The Jan. 2 edition of the Biblical Recorder (BR) outlines news highlights that defined 2015. The stories, chosen by BR staff, communicate the events that affected the lives of North Carolina Baptists and others around the world. A number of well-known Southern Baptists were in the news for a variety of reasons.
Billy Graham honored in N.C. museum exhibit
The day before native North Carolinian Billy Graham turned 97, the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh opened a 5,000-square-foot exhibit honoring the life of the famed Baptist evangelist. The free, privately funded exhibit opened Nov. 6 and will be on display through July 10, 2016. Graham’s life story is featured in “North Carolina’s Favorite Son: Billy Graham and his Remarkable Journey of Faith.” The exhibit’s title is drawn from the 2013 resolution passed by the N.C. General Assembly naming Billy Graham “North Carolina’s Favorite Son.”
Rit Varriale, Elizabeth Church prioritize Christian flag
Rit Varriale, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby, launched a movement to elevate the Christian above the American flag when flown together. The statement provoked a viral response that landed Varriale on local and national television. Flag etiquette requires the American flag to be prioritized above any other flag. The church installed their first ever flagpole and raised the two flags in a special patriotic ceremony after the morning worship service on Sunday, July 5. As a statement of biblical values, the Christian flag flew in the higher position.
Franklin Graham announces 2016 Decision Tour
Franklin Graham announced April 14 that he would be traveling to all 50 states in 2016 to conduct prayer rallies. Called the Decision America Tour, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse said the only hope for the United States is “Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ.” While not endorsing any political candidates specifically, Graham is encouraging Christians not only to vote but to run for office.
Ronnie Floyd calls for revival in SBC
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 28 years, began his second year as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2015. Floyd has focused on calling the convention to pray for spiritual awakening and for advancing the gospel globally, while also championing the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries internationally and in North America. This was demonstrated when he led Cross Church to give $1 million to the Cooperative Program. Floyd also spoke avidly on behalf of racial reconciliation.
Jacumin appointed NAMB’s N.C. ambassador
In an effort to thank every pastor and church in North Carolina for their sacrificial support of the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) asked Marty Jacumin to serve as the entity’s pastoral ambassador to the state. He is the pastor of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh. NAMB named pastors from each state convention in the South to serve in ambassador roles in an effort to promote a unity of purpose with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Russell Moore represents SBC in public square
In his third year as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Russell Moore has maintained a high-profile representation of Southern Baptists. During his time with ERLC, he has had five meetings with President Barack Obama. Moore writes prolifically on issues such as racial reconciliation, terrorism, abortion, adoption and a personal objection to displaying the Confederate battle flag. He released his book “Onward” Aug. 1st to help Christians articulate how the gospel informs every aspect of life, including politics and culture.
Kenneth Ridings, 78, the longtime Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (now College) professor and then president, died March 5.
Retired Baptist pastor Coy C. Privette, 82, died March 23. Privette was a Republican candidate for governor of N.C. in 1976. He served four terms in the N.C. House, from 1985 to 1992.
Elisabeth Elliot Gren, missionary, missionary widow and widely influential author and speaker, died June 15. She was 88.
James Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs from 1981-99, died July 4. He was 83.
Jeannie Elliff, 69, wife of former International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff, died July 20 following a long struggle with cancer.
Danny Lotz, son-in-law of Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, died Aug. 19. Gov. Pat McCrory honored Lotz with The Order of The Long Leaf Pine in early 2015. The award recognizes outstanding North Carolinians who have a proven record of lifetime service to the state.
Missionary doctor Wana Ann Gibson Fort, 91, died Aug. 31 in Baton Rouge, La. Fort and her husband, the late Milton “Giles” Fort Jr., served with the then-called Foreign Mission Board as pioneer missionary doctors at Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). At this hospital, Fort and her husband helped launch a spiritual awakening through medical missions.
Phillip M. Davis, founder and senior pastor of Nations Ford Community Church in Charlotte, died Aug. 29 while he was cleaning his pistol when it accidentally fired into his chest. He was a former vice president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
The former pastor and town mayor, John Bunn, died June 25. He was the chairman of the department of religion and philosophy and professor of religious studies at Campbell University (1960-’75) and president of the General Board of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (1983-’87).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The “In memoriam” section is not a complete list but a synopsis of some of the people who had influence in North Carolina and beyond who died in 2015.)