What’s ahead for Baptist life in 2014?
With 2013 tucked away in history, here are some things Baptists can look forward to in the year ahead.
By Bob Allen
Crab cakes. The Southern Baptist Convention meets in Baltimore for the first time since 1940 in June. Fred Luter, the first black SBC president in history, isn’t eligible for another term, setting up a presidential race likely to test a truce between Calvinists and non-Calvinists brokered by a blue ribbon panel last year convened by SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. The SBC previously met in Baltimore in 1853, 1868, 1884 and 1910.
Sovereign Grace on trial. Nate Morales, a Nevada pastor charged with molesting multiple boys in Maryland in the 1980s, is scheduled to stand trial May 12. Morales allegedly committed the crimes while assisting with youth ministries at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., at the time associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Sovereign Grace, now located in Louisville, Ky., is accused of covering up sexual abuse of children in a class-action lawsuit held up in court due to a statute of limitations. The group’s founder and former leader, C.J. Mahaney, is a close friend to prominent Southern Baptist leaders and formerly worked alongside Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and Washington pastor Mark Dever in organizing a biennial preaching confab called Together for the Gospel.
Unhappy anniversaries. March 9 marks the 20th anniversary of Russell Dilday’s firing as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the wake of the theological conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. The only SWBTS president to be removed from office, Dilday went on to teach at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and was founding chancellor of the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute in Arlington, Texas. Later in 1994, Molly T. Marshall was asked to resign as a theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over charges of liberalism by the seminary’s president, Albert Mohler. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention’s vote to sever ties with the Baptist World Alliance.
Judgment day for legislative prayer. A decision is expected by summer in Greece v. Galloway, a case being closely watched for its implications for the separation of church and state. The Supreme Court will decide whether a New York community’s practice of opening town council meetings with Christian prayers violates the First Amendment ban on establishing religion. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission says the state has no business editing prayers, while the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty says the appropriate venue for sectarian prayer is the church, not the city hall.
New day for Baptists in North America. The North American Baptist Fellowship, one of six regional fellowships within the Baptist World Alliance, gathers March 6-8 in Philadelphia for its 50th anniversary. Instead of looking back, the NABF will focus on the future by launching the FutureBaptists Champions Network aimed at building a collaborative missional enterprise over the next 50 years. A particular focus is connecting with and listening to Baptist leaders younger than 40.
Day in court for Obamacare. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., one of dozens of lawsuits challenging the required coverage of contraceptives under Obamacare, is scheduled to be argued and decided before the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June 2014. Filed by the Southern Baptist family that owns Hobby Lobby and its sister company Mardel, the lawsuit claims the government cannot force business owners morally opposed to abortion to provide employees with forms of birth control that take effect after conception.
SACS, meet Ergun. Brewton-Parker College, a Georgia Baptist Convention school on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is up for review in June. What will a special committee conducting an on-site evaluation think of the school’s new president Ergun Caner, a controversial figure accused in the past of exaggerating his academic credentials and making up details in his oft-repeated testimony claiming he was raised to be a Muslim terrorist before coming to Christ?
Will he run? Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008, sat out the 2012 election to focus on his radio and television shows, but sounds like he’s considering running again in 2016. “The Lord knows, but he’s not telling just yet,” the former Arkansas governor and past president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention recently answered the question of whether he will run. “I’m a long way from saying, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’ ” Huckabee told the Washington Post, but added he is getting encouragement “from places where I never got it before.”
Missing piece at CBF. The search is underway for the next global missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a strategic leadership position and the final component of Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter’s new leadership team. For now, veteran missionary Jim Smith is filling in as interim since the March 2012 resignation of Rob Nash, who held the post six years.
Mr. Reeves goes to Washington. Stephen Reeves, recently named as associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and theologian-in-residence David Gushee are presenters for Advocacy in Action, a three-day journey in Washington, D.C., scheduled March 10-12. Led by CBF staffers Devita Parnell and Harry Rowland, the annual event will include interacting with members of Congress and CBF ministries in the nation’s capital as well as with CBF partners in advocacy — Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Bread for the World.
Retirements? With new leaders in place at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention now awaits news of the next old-guard leader to step down. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2003, is 71. International Mission Board President Tom Elliff is 69. O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources, is 66. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley is 61, and Jeff Iorg at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary is 55. Wanda Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union since September 2000, is 64. Most of the recently elected agency heads, like Kevin Ezell at the North American Mission Board and Thom Rainer at LifeWay Christian Resources, have ties to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, mecca for the “young, restless and reformed” network taking root in Southern Baptist life.
© 2014 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.