Here are some of the top newsmakers in 2009 as reported by
Associated Baptist Press.
1. The Baptist movement turns 400
Baptists gathering in 2009 celebrated the 400th anniversary
of the Baptist tradition.
While there are different theories of Baptist
origins, most scholars today date the first Baptist church to 1609, when a band
of Separatists from the Anglican Church who had fled England to avoid
persecution established a congregation near Amsterdam. Baptists from around the
world celebrated the event in conjunction with the Baptist World Alliance
General Council meeting July 27-Aug. 1 in the Netherlands.
During the meeting John Upton, executive director of the
Baptist General Association of Virginia, was nominated
as president of the Baptist World Alliance. If elected at next year’s Baptist
World Congress, he will begin a five-year term to end in 2015.
2. Maggie Lee Henson
On July 12 a bus carrying youth from First Baptist Church in
Shreveport, La., on the way to a youth camp in Georgia overturned
on a Mississippi interstate, injuring all on board.
One of the most critically
injured, 14-year-old Brandon Ugarte, died on the way to the hospital.
The other, the daughter of a church staff member, clung to
life for three more weeks before succumbing
to severe head trauma. Maggie Lee Henson’s parents described her struggle
in a website page that went viral, spawning a Facebook prayer group numbering
in the thousands.
After her death on Aug. 2, supporters determined
to keep her spirit alive by recruiting people to do a good deed in her honor on
what would have been her 13th birthday.
Nearly 18,000 people observed
“Maggie Lee for Good Day” on Oct. 29. The name was taken from a song in
her favorite Broadway musical, “Wicked,” because she had dreamed of one day
being an actress.
“My passion is acting and singing,” Maggie Lee said in a
family video played at a memorial service
celebrating her life Aug.6.
“My goals are to become a better Christian, a
better actress and a better performer and a better daughter.”
3. Wiley Drake
Best known for ubiquitous motions at annual meetings of the
Southern Baptist Convention — including the one that led to the denomination’s
eight-year Disney boycott beginning in 1997 — Southern Baptists rewarded the
irrepressible small-church pastor from Southern California by electing him the
convention’s second vice president in 2006.
On June 1 of this year Drake said on a radio program he
broadcasts over the Internet that the May 31 murder of an abortion provider in
Wichita, Kan., was for him an answer to prayer. Invited by Fox News Radio to
discuss the comment, first reported by
Associated Baptist Press, the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena
Park, Calif., said he had been praying for George Tiller, one of the nation’s
largest providers of late-term abortions, using “imprecatory” prayer — selected
Psalms from the Old Testament intended to invoke God’s judgment upon an enemy.
Asked by host Alan Colmes if he was directing imprecatory prayer toward anyone
else, Drake replied:
“The usurper that is in the White House is one, B. Hussein Obama.”
SBC leaders — including a prominent African-American pastor who had
already called for a resolution praising Obama’s election — denounced
The SBC, which had been vocal in support of President Bush
during his eight years in office, responded by passing a resolution applauding
the significance of America’s first black president but denouncing many of
Drake, meanwhile, who was on the ticket in California during
last fall’s election as running mate for minor-party presidential candidate
Alan Keyes, pursued a lawsuit
challenging the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.
Drake claimed Obama did not
qualify for election because he was born outside of the United States — an
allegation the Obama camp has repeatedly denied and that has been repeatedly
investigated by journalists and found meritless.
A federal judge dismissed Drake’s lawsuit Oct. 29. Drake’s
lawyer filed an appeal on Nov. 16. More recently, Drake lifted
his call for imprecatory prayer, and said he is now praying that Obama will
live long enough to be tried for treason.
4. Violence and churches
Fred Winters, 45, pastor of First Baptist Church in
Maryville, Ill., died
March 8 when a deranged gunman walked into his church during a worship service
and opened fire.
One of the bullets struck Winters, a past president of the
Illinois Baptist State Association, in the heart, killing him instantly.
Sedlacek, 27, was charged with the murder. On Oct. 29 a judge declared
Sedlacek unfit to stand trial and confined him to a mental institution. After
relying on guest preachers during a period of mourning, First Baptist Church
this fall called
an interim pastor while it seeks a permanent successor to its beloved pastor of
The process is expected to take about two years.
The Illinois church wasn’t the only Southern Baptist
congregation to lose a pastor to gun violence this year.
Jonathan Ayers, 29,
pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, Ga., was leaving
a convenience store in nearby Toccoa Sept. 1 where he had just withdrawn money
from an ATM.
