Another year, another SBC Annual Meeting. Technically, the “Convention” only exists for a Tuesday and Wednesday every year as thousands of messengers descend on a metropolitan convention center to discuss and debate business. While readers and supporters of Protestia are wisely suspicious of the kind of institutionalism that characterizes the world of the SBC, 2024’s business starts tomorrow, so without further ado, Protestia presents the 2024 Pew Sitter’s Guide to SBC ’24.

Highlights and Lowlights from the Book of Reports

Giving to the SBC’s Cooperative Program (the general fund) declined by 2.39% in the 2022-2023 fiscal year versus the 2021-2022 fiscal year, while “undesignated gifts” reported by cooperating churches grew by 1.92%, possibly indicating that churches are shifting their giving away from the SBC. Reported attendance grew by 6.47%, but this likely resulted from a lingering rebound from post-COVID attendance declines. The state conventions that reported (excluding OK, FL, GA, KY, SC, and Northwest Conventions) reported an average of 1.8 million weekly “participants” in “online worship.”

Despite the Bible’s clear teaching that the body of Christ contains one ethnicity (Gal. 3:28), the SBC’s “Southern Baptist Ethnic Research Network” has categorized cooperating churches by racial categories (“Asian,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” “Other,” “Anglo,” and “Unknown”), and provided a chart of SBC committees and trustee boards by general racial categories. The committee and trustee charts notably have no “unknown” column, raising the question of whether the SBC has been requiring its officers to categorize themselves by skin color upon appointment.

The SBC Executive Committee (EC) confusingly reported that the US Justice Department’s investigation of the EC opened in the wake of 2022’s Guidepost report, and the so-called “abuse apocalypse” was concluded with no action to be taken right before the SBC’s lawyers reminded everyone that the DOJ is still apparently investigating “the SBC as a whole.”

The EC stated that it did not plan to take legal action against interim president and CEO Willie McLaurin, who, during the background investigation pursuant to his consideration for the regular position, was found to have falsified his resume and education. The EC did not disclose the terms of the “post-employment” (severance) agreement it approved for McLaurin.

Over the last year, the Credentials Committee has recommended kicking out (disfellowship is a no-no word, perhaps “dis-cooperate”?) five churches – one for non-cooperation on charges of racism, two for non-cooperation on charges of mishandling abuse allegations, one for no financial support for five years and non-cooperation on a doctrinal concern, and only one (one!) for “having a female functioning in the office of pastor.” The hundreds of other SBC churches with lady pastors have apparently been spared the chopping block this time around.

In response to a 2023 motion that, if approved, would require typical non-profit financial disclosure from SBC institutions (like what is reported on an IRS 990), the EC kicked the financial transparency can down the road, reporting that “the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development discussed the matter during its September 18-19, 2023, and February 19-20, 2024, meetings and will consider the matter again during its June 10, 2024, meeting.”

In addition to the EC’s recommendations on the 2024-2025 allocation of Cooperative Program giving to the various entities and the EC operating budget, the EC reminds the messengers in the Book of Reports that it stood in opposition to the Law/Sanchez Amendment even as it forwarded it to be debated and voted on by the 2023 messengers. The Law Amendment, as it’s been commonly called, would add to the requirements for a cooperating SBC church to “Affirm, appoint, or employ only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” The 2023 SBC messengers in New Orleans overwhelmingly approved the Law Amendment, but the EC and many high-profile, connected SBC figures have argued against it.

Notably, the SBC Constitution has similar language in Article III, deeming churches that affirm homosexual behavior to be outside friendly cooperation, so language requiring adherence to biblical gender requirements is a norm, not an exception.

The International Mission Board (IMB) blew off messenger-approved motions to “Request International Mission Board to study the long-term effects of the Covid vaccine requirements on missionaries” and “allow missionaries to abstain from vaccinations that bind their conscience” with cookie-cutter responses that amounted to “none of your business.”

Lifeway Christian Resources released a Kingdom Men Rising Bible study in response to “toxic notions of masculinity in many corners of culture” and a book of Daniel study by J.D. Greear. They didn’t report how much of the study was sourced from Docent Research Group or if Ed Litton had also “authored” a Daniel study.

