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  • Writer's pictureDerek Allen

Six Important Highlights and Issues at the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention

Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will gather for the 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans. If you’re part of an SBC church, I want to encourage you to learn more about our cooperative mission efforts, and the annual meeting is a great time to do so. If you’re not planning to attend, consider joining part of the meeting through the live stream, which will be available at https://sbcannualmeeting.net/.

To help you prepare, here are six important highlights and issues for this year’s annual meeting:


1. The IMB Sending Celebration


Each year, the International Mission Board celebrates newly appointed missionaries through a sending celebration. It is always one of the highlights of the annual meeting. The power of the moment reminds us why we cooperate as Southern Baptists, and it reminds us of what we stand to lose if we can’t find a way forward. This year’s sending celebration is scheduled for 9:50 am on Tuesday morning. If you are attending the convention, make sure you’re in the room for this. If you can’t be in New Orleans, consider watching the live stream during the celebration.


2. Entity Reports


Cooperative program giving supports twelve SBC entities:

  • Two mission-sending agencies: The International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board

  • Six seminaries: Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

  • Lifeway Christian Resources

  • The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

  • Women’s Missionary Union (an auxiliary, not an entity)

  • The SBC Executive Committee

Each of these entities reports to the convention annually. The entity reports are an encouraging reminder of how God uses our cooperative giving as Southern Baptists. A question-and-answer time follows each report, and sometimes controversial issues are raised during the Q&A. Time constraints limit the controversy, so the atmosphere remains mostly positive.


3. Resolutions


Resolutions are one-time statements made by the messengers gathered for the annual meeting. They are non-binding, and they only express the opinion of the messengers from the current year. Even though resolutions sound benign, they serve an important function in SBC life. Many of the issues that gain traction in resolutions find their way into more permanent policies and changes in subsequent years. They also provide the best opportunity for messengers to express ideas.


Resolutions come to the floor in one of two ways. The Resolutions Committee receives resolutions before the convention, and they present a slate of resolutions for the convention to consider. Resolutions can also be made directly from the floor of the convention.


The discussion over resolutions is always lively and interesting. Personally, I find it challenging and helpful. Listening to my fellow messengers debate thoughts and opinions about specific issues sharpens my understanding and helps me establish a more biblically and theologically sound position.


4. The Appeal of Saddleback Community Church


The Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is tasked with considering whether or not a church is in friendly cooperation with the convention. In February of this year, the Credentials Committee recommended that Saddleback Community Church be deemed “not in friendly cooperation” with the Southern Baptist Convention. That recommendation was presented to the Executive Committee, and the Executive Committee approved the recommendation. In other words, Saddleback Community Church is no longer a Southern Baptist Church. Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Community Church, has announced a plan to appeal that decision at this year’s convention.


The removal of Saddleback and the appeal raises two important issues: 1) the role of women in ministry and 2) what it means to be a church in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.


The Credentials Committee and Executive Committee determined that Saddleback Community Church violated Article III of the SBC Constitution because the church has ordained female pastors. Article III states churches cooperating with the SBC must have “a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.” Article VI of The Baptist Faith and Message states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”


Saddleback’s appeal is based on the statement “closely identifies” in Article III of the Constitution. Their argument is that Saddleback understands the women they have ordained as having the gift and function of pastors but not occupying the office of pastor. Last year in Anaheim, the messengers rejected a proposal from the Credentials Committee to investigate the matter further. That vote effectively rejected Saddleback’s interpretation of gift and function as separate from office. Their appeal this year, therefore, is based on being “closely” but not exactly aligned with the Baptist Faith and Message.


The messengers to this year’s convention will hear the appeal and make the final decision. The impact is larger than Saddleback Community Church as several SBC churches have ordained women serving in pastoral roles. If the appeal fails, it is likely that other churches will be determined to no longer be in friendly cooperation with the convention over the next few years.


5. Amendment to the Constitution


In response to Saddleback’s interpretation of “closely identifies” in Article III, proposals will be made to amend the constitution. A constitutional amendment requires a 2/3’s vote of the messengers present at the time of the vote, and the amendment must be approved at two consecutive annual meetings.


Three options have been proposed for the constitutional amendment.


One: Do nothing and allow the Credentials Committee to make recommendations based on its interpretation of Article III.

Two: Amend Article III paragraph 1 to include this as a 6th statement: “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work which . . . Does not affirm, appoint, or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.”


Three: Put together a task force or study committee to make a recommendation at next year’s annual meeting regarding Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message and/or Article III of the SBC Constitution.


6. Presidential Election


The president of the SBC serves a one-year term. Because the president appoints the Committee on Committees, his role is crucial to the future of the SBC and its entities.


Bart Barbour was elected for his first term as president of the SBC last year in Anaheim. In most cases, presidents are elected for a second term without much opposition. This year, however, a second candidate, Mike Stone, has announced a plan to be nominated.


Mike is supported by a group called the Conservative Baptist Network (CBN). From the CBN website: “The Conservative Baptist Network exists because a group of Southern Baptists recognized the destructive direction in which their convention of churches had begun to veer— away from God’s Word and toward culturally accepted ideas — and decided to take a stand for the Truth.”


Those who do not support the CBN believe the “destructive direction” does not exist. They argue that, unlike the situation which gave rise to the conservative resurgence of the 1970s and 80s, virtually every SBC leader, entity head, state executive, seminary president, candidate for office, etc., affirms the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. They further argue that the CBN has created a liberal straw man and tried to project the beliefs of that straw man onto leaders in the SBC. In other words, one side (the CBN) sees a liberal slide in the convention, while the other side believes most of the liberals left a long time ago and that those who remain have little to no influence in the larger convention.


If you’re planning to attend the convention as a messenger, please research these issues and prepare to vote. Here are a few websites with more information:


The convention schedule is available at:

https://sbcannualmeeting.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/2023-SBCAM-Schedule-FINAL.pdf. Please note that the schedule will be adjusted as the convention progresses.


If you dare enter the twitterverse, which is where civil discourse goes to die, the hashtags #SBC23 and #SBC2023 both mark stories about the convention.


I have not shared my opinion on any of the issues in this article, but I’ll be glad to do so in a direct message, email, text, or conversation.

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