SBC EC recommends expanding membership to small states

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, speaks during the discussion of a recommendation to extend EC representation to four state conventions -- the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana. (Morris Abernathy)Four state conventions would gain representation on the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee under a recommendation adopted during the EC's Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville for presentation at the SBC annual meeting in June 2017.

The recommendation would amend SBC Bylaw 18 to exempt the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana Baptist conventions from Bylaw 30's requirement that territories have 15,000 members in cooperating Baptist churches to qualify for EC representation.

In other actions, EC members updated the committee's media relations policy (see related story), declined to recommend an amendment to the SBC constitution to require that churches relate to a state convention and association to be considered a cooperating Southern Baptist congregation, and honored retiring state convention executives Fred Hewett, Cecil Seagle and Fermin Whittaker.

Regarding the amendment to extend EC membership to the additional conventions, EC President Frank S. Page told the committee he originated the proposed bylaw amendment in an attempt to be "fair and kind."

"I have deep passion for small churches and deep passion for our smaller [state convention] partners," Page said. Some territories "have been a part of the convention all these years" and yet "have no representation on the Executive Committee."

The EC's September meeting marked the third time the body had considered a proposal to grant representation to geographic areas with fewer than 15,000 church members. In February and again in June, the EC considered proposals but felt more study was needed.

At a Sept. 20 plenary session, 20 minutes of discussion ended with approximately 60 of 82 EC members favoring the recommendation on a show-of-hands vote, according to an estimate by Baptist Press that was corroborated by EC chairman Stephen Rummage.

Members to speak against the recommendation said they supported the concept of granting representation to all geographic territories but worried the waiver of an objective numerical standard could set an unhelpful precedent.

Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., told BP the EC's action "was carefully considered in the workgroup as well as the Administrative Committee" and "reflects the heart of Dr. Page and the committee as a whole to see the fullest number of Baptists represented on the Executive Committee so that all Baptists can know what is happening throughout our convention and so that all Baptist territories can have an opportunity to speak into the direction of our convention."

SBC referrals

In response to motions referred from the 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, the Executive Committee:

• declined to recommend an amendment to The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, Section IV, as proposed in a motion by messenger Steve Taylor from Indiana. Faith, as described in Article IV as "a personal commitment of the entire personality," lacks the element of belief, Taylor stated in setting forth his concern in a two-page letter. The Executive Committee, in its response to be reported to messengers, said it "declines to recommend amending selective portions of The Baptist Faith and Message apart from a Convention-authorized comprehensive review of the Convention's confession of faith."

• declined to recommend a constitutional amendment that would have required churches to relate to a state convention and association as a prerequisite to cooperating with the SBC. The EC stated that the amendment, proposed by messenger Andy Perryman of Georgia, would be contradictory to Article III, Article IV, and the preamble of the SBC constitution regarding autonomy of the Southern Baptist Convention and its cooperating bodies.

• declined to recommend a bylaws amendment requiring that all nomination speeches for SBC officers include the percentage of Cooperative Program giving by each nominee's church. The SBC Bylaw 10C amendment recommended by messenger Steven Bailey of Arkansas was unwarranted, the EC said, as messengers are fully capable of using all publicly available information about any nominee to determine whether the content of any nominating speech is accurate, sufficient and persuasive.

• declined to recommend an amendment to Bylaw 15J that Commmittee on Nominations changes made within 45 days of the annual meeting be published no later than seven days before that annual meeting. The amendment recommended by messenger Doug Hibbard of Arkansas was unnecessary, the EC said, because the current processes of the Committee on Nominations are "efficient and sufficient to provide messengers with information regarding nominees." Messengers may make inquiries during the nominations committee report as well as make a motion to amend the report as indicated in SBC Bylaw 15K, the EC noted.

Other action

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission honored GuideStone CEO O.S. Hawkins with the 2016 John Leland Award for Religious Liberty, commending Hawkins' legal battle against the Affordable Care Act's abortion/contraception mandate.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed lower courts to broker a resolution in the dispute that upholds the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose abortion.

"O.S. Hawkins easily could have led GuideStone to just accept whatever mandate came down from the government and said we'll just navigate our way through it," ERLC President Russell Moore said. "He didn't. He led with courage and conviction and with skill and with integrity.

"The board of trustees of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission voted unanimously to award him with the John Leland Award for Religious Liberty, and we wanted to recognize that in front of all of you here today."

Hawkins said GuideStone is "cautiously very optimistic" that it will achieve a satisfactory resolution in the case. GuideStone health plans "provide contraception," he said, "but there are four [abortifacient] pills we don't provide and never will."

