6 entity heads address messenger questions
BALTIMORE (BP) -- Messengers had opportunities to ask questions of the presidents of Southern Baptist entities during their reports to the June 10-11 annual meeting in Baltimore.
Following are accounts of responses by six entity presidents to questions posed by messengers on the convention floor. Not all entity presidents were asked questions.
International Mission Board
Brad Atkins, a messenger from Powdersville First Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., said he served on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in 2011 and asked if Southern Baptist seminaries were to reduce their Cooperative Program allocations by 1 percent, whether the International Mission Board would receive the funds in light of the fact that both IMB and the North American Mission Board have already declined a similar funding proposal.
IMB President Tom Elliff expressed appreciation for Atkins' sentiment, but said the mission board would decline the offer because the SBC entities are part of a team. "Our agencies, our entities do such a great job of working together," Elliff said. "The issue here is for all of us, as Southern Baptists, to understand that our giving should not be motivated to be giving to IMB, it's about lostness. Let's all of us give, let all of us go because I believe it takes all of us together."
Atkins proposed a similar action in Tuesday's afternoon session (June 10) for new motions. The Committee on Order of Business ruled Wednesday that Atkin's motion was out of order because it would violate the SBC's business and financial plan.
LifeWay Christian Resources
LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer fielded two questions following the entity's report Wednesday morning, June 11.
Dan Jividen, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Princeton, W.Va., expressed appreciation for LifeWay resources but asked why the Disney company was a "major advertiser in many of our family magazines."
Rainer said he was not aware Disney was advertising in LifeWay publications but said "if that is the case, we'll tend to it right away."
Jon Emery, a marketing director for LifeWay, told Baptist Press that Disney does not advertise in LifeWay publications. However, a missionary-owned travel agency has placed classified-sized ads promoting its travel planning services to Disney attractions in the back of recent LifeWay magazines as well as a small number of online ads. Those ads are not scheduled to run again.
John Yarbrough, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Texas, asked Rainer to provide what Yarbrough called "fair market value" for a cabin he owns on leased land at Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.
Rainer relayed a report he'd received from Glorieta 2.0, the Christian camping ministry that bought the conference center from LifeWay last year. Attendance at the center is up this year, he said, and "literally tens of thousands will be reached for the Gospel."
Rainer explained the decision to sell the center, telling messengers LifeWay offered to sell the conference center, which had lost money for years, to every national Southern Baptist entity and state Baptist convention. When those offers were turned down, LifeWay sold the property to a Christian ministry that provides outdoor adventure experiences. At the time, the property was worth millions to developers, Rainer said, but LifeWay didn't want to sell to a for-profit-developer.
"I would rather see the Gospel continue than to see a casino go on this sacred ground," he said.
Most of the leaseholders had a year-to-year lease at Glorieta, Rainer said. The new owners offered to extend the leases or purchase buildings built there for up to $100,000. Those are fair offers for structures on leased land, he said, especially since the new owners had no obligation to make those offers, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.
"I'm always saddened when there are issues between brothers and sisters in Christ," Rainer said. "But quite frankly, to the best of our ability ... we've handled it in a Christ-like way, and we are grateful Glorieta is continuing to see people won to Christ."
GuideStone Financial Resources
GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins fielded two questions during the entity's report.
Atkins (of Powdersville First Baptist Church) asked Hawkins why state conventions and associations cannot set up group plans for the churches to help provide a larger base to spread out risks on claims and potentially provide lower premiums.
Hawkins explained that under federal law employees in a group health plan typically must derive their paycheck from a common employer. Due to local church polity and the autonomy of local churches, each of which is responsible for the pay and benefits of their employees, a broadening of the group is generally not an option available for Southern Baptists, apart from GuideStone. Through its church plans that have been in place for decades, GuideStone is able to provide group health plans to individual Southern Baptist churches and related ministry organizations, but there are legal, actuarial and other limitations on its ability to group churches for benefits purposes. In limited circumstances, an associational plan involving a particular group of churches and related ministry organizations might be an option. Associations interested in establishing a health plan for churches in its association should contact GuideStone at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) to learn the steps involved in setting up this kind of plan.
