By David Roach
Baptist Press
Photos by Lainee Pegelow

Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.

SBC messengers gather during annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The annual meeting drew 5,018 registered messengers, down from 7,321 last year in St. Louis but 164 more than 2011 when the convention last met in Phoenix. When registered guests, exhibitors and others were included, the count rose to 9,318.

As expected, Arizona Southern Baptist churches turned out for their host-meeting; their 374-messenger total was the second largest of the state delegations. Texas was the highest at 474 messengers.

Alt-right resolution

A resolution on “the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy” decried “every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and pledged to pray “both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived.”

A vote to approve the resolution June 14 was followed by a standing ovation from messengers.

Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, greets messengers during the SBC meeting held in June.

In its initial report, the Resolutions Committee declined to recommend convention action on a resolution submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic condemning the white supremacist movements sometimes known as “white nationalism” or the “alt-right.” Two June 13 motions to consider the resolution on the convention floor each failed to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority. Amid ongoing discussion, however, the Resolutions Committee requested and was granted by the convention an opportunity to reverse its decision and present a resolution on alt-right racist ideology.

Resolutions Committee chairman Barrett Duke, in presenting the resolution, told messengers, “We regret and apologize for the pain and the confusion that we created for you and a watching world when we decided not to report out a resolution on alt-right racism.” The committee abhors racism, Duke said, adding the initial decision not to recommend a resolution condemning alt-right racist ideology did not reflect sympathy with that ideology.

Evangelism task force

SBC President Steve Gaines, who was reelected to a second term, recommended creation of the evangelism task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell made a motion, later approved by messengers, that the convention authorize Gaines to appoint the group.

Arizona Christian Challenge staff assist with registration during the SBC meeting in June.

In the annual meeting’s final session, Gaines announced the members of the 19-person task force, which includes Noe Garcia, pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix. The group will report to the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Creation of the task force was in keeping with an evangelism emphasis in Gaines’ presidential address. “I want to encourage you to be a soul winner,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

A Tuesday-evening message by California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie urged preachers to extend public invitations for people to follow Christ whenever they proclaim the Gospel. In his message, Laurie announced that Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., where he is pastor, has begun cooperating with the SBC.

Officers

In addition to Gaines, newly elected SBC officers included first vice president Walter Strickland, a leader of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Kingdom Diversity Initiative, second vice president Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church, a bilingual congregation in Miami, and registration secretary Don Currence, minister of administration and children’s pastor of First Baptist Church, Ozark, Mo.. Recording secretary John Yeats was reelected to a 21st term.

Executive Committee report

Messengers voted to expand representation on the Executive Committee to include four states or defined territories that had not previously qualified for representation because of their size. Southern Baptists also gave the Executive Committee authority to sell the SBC Building in Nashville and received a multimillion-dollar gift through the Cooperative Program from the Florida Baptist Convention stemming from the sale of its building in Jacksonville.

The report of Executive Committee President Frank S. Page included the launch of a convention-wide stewardship emphasis featuring a partnership with Ramsey Solutions, the organization led by radio host Dave Ramsey. The stewardship emphasis continued June 14 with a president’s panel discussion on stewardship moderated by Gaines.

Motions

Messengers made 11 motions. The only one to receive approval at the annual meeting was the proposal to create an evangelism task force. Two motions were ruled out of order, and eight were referred to SBC entities or committees.

Among motions to be referred were a proposal to study merging NAMB and the International Mission Board and a request that NAMB, the IMB and LifeWay Christian Resources consider expanding their trustee boards to grant broader representation.

A motion to let messengers consider defunding the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was ruled out of order because it was made after the convention approved the 2017-18 CP Allocation Budget, which establishes the percentage of CP receipts distributed to each CP-funded entity.

In other news:

— IMB President David Platt said the board’s finances are on “stable ground” and urged messengers to focus on the “present work we are doing” rather than “past financial struggles.” The IMB presentation included a commissioning service at which messengers gathered around newly appointed missionaries to pray. David Johnson, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention executive director, led the pray for the new missionaries and their extended families.

— In the NAMB report, Ezell said 732 new churches were planted by Southern Baptists in 2016 and 232 existing churches began cooperating with the SBC.