Baptists support capital punishment, adopt 6 resolutions in morning session

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)--Messengers to the 2000 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention adopted six resolutions, including a ground-breaking one in support of capital punishment, in the June 14 morning session at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

The Resolutions Committee is scheduled to offer its final four resolutions in the evening session, June 14. The 10-member panel gave final approval to its recommendations in a daylong work session June 13.

In addition to its proposal on the death penalty, other resolutions passed by messengers during the committee's first report encouraged support of the Cooperative Program, affirmed evangelism in a pluralistic society, decried the sexual trafficking of women and children, condemned the trade in body parts from unborn babies and urged the federal government to seek the end of religious persecution in China and Sudan.

Those five resolutions were approved either without opposition or with near unanimity. Only the resolution on capital punishment resulted in any significant opposition, and the vote in its favor still was overwhelming.

That resolution affirms the use of capital punishment "by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death." The death penalty should be used only when there is "clear and overwhelming evidence of guilt," the proposal says. It also calls for "vigilance, justice and equity in the criminal justice system," with capital punishment "applied as justly and as fairly as possible without undue delay, without reference to the race, class or status of the guilty."

Southern Baptists are called in the resolution to pray for and to share the gospel with both the perpetrators and victims of crimes.

The resolution cites several biblical passages, including Genesis 9 and Romans 13, in providing support for the use of capital punishment. It apparently is the first time the convention has taken such a stand.

In the only proposal in SBC proceedings found related to the death penalty, messengers in 1964 rejected a call to abolish capital punishment. That year, the Christian Life Commission (named changed to Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the mid-1990s) offered a recommendation affirming the sanctity of human life and urging legislation to clear up abuses of the death penalty. Those portions of the proposal were approved.

The messengers that year, however, voted to delete the final two paragraphs of the recommendation. One called for the abolition of the death penalty. The other said, "while recognizing that capital punishment is taught in the Old Testament, we affirm that it is contrary to the spirit and teaching of Christ."

Hayes Wicker, chairman of the Resolutions Committee and senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Naples, Fla., said, "We particularly did not want to cover issues that had been dealt with in recent history. We wanted to break some new ground.

"Since the convention had a more liberal drift in the '60s, it was important for our now predominantly conservative convention to speak clearly and without stuttering on an issue that is grabbing many of today's headlines," he continued.

"The heart of that [resolution] is not capital punishment but biblical authority. In other words, we don't operate according to sentiment but [Scripture]. Baptists believe in speaking when the Bible speaks and being silent when the Bible is silent," Wicker said.

"Our resolution is simply trying to underscore the biblical allowance, the civil right and the divine creation of man in [God's] image," he said. "We have to take every opportunity to underscore the sanctity of human life."

Passage of the resolution came the same week an expansive study on capital punishment was released, The study, which covered appeals in death-penalty cases from 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment, to 1995, reported two-thirds of convictions in such cases were overturned, mostly because of errors, according to The New York Times.

The resolution on religious liberty and evangelism in a diverse culture "could be the most significant," Wicker said.

The resolution followed the May release of the Chicago Declaration on Religious Freedom, which affirmed the freedom to proclaim one's faith and was authored by Southern Baptist and other evangelical Christian leaders. The document was written in response to criticism of an SBC evangelistic outreach in Chicago by religious leaders who described the effort as a "hate crime."

"Of all people, Baptists need to rally around [the Chicago declaration] and do everything we can to preserve our freedom of preaching Christ and his worldview," Wicker said.

The resolution on the Cooperative Program expresses gratitude for the convention's unified giving plan on its 75th anniversary and asked churches to consider increasing by one percent the amount of their budget contributions to Southern Baptists' plan for funding missions.

The resolutions to be presented in the evening session June 14 called for:

-- Affirmation of the right of the Boy Scouts of America to determine its leadership and membership in the face of coercion to include homosexuals;

-- Protection of the family and national sovereignty amid the rise of New Age globalism;

-- Retention of the traditional method of calendar dating with the designations B.C. and A.D. instead of the revised BCE (before common era) and C.E. (common era);

-- Appreciation to the city of Orlando and Southern Baptists in the city and state for their efforts on behalf of the annual meeting.

Messengers introduced 18 resolutions during the convention's proceedings June 13. A couple of those were fashioned into a different form by the committee. Several were incorporated into or already included in other resolutions. The committee declined to act on eight.

In addition to Wicker, the members of the Resolutions Committee are Jim Bolton, Texas; Ann Frazier, North Carolina; Rick Lazor, Hawaii; Roger Moran, Missouri; Jeremy Morton, Georgia; Nancy Pressler, Texas; Steven Rumley, North Carolina; Tom Rush, New Mexico, and Ted Traylor, Florida. Moran was named by SBC President Paige Patterson to replace Mark Patton of Indiana when Patton had unexpected surgery just prior to the convention, Wicker said.

The committee also worked in daylong sessions June 9 and 10. It embargoed information on its work until June 14.

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