The 2018 Southern Baptist Convention is in session and, so far, the news out of Dallas has been pretty predictable. The big news, if you are into that civil-religion thing, is that Vice President Mike Pence will address the gathering tomorrow.
Baptist Press has a live blog here, with the status of resolutions and other votes, and an actual live-cam up is streaming here (and here on YouTube).There's lots going on at several hashtags, such as #SBC18, #SBC2018 and #SBCAM18. The official Twitter feed for the meeting is right here.
As I wrote yesterday, in a high-altitude overview post, I think the key to the meeting will be actions -- not just resolutions -- to change policies in seminaries linked to counseling and reports of domestic abuse. Also, watch for efforts to create some kind of SBC-endorsed clearing house collecting official reports of abuse by clergy and church leaders.
The highlight of the pre-convention events was a panel discussion focusing on domestic violence and abuse in the church. This was the latest evidence of a conservative consensus -- at least among current and emerging SBC officials -- on minimum steps toward reform. A report in The Tennessean opened, logically enough, with remarks from popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, one of the key women speaking out on #SBCToo issues. A key passage:
"None of us want to throw stones, but it keeps us from even responding to a criminal situation because we think, 'Listen, I've had my own sexual dysfunction,' " Moore said. "There is a long, long shot of difference between sexual immorality and sexual criminality that we have got to get straight."
Once again, we see a strong emphasis on the difference between sin and crime, a line that lots of clergy and church counselors have struggled to recognize. Continuing, with fellow panelist Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:
Russell Moore, who is not related to Beth Moore, said he has seen abusers time and again misuse grace in such a way that it hides them from being held accountable. He said that destroys what the New Testament teaches about the meaning of grace.
"They're actually using mercy as a weapon to harm people so we have to define biblically what that looks like," Russell Moore said.
Now this concept is important, but it's not all that new -- in terms of statements made in recent months, linked to the fall of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, a hero of the old SBC establishment.
For example, note the content of a statement released last March -- before the Patterson story exploded into headlines -- by one of the most doctrinally conservative networks involved in this discussion, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Note the overlap with current headlines from Dallas:
* We believe that abuse is not only a sin but is also a crime. It is destructive and evil. Abuse is a hallmark of the devil and is in direct opposition to the purposes of God. Abuse must not to be tolerated in the Christian community.
* We believe that the local church and Christian ministries have a responsibility to establish safe environments; to execute policies and practices that protect against any form of abuse; to confront abusers and to protect the abused, which includes the responsibility to report abuse to civil authorities.
* We believe that church and ministry leaders have a special obligation to report abuse to civil authorities. Moreover, these leaders are responsible for knowing the laws of their state about reporting the suspicion or accusation of child and spousal abuse, and for following those laws in good faith.
That's pretty clear and it was a solid sign where the SBC was heading, several months ago. Reporters may want to note that, while reporting the new developments.
Also, reporters need to see what kinds of actions are taken -- in a convention based on autonomous local congregations -- to put some teeth into that, in any ways that are possible within the loose polity of Southern Baptists.
You can bet the farm that the SBC will pass a strong resolution on domestic violence and abuse issues. However, reporters should watch to see how closely the language matches this proposed resolution from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason K. Allen, which has been endorsed by an all-star team of SBC alpha males.
The pre-game report from The Washington Post noted:
Allen’s resolution endorsed the Baptist principle of complementarity, which says God called for women to be submissive to male leadership in the family and the church. It then condemns immorality by Baptist leaders, including extramarital affairs and mishandling of abuse.
Allen’s measure used the words “ungodly behavior and language” in referring to male leaders who have failed to condemn and address abuse.
“It speaks to a world that perhaps is wondering what Southern Baptists clearly believe about these issues,” Allen said Monday of his effort.
Those looking for potential zingers on the convention floor should look for signs of this topic reaching the floor, perhaps in remarks linked to other gender topics.
Texas pastor Tom Buck had planned to introduce a motion to formally ban a woman from serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. No woman has ever led the denomination, which does not ordain women as head pastors of churches. ... Prominent Texas pastor Dwight McKissic has floated Beth Moore, a Bible teacher who is among the best-known Southern Baptist women, as a potential president of the denomination.
As I type this, a messenger is proposing a resolution asking the SBC to ban, in future years, convention addresses by major political leaders, other than the mayor of the host church offering greetings. Another messenger just proposed a variation on that same concept. There was at least one more resolution proposed on this topic. Will this topic make it back to the floor for debate and a vote?
I didn't hear, in "new business" from the floor, a proposed resolution banning women from SBC leadership. And the SBC messengers just shot down the annual #MAGA budget amendment to defund Russell Moore and the ERLC. Old-guard ERLC leader Richard Land spoke in defense of the commission's current role and leadership.