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When Southern Baptists meet subsequent week, something might occur

(RNS) — Ed Litton, the outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Conference, has a couple of phrases of recommendation for his successor.

Buckle up.

“The factor concerning the Southern Baptist Conference — and I’ve been doing this a very long time — you by no means know what’s going to come back up,” he stated.

Beginning on Tuesday (June 14), Litton, a longtime Alabama pastor, will preside over the annual two-day assembly of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Greater than 8,200 native church delegates, often called messengers, will collect at California’s Anaheim Conference Heart — about 10 minutes from Disneyland — to wish, worship and deliberate.

Probably there can be a couple of fights alongside the best way.

The 13.7 million-member denomination has been rocked in latest weeks over a report that discovered SBC leaders had labored for many years to downplay the issue of sexual abuse and shield the denomination whereas demonizing abuse survivors, treating them as enemies of the church. Southern Baptists have additionally been divided by the polarization affecting the broader tradition, with a bunch of self-styled conservative pirates hoping to alter the route of the SBC, claiming it has been invaded by liberals, crucial race concept and feminine preachers who’re steering the denomination away from the Bible.

In Anaheim, messengers will elect a brand new president and determine whether or not to enact a sequence of reforms geared toward addressing sexual abuse. A job drive has really helpful spending $3 million to arrange an internet site to trace abusive pastors and church staff, present extra coaching and rent employees to assist survivors discover assist, together with different potential reforms. Messengers could determine to chop ties with one of many largest church buildings within the denomination, which lately introduced plans to rent a feminine instructing pastor. 

These two days in Anaheim will possible have a profound impact on the long run route of the SBC.

A have a look at among the key points at stake:

RELATED: Can anyone lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward?

Pastor Ed Litton, of Saraland, Alabama, solutions questions after being elected president of the Southern Baptist Conference on June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tennessee. On March 1, 2022, Litton introduced he would break with custom and never search a second time period within the high workplace. (AP Picture/Mark Humphrey, File)

Will messengers approve abuse reforms?

Final summer season, angered at reports that SBC leaders had lengthy mistreated abuse survivors, the messengers approved a task force to supervise an investigation into how leaders on the SBC’s Nashville-based Government Committee had responded to the problem of abuse. Together with releasing a report from Guidepost Options, the investigating agency, the abuse job drive has made a series of suggestions, together with organising a “Ministry Examine” web site to trace abusers.

If permitted, preliminary funding for the abuse reforms is already in place. On Wednesday, Ship Reduction, a partnership between the SBC’s Worldwide Mission Board and North American Mission Board that does compassion ministry, introduced plans to supply $4 million in preliminary funding for abuse reforms. An earlier plan had called for reforms to be paid for out of SBC’s Cooperative Program, which swimming pools cash from native church buildings for nationwide and worldwide missions.

However complicating issues, Guidepost Options, the investigating agency, posted a notice on social media in support of Satisfaction Month, prompting claims that Guidepost is a liberal group that shouldn’t be trusted. This week, Baptist leaders in Tennessee and Alabama referred to as for Southern Baptists to chop ties with Guidepost, whereas an abuse job drive in Kentucky ceased working with the agency. Together with its work with the duty drive, Guidepost is overseeing a hotline the place SBC abuse survivors can report allegations.

Some Baptist leaders object to the reforms, saying they’re unbiblical or warning that they may destroy the SBC by opening the denomination to lawsuits.

RELATED: How the ‘apocalyptic’ Southern Baptist report almost didn’t happen

Will the messengers run the assembly?

In the course of the 2021 annual assembly, the place attendance topped 21,000, messengers took an energetic position in shaping the agenda, twice overturning rulings from then-SBC President J.D. Greear, forcing ground votes on a decision on abolishing abortion and on a movement authorizing the abuse investigation. Each strikes caught leaders without warning.

An energetic messenger physique might trigger chaos on the annual assembly, which usually has a tightly packed agenda and little wiggle room. That’s occurred earlier than, most notably on the 1985 annual assembly, which drew 45,000 messengers on the top of the so-called Conservative Resurgence, wherein conservatives took management of the denomination from reasonable leaders. That led to a controversial ruling from then-SBC president Charles Stanley—who dominated a movement from moderates out of order, regardless of makes an attempt to overrule him from the ground. The fallout from the controversy led to a federal lawsuit and led the SBC to start utilizing knowledgeable parliamentarian.

Litton stated he and different leaders will work to make this 12 months’s assembly as honest as attainable.

“We’re going to do our greatest to ensure that that it’s honest and that, that this largest deliberative physique on the earth for 2 days can do its enterprise in a method that displays the character of who Southern Baptists actually are,” he stated. “Southern Baptists assume it’s finest when the persons are heard and when folks have a chance to talk.”

Who can be elected president?