Rushed by undercover police officers wanting to question him about
a woman he had given a ride who was a subject in a drug investigation, Ayers
panicked and tried to drive away. Perceiving a threat, officers began firing at
Ayers’ vehicle, fatally wounding him.
Family and church members held a vigil
Oct. 3 demanding a complete investigation into the shooting. A prosecutor
turned results of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation report over to a grand
jury, which found officers involved in the shooting justified in using
lethal force. A civil suit against the officers is expected from Ayers’
On Sept. 28, 69-year-old Mary Shepard, treasurer of First
Baptist Church of Anna, Ill., and 76-year-old Leona Mount, a custodian,
were working inside the church when they apparently encountered a burglar who
beat them severely while robbing them.
Willis Bates, 45, of Anna was charged
with attempted murder and held on $1 million bond. Both women are expected
to recover, something that Pastor Tony Foeller described as a miracle.
Other churches became indirectly involved with violence.
Texas Baptist chaplains were among the first to minister
following a Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and 29
wounded. College Park Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., opened
its doors a day later after a former disgruntled employee shot up the
offices of a nearby engineering firm, killing one.
Baptists in Samson, Ala., ministered
in the wake of a March 10 killing spree by Michael McLendon, who took 10 lives
before turning a gun on himself.
A little more than two weeks later,
First Baptist Church in Carthage, N.C., offered
shelter to residents of a nearby senior-citizen center where a gunman killed
eight and wounded two others March 29.
5. Broadway Baptist Church ousted
On June 23 the Southern Baptist Convention severed
a 125-year relationship with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas,
after an unprecedented year-long investigation by SBC officials of newspaper
reports that the church affirms homosexuality.
A motion from the previous year’s
convention asked that the church be ruled not in “friendly cooperation” with
the denomination under an SBC constitutional ban on churches that act to affirm
or endorse homosexual behavior.
Previously the provision, adopted in the 1990s, had been
applied to congregations that take only some formal action, like ordaining gays
or conducting gay marriages, but the SBC Executive Committee found that by
recognizing gays as full members, including allowing them to serve on
committees, the church had violated the ban.
After the decision a Baptist-affiliated college in Kentucky un-invited
youth from Broadway who were scheduled to stay at the college during a mission
At the last minute, Broadway leaders made alternate plans for the youth,
the house of an elderly couple in Nashville, Tenn.
Michael Cox, a professor of music theory and composition at
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, chose
to take early retirement rather than resigning his membership at Broadway.
6. Generational shift
In addition to being the 400th anniversary of the first
Baptist church, 2009 marked 30 years since the beginning of a movement called
the “conservative resurgence” that changed the face of the Southern Baptist
Many of the leaders of that movement, along with some of the
organizations spun off in its wake, have begun to exit the scene, raising questions
about future directions of Baptist life in the United States.
Some of the younger potential leaders coming through SBC
seminaries these days do not identify with what they regard an overtly political
and narrow moral agenda of thou-shalt-nots that prevailed in recent decades.
They have gravitated toward culturally relevant trends like the emergent church
and expanded their political activism beyond opposition to abortion and
homosexuality to embrace concerns like the environment,
poverty and nuclear
Many on the fence
about their future in denominational life flocked to this year’s SBC
annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., to support a Great Commission Resurgence movement
SBC president Johnny Hunt and Southeastern Baptist Theologial Seminary
President Danny Akin.
A committee appointed at the SBC annual meeting to study
ways to make the denomination more effective took an even higher profile
when Jerry Rankin,
president of the SBC International Mission Board, and SBC Executive Committee
CEO Morris Chapman
announced upcoming retirement dates.
The surprise resignation
Aug. 11 of the head of the North American Mission Board means that three
of the highest-profile jobs in SBC life will soon be open, signaling
significant change in the near future.
7. International religious freedom
While Baptists around the world celebrated in 2009, in some
places it was despite increasing hostility and government restriction.
In Uzbekistan, three Baptist leaders were convicted
Oct. 29 of tax evasion and involving children in religious activities without
their parents’ permission, charges Baptists there said were untrue.
down in July on Camp4Joy, a summer camp for children Uzbek Baptists have
held annually for several years, after a state-run news agency carried reports
of alleged activity illegal under the country’s restrictive religion law.
Baptists say parents who send children to the camp know it is run by Baptists
and that it doesn’t owe any taxes because it is non-profit organization.
Pavel Peychev, general secretary of the Baptist Union of
Uzbekistan; Yelena Kurbatova, the union’s accountant; and Dimitry Pitirimov,
director of the youth camp, avoided prison but had stiff fines levied
against them following a drawn-out trial in October.
Recent reports suggest
authorities are trying to remove them from leadership in Baptist life.
