For those media who mention the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) in Ohio, the attention seems focused on the statements of defiance of the law if the Supreme Court recognizes same-sex marriage this month (not a sure thing, by the way.)
I saw a brief note in the Alaska Dispatch (here's a similar article from Herald Online because I can't find a link to the ADN article):
"Southern Baptists: We won’t obey gay marriage decision COLUMBUS Officials with the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday issued a statement saying they will reject any ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that affirms same-sex marriage. “We will not accept, nor adhere to, any legal redefinition of marriage issued by any political or judicial body including the United States Supreme Court,” said the joint statement by SBC President the Rev. Ronnie Floyd as well as past presidents."My first reaction was puzzlement. What exactly does this mean?
They will not accept or adhere to . . . I don't see a Supreme Court decision for same sex marriage requiring them to do anything. The ruling wouldn't require any Southern Baptist pastor to marry same sex couples. It would not require Southern Baptists to marry same sex partners. They could go on believing same-sex marriage and homosexuality are against God's word and they wouldn't have to participate.
I looked for the whole statement to see if it would enlighten me. I found it on other websites, but not the SBC's. I even checked the SBC resolutions webpage. I did find a website by Denny Burk who says that Mr. Burk was a co-author of the resolution and posts the whole resolution there. I've also included it at the bottom of this post.
As I looked for the resolution, I found another page about a panel at the convention that discussed how SBC churches should minister to gay parishioners
"Christians should not undervalue the effect of love or the Gospel in relating to gays and lesbians, recognizing, however, that faithfulness to the biblical definition of marriage will prove costly, members of a special panel told messengers at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention. [that's an exact quote]A year ago, I attended Jim Minnery's "Love Your Gay Neighbor." night at Anchorage's East High.
During the Wednesday afternoon session (June 17), five panelists answered questions from SBC President Ronnie Floyd about how churches and pastors can minister in an American culture that increasingly approves of homosexuality and same-sex marriage." [emphasis added]
What I heard at the Anchorage meeting last year, and see signs of in this discussion, are concerns about how the SBC can stay relevant in a society that, as they say in the quote above, "increasingly approves of homosexuality and same-sex marriage." In Anchorage, visiting speakers argued that while the church embraces and attempts to help all other sinners, gays are simply rejected as irredeemable. [Is this a tacit acknowledgment that they believe gays can't change?] Instead, they argued, the church should embrace gays the way they do other sinners and help them fight their temptations This panel at the SBC convention echoed that:
"Matt Carter, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church, said the Texas church is attempting "to train the believers who go to our church to pursue [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender -- LGBT] people with the Gospel in the same way they would pursue anybody with the Gospel.""We try to help our folks understand: 'These people are not your enemy.' Satan is our enemy. These are people that desperately need the blood and the love of Jesus Christ," Carter told messengers."
What I heard at the panel last year was that there was a need for change, not in the SBC's basic beliefs, but in how they talked about and approached lgbt folks. I'm taking a leap here, but I'm guessing this statement the media are focused on has something to do with a division in the Convention itself.
What exactly is a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention? From their website:
Resolutions differ from motions in that resolutions are non-binding statements that express the collective opinion of the messengers at a specific SBC annual meeting on a given subject. Covering a wide range of theological, social, and practical topics, resolutions educate our own people about important moral, ethical, and public policy issues; speak to the broader culture about our beliefs; and provide helpful tools for our churches and entities to speak with authority in the public square about the biblical application of timely and timeless matters. All past resolutions can be researched and read in their entirety at www.sbc.net/resolutions.In fact, the SBC website says that the SBC really isn't a church. In their 'About Us' section I found:
"The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a church. It is a set of ministries supported by a network of cooperating Baptist churches.The page goes on to discuss the level of autonomy of local churches.
These ministries include international and domestic missions, theological education, advocacy for religious liberty, literature production, insurance and retirement services for pastors and other church workers, and the infrastructure necessary to keep these cooperative efforts operational. Specifically, the Convention was created "to provide a general organization of Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the futherance of the Kingdom of God" (SBC Constitution, Article II)."
"Baptists have long held the principles of congregational self-governance, self-support, and selfpropagation. Local churches select their own staff, ordain their own ministers, adopt their own budgets, organize their own ministries, hold legal title to their own properties, and establish their own membership requirements. The Southern Baptist Convention does none of these, for it is not a “church” and it has no authority over the churches. In fact, the SBC “does not claim and will never attempt to exercise authority over any other Baptist body” (SBC Constitution, Article IV, emphasis supplied). The Convention does not ordain ministers, assign staff to churches, levy contributions, choose literature, adopt the church calendar, monitor or maintain church membership lists, or assign persons to churches according to place of residence. These are all local church prerogatives.So, does the resolution have any power over individual churches? The statement on Freedom and Flexibility continues:
Within the Body of Christ, there is a great diversity of gifts, temperament, taste and experience. Churches benefit from this range of qualities within their own fellowship and across the Convention. Churches learn from and complement each other. This is not a matter of moral or doctrinal compromise. You cannot believe and do just anything and remain a part of the Southern Baptist fellowship. All Baptist bodies have limits. But within those limits, there is room for significant cooperative diversity. [Emphasis added.]What are the limits? In the FAQ section, they seem to tell us in their answer to the question:
Actually, the Southern Baptist Convention is not in a position to take any disciplinary action regarding pastors or churches. Again, because of the autonomy of the local church, each SBC church is responsible before God to set its own policies regarding pastors or problems in the church. Such policies are entirely up to the individual congregation.
