Marriage defense rises in state conventions
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Baptists once again underscored their commitment to traditional marriage in state convention meetings across the nation in 2013.
Ten state Baptist conventions that cooperate with the SBC passed resolutions dealing with marriage: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, New England, Oklahoma, New Mexico and South Carolina.
Overall, fewer resolutions came up for consideration during the 2013 meetings than in past years, and many resolutions, including those pertaining to the definition of marriage, were topics that resurfaced from previous state convention meetings.
Definition of marriage
Though Nevadans have voted twice to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman (2000, 2002), the language continues to encounter legislative and legal challenges. During their annual meeting, Nevada messengers reiterated their support for protecting biblical marriage by passing a resolution opposing "any attempts to redefine marriage apart from the definition set forth in scripture, as being between one man and one woman." The resolution also encouraged pastors and church leaders to "speak boldly about God's direction on the issue" and urged Nevada Baptists to inform elected officials about their support for the biblical definition of marriage.
New Mexico messengers also passed a resolution dealing with marriage on the same day the New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments about same-sex marriage licenses. In the resolution, messengers indicated their:
-- opposition to "any attempt to re-interpret current New Mexico law to allow 'same-sex marriage'";
-- encouragement to legislators "to continue to affirm the sanctity of marriage as designed and defined by God";
-- love for "those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who are engaged in the homosexual lifestyle";
-- opposition to "any form of gay-bashing";
-- affirmation "that pastors as well as all believers should proclaim both in church and in the public square the truth of God's word on human sexuality, marriage, purity and love with all boldness and without fear of reprisal";
-- urging "fellow Southern Baptists to consider how they and their churches might engage in compassionate, redemptive ministry to those who struggle with homosexuality"; and
-- commitment to "proclaim that Christ offers forgiveness of sin for those who turn from their sins and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sin."
Messengers to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention's 71st annual meeting reaffirmed their stance on traditional marriage in a Nov. 8 resolution. Five days later, Hawaii became the 15th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill allowing same-sex marriages to begin Dec. 2. In the midst of this, Hawaii messengers urged church members to continue their commitment to pray for others to know God's will through Christ and to uphold the biblical standard for marriage in their own lives.
Resolutions encouraging support of the Cooperative Program were adopted in Missouri, Ohio and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
In Ohio, messengers of the convention's 60th annual meeting recognized that "the Cooperative Program provides an effective, efficient means of mission partnership to reach the unreached and make disciples for Christ through starting churches, strengthening churches and developing leaders across the state and the nation and around the world."
Messengers expressed appreciation for those who have "faithfully and sacrificially" given to help support the CP and urged churches to increase their CP giving by 1 percentage point of their budget, in keeping with a challenge from the SBC Executive Committee.
Religious liberty-related concerns were voiced by messengers in Hawaii, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Messengers in Missouri and South Carolina expressed concern over the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decision to allow participation of scouts who self-identify as homosexual, and New England Baptists encouraged ministry toward individuals struggling with sexual identity.
In South Carolina, messengers expressed "disappointment" in the BSA's policy decision. For those continuing to support the BSA, the convention's resolution called for churches to "share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with all members and leaders while working to reverse the current membership policy ... that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard."
The resolution called for churches that end their support of Scouting to continue offering biblically based ministry programs for children and youth.
A variety of other subjects drew the attention of messengers in various states, including human trafficking in Hawaii and Kentucky and immigration in the Northwest, Oklahoma and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Oklahoma Baptists, in their resolution dealing with immigration, affirmed that "all people are created in the image of God, [and we] commit ourselves to treat all people with the love of Christ, ministering to their human needs and seeking to share the good news of Christ regardless of their legal status. We also commit ourselves to follow the biblical mandate to pray for our national leaders to find a wise, just and compassionate resolution to the immigration issue in the near future."
The SBTC's immigration resolution outlined principles advanced by the Evangelical Immigration Table that call for respecting God-given dignity; protecting families; upholding the rule of law; securing borders; ensuring fairness to taxpayers; and establishing a path toward legal residency or citizenship for those who qualify.
The plight of persecuted believers in other countries was noted by resolutions in Nevada and the SBTC. Pro-life issues were addressed in many states, including resolutions in Alabama, New England, Oklahoma, Tennessee and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Concern for child safety and protection from abuse was addressed by resolutions in Alabama, Florida and Kansas-Nebraska. Kentucky and Northwest messengers passed resolutions encouraging adoption and foster care.
