, NAMB saved $40,387,000. The redirected funds, he said, have made possible Strategic Focus Cities church planting and evangelism efforts and the Nehemiah Project training and mentoring program on the SBC six seminaries.

LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES

In other entity reports, LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr., reconfirmed LifeWay's commitment to SBC churches.

Highlighting the entity's Internet ministry, Draper noted that more than 3,500 churches and associations are using LifeWayLINK for their websites.

In a FAITH Sunday School evangelism strategy update, Draper said more than 28,456 people from 6,591 different churches have been trained at FAITH clinics.

Draper updated messengers on the progress of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. He said the entire Bible is expected to be available in 2004.

ETHICS & RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION

ERLC President Richard Land said the culture is locked in a fierce battle over whether humans will continue to be defined as unique creations of God during his June 12 report to the SBC.

"It is one of the most critical issues we face," Land said, drawing particular attention to the human cloning crisis. He said in January 2001 scientists announced the creation of the first genetically modified monkey -- "an advancement that could lead to customized primates for medical research."

"It brings the possibility of genetic manipulation closer than ever to humans," Land warned, noting also that a watchdog group revealed last year that a European company had granted a patent to Australian scientists for the creation of human-animal hybrids. The patent, he said, involves the creation of embryos with cells from humans and mice, humans and pigs, and humans and goats.

ERLC's For Faith & Family broadcast ministry is heard on nearly 600 radio stations across the United States and on the Internet at www.faithandfamily.com. Land is also host of the recently launched "Richard Land Live!" a three-hour caller-driven Saturday afternoon talk show that airs each Saturday. The program is nationally syndicated by the Salem Radio Network.

ANNUITY BOARD

Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins declared the past year to be one of change and success at the Southern Baptist entity during his SBC report June 12.

Last year Annuity Board trustees approved the restructuring of the investment funds to a registered mutual fund environment called AB Funds Trust. "This provided the framework for exciting new services and ministries including IRAs and personal investment accounts," Hawkins said.

Reflecting on the national and international market volatility, Hawkins commended the work of the Annuity Board's investment group and reminded the messengers that retirement planning is a "long-term event."

"The Annuity Board is ranked as one of the 150 largest U.S. pension funds by Pensions and Investments magazine, and our managers are guided by a moral and ethical investment philosophy established by Annuity Board trustees," he said.

Hawkins also expressed gratitude to the Annuity Board marketing staff in Dallas and the state representatives serving across the country. During the past year more than 1,000 marketing events were held with more than 73,000 people in attendance.

This year the Annuity Board trustees approved a new benefit structure for retirees and widows qualifying for a monthly supplement of $200, if single, or $265, if married. More than 3,000 individuals or couples are currently receiving assistance each month.

WOMAN'S MISSIONARY UNION

Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of the Woman's Missionary Union, reported to messengers about the fruit of WMU's labors, including "SyncroNations," an upcoming National Acteen Convention in Nashville, Tenn., July 29-Aug. 1, 2003.

"Imagine thousands of girls from every state spending three days together to experience hands-on missions, great worship and the chance to capture a vision of God's plan for their lives in the coming years," Lee said of the national gathering, sponsored by WMU every five years.

WMU's Volunteer Connection sponsored four MissionsFests and one FamilyFest in 2001, along with placing 759 Acteens in assignments around the country and overseas. More than 330 people from 14 states participated in these MissionsFests projects, and the first-ever FamilyFest brought more than 100 volunteers from 11 states to Little Rock, Ark., prior to the MissionsFest.

Another first in 2001 was the national Acteens/Challenger Event June 25-29 in Charleston, S.C. Some 275 teenagers from nine states participated in a variety of ministry projects.

Christian Women's Job Corps, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in May, provides women in need a hand up toward self-sufficiency. Presently operating with 125 sites in 22 states, the job and life skills mentoring ministry has added three new international sites: Chile, South Africa and an unnamed country.

SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKERS

Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, said one of the great scandals facing America's churches is the lack of revival fire.

"The fires burn brightly in other parts of the world and in some parts of America, but, oh, we need to pray for revival and believe God for revival and begin in our own hearts," Bright said during the SBC's June 12 closing session.

The 2002 meeting also featured two other well-known Christian speakers -- missionaries Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer.

Mercer and Curry were held captive in Afghanistan after they were arrested for sharing the gospel of Christ. They were welcomed to the SBC's June 11 opening session by Chapman.

"We're so thankful for your prayers," Mercer told messengers. "That's the reason we're here. And all of you are part of the testimony. Everybody who prayed is part of the miracle God did and the way he's using this experience to make his name known all over the earth."

CONVENTION SERMON

Claude Thomas, pastor of the Dallas-Fort Worth area First Baptist Church, Euless, in delivering the convention sermon took his text from Luke 14:15-24. The shocking events of Sept. 11, Thomas said, thrust America into a new age of insecurity and anxiety that needs passionate Christians to lead people to joy, security and hope found only in the kingdom of God.

"There is a day coming when we are going to see the kingdom of God right here on this earth," Thomas said. "And until that day comes, you and I must leave here with the kingdom on our hearts and a passion to tell every person, 'Come to the table. There's a feast and a bounty. Come to the table.'"

The 2003 annual meeting of the SBC will be held June 17-18 in Phoenix.