Observations at the 2001 Meeting, Southern Baptist Convention I
by Wm. Robert Johnston
updated 25 June 2001
The convention was held June 12-13 in New Orleans. Total registered messengers reported at the last session was 9,559. For an SBC convention in the southern states, this convention had the lowest attendance of any in the past 52 years. This is probably due to (1) the lack of any planned significant or controversial item of business and (2) the heavy rains in preceding days due to tropical storm Allison. (We drove through Houston to reach New Orleans on June 11, taking a route through Houston that was reopened after flooding only hours before our transit.)
A major topic revolved around the pending work of the Council on Family Life. This group plans to report next year on proposals for programs and strategies to biblically address the breakdown of the American family. Various speakers cited statistics regarding this tragedy, including James Dobson. Dobson addressed the convention by a last-minute live television feed from Denver instead of a planned in-person speech: his private plane from Denver had filled with smoke and had to return (safely) to Denver.
The only issues generating any debate were three amendments proposed from the floor to the Baptist Faith and Message. Recall that last year the thoroughly revised 2000 BF&M was adopted by the SBC, replacing the 1963 BF&M (which was only amended once, in 1998). The three proposed amendments:
SBC leadership spoke strongly against the motions (the BGCT Executive Director spoke in favor of the second one), and all were nearly unanimously defeated. The tone was set in discussion of the first proposal: Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, urged defeat of all the amendments because the 2000 BF&M was "resoundingly biblical" and it would be "confessionally reckless" and unfair to revisit the BF&M, concluding that Baptists have adopted this confession and "we will not give an inch." Adrian Rogers (chairman of the 2000 BF&M committee) also said that the restrictive language on the Lord's Day in the 1925 and 1963 BF&Ms was not scriptural.
Some notes on other issues:
- Article on the Lord's Day: the 2000 BF&M says "Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ." (This is a revision from previous BF&Ms which said the Lord's Day should be employed "by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, work of necessity and mercy only being excepted.") The proposal would have added to the current wording the phrase "informed by Holy Scripture."
- Article on the Scriptures: the proposal would have added the sentence "The criterion by which Scripture is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." A similar sentence from the 1963 BF&M was removed last year and replaced in the 2000 BF&M by "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." These sentences have been one focal point of conservative/moderate disagreements over the new BF&M.
- Article on the Scriptures: the proposal would delete the word "religious" from the phrase stating that the Bible is "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried."
Missions reports included a challenge from an IMB missionary just returning from the field due to terminal cancer. The IMB has seen 11,273 church plants in the last two years, with another 38,000 missions not yet organized into churches. The NAMB challenged each SBC church to support a church plant by the end of 2005. Speakers challenged each and every Southern Baptist to lead one person to Christ in the next year.
- The conduct of business was very smooth; there was so little debate or discussion from the floor, there was difficulty filling the alloted time.
- Year-to-date Cooperative Program receipts are less than 1% below the same period last fiscal year.
- Only two officer elections were contested. James Merritt was acclaimed president for a second year.
- During the LifeWay report it was discussed that they have been unable to keep up with demand for VBS materials for this year. LifeWay representatives also described the wide use of their on line counseling software regarding school violence and other teen issues.
- Resolutions adopted included: marriage, human cloning, genocide in Sudan, world hunger, internet pornography, euthanasia in the Netherlands, U.S. Navy discrimination against Baptist chaplains, and campaign finance legislation.
- A motion to review the ERLC position on government funding of faith-based charities failed to receive the votes needed to prompt convention action.
- We observed the arrest of 34 protesters outside the convention center: the New Orleans police were quite professional in their handling of the situation.
© 2001 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 25 June 2001.
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