The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) affirmed a report assessing the progress the convention has made regarding racial diversity at their June 15 meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
The EC also voted to withdraw fellowship from a Huntsville, Ala., congregation based on what an administrative committee recommendation stated was “clear evidence of the church’s affirmation and approval of homosexual behavior.”
According to the EC’s racial diversity report, diversity has measurably increased in the SBC in the past 20 years, but more progress needs to be made in ethnic participation. The report was printed in the daily bulletin June 16 during the SBC’s annual meeting in Columbus.
The Executive Committee submitted the report as its written response to a 2014 motion that the SBC assign a task force to assess progress Southern Baptists have made in racial reconciliation since a 1995 resolution marking the 150th anniversary of the SBC. SBC Bylaw 26 requires that all referred motions be presented in writing at the following year’s annual meeting. The report acknowledged the “appropriateness” of the convention’s 1995 apology to African-Americans for past racism that still reaps a bitter harvest.
The report noted that membership on SBC committees and boards in particular does not reflect the diversity the SBC has attracted since the 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation.
“Using the eighty-three-member Executive Committee as a representative body of the composition of the other board and committees of the Convention, the Executive Committee reviewed its own composition during the twenty years since the adoption of the Racial Reconciliation Resolution,” the report stated. “If the membership of the Executive Committee serves as a microcosm of the other boards and committees, the presence of the intercultural make-up of the Convention was (and is) sorely lacking.
“Of the 249 individuals nominated and elected to serve on the Executive Committee since 1996, no more than eight were from non-Anglo racial or ethnic groups, representing only 3.2 percent of the members nominated and elected to this committee.”
While the appointment of non-Anglos to committees and boards has lagged, the number of non-Anglo Southern Baptist congregations has increased from 6,083 in 1998, or 13.4 of the total, to 10,103 in 2014, accounting for 20 percent of the total.
The SBC has made critical progress in racial reconciliation, the EC noted, including the election of national, state and associational officers from a diversity of nationalities and cultures, including the 2012 election of Fred Luter as the first African-American SBC president.
While the report did not include statistics regarding ethnic diversity among employees of SBC entities, state conventions and associations, the EC noted the hiring of two African-American professionals at its headquarters in Nashville, including Ken Weathersby as vice president for convention advancement.
“We applaud the numerous proactive steps our SBC ministry entities have taken to enlist qualified individuals of all races and ethnicities for senior staff positions; to serve on faculty; to be appointed as missionaries and church planters; to write, edit, and produce Christian resources; to service the retirement needs of pastors and church staff; to raise awareness of the moral issues confronting our nation; to equip leaders; and to otherwise serve our churches in a variety of ways,” the EC reported.
EC President Frank S. Page, in concert with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has appointed four ethnic advisory councils, namely Hispanic, African-American, Asian American, and Multi-Ethnic, to submit reports to help the EC, NAMB and other SBC entities understand and appreciate the various racial and ethnic perspectives and concerns among Southern Baptists.
In its report, the EC affirmed that SBC entities are working to be more inclusive of ethnicities in addition to Anglos.
“The data indicate that many potential barriers to participation have been identified and are being systematically addressed. There are also numerous sign-posts indicating a higher degree of inclusion of individuals of every race and tribe and tongue in the total fabric of Convention life,” the report said. “And, clearly the conversation has changed: increased participation of individuals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds is a topic of intense interest and frequent discussion at all levels of Southern Baptist life.”
To promote the appointment of more ethnic leaders to SBC committees and boards, the EC recommended to Southern Baptists seven key steps “for at least the next five years so that they become ingrained in our normal way of doing business.”
These include proactive steps requesting the SBC president, the Committee on Nominations and the Committee on Committees have the names of ethnic leaders in full cooperation with the SBC, so that appointments and nominations to committees and boards can be drawn from such lists.
The EC noted the importance of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) in determining whether leaders may be nominated or appointed to serve on boards and committees.
“It is unlikely that someone from churches that fail to submit an ACP will be selected to serve the Convention,” the report noted, “with the result that the diversity their church brings to the Convention remains unknown, uncelebrated, and unrepresented.”
None of the recommendations can achieve true racial reconciliation outside of the power of the Holy Spirit, the EC reported. “Reconciliation is, at its core, a spiritual concept. True reconciliation is a condition of the heart.”
Alabama church disfellowshipped
Acting on behalf of the SBC, the EC voted without opposition to withdraw fellowship from Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville for acting to affirm and approve homosexual behavior. The recommendation to disfellowship the congregation was first approved by the body’s bylaws workgroup and administrative committee before being forwarded to the plenary session.
Chairman Mike Routt told Baptist Press the EC took action on behalf of the convention rather than recommending that the convention take action during its June 16-17 annual meeting because “an issue this important would perhaps take a lot of discussion, a lot of explanation. And we don’t have time carved out to do that” at the annual meeting.
Weatherly Heights was disfellowshipped from the Madison Baptist Association March 16 by a vote of the body’s executive board. The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions withdrew fellowship from Weatherly Heights May 15, acting on behalf of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.
A recommendation from the EC’s administrative committee stated, “On the basis of clear evidence of the church’s affirmation and approval of homosexual behavior, the Executive Committee has determined on behalf of the Convention ad interim that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church under Article III [of the SBC Constitution], and that messengers from the church should not be seated at meetings of the Convention until such time as the Convention determines that the church has unambiguously demonstrated its friendly cooperation with the Convention as defined in the Convention’s constitution.”
Article III of the SBC Constitution states, “Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
Among the evidence considered by the EC relative to Weatherly Heights was a 2013 sermon in which pastor David Freeman argued that “adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships are not condemned in the Bible,” according to a printed version of the sermon on the church’s website. Freeman wrote in the Feb. 10 edition of Weatherly Heights’ newsletter that the congregation’s leaders had given him “the freedom to officiate a same sex marriage.”
Ellin Jimmerson, a volunteer minister at the church, performed at least one gay wedding after a federal judge legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama effective Feb. 9.
Weatherly Heights became the fifth church the SBC has disfellowshipped for affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior. The EC acted on behalf of the convention last September to disfellowship New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. In 2009, the SBC withdrew fellowship from Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, which had half a dozen homosexual members, including some serving on church committees.
In 1992, before the SBC constitution stated explicitly that affirming homosexual behavior precluded a church from being in friendly cooperation, the convention declared two North Carolina congregations not in friendly cooperation after one voted to bless the union of two homosexual males and the other voted to license a homosexual to the ministry.
In other business:
EC members reelected the following officers: Michael “Mike” Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., as chairman and John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention as vice chairman. The committee also elected Rebecca “Becky” Illingworth of Community Baptist Church in Royce City, Texas, as secretary.
Routt announced that EC officers are building a process system of evaluation to be used for future reviews of the president and CEO of the EC. He plans to bring a report to the EC at its September meeting.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was compiled by Shawn Hendricks, managing editor of Baptist Press. With reporting from Diana Chandler, BP general assignment writer/editor, and David Roach, BP’s chief national correspondent.)