Some random thoughts on a variety of subjects as we enter the summer of 2013:
Three thoughts come to mind as I reflect on this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Houston June 11-12.
1. The low attendance. Barely 5,000 messengers showed up and the question everyone wants answered is why? The SBC surveys messengers to gauge their feelings about various aspects of the meeting. It may be awhile before we have that data, but I am sure it will be studied closely. I suspect multiple reasons will surface, ranging from a stressed economy that is forcing people to curtail travel and the fact there were no real burning issues before messengers this year. We may see a slight increase next year when the convention goes to Baltimore for the first time in its history perhaps sparking increased interest. It will also be a presidential election year and that tends to attract more people. Who will run? Do not even ask me, though rumors are already flying.
2. The Boys Scouts. The issue that generated the most news media interest was the resolution on the Boy Scouts. I thought the Resolutions Committee and messengers struck the right balance in dealing with the controversy. The SBC did not back off its concern about homosexuality in the Boy Scouts, while respecting local church autonomy as each church must decide for itself on whether they will continue to support the Boy Scouts. The feeling I got in Houston: Most likely a mass exodus.
3. The great fellowship. To me the greatest blessing I receive from attending the SBC annual meeting is seeing old friends. It is always good to hear how God is continuing to work in their lives and in the ministries to which God has entrusted them. You can also pick up a good idea or two along the way that might improve one’s own ministry.
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In the Dec. 4 Pathway I wrote about the shameful 4-3 vote by the St. Louis County Council adding sexual orientation to the county’s anti-discrimination regulations and hate crimes law. The council says churches are exempt from prosecution, but Missouri Baptist Convention legal counsel Michael Whitehead said the exemption is a charade because it exempts churches only if the religion does not limit membership based on traditional sexual morality. Religions that do have such a sexual standard are not protected by the exemption.
Ironically this means that a church that shares the government’s religious views gets an exemption. But, as Whitehead points out, that church won’t need an exemption, because it agrees with the government’s policy on homosexuality. “Thus,” Whitehead explained, “the exemption is illusory, and so is freedom of conscience in St. Louis County as long as this law remains on the books.”
No Missouri Baptist Church has stepped forward to sue despite the Alliance Defending Freedom’s willingness to take the case at no cost to a church. However, in recent weeks discussion among some Missouri Baptist churches in the area has intensified. Do not be surprised if one steps forward soon to legally challenge the council’s action.
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Gov. Jay Nixon must decide by July 14 on whether to sign or veto a bill that would prevent so called “webcam abortions” in Missouri. Known as telemedicine, doctors talk with women at remote locations via webcams and other electronic technology. After consulting with the patient, doctors can prescribe the abortion-inducing drug, RU-486, by remote control that opens a drawer, making the drug accessible to the patient. The law requires physicians to be physically present when a patient takes abortion-inducing drugs, effectively killing the webcam practice.
The governor’s office has been mum on what Nixon will do. He could sign it into law or leave it unsigned, allowing it to become law. A veto is possible, but the law passed both chambers of the General Assembly by veto-proof margins and no governor likes to have vetoes overridden. Abortions in Missouri have dropped dramatically in the past decade due in part to legislative action, but abortions in the state by medication have risen from 10 to 25 percent since 2001.