Likewise, Lifeway’s reporting on Women’s Ministry is an absolute dumpster fire, reporting on events and Bible studies from false teachers like Priscilla Shirer and Kristi McLelland, “periods are crucifixion parables” Jen Wilkin, and SSA (same-sex attracted) lesbians Jackie Hill Perry and Rebecca McLaughlin.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) predictably avoided any talk of abolishing abortion in favor of supporting the nebulous “culture of life.” ERLC president Brent Leatherwood mentioned the difficulty and pain caused by his kids’ school being the target of “transgender” shooter Audrey Hale, but not why he militantly opposed the release of Hale’s writings for public examination and scrutiny.

Recommendations/Commentary on Proposed Resolutions

Resolutions are not binding on, well, anything or anyone. They are merely public statements approved by the gathered messengers and thus represent the SBC’s “view” during any given year. They also provide a window into the prevailing zeitgeist of both the messenger body and the Resolutions Committee that sorts through and determines what the messengers will be voting on.

On Integrity in SBC Leadership: This resolution is too loose with its scriptural application (applying specific verses about elders to “leaders”), but its principles are generally correct. Unfortunately, it misses an opportunity to tighten further the definitional boundaries of pastor/elder/overseer and instead sticks with “leaders.” Even so, it largely outlines a standard all Christians should uphold. Recommendation: Yes.

On Defending Religious Liberty: While generally a restatement of standard Baptist understanding of religious liberty (a restriction on government power rather than moral permissibility for individuals), the parts of the resolution decrying state religion and blasphemy laws certainly make it look like the resolution was written to oppose the real or perceived positions of Christian Nationalism and what might be termed neo-theonomy. The debate continues, but this is a convention of Baptists, and religious liberty is a Baptist distinctive. Recommendation: Yes.

On Just War and the Pursuit of Peace: This resolution is quite the word salad. It primarily restates a bunch of historical Baptist and Christian positions on war. Recommendation: Yes.

On Justice and Peace in the Aftermath of the October 7 Attack on Israel: The term and concept of “antisemitism” has been broadened beyond any useful distinction. Yet this resolution generally states the appropriate Christian position, even as it doesn’t go far enough in distinguishing between the modern political state of Israel and the called people of Abraham (“Christians,” as we like to call them) or identifying the particular evils of Islam that motivate Hamas. Recommendation: Yes.

On the Pro-Life Ethic in a Post-Roe Society: This one takes the same position championed by the Pro-Life movement for its entire existence – no blame for the mother who chooses death for her unborn child, blaming abortion on lack of economic opportunity and affordable health care, and a call for “collaborative partnerships between civil society and government.” Recommendation: No, without substantial equal protection overhaul.

On the Ethical Realities of Reproductive Technologies and the Dignity of the Human Embryo: A very interesting resolution, considering it follows a Pro-Life resolution that (as most SBC abortion resolutions do) avoids any language that might hint at equal culpability for the mother in the death of her unborn child. This one takes a long overdue aim at the process of In Vitro Fertilization that has resulted in millions of frozen embryos that will undoubtedly face death and encourages adoption rather than producing millions of death-bound children in hopes of bringing some to birth. Recommendation: Yes.

On the God-Given Rights and Responsibilities of Parents: A resolution seemingly in response to the recent uptick in government interference in parents’ rights to raise their children, particularly as it relates to education and the evils of “transing” kids. Recommendation: Amend to fix language about the state “promoting good” (the state “praises” or “commends” good, a notably less active role) according to 1 Peter 2:14. Also, amend the or remove unnecessary and confusing language encouraging the state to “partner with the family” in protecting parental rights.

On the Danger of Abusing Non-Disclosure and Non-Disparagement Agreements: Throwing a bone to abuse survivor advocates (ironic since only consenting adults can sign legal agreements), this resolution is a toothless virtue signal. Far from resolving to condemn these typical employment legal agreements, this resolution loosely condemns legal agreements that “prevent victims of abuse from speaking the truth of their experience,” “oppress or harm individuals,” “promote unnecessary secrecy, or deter accountability,” or “perpetuate harm or injustice.” It’s non-specific, emotionalized, and patronizing. Recommendation: No.