According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention's work, or if it acts to "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior," it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action. Failure to remain in "friendly cooperation" would also disqualify a church from sending messengers, and is obviously more of a subjective test.
Most SBC churches would look to their own constitutions and bylaws for the answer to this question, often these documents address this very issue." [emphasis added.]
My guess is that this current statement is aimed more at member churches than the world-at-large. If the local churches have so much autonomy, and if American attitudes toward homosexuality are changing rapidly, what will happen when local churches decide to accept homosexuality as other churches have done? Will the SBC lose members and power?
This notion is supported by an article in Ecumenical News, from which I've taken these excerpts:
- With just under 15.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention remains the largest Protestant group in the United States. But it has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million, Christianity Today reported.
- The number of SBC baptisms has declined in eight of the past 10 years, according to the denomination, The Associated Press reported. In 2014, baptisms declined by more than 5,000 to just over 305,000.
- . . . a new major survey from the Pew Research Center shows a similar decline for the SBC. In 2007, Pew found that about 6.7 percent of Americans claimed to be Southern Baptists. In 2014, 5.3 percent of Americans were Southern Baptists.
- Pew also found Southern Baptists are aging, with the median age rising from 49 in 2007 to 54 in 2014.
It seems there's some division within the ranks about the cause of the decline (still from the Ecumenical News):
- "The truth is, we have less people in our churches who are giving less money because we are winning less people to Christ, and we are not training them in the spiritual disciplines of our Lord," [Frank Page, president of the SBC’s Nashville-based executive committee] told Baptist Press.
- Mark Woods wrote in the UK publication Christian Today, "With all due respect to Thom Rainer and Frank Page, it doesn't seem likely that the decline is down to a lack of prayer or effort. "It may be something rather more fundamental: that the SBC label is associated with a kind of Christianity which is not attractive in the kind of country America is becoming, which is far more socially liberal than many evangelicals are comfortable with."
Thus it seems to me that with this declaration the hardliners on homosexuality are saying that they are still in charge of the SBC. Others are advocating a softer approach to the lgbt community. All recognize that their position on homosexuality is less popular with the general population than it was in the past and that this can cost them members, money, and political influence. But I'm just speculating from the bits and pieces that I'm seeing here and there.
There is a lot of information on their website. Here's just one interesting, though not particularly related, tidbit.
The Southern Baptist website lists the number of 'messengers' at the convention in Columbus, Ohio from every state. Alaska has eight, several states have one (Oregon, Maine, Vermont), and several states (Montana, North Dakota, and Rhode Island) aren't listed at all. The top three states were host state, Ohio (714 messengers), Tennessee (459), and Kentucky (446). Guam, Puerto Rico, and Washington DC also sent messengers.
Here's the resolution posted at Denny Burk's website.
ON THE CALL TO PUBLIC WITNESS ON MARRIAGEWHEREAS, God in His divine wisdom created marriage as the covenanted, conjugal union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18– 24; Matthew 19:4–6; Hebrews 13:4); and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith & Message (2000) recognizes the biblical definition of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” stating further, “It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race”; and
WHEREAS, God ordains government to promote and honor the public good and recognize what is praiseworthy (Romans 13:3–4); and
WHEREAS, The public good requires defining and defending marriage as the covenanted, conjugal union of one man and one woman; and
WHEREAS, Marriage is by nature a public institution that unites man and woman in the common task of bringing forth children; and
WHEREAS, The Supreme Court of the United States will rule in 2015 on whether states shall be required to grant legal recognition as “marriages” to same-sex partnerships; and
WHEREAS, The redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples will continue to weaken the institution of the natural family unit and erode the religious liberty and rights of conscience of all who remain faithful to the idea of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and
WHEREAS, The Bible calls us to love our neighbors, including those who disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16–17, 2015, prayerfully call on the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman; and be it further
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists recognize that no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp God’s definition of marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the Southern Baptist Convention calls on Southern Baptists and all Christians to stand firm on the Bible’s witness on the purposes of marriage, among which are to unite man and woman as one flesh and to secure the basis for the flourishing of human civilization; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists love our neighbors and extend respect in Christ’s name to all people, including those who may disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good.