Heavy rain blamed for low turnout
June 15 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Heavy rain blamed for low turnout | Friday, June 15, 2001

Friday, June 15, 2001

Heavy rain blamed for low turnout

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor NEW ORLEANS - Low attendance, fiery preaching and an upbeat program marked the 2001 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). SBC officials said 9,561 messengers registered, making it the least attended meeting in the deep South since 1948. SBC president James Merritt attributed the low attendance in part to heavy rains and flooding in Louisiana and Texas.

Other observers attribute the decline to the absence of moderates, who are sitting out the annual gathering because of the Convention's increasingly rigid stands.

"They're certainly a loss to our fellowship," SBC spokesman Bill Merrell told the Associated Press. But he pointed out that the last decade has also caused those still involved to recommit to conservative doctrines.

Those reforms included a 1998 family amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message that, among other things, called on wives to submit to their husband's "servant leadership." A complete rewrite of the faith statement last year yielded other controversial changes, including a view that the Bible forbids women from serving as senior pastors and removal of a phrase setting Christ as the standard for biblical interpretation.

The small crowd continues a recent decline in messengers.

Not only have the sizes of recent SBC annual meetings been a fraction of the 45,519 record crowd in 1985 in Dallas, registered during the height of denominational conflict, the decline carried over into the 1990s.

The last time the SBC met in New Orleans, 1996, more than 13,000 messengers were registered. Last year's meeting in Orlando, Fla., drew 11,800. The smallest recent crowd was 8,582 in 1998 when the SBC met in Utah.

Merritt said he wasn't disappointed by attendance. Without the flooding in east Texas, he estimated the crowd would have been in the 11,000-12,000 range.

"I think the attendance has been very strong, all things considered," he said

There was a notable absence of North Carolina representatives on the program. Although the Baptist State Convention is one the largest state conventions affiliated with the SBC and is one of its strongest financial contributors, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson was the only one of 69 program personalities listed in the program to reside in North Carolina.

Not counting large choirs from several churches associated with platform speakers, there were 19 persons on the program from Georgia, home to SBC president James Merritt, and 13 from Texas, all but one from churches affiliated with the new conservative-dominated Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Six people represented host state Louisiana. Four of the six from Tennessee were denominational executives. The program included five persons from Florida and three each from Mississippi and Colorado.

The programs of the Pastor's Conference and the Woman's Missionary Union meeting, the two largest auxiliary meetings at the SBC, were also devoid of North Carolina representatives on the program.

SBC officials said 790 people from North Carolina registered as messengers, making it the third largest contingent, trailing only Georgia with 936 and Tennessee with 858.

Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., was re-elected as president without opposition. Anti-drug activist Ted Stone of Durham was nominated as first vice-president, but lost to Ed Litton, pastor of North Mobile Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. Litton received 2,176 of the 2,812 votes cast. Stone received 636 votes, about 23 percent of the total.

Stone is a member of Grace Baptist Church in Durham. A former drug addict, Stone has walked across the country three times, written several books and speaks frequently to raise awareness of the dangers of drug abuse and to give a Christian response to it.

T.C. Pinckney, a retired Air Force general from Alexandria, Va., was elected as second vice president. Pinckney is an outspoken proponent of the breakaway Southern Baptists of Virginia Convention. He publishes the Baptist Banner, a periodic pamphlet that advocates conservative Baptist causes, often criticizing Baptist individuals and organizations not fully supportive of the SBC. Pinckney was elected without opposition.

Missouri layman Roger Moran had earlier told the Missouri Word and Way that he would be nominated for the position, but he changed his mind shortly before the election. Moran, a member of the SBC Executive Committee, leads the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association, a group credited with spearheading a conservative turn in leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Moran is best known for compiling and distributing a series of essays accusing the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of liberalism for not disowning participants who hold views or belong to organizations that Moran regards as being excessively liberal.

Registration secretary Lee Porter won a 25th term over Jim Wells 1,717-950. Oklahoma Baptist Messenger editor John Yeats went unchallenged for a fifth term as recording secretary.

Most Convention business was approved without discussion, including the report of the Committee on Nominations. In presenting the report, chairman John Michael, an accountant from Louisville, Ky., said all nominees met the requirements of membership in cooperating churches, and of being in full agreement with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement and not belonging to any organizations that oppose the values of the SBC. He did not identify those organizations.

Nominations included Donald Bailey of Asheville and Ann Frazier of Roanoke Rapids, both of whom were tapped for second terms on the Executive Committee, which on June 11 elected Frazier as recording secretary.

Messengers approved, without discussion or opposition, a 2002 SBC operating budget of $7.1 million and a missions allocation budget of $178.3 million, with nearly 73 percent earmarked for international and North American missions. Seminaries will receive another 21 percent. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will get 1.5 percent. An operating budget of $5.5 million or 3.3 percent goes to the SBC Executive Committee.

A previously appointed Council on Family Life presented guidelines for developing a family saving strategy and creating "Great Commission Families" to the annual meeting.

The Convention later approved a resolution calling for "covenant marriages," a step also designed to strengthen the family.

Building on the family theme, Focus on the Family founder and president James Dobson closed out the meeting via a satellite feed made necessary by travel problems.

"I am so excited about what you have just done," Dobson said. "I know of no other denomination that has taken the steps you have taken today to preserve the family unit. You have taken leadership."

Peril facing the family punctuated several presentations during the meeting.

"We believe it is time for us to decide as a Convention that we're going to stand for the families in America," said Tom Elliff, a former SBC president, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., and chairman of the family council.

In his SBC president's address, James Merritt also emphasized the decline of families.

SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, who proposed the family emphasis a year ago, also decried the decline of the family.

"For the first time ever, married couples with children make up less than 25 percent of the America population," Chapman said, citing 2000 U.S. Census data. That reflects a decline of about 2 percent in the decade of the 1990s.

"It's our prayer and hope we'll be able to save the families of America," Chapman said.

In contrast to recent years, when Southern Baptists grabbed headlines with resolutions calling for evangelization of Jews and the Disney boycott, messengers this year avoided divisive resolutions, adopting nine position statements without discussion.

SBC resolutions affirmed covenant marriage and giving to world hunger. Others opposed human cloning, genocide in Sudan, Internet pornography, euthanasia in the Netherlands, discrimination against military chaplains and efforts to limit free speech in campaign-finance legislation.

"We tried to bring forward resolutions that we could state in a positive way and that Southern Baptists are of one mind on," said Danny Akin, chairman of this year's Resolutions Committee. "I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone at this Convention who is on the flipside of these issues."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Associated Baptist Press and the Baptist Editors' Network contributed to this report.)

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6/15/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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