Early this year a Baptist pastor in Azerbaijan was found
guilty of what supporters say are bogus weapons charges and given “a two-year
corrective labor sentence.”
Hamid Shabanov, pastor of a house church of
approximately 60 members in the town of Aliabad, was arrested in 2008 after
police claimed to have found an illegal weapon in his home.
Shabanov did not own a gun and believe the evidence was planted.
Two Baptist leaders in Cuba were held
two weeks for what authorities deemed suspicious behavior while delivering
funds raised in the United States to churches.
coordinator for special projects of the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, and
Francisco “Pancho” Garcia, director of the convention’s teen department, were
arrested Oct. 3 and released Oct. 17 without formal charge.
A December study by the Pew Research Center said
70 percent of the world’s population lives in a country where religion is
8. Women in ministry
Forty-five years after the first Southern Baptist woman was ordained
to the gospel ministry, female Baptists remain controversial for some Baptists.
In November the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to end
a 148-year-old relationship with First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., over the
congregation’s 2007 vote to hire a woman as senior pastor.
Convention leaders said the decision to call Julie
Pennington-Russell, a veteran pastor who previously led Baptist churches in
California and Texas, put the Atlanta-area congregation out of step with the
majority of Georgia Baptists.
Most other Southern Baptists in the state agree
with an article of faith adopted by the SBC in 2000 saying, “While both men and
women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to
men as qualified by Scripture.”
Moderate Baptist groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
are more open to the idea of women in ministry, but women seeking employment in
ministry roles still confront what has been termed a “stained-glass ceiling.”
After several years of financial hardship, Baptist Women in Ministry
restructured this year and hired
a full-time executive director, Pam Durso, to reinvigorate the support group
formed in the 1980s.
9. Baptists and the economy
Many churches cut
budgets and curbed expenses to cope with the country’s economic downturn, and
denominational groups are feeling the pinch.
A roll call of Southern Baptist Convention entities began
the year with announcements they were downsizing, freezing salaries of
implementing other cost-cutting measures.
Beginning in March the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship reduced
spending by 20 percent, including a cut in pass-through funds for independent
partner ministries like seminaries and Associated Baptist Press.
This fall a number of Baptist state conventions adopted reduced
budgets, some for the second year in a row.
10. Clergy sex abuse
As in other denominations, clergy-sex-abuse scandals
continued to rock corners of the Baptist world in 2009. David Pierce, who
worked for nearly three decades as minister of music at First Baptist Church in
Benton, Ark., pleaded
guilty Aug. 27 to four counts of sexual indecency with a child.
Court records alleged
a pattern of using his position to groom boys for voyeurism and sexual
gratification that may have gone on for decades.
While some still regard sexual abuse of children by clergy
mainly a Catholic problem relating to celibacy and homosexuality, a September study
by Baylor University’s School of Social Work found that clergy sexual
misconduct is no respecter of denominations.
The report said in a typical
congregation with 400 adult members, an average of seven women in attendance on
a typical Sunday were victimized by clergy since they turned 18.
First Baptist Church in Benton wasn’t the only Baptist group
to receive unwanted publicity for sexual abuse.
Darrell Gilyard, and African-American pastor who is not a
Southern Baptist but as a young preacher was mentored and groomed by some of
the denomination’s highest power brokers, went to prison after pleading
guilty to molesting a 15-year-old girl and sending lewd text messages to
another at his former church.
Joshua Spires, a former pastor of First
Baptist Church in Jay, Okla.,
received a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a
In August a jury in Arizona convicted
Christopher Decaire, youth minister of East Tucson Baptist Church, of
molestation of a 13-year-old.
In November Frank Brown, 45, former pastor
of Bellmead First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, who also formerly worked at a
Baptist church in Illinois, was sentenced
to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a
Stephen Wayne Carter, director of Baptist-affiliated Cale Retreat
and Conference Center in Hertford, N.C., took a leave of absence after his arrest
July 1 on charges of taking indecent liberties with a child and
first-degree sex offense involving a child.
Jack Duffer, 40, youth minister at
Seaford Baptist Church near Hampton, Va., faced
multiple charges of sexual abuse of a minor after his arrest Aug. 21.
moving to Virginia two years ago Duffer was pastor of a Southern Baptist church
Christa Brown, Baptist outreach director for the Survivors
Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), published
a memoir and expose in June claiming the Southern Baptist Convention has more
than 100,000 clergy, but no effective system of denominational oversight to
protect children from sexual abuse.
The SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources reported
Aug. 4 that one in eight background checks it conducted on volunteers or
prospective employees found a criminal history that might have kept an
individual from working or volunteering at a church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist