As Southern Baptists head toward 2020, they close the books on a year of transitions at several national entities, along with decisive action across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to help churches care well for those affected by sexual abuse and harassment. With increased giving to both national missions offerings and the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists are poised to continue their Great Commission advancement efforts.
These 10 news stories, selected by both the editors of Baptist Press and a poll of Southern Baptist state publication editors, represent the most important stories of 2019.
1. Southern Baptists take action to curb sexual abuse in the Convention
Over the past year, Southern Baptists have taken historic steps to address the issue of sex abuse within the Convention.
In February, Southern Baptist leaders expressed brokenness over the findings of a series of Houston Chronicle articles detailing the plight of victims of sex abuse in SBC churches. The newspaper released a database of 220 individuals who had been convicted or pled guilty to sexual abuse. J.D. Greear, president of the SBC, called the abuse “pure evil” and resolved to mobilize the SBC in “stopping predators in our midst.”
After 10 months of work, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study initiated by Greear issued a 52-page report it hoped would “spark a movement of healing and reform” within the Convention. The three sections of the report called for the education of SBC churches to understand abuse and its impact, the equipping of SBC churches to care for abuse survivors, and the preparing of SBC churches to prevent abuse.
Southern Baptists overwhelmingly approved bylaw and constitutional changes at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting to specifically deal with systemic issues the report addressed (more on this in story number five in this list).
In May, the International Mission Board (IMB) released the findings of an independent investigation into past allegations of sexual abuse and harassment and began implementing recommended reforms. In June, the mission board announced the hiring of a full-time senior staff member to oversee sex abuse prevention response efforts. The IMB also said it would involve outside legal counsel when reports of child abuse and sexual harassment were received.
In June, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study released an eight-step guide to equip congregations to prevent predatory behavior and to care for survivors. A free training resource and a conference with 1,650 registrants were a part of the eight-step plan.
2. Four new presidents elected to lead SBC entities
In a historic year of Southern Baptist transitions, SBC trustee boards elected four new entity presidents.
In February, the trustees of The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, elected Adam W. Greenway as the seminary’s ninth president. Previously, Greenway had served as dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At his introductory press conference shortly after the election, he declared his desire to continue the seminary’s legacy as the “big-tent seminary of the SBC,” where students who may differ on secondary theological issues can unite behind “rigorous scholarship, missions and evangelism.”
Less than two months later, the SBC Executive Committee elected former SBC President Ronnie Floyd to be its new president and CEO. Floyd was in his 33rd year as the pastor of Cross Church, a multi-site church in northwest Arkansas. At his September inauguration, Floyd urged Southern Baptists forward in prayer, unity and a “hyper-focus on missions” in order to finish their Great Commission task.
In early June, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees tapped Jamie Dew as the school’s ninth president. Previously, he served as vice president for undergraduate studies and distance learning at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
At a press conference shortly after his election, Dew outlined a four-part vision for his first year at the seminary, calling Leavell College his “priority number one.” He also included enrollment, marketing and communications and building denominational relationships among his top four priorities.
LifeWay Christian Resources trustees chose Denver church planter Ben Mandrell as the entity’s 10th president at a June 28 meeting in Atlanta. Trustees chose the 42-year-old Mandrell to lead LifeWay during a time of historic change. When he was installed as president in late August, Mandrell stressed the need for unity and teamwork as the entity pushed forward with large-scale changes to how it distributes products.
In November 2018, IMB trustees selected Paul Chitwood to be the board’s 13th president, which meant five new SBC entity heads took over in less than eight months’ time. IMB officially installed Chitwood as president on Feb. 6, 2019.
3. LifeWay closes brick-and-mortar stores in historic shift to new online strategy
In the most significant transition since its 1891 founding, LifeWay Christian Resources announced the closure of its remaining 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019 as part of a shift to a broader digital retail strategy. As part of this announcement, the entity said it would continue to offer a “broad selection of resources” through its website and the LifeWay Customer Service Center.
LifeWay also announced a number of new strategies to better engage customers in 2019. To compensate for a lack of physical storefronts, LifeWay implemented an Authorized Dealership program, allowing local, independent Christian bookstores to sell LifeWay-branded Bible studies. LifeWay’s partnerships also go beyond independent bookstores, extending to established chain stores such as Walmart, Books-a-Million and Mardel Stores.
4. Great Commission Giving surges throughout the Convention
Southern Baptist churches gave generously to fund Great Commission efforts throughout the Convention in 2019.
In October,the North American Mission Board announced a record $61.4 million Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO). The offering marks the third consecutive year the AAEO hit a record high.
Southern Baptists also gave their third-highest total in history to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. One hundred percent of the $157.3 million given through the offering goes directly to missionaries on the international mission field. The offering exceeded the IMB’s goal for the 2018-2019 offering by $2.9 million.
As the SBC Executive Committee’s 2018-19 budget came to a close at the end of September, the committee reported that Cooperative Program giving had exceeded budget for the fifth year in a row. Southern Baptists gave $196,731,703.44 to Great Commission causes through the Cooperative Program.
Last month, the Executive Committee reported the strongest first two months of Cooperative Program giving since 2009. Contributions to the Cooperative Program exceeded $32.5 million, surpassing last year’s budgeted contributions through two months by more than $1 million.
A number of state Baptist conventions reported higher than expected – even record – missions giving. Several passed budgets to increase the percentage of their giving going to national Cooperative Program efforts.
5. SBC votes overwhelmingly to approve significant bylaw and constitutional changes
At June’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., messengers approved two amendments to the SBC constitution, which stated that sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity were grounds to declare churches “not in friendly cooperation” with the Convention. The two constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds vote of messengers at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.
Messengers at the 2019 annual meeting also approved an amendment to the SBC’s bylaws to repurpose the Convention’s Credentials Committee into a standing committee. This new standing committee will make inquiries and recommendations for actions regarding sexual abuse, racism and other issues that could call into question a church’s relationship with the SBC. The bylaw change required a vote at only one annual meeting.
In December, the new standing Credentials Committee announced the establishment of a portal for reports of a church’s alleged departure from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine or practice.
Submissions to the portal can be made both online and in print.
6. A flurry of pro-abortion and pro-life laws come before state legislatures nationwide after Supreme Court shifts
As state governments reacted to the perception of ideological change on the U.S. Supreme Court, some state governments made moves to protect unborn life while others made abortion laws more permissive. The moves come as a new report once again documented a decline in the number of abortions throughout the United States.
In an effort to defend abortion rights amid the Supreme Court’s suspected rightward shift, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, making the state likely the most permissive on abortion in the nation. The controversial law legalized abortion until birth for the mother’s “health.”
The recent New York pro-abortion law and controversial comments on abortion by the Virginia governor sparked the passage of a number of pro-life pieces of legislation in state legislatures, including several “heartbeat” bills that passed in the spring. These heartbeat bills restrict abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.
A bill to protect “abortion survivors” failed in the U.S. Senate just days after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam defended the killing of babies who survived abortions.
In May, the Alabama Senate passed a bill banning abortion in the state, two weeks after the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law the following day. The law is one of the toughest in the nation and makes a doctor performing an abortion guilty of a Class A felony with the possibility of life imprisonment.
In October, California became the first state to require all of its public universities to offer abortion-inducing pills to on-campus students. With passage of the law, state taxpayers and students will likely underwrite the costs of the abortions.
7. Mohler announced as 2020 presidential nominee
In November, Florida pastor H.B. Charles announced he will nominate Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. to be SBC president at the 2020 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Shortly thereafter, Mohler said he would accept the nomination, becoming the first confirmed 2020 presidential candidate.
Mohler’s nomination comes a year after he celebrated his 25th year as president of SBTS. If elected, Mohler would become the first entity head to simultaneously serve as Convention president since Paige Patterson did so in 1999-2000.
8. NAMB launches ‘Who’s Your One?’ emphasis
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) officially launched the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism initiative in February. The emphasis asks Southern Baptists to pray for and focus on one person in the hope he or she will come to faith in Christ. NAMB made a free kit available to all churches with resources designed to help them with the initiative.
In August, NAMB launched a “Who’s Your One” nationwide tour to catalyze evangelism within the SBC. The tour began Aug. 11-12 in Fayetteville, N.C., with a Sunday evening rally and an evangelism workshop the next morning. NAMB continued the pattern at later stops of the tour.
The rallies include preaching from Johnny Hunt, former SBC president and current NAMB evangelism vice president. Each rally also includes worship led by different groups. The evangelism workshops the following day are designed for pastors, church staff and lay leaders.
The tour traveled to eight states in 2019. According to whosyourone.com, NAMB has planned 21 such events for 2020.
9. SBC president J.D. Greear appoints the most diverse committees in SBC history
In February, SBC president J.D. Greear named a diverse selection of Southern Baptists to serve on the Convention’s Committee on Committees. In total, 34 percent of the influential 68-member committee were female.
The ethnic breakdown of the committee included 50 percent white, 24 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 4 percent other/multi-ethnic. More than half of the appointments came from churches of 250 members or less, and 24 percent from churches of 100 or less.
At the SBC annual meeting in June, messengers approved 150-plus new or renominated trustees and committee members. Of these new and renominated appointments, nearly a third were female or non-Anglo.
10. Southwestern Seminary removes stained-glass windows commemorating the Conservative Resurgence
In April, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary sent a letter to donors explaining their decision to remove 40 stained-glass windows commemorating leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence from the J.W. MacGorman Chapel.
While the seminary gave no official reason for removing the windows, Jimmy Draper, chairman of the Southwestern Advisory Council, said the decision was under consideration for a year prior to the removal. The J.W. MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center has become a centerpiece of the campus, and Draper believed it was no longer a good place to spotlight a small segment of the school’s 111-year history.
Draper and his wife Carol Ann were two of the 40 individuals depicted on the windows.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer living in Evansville, Ind.)