On Evangelism and the Great Commission: Not sure why the SBC needs a resolution to restate the purposes of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. Recommendation: No.

On Appreciation for Indianapolis: The typical appreciation resolution for the host city. Recommendation: Yes.

Abuse Reform

It is safe to say the bloom is off the rose concerning the SBC’s 2021-initiated sex abuse reform adventure (it could be argued that the adventure started in 2018 after the veneration of Rachel Denhollander and the Houston Chronicle published their “Abuse of Faith” series the next year). What began as a craven power move as SBC institutionalist Grant Gaines used the crying and Mike Stone-kneecapping Hannah-Kate Williams as a prop to guilt messengers into approving the Sex Abuse Task Force (SATF) resulted in an expensive, nothing-burger investigation by Guidepost Solutions that featured primarily cases of consenting adults later characterized as abuse. The characters who consolidated power under a “we’ll fix the abuse crisis” banner eventually admitted both that there was no coverup by the SBC on responding to abuse and that promises to increase so-called accountability were not in keeping with either Baptist church autonomy or common law justice.

Note: While the outside world (who is watching, the SBC reminds us) seems to think the SBC’s “abuse crisis” is something akin to the Catholic priest pedophilia scandal, the headline cases in the SBC (Lyell/Sills, Hunt) are situations involving consenting adults. Tellingly, the “victim” who helped launch the sex abuse reform circus (and torpedo 2021’s conservative presidential candidate) wasn’t even mentioned in the Guidepost investigation.

The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force’s 2024 recommendations curiously admit that it doesn’t care whether or not the reason it was commissioned (an abuse “crisis” in the SBC), stating, “Regardless of the appropriate description, the primary issue we’ve confronted is the fact that up until very recently, the largest Protestant body in the United States had no meaningful plan to help its churches prevent or respond to sexual abuse.” The task force’s recommendations echo the broad claim the SBC president made on CNN, that those who reported abuse (carefully described as “experienced abuse” to avoid any legal/criminal claim) were ignored and attacked.

Not to be deterred by the sham that the entire exercise has become, the ARITF will recommend that the messengers approve an expansion of the SBC’s Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Training curriculum to help churches combat sexual abuse (its least controversial ask, even as nothing in the curriculum would have impacted the primary cases chronicled in the Guidepost report).

Most tellingly, the ARITF will recommend the controversial “Ministry Check” website be launched through an independent 501c3 dubbed the Abuse Reform Commission (ARC). The group’s independence purportedly shields the SBC from financial accountability in case the ARC drops someone on the list of bad guys who is not actually a bad guy. Yet the ARC Ministry Check site will only include people either criminally convicted or successfully sued for abuse (all public data that would be in any standard background check), this effectively makes the Ministry Check website nothing more than a much more expensive Google alert-style list of offenders – just like the one the Executive Committee was excoriated for in the SATF-commissioned Guidepost report. And, of course, the ARC will depend on grant money given by pressuring SBC messengers.

After millions of dollars wasted, vicious and false headlines maligning good Southern Baptist churches as either supportive of or purposefully ignorant of the “scourge of abuse” in their midst, the main consequence of all of this politicking has been exposing the faithful giving of churches to an endless parade of lawsuits from ambulance-chasing lawyers happy to represent claimed abuse victims against an SBC Executive Committee that foolishly waived attorney-client privilege. Recommendation: No to everything the ARITF wants to do, or at the very least yes to expanding ministry curriculum related to helping churches with abuse matters, and NO on everything else.

The Cooperation Group

In the waning moments of 2023’s SBC Annual Meeting, James Merritt and a gaggle of former SBC presidents camped out at a floor microphone to offer a motion to allow SBC president Bart Barber to appoint a “broadly representative task force” to study how to apply Article III of the SBC Constitution requiring the determination of whether or not a church is “in friendly cooperation on questions of faith and practice.” This motion was made with no time left for amendment or debate and in the wake of the messengers overwhelmingly passing the Law Amendment and disfellowshipping Saddleback Church for employing women as pastors.

