Amid controversy over North Carolina's controversial transgender restroom law, Southern Baptist Convention leaders estimate they're less than two weeks away from finalizing contracts to hold the 2023 SBC annual meeting in Charlotte.
And they say they're glad to support the state for its moral stand on gender and sexuality.
SBC President Steve Gaines said that "while other organizations such as the NCAA, NBA and NFL are seeking to punish North Carolinians for their state government's bold and appropriate stand on gender and sexuality, Southern Baptists have voted and are resolute about holding our annual meeting there in 2023."
"Because we are staunch advocates of religious liberty for all, we have no intention of changing our minds," Gaines told Baptist Press in written comments. "My prayer is that other businesses and organizations will join us and make North Carolina their preferred choice for conferences, conventions and other similar events."
The SBC's vote to schedule its 2023 annual meeting in Charlotte came at the convention's St. Louis annual meeting this summer, less than three months after North Carolina legislators adopted House Bill 2, an antidiscrimination law which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among legally protected classes. The law also requires individuals in state buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates.
In response to the law, some organizations have cancelled events in North Carolina as an expression of support for so-called homosexual and transgender rights. Among groups to cancel plans in the Tar Heel State are the NCAA, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the NBA and various businesses and recording artists.
"If more state politicians would follow North Carolina's lead in this," Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said of HB 2, "we could stop the unprecedented bullying and intolerance that is seeking to erode our religious liberties in America. Now is the time for all Bible-believing Christians to lovingly, firmly stand up for righteousness and common sense."
Convention manager Bill Townes told BP the SBC Executive Committee staff has been working since 2014 to schedule an annual meeting in North Carolina and considered HB 2 as it sought to finalize a recommendation to the Executive Committee. In June, the EC forwarded the recommendation to the full SBC.
"We take into consideration a lot of things" when scheduling annual meetings, Townes said. "We certainly were aware of that issue that was happening in North Carolina, and we thought it wasn't bad for us to be there and support that city."
The opportunity to support North Carolinians "fell in line with what we were already thinking" in terms of convention sites, Townes said.
The economic impact of the 2023 annual meeting is estimated at more than $8.5 million for Charlotte-area businesses, Townes said.
North Carolina Baptists welcomed the SBC's support.
Allan Blume, editor of North Carolina Baptists' Biblical Recorder newsjournal, told BP the state's Baptists are "thrilled to welcome the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting back to our state for what will be the second time in 107 years. The announced presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ offers a positive statement for our embattled state."
Previously, the SBC annual meeting convened in North Carolina in 1872, 1897, 1916 and 2006, according to the 2016 SBC Annual.
"As many know," Blume said in written comments, "some radical voices launched a smear campaign, including boycotts of the state, after our state legislature passed House Bill 2 earlier this year. The bill provides privacy and protection for women and children in public restrooms and locker rooms—matters that are rejected by a promiscuous culture.
"Concert artists, conventions, professional sports and college sports events have been cancelled or moved out of the state through an aggressive campaign of misinformation and unparalleled hypocrisy. We appreciate the support of our Southern Baptist family," Blume said.
Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told BP he is "delighted" at the SBC's support.
"It's a matter of great importance that at this time, the largest Protestant denomination in the country is demonstrating their support for North Carolina's stand on the bathroom bill, HB 2," said Creech, who pastored Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina 20 years before transitioning to his current role.
The 2023 annual meeting is slated for June 13-14.