A messenger from California asked Hawkins what GuideStone has available for Spanish-language pastors and participants.
Hawkins emphasized that GuideStone has multilingual employees, including an employee dedicated to marketing and education of Spanish-speaking participants, Miguel Perez. Additionally, other Spanish-language speakers and employees are available for callers, and most forms and many brochures are available in Spanish. As evidence of GuideStone's partnership with Hispanic groups in the Southern Baptist Convention, GuideStone makes available a special microsite in Spanish: www.GuideStone.org/espanol and offers several of Hawkins' books in Spanish at www.OSHawkins.com/books
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Two questions were asked about immigration reform following the report by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
John Killian, pastor of Maytown (Ala.) Baptist Church, cited ERLC President Russell D. Moore's support for broad immigration reform. Killian, who also posed a question about immigration reform after the ERLC report at the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, asked Moore, "How does increasing immigration affect the least of these among our nation's citizens, including high school dropouts, the disabled, older working-age adults, native-born African Americans and Hispanics, and veterans?"
The ERLC, Moore said, is not advocating "any kind of blanket amnesty for people who are here illegally in this country" as a solution to the United States' "broken immigration system." Some of these illegally in the country are law-breakers who are in hiding and should be returned to their native countries, while others want to make things right, Moore said.
"I, as I travel around, do not meet almost anybody who says we want a government big enough and powerful enough to go in and deport 11-to-14 million people in this country," Moore said. "So, what do we do? And I think what we do is this: We say we need a government that actually secures the border and does what it is supposed to do. And then we need to say, 'How do those people who have broken the law but who are law-abiding, loving, giving to their communities, many of them members of our churches -- how do they then make it right?' That's what we're advocating."
Jay Stewart, pastor of Dwight Baptist Church in Gadsden, Ala., referred to recent news reports of a crisis in which nearly 100,000 children in the next year are expected to enter the United States across its southern border. He asked Moore, "[I]s all this discussion of dreamer kids and the promise of a coming mass legislation -- where you admit illegal immigrants causing a rush on the borders -- won't that continue if the comprehensive immigration reform is passed by Congress?"
Moore described it as "a really good question" but said it won't have that effect.
"As a matter of fact, if we get sensible immigration policies in this country, that [influx] will stop, because one of the problems that we have right now is that we have a United States economy that is built on a government kind of turning the other eye to the border," Moore said.
The federal government needs to enact legislation not only to secure the border "but also to hold businesses accountable for hiring people who are not documented and able to be in this country," Moore told Stewart. "All of those things come together. So when we're talking about immigration reform, we're talking about justice, about rule of law, and we're talking about compassion for those who are in a very vulnerable situation in our country right now."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to a question from Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., about how a church can be disciplined for violating the Southern Baptist Convention constitution's third article that prohibits condoning homosexuality.
"Local churches are responsible for local church discipline," Akin explained. However, Akin stated that the six Southern Baptist seminaries can teach their students how to "think biblically and theologically about those kind of issues."
"When we teach ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church at our school, we talk to them about those important issues like baptism, the Lord's Supper, regenerate church membership, but also we teach them about the importance and necessity of church discipline," Akin said.
"I believe your six seminaries are serving well in that regard because we all believe in the importance of church discipline ... the biblical nature of church discipline [and] the manner in which it ought to be administered," Akin emphasized.
Akin added, "Hopefully we will continue to serve our churches well by teaching the men who lead those churches how to do so with grace and conviction, with love and with truth, to stand firm on what the Scriptures say and to do so always in a way that is winsome and points people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This section was first utilized in Baptist Press' compilation of the SBC seminaries' reports at the convention's annual meeting in Baltimore.)
