Sexual abuse, women clergy among topics on tap at annual meeting of Southern Baptists

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette [Little Rock AR]

June 10, 2023

By Frank E. Lockwood

Sex-abuse response, women ordinations among the issues 

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention are gathering in New Orleans this week to elect a president, determine how to respond to sexual abuse within the church and weigh the fate of congregations that ordain women as ministers.

With more than 12,000 delegates already preregistered for this year’s annual meeting, organizers are anticipating one of the largest turnouts in the past quarter-century.

Arkansas native Bart Barber, who was elected convention president last year, will be nominated for a second one-year term but faces a challenge from Georgia pastor Mike Stone, who narrowly lost a previous bid for the presidency in 2021.

Last year’s proceedings were held in Anaheim, Calif.; this time, the gathering is closer to the denomination’s traditional strongholds.

“It’s going to be a crowd. There’s going to be a lot of people there,” said Craig Jenkins, director of advancement and news for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

The Southern Baptist Convention, which surpassed the Methodist Church in the 1960s as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, saw its membership peak at 16.3 million in 2006. Since then, the number has fallen year after year, decreasing to 13,223,122 in 2022.

Nationwide, the convention lost 457,371 members last year, a drop of 3.34%.

In Arkansas, membership fell 21,605 to 391,092, a decline of 5.24%.

In February, the convention’s executive committee voted to expel its second-largest congregation, Southern California’s Saddleback Church, determining it was “not in friendly cooperation” after it chose a woman to serve as its teaching pastor.

The Baptist Faith and Message, which contains core doctrinal positions, states that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

In New Orleans, Saddleback will ask the messengers to overturn that decision.

The convention’s annual pastors conference begins this evening in the city’s Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, with formal business beginning Tuesday.

The presidential election and a report from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force are both scheduled to take place Tuesday afternoon.

Guidepost Solutions, the organization that investigated Southern Baptist Convention leaders’ mishandling of sexual abuse claims, has come under fire for a tweet it sent featuring a rainbow flag and a statement that it is “proud to be an ally to our LGBTQ+ community.”

A number of resolutions, which can cover a range of theological and political topics, are expected to be debated before the meeting adjourns Wednesday afternoon.

A sizable Arkansas contingent will be making the trip from the Natural State, including Baptists who grew up with Barber in Lake City.

He currently serves as pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, a small community roughly 45 miles northeast of downtown Dallas.

Last year, he defeated Florida pastor Tom Ascol 3,401 to 2,172 votes in a runoff, after falling just short of a majority on the first ballot.

This year, Barber is shepherding the convention but also grieving.

His mother, Carolyn Barber, is gravely ill.

“Mom is still with us, barely. We can neither chase death away nor bid it come,” he wrote on Facebook Thursday. “We are left to watch as it prowls around her. But the time is short.”

Print Headline: S. Baptists face major decisions at ’23 gathering