Resolutions of appreciation

The Executive Committee unanimously adopted resolutions of appreciation for three state convention executive directors who are retiring -- Fred Hewett of Montana, Cecil Seagle of Indiana and Fermin Whittaker of California.

Fermin A. Whittaker

Whittaker, who will retire in February, has led the California Southern Baptist Convention since 1995, his 22-year tenure being the longest in the convention's 76-year history.

The resolution credited Whittaker and his wife of 46 years, Carmen, with "contributions to Southern Baptist life have been numerous and distinguished."

Under Whittaker's leadership, the number of CSBC cooperating churches has grown by more than 52 percent, from 1,168 in 1995 to 1,782 in 2015, with an additional 475 mission churches, totaling 2,257 congregations across the state.

CSBC churches have reported 302,000 baptisms since 1995 and increased the portion of Cooperative Program gifts forwarded by the convention to Southern Baptist national and international ministries by nearly 5 percentage points, from 28.85 percent in 1995 to 33.6 percent in 2015, despite the global economic downturn.

The resolution of appreciation noted that the California Southern Baptist Convention is "among the most diverse in the SBC, with many of the state's largest and strongest CP-supporting churches from a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups," with Whittaker leading the convention into a number of migrant and disaster relief ministries.

Whittaker, a native of Panama, was saved at age 12 and baptized, surrendering to the ministry in 1959, all under the leadership of Southern Baptist missionaries. He moved to the United States in 1964 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen five years later. He served as pastor of First Bilingual Baptist Church in Pico Rivera, Calif., before being appointed as a missionary to California with the former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board), later serving as assistant director of the language missions division, director of the ethnic church growth department and a regional coordinator for HMB's planning and finance section.

Fred L. Hewett

Hewett, who will retire in October, was commended by the Executive Committee for his leadership of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention and previous church planting efforts.

Hewett has served in the current position nearly nine years. Previously he had been a church planting coordinator with the North American Mission Board's church planting group for four years. He pastored a church in Atlanta in the early 1990s and then planted a church in Jupiter, Fla., in 1994, where he baptized more than 300 people and grew the church to nearly 600 in Sunday morning worship in eight years. Before that he worked 12 years for the State Farm Insurance Company and served in the U.S. Navy.

Hewett led Montana pastors as "a man of integrity, vision, compassion, a problem solver, and someone who can encourage the heart," the EC noted, and led Baptists in the state to "a renewed focus on penetrating lostness."

As executive director, Hewett helped grow the number of churches that cooperate with the Montana convention by 28.2 percent from 110 to 141 – including nine churches planted in the current year. Baptisms from those churches also steadily grew, the resolution noted, from less than 500 per year when Hewett was elected executive director to nearly 700 in 2015, the last year of record, for a total of 4,809 baptisms. Cooperative Program giving from the state's 141 churches and missions/church plants has increased for six consecutive years.

Cecil W. Seagle

Seagle was commended for his five-plus decades of denominational service in advance of his December retirement as executive director of the State Convention of Baptists (SCBI) in Indiana.

Seagle has served in his current position since 2011. Baptist leaders have characterized Seagle as "a respected and faithful servant of the Lord." He's been credited with leading the convention through several cultural, structural and denominational transitions.

Prior to his current role, Seagle served as the Florida Baptist Convention's missions division director for 22 years. His relationship with Indiana began in 2003 with a Florida missions partnership. In 2007, the partnership began to focus on how to impact Indiana's urban centers, culminating in Indianapolis being designated as a "Send City" in the North American Mission Board's emerging Send North America strategy. Under Seagle's leadership, the convention has improved church planter assessments, developed planting equipping centers, and made more effective use of its Church Planter Basic Training. As a result, more than 100 church plants have been initiated, with a high of 30 plants in a single year.

During Seagle's leadership, SCBI churches gave $4.5 million through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' channel of support for state convention and SBC missions and ministry causes. The convention increased the percentage forwarded from the state convention to the Southern Baptist Convention by nearly five percentage points (32.84 percent in 2010 to 37.7 percent in 2015).

Seagle served as pastor of six churches during his ministry career that began at Buckeye Forest Baptist Mission in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1961. He is the author of "Stress in the Life of the Minister" and has had numerous articles published in various publications.

Also during the meeting, Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, presented checks totaling more than $713,000 for the SBC's two mission boards. The funds -- $465,699 for the International Mission Board and $247,689 for the North American Mission Board -- were mission offerings given this summer by participants in LifeWay's Fuge, CentriKids and World Changers ministries.

Compiled by Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks, senior editor Art Toalston, chief national correspondent David Roach and general assignment writer/editor Diana Chandler.

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