Fred Luter, first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presides in Baltimore. (ABPnews/Herald photo by Bob Allen)
Fred Luter, first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presides in Baltimore. (ABPnews/Herald photo by Bob Allen)

As SBC meeting wraps up, new president hopes for next ‘great awakening’

Ronnie Floyd suceeds the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American president as messengers honor the owners of Hobby Lobby for standing up to Obamacare and a seminary president addresses controversy over his allowing a non-Christian to enroll as a Ph.D. student.

By Bob Allen

The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention outlined an ambitious agenda during a press conference following his election June 10 in Baltimore.

“I believe the greatest need in the Southern Baptist Convention, and quite honesly, the greatest need in the United States of America, is a Great Awakening,” said Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas.

Great Awakening is a term used to refer to several periods of religious revival in U.S. history. Various historians and theologians identify three or four such times of spiritual renewal.

The First Great Awakening, a wave of revivalism prior to the American Revolution, introduced preachers including Jonathan Edwards, most famous for his 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” today considered a classic in American literature.

“We need the next spiritual awakening,” Floyd said. “And just as Jonathan Edwards called for years ago, before the First Great Awakening, it’s time for us to come together, it’s time for us to have visible union, and it’s time for us to come together in extraordinary prayer.”

The Second Great Awakening, a religious revival beginning in the late 18th century and lasting until the middle of the 19th century, was strongest in New England and the Midwest.

Another period between the 1850s and early 20th century, marked by the birth of new denominations, the Social Gospel movement and prominent preachers such as Dwight L. Moody, is counted as a Third Great Awakening.

Some scholars add a fourth, the late 1960s and early 1970s, featuring the charismatic movement and rapid growth in conservative denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention.

“It’s been over a hundred years since the United States has experienced the last great, great movement of the Lord,” Floyd said. “We’re overdue. It’s past time. We must have that movement, not simply for the purpose of ourselves, to see thousands come to Christ, but also for the purpose of seeing the Great Commission escalated to its rightful priority in all that we do as the church.”

Out with the old

As the 157th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention drew to a close June 11, Floyd accepted the gavel from Fred Luter, the first African American ever to serve as president of a convention formed by slaveholders in 1845.

“He will go down in Southern Baptist history as one of the most loved presidents in our lifetime,” Floyd predicted.

Luter welcomed the opportunity to express his gratitude in remarks early in the SBC President’s Address Tuesday night.

“Thank you, Southern Baptists, for allowing me to serve as your president the past two years,” Luter said. “I have been extremely honored to represent you across America and across the world.”

“I would also like to thank the members of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, who have loaned me out to this convention and to the people all across this country and world the last two years,” Luter said. “Some of them are here tonight. Hundreds of them are watching tonight on the Internet.”

“I will be back to you after next week,” Luter added to the folks back home.

ERLC honors Hobby Lobby founders

The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission presented the 2014 John Leland Award for Religious Liberty to Steve and Jackie Green, whose family owned business Hobby Lobby is awaiting a decision expected this month from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether owners of for-profit businesses can refuse on religious grounds to obey rules of Obamacare.

sbc mooreERLC President Russell Moore described the couple, active members of a Southern Baptist church, as “heroes of religious liberty.”

“Because of their courage, the Greens have refused to comply with the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services mandate under the Affordable Care Act that they provide employees with insurance coverage for what they believe to be abortion inducing drugs,” Moore said. “They believe that God is the author of human life, and that every human life, from the moment of conception, is sacred, and they believe that the government is not the lord of their consciences.”

Moore said during the last 200 years Baptists have gotten “used to being out of jail” and sometimes “take religious liberty for granted.” He said it wasn’t always that way.

“Baptists started in prison cells in England because they would gladly say ‘God save the king’ but they knew the difference between the king and God,” Moore said. Similarly, he said, Baptists in colonial America, including the Virginia preacher for whom the Leland award is named, resisted paying for licenses to preach as a matter of conscience.

“We’re living in a time right now in which religious liberty is imperiled at home and around the world, and it is time for us to remember that we have been here before,” Moore said. “The gospel came to us in letters being written out by apostles from jail cells.”

Seminary president apologizes for Muslim flap

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson responded with both an apology and explanation to a question during his report about why he violated written policies by allowing a Palestinian Muslim student to study archaeology in the school’s Ph.D. program.

“I owe the convention an apology, particularly to all of those of you that I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow,” Patterson said. He also apologized to “the whole convention” for causing strife with what was “my decision and my decision alone.”

Patterson said the student, born into a poor Palestinian family, got to know members of the Southwestern community working alongside them in archaeological digs in the Middle East.

Unable to pursue a Ph.D. in Jordan, where none is available, or in Israel, because he isn’t fluent in Hebrew, and unable to afford a school in the U.S. like Duke, Harvard or Yale, Patterson said the student inquired whether an exception could be made to allow him to study at Southwestern.

Patterson said the student has caused no problems on campus and appears “very open at this point to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, the president has a right to make if he feels that it is that important,” Patterson said.

“I have apologized to you in a heartfelt way,” Patterson said. “I mean it with all my heart. I should not have disrupted the convention and did not do it knowingly. But apparently I did, and I am sorry.”

Patterson added, however, that “it is a different question” from how he will answer for that and similar decisions over the years come Judgment Day.

“I believe when I stand before the Lord God, I’m going to say: ‘Dear God, I violated a policy, but I didn’t want to stand before you with blood on my hands. Dear God, I did the best I knew how,” he said.

The incredible shrinking SBC annual meeting

Unofficial registration at the June 10-11 meeting was 5,294 messengers, up from the 5,103 last year in Houston. The 2011 convention in Phoenix, numbering 4,852 messengers, was the smallest annual meeting since World War II. The last time Southern Baptists met in Baltimore, 1940, the messenger total was 3,776.

The record attendance for an SBC annual meeting was 1985, when 45,519 messengers showed up in Dallas in the heat of a 10-year leadership struggle today some call the “conservative resurgence.”

According to recently compiled statistics, in 2013 there were 46,125 Southern Baptist churches with a total 15.7 million members.

Next year’s convention is scheduled June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio. Future host cities are St. Louis in 2016, Phoenix in 2017 and Dallas in 2018.

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