After sparking debate on the convention floor at the 2013 SBC annual meeting in Houston, mental health was included in resolutions in Louisiana and South Carolina.
The nationwide educational emphasis called Common Core State Standards Initiative drew the attention of Alabama messengers who decided to neither oppose nor endorse the initiative, but rather establish a "precedent of concern," as explained by resolutions committee chairman Craig Carlisle. Common Core is a controversial education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other by following approved principles of standards-based education reform.
Alabama Baptists also adopted a resolution dealing with the Affordable Care Act, calling for its withdrawal and deeming it a "threat to the free exercise of religion guaranteed in the Bill of Rights."
Arkansas Baptists addressed initiatives in their state about medical use of marijuana. The expansion of gambling -- a topic that has received repeated attention in many states during the past year -- was addressed in an Illinois resolution.
Revival, missions, theology
Hope for revival and spiritual awakening prompted resolutions in the Dakotas and the Northwest, while support for the "My Hope America with Billy Graham" evangelistic outreach was the focus of resolutions in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. The recent tsunami in the Philippines prompted prayer across the SBC and specific resolutions in Georgia and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Both Illinois and Ohio celebrated the 125th anniversary of Woman's Missionary Union through resolutions. Kentucky Baptists adopted a resolution expressing appreciation for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his 20 years of service.
Alaska messengers resolved to continue to be "Watchmen of the Word, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and boldly proclaiming it as we should (Ezekiel 3:1-17; 2 Timothy 2:15; Ephesians 6:30; Colossians 4:4)."
An Arkansas resolution on reaching men recognized that "many men are in desperate need of salvation, intercession and intervention for the sake of the family, the church, the city, the state, the nation and the world." In light of that declaration, messengers resolved to "work diligently to reach men with the gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby enable greater opportunities to reach their families."
California messengers cited the decline in moral values and biblical knowledge in current society and encouraged "intentional training in the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith and a deeper awareness of doctrinal truth" among California Southern Baptists in a resolution on deepening doctrinal understanding.
Southern Baptists in the Dakotas passed resolutions committing to uphold the Word of God without ignoring, altering or manipulating it, as well as committing to lead out in prayer, while Hawaii Baptists passed a resolution encouraging the practice of personal and church evangelism.
New England messengers adopted a resolution affirming the biblical doctrine of the "wrath of God" in response to their appraisal that some wish to dilute the teaching.
In Oklahoma, a state that experienced several deadly and damaging tornados in 2013, messengers expressed appreciation for the state convention's disaster relief ministry and celebrated its 40th anniversary of service. The state's messengers also approved a resolution on Sunday School and small group ministry which declared that they continue to be the "best, most proven means for organizing the church to reach the lost for Christ, caring for members and mobilizing for ministry."
In South Carolina, social media became a new focus, with messengers passing a resolution recognizing the prolific role electronic communication has assumed in daily life and the opportunity it presents for bolstering or tarnishing believers' witness. Messengers resolved that they "encourage all who participate in social media sites to exhibit responsible restraint and discipline in order to display a Christ-like spirit that guards the bond of peace (Matthew 18:15-20, Ephesians 4:1-3)," and that "all communication be free of gossip, false teaching, envy, vengeance, resentment, discord and all other aberrant character of a follower of Christ (James 3, Colossians 3:8)."
The SBTC expressed concern at the influence of violence in video games and noted the responsibility of parents concerning the issue.
Tennessee messengers passed a resolution affirming the "actions of Tennessee Temple University (in Chattanooga) in embracing Southern Baptist doctrine and Tennessee Baptist life."
The Baptist General Association of Virginia passed a resolution opposing an amendment to the state of Virginia's constitution that would permit prayer in public schools and government meetings, deeming the issue "unworthy of the support of the citizens of Virginia."
"Virginia Baptists collectively have traditionally and consistently taken the position that religious expression coming from or endorsed by government is inconsistent with the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience," the BGAV resolution states. "Sectarian legislative prayers have the effect of utilizing civil government as a mechanism for advancing faith, and Virginia Baptists have historically held that individuals and not the government should advance faith."
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is managing editor of the print edition of the Southern Baptist TEXAN. Sharyah Colter, a TEXAN correspondent, contributed to this report.