Unsurprisingly, the “Cooperation Group,” which featured members from churches that openly and unapologetically employ women pastors, brought back recommendations that seemingly disagree with the will of the messengers on egalitarian issues, in keeping with earlier signaling that they believed the SBC constitution needed no changes. The group’s recommendations are suspect, although they did not recommend any changes that would stop potential further amending of the SBC Constitution. Recommendation: No to every Cooperation Group recommendation.

Presidential Candidates

It is no secret that the SBC presidency is passed between men who have shown enough fealty to “the platform.” For instance, the Cooperation Group motion passed in 2023 was originally the idea of megachurch pastor Clint Pressley (a close associate of Merritt), who suggested it publicly leading up to the 2023 meeting before backing out and forcing Merritt to bring the motion to the floor himself. Unsurprisingly, Pressley is among the declared candidates for SBC president this year.

Bruce Frank – Frank is the pastor of the multicampus megachurch Biltmore Church in Asheville. He chaired the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) commissioned in 2021 that hired Guidepost Solutions and resulted in a report based around “trauma-informed” justice and has placed the SBC in the crosshairs of lawsuits from both David Sills and Johnny Hunt. Frank has taken every woke position expected from a platform megachurch influencer, made most obvious in his most popular (yet clownish) sermon entitled “Jesus Wasn’t White,” and notably tried to promote wokester Marcus Hayes to take over at FBC Naples. He’s basically JD Greear 2.0.

Mike Keahbone – Sporting an impeccable record of Abuse Inc. narrative promotion, Keahbone is part of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) along with fellow abuse warrior Todd Benkert, 2022’s follow-up group tasked with deciding what to do with the recommendations offered by the SATF after the dud that was the Guidepost report. Keahbone has planted his flag on abuse response, as well as a consistent appeal to intersectionality by way of his Native American heritage (see 2022’s Resolution 4). Keahbone’s unknowns are substantial, but what is known is objectionable, to say the least.

Jared Moore – Moore is far and away our pick for SBC president, as he has the courage to take on the most difficult cultural and theological battle facing contemporary evangelicalism – the intrusion of homosexuality into the church by way of unbiblical “Side B” (“same-sex attraction” Christianity). Not only has Moore had the seriousness and decency to interact with pew-sitting polemics websites like Protestia, but he has publicly debated the issue with anyone who is willing. He pastors a small church like most in the SBC and has the theological chops and personal integrity to bring about the real change needed in the convention, but unfortunately, this makes him a long-shot candidate in a sea of messengers that often respect institutional influence rather than biblical fidelity.

Clint Pressley – Pressley is the Senior Pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. He was the first to announce his candidacy, but as a close associate of both gay preacher-affirming, pyramid-scheming James Merritt and “He Gets Us” NAMB president Kevin Ezell, he’s been a reported SBC presidential possibility for many years. Pressley has been swimming in the woke side of the pool since at least 2014, defending his church’s hiring of an illegal immigrant (with requisite support for open borders) in 2018, quoting woke SBTS professor Jarvis Williams’ claim that Jesus “died for an interracial bride” in a sermon, and has previously expressed support for Russell Moore and Matthew Hall’s labeling of so-called “racial justice” as a “gospel issue.” Of course, this is consistent with what the standard world-synchronized, Ezell-Greear-Moore-Floyd platform position has been for many years. On a brighter note, Pressley has expressed support for the Law Amendment’s clarification of a male-only pastorate as a condition of friendly cooperation.

David Allen – Allen is a former SWBTS professor purged during the ill-fated and problematic tenure of Adam Greenway, where he worked for 18 years as a teacher and Dean of both the School of Theology and School of Preaching. He is now at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Allen is a theological conservative who would likely be an excellent choice, especially given his apparent willingness to confront institutional company men like Adam Greenway.

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