There were many issues that grabbed attention over the last 12 months, along with events and personalities that took center stage. The International Mission Board completed a controversial budget recovery plan. Golden Gate Baptist Theological seminary relocated and finalized its renaming process.
LifeWay relocates, plans for future
LifeWay Christian Resources broke ground on its new corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., April 6. President and CEO Thom S. Rainer estimated the completion of the new building could be November 2017. LifeWay will continue to occupy part of its current property, which was sold to Southwest Value Partners, a private real estate investment firm, until the new building is complete. About 1,100 employees will move into the new location in Capitol View, a mixed-used urban development in Nashville’s central business district. The relocation also prompted the move of a statue of evangelist Billy Graham from Nashville to Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C. Workers installed the statue in October.
Golden Gate takes new name, location
Gateway Seminary, previously Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, closed its main campus in Mill Valley, Calif., June 3 and opened a new 150,000-square-foot facility, 400 miles south of the San Francisco Bay Area, in Ontario, Calif., on July 5. Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting affirmed the seminary’s name change June 14, after a first vote in 2015. SBC bylaws require two consecutive years of messengers’ approval for such a change. The move left the seminary with more than $100 million in cash and debt-free real estate assets. Gateway concluded a two-year transition period with a series of dedication events Oct. 5-8. “Our dreams exceeded our memories. Our vision supersedes our heritage,” Gateway President Jeff Iorg said Oct. 6.
IMB completes ‘reset’
International Mission Board (IMB) trustees unanimously approved and celebrated a balanced 2017 budget during their Nov. 10-11 meeting near Richmond, Va. IMB also projects appointing 451 new personnel in 2017, a 3 percent net increase in total field personnel. The budget relies on the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO). LMCO giving projections for the 2016 calendar year are predicted to be the largest offering in IMB history. N.C. Baptists led the 42 state conventions in cooperative giving in 2015. IMB’s voluntary retirement and resignation programs, which began in 2015, resulted in 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff leaving the mission entity. IMB also closed its Richmond Communication Center and reduced on-site communication staff from 40 employees to 10.
ERLC faces mosque controversy, ‘fake news’ fiasco
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief in a religious liberty case involving an Islamic group that had been denied permission to construct a mosque by a local planning board. The brief, which was also signed by the International Mission Board and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, among others, said a mosque cannot be denied construction “simply because it is a mosque.”
Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, penned a June 6 editorial criticizing the ERLC’s position, arguing that Muslims did not qualify for religious liberty protections because “Islam may be more of a geo-political movement than a religion.” Harris’s editorial spurred an open letter from a trio of Southern Baptist professors who said it was “inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion.” The issue sprang up during the SBC’s annual meeting when a messenger questioned ERLC President Russell Moore on whether Baptists should defend the religious liberty of Muslims.
The controversy was exaggerated by a fake news article from a satire website that said the SBC launched a “Mosques Across America” campaign “to build mosques all across the nation.” The rumor spread rapidly through social media, being shared as fact and generating questions to multiple state conventions and other SBC entities.
Stetzer takes Wheaton position
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and executive editor of The Gospel Project curriculum published by LifeWay, was named to the faculty of Wheaton College and as executive director of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. Stetzer, 49, began his new roles at Wheaton July 1, which also include publisher of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, founded nearly 50 years ago, and chair of the Wheaton College Graduate School’s evangelism and leadership program. LifeWay Research has become a frequently quoted source of original research on the church and the culture in recent years while The Gospel Project, a multi-age-level Bible study resource, has grown to more than 1 million users each week.