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson answered two messengers' questions regarding admission of a Muslim into the school's archaeology program.
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a messenger from First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas, described a partnership between the seminary and SBTC to provide a bachelor's degree program to inmates in the Darrington Prison Unit near Houston. Richards then asked Patterson to explain why the seminary admits atheists and other non-Christians into such a program.
Patterson said Southwestern patterned the work after a similar program provided by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Angola Prison in Louisiana. As a requirement of the state, the seminary was not allowed to discriminate against non-Christians in the admissions process, Patterson said. He also noted that the program is privately funded through donors, receiving no funds from the state.
"We have no choice," Patterson said. "We have to admit [non-Christians] into the class, but the wonderful thing, of course, as you would guess, is that as they study in class, they are coming to know the Lord."
For students who cannot get into the degree program, "we have Bible studies going on where formerly all kinds of things were going on, and we thank God for that. It shows the power of the Gospel in any context," Patterson said.
William Blosch, a messenger from First Newark Baptist Church in Thomasville, Ga., next asked Patterson for "a straightforward explanation as to why, at your direction, the seminary admitted a Muslim student on campus in violation of the seminary's charter and your admissions guidelines."
Prior to offering an explanation, Patterson noted that this was his 63rd consecutive SBC annual meeting and said this year's meeting was the "greatest convention that we have ever had," noting the great things God is doing within the convention.
"Therefore, you can probably understand then, in light of that, why it is today that I come to you with an apology," Patterson said.
"I owe the convention an apology, particularly to all of you that I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow," he said.
"I apologize to the whole convention that after as great of a convention that we have had, that it would come down to a report like this where I have to make that apology."
Patterson also apologized to his family, Southwestern's faculty and the school's board of trustees. He took full responsibility for the exception to the admissions policies, noting it was his decision alone.
Patterson then explained the circumstances of the exception. Southwestern leads two archaeological digs, one in Israel and one on the island of Cyprus. Participants at the dig sites include Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other faith traditions that are interested in archaeology.
The student who was admitted is a Palestinian from a Muslim background. Having observed Southwestern's students and faculty, the young man asked to be admitted into the Ph.D. program in archaeology, Patterson said.
"I fell in love with" the student, Patterson said, "because he was a remarkable young man, very open at this point to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I explained to him that it would be most unusual, but eventually I did make the exception to the rule.
"I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, that the president has a right to make if he feels it is important. He was admitted as a special student in the Ph.D. program, and that is not with Cooperative Program assistance."
Patterson explained that the student has studied on Southwestern's campus and has not been a problem in any way.
"In fact, we think the odds are pretty good with 2,800 sold-out evangelists and one Muslim student," Patterson said.
"I have apologized to you in a heartfelt way," Patterson continued. "I should not have disrupted the convention and did not do it knowingly, but apparently I did, and I am sorry.
"It is a different question what I will say to God when I stand before the judgment seat of the Lord."
Patterson recounted two previous exceptions he made to admissions policies, one admitting an atheist to Criswell College and the other admitting a Syrian Orthodox Priest to seminary. Both students came to Christ during their studies, Patterson said. He also cited an article just published online by Malcolm Yarnell that tells the story of Southwestern Seminary founder B.H. Carroll, who entered Baylor University as an atheist at the exception of school president Rufus Burleson (see theologicalmatters.com/2014/06/11/the-evangelistic-seminary/).
"Well, what will I say to God?" Patterson asked. He then shared a passage from Ezekiel 3:17-18, concluding, "I believe that when I stand before the Lord God, I'm going to say, 'Dear God, I violated a policy, but I didn't want to stand before You with blood on my hands. Dear God, I did the best I knew how.'"
Steven James, chairman of Southwestern's board of trustees, concluded the report with a statement assuring messengers that the board's executive committee will meet in September and the full board will meet in October to address the issue.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston from reports provided by the communications offices of the International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.