This 12 months’s presidential race contains Florida pastor Tom Ascol, head of Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group with ties to the Conservative Baptist Community, and Bart Barber, a Texas pastor and chair of the resolutions committee for this 12 months’s annual assembly. Ascol is probably finest identified for his opposition to crucial race concept and feminine preachers and for his previous claims that lots of the people who find themselves members of SBC church buildings should not actually Christian and many SBC congregations are “now not church buildings.”

Pastor Bart Barber in the video announcement of his candidacy for the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Video screen grab

Pastor Bart Barber within the video announcement of his candidacy for president of the Southern Baptist Conference. Video display seize

Barber is understood for his tweets about SBC governance, his folksy social media videos and his position within the firing of Southern Baptist legend Paige Patterson in 2018 after Patterson was accused of mistreating a rape victim in a earlier job. 

The brand new SBC president will possible be charged with appointing an ongoing job drive to cope with abuse and may nominate candidates to serve on key denominational committees.

One factor to look at: On Monday, attendees on the annual SBC Pastors’ Convention will elect a president for subsequent 12 months’s occasion. The election for the convention — held earlier than the annual assembly — is normally low-key. This 12 months, nonetheless, the election might spark fireworks, as one of many main candidates is missionary Voddie Baucham, an Ascol ally and creator of a bestselling e book warning of the risks of CRT and social justice. A Baucham win might foreshadow what occurs within the SBC presidential race. 

Baucham’s candidacy may very well be a difficulty, as at present he’s neither a pastor nor, by his personal admission, a Southern Baptist. Based on Matt Henslee, present Pastors’ Convention president, all earlier convention presidents have been SBC pastors. However the convention has no official guidelines for the election, leaving the choice in his arms.

“As president, I believe it’s best left as much as Southern Baptist pastors to determine who will lead them subsequent 12 months,” he stated. 

What occurs to Saddleback?

In Might, Rick Warren, creator of The Objective Pushed Life and pastor of one of many largest church buildings within the SBC, announced plans to retire this fall. Andy Wooden, a San Francisco pastor, has been named his successor. Wooden’s spouse, Stacie, would additionally turn out to be a instructing pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, joining three different feminine pastors who had been ordained final 12 months. That places the church at odds with the SBC’s assertion of religion, which states that solely males may be pastors.

 On the 2021 SBC annual assembly, a Louisiana pastor made a movement for the SBC to “break fellowship with Saddleback Baptist Church, as they’ve ordained three girls as pastors, and all different church buildings that might select to comply with this path.” The movement is being thought-about by the SBC Credentials Committee, which may advocate expelling church buildings that aren’t in “pleasant cooperation” with the denomination. The committee plans to fulfill simply previous to the annual assembly.

“The committee will report particularly on Saddleback because the movement requires nonetheless the committee has not finalized its suggestion and has no remark presently,” the committee chair advised Faith Information Service in an emailed assertion.

What position will survivors play? 

Christa Brown talks about her abuse at a rally outside the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala. RNS photo by Butch Dill

Christa Brown talks about her abuse at a rally outdoors the annual assembly of the Southern Baptist Conference on the Birmingham-Jefferson Conference Complicated on June 11, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. RNS photograph by Butch Dill

For years, a bunch of abuse survivors has had a vocal presence at SBC conferences, calling consideration to the problem of abuse and pressing for reforms. In 2007, advocates corresponding to Christa Brown pushed for the SBC to arrange a database to trace abusive pastors — an thought conference leaders rejected, regardless of being advised by their attorneys that the concept was attainable. After the Guidepost report was launched, survivors called for a sequence of reforms. Amongst them:

  • Establishing an impartial fee, staffed with trauma-trained professionals, to obtain reviews of abuse and fee impartial inquiries into abuse allegations.
  • Establishing an impartial model of the proposed Ministry Examine web site.
  • Making a survivor restoration fund.
  • Establishing an impartial job drive to cope with abuse.
  • Making a monument to abuse survivors outdoors the SBC workplaces in Nashville.

What can be this 12 months’s wild card?

Whereas not binding, resolutions on the SBC assembly usually produce fireworks. In 2021, the conference handed a decision on abortion abolition — calling for an finish to abortion with no exceptions. Proposed by an Oklahoma pastor, the movement foreshadowed lately proposed laws in conservative states to tightly prohibit abortion, even in instances of rape or incest. In previous years, there have been fiery debates over the Accomplice flag, CRT and the alt-right that dominated headlines. 

Throughout this 12 months’s assembly, Litton plans to submit a grassroots plan to advance racial reconciliation within the SBC and within the communities the place SBC church buildings worship. It’s based mostly on work he has completed in Cellular, Alabama, the place he’s a pastor.

Litton stated he’s grateful for the Southern Baptists he has met up to now 12 months, usually whereas they had been volunteering at disasters, and gave parting phrases to the following president.

“These persons are critical they usually deserve good leaders. They don’t deserve individuals who have some ax to grind or level to show. They simply want people who find themselves trusting the Lord like they do,” Litton stated.

RELATED: How the ‘apocalyptic’ Southern Baptist report almost didn’t happen

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