SBC messengers line up to make motions, share concerns

Alabama Baptists were among messengers participating in one of the heaviest years of business in recent history at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.

Held June 12–13 in Dallas, the annual meeting ran long its opening day in part because of 20 motions proposed by messengers.

One of those motions — which dealt with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas — was debated then defeated the next day. The motion by Tom Hatley of Arkansas proposed dismissing SWBTS’s trustee executive committee.

Hatley, a former International Mission Board trustee chairman, said his proposal was based on his perception the SWBTS trustee executive committee acted with “haste, lack of proper investigation,” apparent disregard of the seminary’s founding documents and failure to allow then seminary president Paige Patterson to respond to accusations against him. Patterson was terminated May 30 from his employment at SWBTS, where he had served as president since 2003.

The previous week, the seminary’s trustees moved him to president emeritus status on the same day allegations surfaced that he mishandled a sexual assault report during his 1992–2003 presidency of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

‘Would destroy system’

Former SBC President Ronnie Floyd spoke against the motion, asking messengers to look past whether these trustees made the right or wrong decision and recognize that adopting a motion to remove trustees “would destroy our own system of government.”

Bart Barber, a member of the SWBTS trustee executive committee, spoke on a point of personal privilege, alleging that Patterson, as Southwestern’s president, attempted to remove a trustee, disregarded a request from trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert and refused to attend trustee executive committee meetings when asked to do so.

Once Patterson was president emeritus, his attorney “sent an email questioning the legal validity” of the full board’s action.

“What is your seminary to do when a president emeritus is working to undermine the legitimacy and validity of the seminary’s board of trustees?” Barber said. “If you take away the spine of the trustees, you take away the messengers’ voice.”

Barber also said, “If you’ve been impatient with what we’ve done, you should blame me personally. I was the last person on the executive committee” to reach the conclusion the committee should fire Patterson.

The motion to dismiss the trustee executive committee of SWBTS failed on a show of ballots.

Motions referred

Grant Ethridge, chairman of the SBC Order of Business Committee, moved on behalf of the committee that 12 motions be referred to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) for consideration and report to the 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham.

Three of those motions were by Alabama Baptists:

• Sam Fordham, pastor of Oak Bowery Baptist Church, Ohatchee, moved that the EC consider a separate entity for evangelism.

Fordham explained in a follow-up post on Facebook that his motion was about “prodding/stimulating/promoting.”

The evangelism department at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has moved from a large staff to a part-time department head, Fordham wrote. “Evangelism has been de-emphasized.

“I’m not criticizing anyone at NAMB. We have some stellar people working hard to do great things,” he added. “What I am concerned about is the 1.2 million folks that we haven’t baptized over the past decade.

“When we say, ‘Well, evangelism is everything we do!’ And ‘Evangelism is everyone’s responsibility!’ Evangelism has a strange way of becoming no one’s priority. … Sometimes we need a reminder.”

• Nine-year-old Zak McCullar of First Baptist Church, Carbon Hill, moved that a children’s ministry Sunday be added to the SBC Calendar.

• A.J. Smith of Bay Springs Baptist Church, Shelby, moved that the SBC president appoint a committee to articulate the relationship between the Old Testament and the gospel.

Other motions referred to the SBC EC:

• That the convention cease inviting elected officials to speak at the annual meeting.

• To amend SBC Bylaw 21 to prohibit elected officials from addressing convention messengers.

• That the EC strengthen trustee training.

• That SBC Bylaw 10C be amended to include the percentage giving of candidates for office.

• That the chairman of the EC develop and provide more comprehensive trustee training.

• That the EC study the feasibility of remote site and digital participation in the annual meeting.

• That the EC recommend a program assignment for church revitalization.

• That the EC study the process of the Committee on Nominations and its standards.

• That the EC study the biblical authority for a woman serving as SBC president.

The following motions were automatically referred to the appropriate SBC entity under Bylaw 26B for consideration and report to the 2019 SBC annual meeting:

• That the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission study expanded resources to help churches protect themselves from sexual predators.

• Requesting a task force for helping churches protect themselves from sexual predators.

• That the SWBTS board of trustees reconsider its decision regarding Patterson.

Out of order

Five motions were ruled out of order because they would direct the officers of the convention to act outside the scope of their duties as established by the convention’s constitution and bylaws, were in the nature of a resolution or were similar to other motions already referred.

One of those motions was made by Ron Wilson, pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church, Phenix City, and moved that the SWBTS executive committee resign from the board of trustees.

The other four moved that messengers be engaged in pro-life issues, that elected officials not be a part of the annual meeting program, requested focus on the John 3:16 gospel and requested Vice President Pence to format his address to the messengers in a particular manner. (BP, TAB contributed)