S.C. Baptists address social challenges

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) -- South Carolina Baptists passed resolutions addressing an array of societal ills and challenges facing the church at their 194th annual meeting, affirming biblical marriage, the protection of victims of abuse and neglect, and religious freedom at home and abroad.

With pastor Saeed Abedini and other Christians around the world "experiencing imprisonment, enslavement, torture, martyrdom, and other forms of persecution for sharing their faith," messengers called on public officials to elevate religious liberty to a high priority and urged pastors and church leaders themselves to become more aware of the problem.

"God has granted religious freedom as a right that those in power are to recognize, not a privilege that they can grant," the resolution reads.

Regarding biblical marriage, messengers urged churches to be proactive in upholding God's design and called on pastors to "speak boldly from their pulpits affirming the clarity and coherency of Scripture on unpopular cultural issues."

"A significant chance exists that places of worship ... will face a wide array of predicaments putting them at odds with their traditionally held beliefs on homosexuality," messengers said, and suggested that churches examine their governing documents and consider including language affirming a biblical definition of marriage as a way to "alleviate any unforeseen risks."

In other resolutions at the Nov. 11-12 meeting at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, messengers urged churches to consider enacting ministries that provide support and shelter for victims of abuse and neglect while "prophetically administering the Gospel to those who are the aggressors;" called for increased awareness of the importance of a pastor's mental, physical and spiritual health, and financial well-being; and marked the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by thanking God for increased racial and ethnic diversity within the South Carolina Baptist Convention and urging Christians to "pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more."

Messengers approved a $28.6 million 2015 operating budget, designating nearly $948,000 as a direct gift to the International Mission Board, if the state convention meets income projections; 59 percent of Cooperative Program receipts for in-state ministries and 41 percent for the Southern Baptist Convention for national ministries, the SCBC reported.

Tommy Kelly, pastor of Varnville First Baptist Church, Varnville, won the SCBC presidency, narrowly besting Rocky Purvis, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Lexington. The vote was 235–204. Other officers elected are first vice president Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church, Fort Mill; second vice president Bart Kelley, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Westminster; recording secretary Brenda Barnes of the Beaverdam Baptist Association, and registration secretary Clark Carter, transitional pastor of Portside Baptist Church, Charleston.

In other business, messengers endorsed a resolution expressing "sincere gratitude to God" for the life and ministry of Jim Austin, who retired Oct. 7 as SCBC executive director-treasurer. The resolution noted Austin's passion for church planting, evangelism and partnering in missions and spoke of his "deep love" for South Carolina's churches and pastors, as evidenced by his personal contact and prayerful support. All resolutions can be read in full at http://www.scbaptist.org/2014-annual-meeting-resolutions.

D.J. Horton, pastor of Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church in Spartanburg County, presided over the two-day meeting under the theme "LiveIT," which referenced the convention's goal of "Great Commission Living." Horton urged messengers to integrate the Great Commission into their daily interactions.

"Our state is crying out for men and women to 'Live it, to live out the Gospel," Horton said. "Go grab the Gospel, and just live it. Stand and strive and be willing to suffer."

Also promoting the theme was retired North American Mission Board vice president Richard Harris, presiding over his first annual meeting as interim SCBC executive director-treasurer, who expressed hopes of building on the work of "great leaders who have gone before," including former state executives Ray Rust, Carlisle Driggers and Austin.

"We've got to look at the good they've done and try to move forward," Harris said. "We've got to get back to believing that this message we have is worth sharing. Our problem is not organizational or structural, our problem is spiritual. We've got to get back to equipping the saints for the work of ministry."

Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, joined a panel of South Carolina pastors in discussing how denominational trends might affect the SCBC.

The annual meeting registration of 941 messengers represented an increase of 53 from last year's 888. Charles Billingsley and a choir consisting of members from several churches led in worship.

The 2015 SCBC annual meeting will be held Nov. 10-11 at Spartanburg First Baptist Church in Spartanburg.

Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier, the official news service of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
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