NASHVILLE (BP) – Four state conventions would gain representation on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee under a recommendation adopted during the EC’s Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville for presentation at the SBC annual meeting in June 2017.
The recommendation would amend SBC Bylaw 18 to exempt the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana Baptist conventions from Bylaw 30’s requirement that territories have 15,000 members in cooperating Baptist churches to qualify for EC representation.
In other actions, EC members updated the committee’s media relations policy (see related story), declined to recommend an amendment to the SBC constitution to require that churches relate to a state convention and association to be considered a cooperating Southern Baptist congregation, and honored retiring state convention executives Fred Hewett, Cecil Seagle and Fermin Whittaker.
Regarding the amendment to extend EC membership to the additional conventions, EC President Frank S. Page told the committee he originated the proposed bylaw amendment in an attempt to be “fair and kind.”
“I have deep passion for small churches and deep passion for our smaller [state convention] partners,” Page said. Some territories “have been a part of the convention all these years” and yet “have no representation on the Executive Committee.”
The EC’s September meeting marked the third time the body had considered a proposal to grant representation to geographic areas with fewer than 15,000 church members. In February and again in June, the EC considered proposals but felt more study was needed.
At a Sept. 20 plenary session, 20 minutes of discussion ended with approximately 60 of 82 EC members favoring the recommendation on a show-of-hands vote, according to an estimate by Baptist Press that was corroborated by EC chairman Stephen Rummage.
Members to speak against the recommendation said they supported the concept of granting representation to all geographic territories but worried the waiver of an objective numerical standard could set an unhelpful precedent.
Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., told BP the EC’s action “was carefully considered in the workgroup as well as the Administrative Committee” and “reflects the heart of Dr. Page and the committee as a whole to see the fullest number of Baptists represented on the Executive Committee so that all Baptists can know what is happening throughout our convention and so that all Baptist territories can have an opportunity to speak into the direction of our convention.”
In response to motions referred from the 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, the Executive Committee:
• declined to recommend an amendment to The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Section IV, as proposed in a motion by messenger Steve Taylor from Indiana. Faith, as described in Article IV as “a personal commitment of the entire personality,” lacks the element of belief, Taylor stated in setting forth his concern in a two-page letter. The Executive Committee, in its response to be reported to messengers, said it “declines to recommend amending selective portions of The Baptist Faith and Message apart from a Convention-authorized comprehensive review of the Convention’s confession of faith.”
• declined to recommend a constitutional amendment that would have required churches to relate to a state convention and association as a prerequisite to cooperating with the SBC. The EC stated that the amendment, proposed by messenger Andy Perryman of Georgia, would be contradictory to Article III, Article IV, and the preamble of the SBC constitution regarding autonomy of the Southern Baptist Convention and its cooperating bodies.
• declined to recommend a bylaws amendment requiring that all nomination speeches for SBC officers include the percentage of Cooperative Program giving by each nominee’s church. The SBC Bylaw 10C amendment recommended by messenger Steven Bailey of Arkansas was unwarranted, the EC said, as messengers are fully capable of using all publicly available information about any nominee to determine whether the content of any nominating speech is accurate, sufficient, and persuasive.
• declined to recommend an amendment to Bylaw 15J that Commmittee on Nominations changes made within 45 days of the annual meeting be published no later than seven days before that annual meeting. The amendment recommended by messenger Doug Hibbard of Arkansas was unnecessary, the EC said, because the current processes of the Committee on Nominations are “efficient and sufficient to provide messengers with information regarding nominees.” Messengers may make inquiries during the nominations committee report as well as make a motion to amend the report as indicated in SBC Bylaw 15K, the EC noted.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission honored GuideStone CEO O.S. Hawkins with the 2016 John Leland Award for Religious Liberty, commending Hawkins’ legal battle against the Affordable Care Act’s abortion/contraception mandate.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed lower courts to broker a resolution in the dispute which upholds the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose abortion.
“O.S. Hawkins easily could have led GuideStone to just accept whatever mandate came down from the government and said we’ll just navigate our way through it,” ERLC President Russell Moore said. “He didn’t. He led with courage and conviction and with skill and with integrity.
“The board of trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission voted unanimously to award him with the John Leland Award for Religious Liberty and we wanted to recognize that in front of all of you here today.”
Hawkins said GuideStone is “cautiously very optimistic” that it will achieve a satisfactory resolution in the case. GuideStone health plans “provide contraception,” he said, “but there are four [abortifacient] pills we don’t provide and never will.”
Resolutions of appreciation
The Executive Committee unanimously adopted resolutions of appreciation for three state convention executive directors who are retiring –Fred Hewett of Montana, Cecil Seagle of Indiana and Fermin Whittaker of California.
Also during the meeting, Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, presented checks totaling more than $713,000 for the SBC’s two mission boards. The funds — $465,699 for the International Mission Board and $247,689 for the North American Mission Board – were mission offerings given this summer by participants in LifeWay’s Fuge, CentriKids and World Changers ministries.