The members of the U.S.’s largest protestant denomination voted against a controversial proposal that called for the pullout of their children from public schools, approved a call for a federal amendment to ban gay marriage and voted to end the longstanding relationship with the Baptist World Alliance, during their annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 15-16, 2004.
Two members of the Southern Baptist Convention - Retired Air Force Gen. T.C. Pinckney of Alexandria, Va., and attorney Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas, penned a highly criticized pullout statement that called America’s public schools “officially Godless” last month. The resolutions committee re-worded the proposal to make it a broad warning against the prevalent secularism in the schools, and presented the proposal to the 8,600 messengers at the meeting.
During the debate, Pinckney said, “We are enabling Satan to destroy our children” and encouraged the SBC parents to provide a “thoroughly Christian education” by means of private schools or home schooling. Shortt said the escalating rate of sexually transmitted disease, the loss of faith in publicly schooled youth and “2,000 homosexual clubs in our middle schools and high schools,” are reason enough to withdraw their children from public education.
The proposal was defeated by a show of hands. Even the resolutions committee opposed the pullout, even though half of its members were home-schooled. The newly elected SBC president, Bobby Welch – senior pastor of the First Baptist church in Daytona Beach, Fla. – also agreed against the proposal. Welch, who was raised in a non-Christian home, started going to church because of a schoolmate. Welch said Southern Baptist children needed to stay to foster evangelism and to become the salt of a secularized world.
Welch, who defeated Al Jarrell, pastor of Reiverside Baptist Church in Merry Hill, N.C., in the first contested election for the denomination’s presidency since 1994, had always been a strong advocate of passionate evangelism.
Before Tuesday’s election, Welch mentioned to the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper that his presidency would stress evangelism to counter “this malaise we're caught in now of floundering and struggling." Following his election, he expressed similar concerns over the declining rate of baptism, noting that it would be a compliment to say the SBC has “plateaued.”
The Rev. Jimmy Draper, the president of SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resource publishing house, also reflected the sentiment as he told the meeting that SBC baptisms have declined for the past four years.
According to Draper’s statistics, more than 10,000 of the denomination’s churches have not performed one single baptism in 2003.
“That reflects a denomination that has lost its focus,” said Draper.
Meanwhile, the messengers to the meeting passed a measure commemorating 25 years of “conservative resurgence” in the denomination. The measure thanked the SBC leaders who “led us back to our historic biblical moorings.”
Reflecting this conservative stance, the SBC messengers overwhelmingly passed two resolutions that would help maintain the evangelical identity of the denomination.
The first motion, which passed on Tuesday, called on the denomination to withdraw its funding and membership to the Baptist World Alliance – a loose federation of 211 Baptist bodies around the world.
Paige Patterson, one of the architects of the 1979 resurgence, mentioned that the Southern Baptists can no longer “afford to give either money or name” to support a “liberal” organization like the BWA.
"We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for 'gay marriage' is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with denominations which support 'gay marriage' in any form or fashion,” said Patterson, in reference to several of the member churches in the BWA who accept gay “marriages.”
The BWA split passed with almost no debate – only one messenger from the crowd said he supports the union with the Alliance.
Meanwhile, the gay marriage resolution passed without any contention.
The resolution declares, "The union of one man and one woman is the only form of marriage prescribed in the Bible as God's perfect design" and calls this traditional family the "foundational institution that builds and maintains strong societies."
President Bush, who spoke to the audience via satellite, also mentioned his support of such a resolution.
“The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. And government, by strengthening and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all,” said Bush, who paused to receive applause and praise. “So I am calling for funding for healthy marriage programs, and I support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”
The messengers also passed a proposal that urged all Christians to register and “vote in accordance with biblical values” as well as a resolution that expressed “pride and strong support for our American military.”
In paying respects to the late President Ronal Reagan, they commended his “"strong belief in the Bible and its answers to life's problems" and pledged to "perpetuate the positive values" he exemplified.
The closest vote in the meeting was over a proposed study on whether to change the denomination’s name to drop the term “Southern.” Some of the messengers expressed concern that the term would turn off some people who could be evangelized. The resolution was rejected 55 to 45 percent.