8 entity heads field messenger questions

by SBC writing team, posted Tuesday, June 19, 2018 (one year ago)

Jeffrey Bingham is the interim president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Photo by Van Payne
DALLAS (BP) -- Questions were posed to eight Southern Baptist Convention entity presidents during time allotted for messengers' questions during the leaders' respective reports at the June 12-13 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Following are accounts of the entity presidents' responses. Not all entity presidents were asked questions.

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, responded to two post-report questions regarding human sexuality.

Nathan Rager, a licensed minister and messenger from The Peoples Church in Clearwater, Fla., said to Moore, "An ERLC fellow is an advertised endorser of the Revoice Conference that in their words, not mine, celebrates queer culture and the plight of LGBT Christians. Will the ERLC disavow Revoice and will Dr. Karen Swallow Prior remain an ERLC fellow?"

Prior, an English professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., is a fellow with the ERLC's Research Institute. The Revoice Conference, which is being hosted July 26-28 by a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in St. Louis, says on its website it is "supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality."

In her endorsement of Revoice, Prior wrote, "Now more than ever, the church must love and support our Christian brothers and sisters who are same-sex-attracted, yet desire to lead biblically-faithful lives, whether in singleness or marriage. I'm encouraged that Revoice is here to meet this great need in the church."

Moore replied, "I don't know about the Revoice Conference, but I do know this: Karen Swallow Prior has committed herself to go anywhere and everywhere to stand up and tell the truth about God's Word about human sexuality and call people, even those who disagree with her, to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ in obedience to His will. And in doing that, she has seen countless people come to faith in Jesus Christ and countless others strengthened in going forward.

"I don't know anybody more committed to evangelism, [more] committed to the inerrancy and truth of God's Word and more committed to the biblical message that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sexual immorality leads not just to bad consequences but to hell," Moore said.

Rager offered an amendment June 12 to defund the ERLC completely in the 2018-19 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, but it was defeated.

Zack Zbinden, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Goochland, Va., thanked the ERLC for assisting small-church pastors and asked for clarity on such gender-related terms as "gay Christian" and "sexual minorities."

"It seems that some Christians identify themselves with a descriptor that emphasizes either their sexuality or their sin instead of their identity in Christ," Zbinden said. "And where would the ERLC help us in defining the line that is drawn for homosexual sin? ... Is it OK to identify as gay as long as you're just remaining celibate, or what about those desires and same-sex attraction, temptations, you know, with Matthew 5 telling a heterosexual you can't even think of a woman to lust after her? How does that fit in with all that?"

Moore said, "I believe that our identity is to be found in Jesus Christ, not in the sum of our temptations. What I would say to you is there are men and women in our churches who are grappling very hard with temptations and are doing so in obedience to Jesus Christ and are not engaging in sexual immorality.

"And what we should say to them is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not mean that we will be free from temptation," he said. "As a matter of fact, all of us have different temptations and different points of vulnerability, and we need to bear one another's burdens there. And if one set of temptations goes away from us, another set of temptations will come to us. And any Christian who is not fighting spiritual warfare against temptation is a Christian who is indulging in what those temptations offer.

"And so I think we should speak very clearly about what it means to be holy before God in following His design of sexuality only within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman and be able to provide resources to those who are seeking to find a family in order to hold them accountable, in order to love them as they walk and fight through temptations of whatever sort they are," Moore said.

The ERLC has many resources to help churches think through questions on gender and sexuality, Moore said.

Gateway Seminary

Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary of the SBC, answered questions from messengers about how Gateway was navigating the balance between online and traditional education, what steps were being taken to equip the faculty to better handle physical abuse cases and what the seminary was doing regarding restitution in reported cases.

"We keep meticulous records gauging progress between online and traditional classes," he said. "Our online classes are not simply glorified correspondence courses but educational experiences similar to those in the traditional classroom. We find that there is little difference between the two."

He said that in his 14 years as president of Gateway, "there has never been an allegation" of abuse "that rose to any level of any hint of criminality" among students, faculty or staff.

"We do have clear policies in place at Gateway. In California, we are mandated to do sexual harassment training, and we follow that mandate as well," Iorg said.

Midwestern Seminary

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, replied to one question after his report.

Richard Piles, pastor of Emory (Texas) Baptist Church, asked all seminary presidents, including Allen, "What steps are you discussing at your individual seminaries to better equip your faculty and staff to handle cases of physical abuse?"

Allen responded, "Obviously, this tragic scenario has been on all of our minds in recent weeks and months, but I am pleased to report to you that, as we have conducted an internal review, we feel good about the policies and processes we have."

The policies and processes in place, he said, include treating any allegation of abuse with the utmost seriousness -- "Regardless of what we may interpret to be the plausibility of the accuser, the date of the accusation or any other attendant fact that might incline one to not take it seriously."

Abuse will be reported to the dean of students and immediately reported to the legal authorities in order to abide by all law enforcement expectations, Allen said.

Any person who believed they had been assaulted would be treated with pastoral care and respect at Midwestern, Allen said. There would be no shaming or scolding them for raising the issue.

Allen concluded his response by stating, "I stand before this convention to say we are committed -- to the best of our ability -- to honoring and protecting every student, regardless of age, regardless of gender, so as to protect the integrity and the credibility of Midwestern Seminary and the collective witness of Southern Baptists."

In response to an earlier question posed to all seminary presidents about the total number of physical abuse and rape allegations on seminary campuses, Allen said in his five and a half years as Midwestern's president "we have not had a case, even an allegation, that prompted reporting."

New Orleans Seminary

-- Whitney Putnam, a messenger from Providence Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., stated her belief that valuing women would help combat abuse and posed her question to all of the seminary presidents, asking, "How are our seminaries championing women in leadership? Pointedly, are there women in leadership on our seminary staffs and what does that look like? and "What are our seminaries doing to reevaluate our infrastructures to allow for women [in] leadership?"

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley responded, "All six seminaries today have the largest enrollment of female students that they've ever had in their history. All six seminaries are incorporating women as leaders within the structure of their campus more so than ever before."

Speaking of NOBTS specifically, Kelley said the seminary's associate dean of graduate studies and the associate dean of undergraduate studies are women, adding, "Those are two of the most significant levels of faculty leadership we have."

Kelley said all six seminaries are incorporating women into their "teaching teams at every opportunity" and added, "We are committed to the complementarian model of leadership as taught in Scripture."

When questioned by accrediting agencies that "have no commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 or complementarian leadership," Kelley said his answer is, "We are Southern Baptists and we're not going to have a female as a preaching professor." Kelley's answer drew applause. He continued, "But that does not mean there are not significant roles of leadership that women can play ... Women are an inevitable, precious, beautiful part of every one of your six Southern Baptist seminaries."

Addressing abuse, Kelley said cases of abuse on the NOBTS campus are "rare," and "treated very aggressively." He pointed to a case of a husband abusing his wife on campus that was appealed finally to the U.S. Supreme Court -- Rudolph v. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1989.

Kelley said faculty, staff and students are held to the same high standard of conduct, including love and respect.

-- Robby Hargrave, a messenger from Holly Brook Baptist Church in Hawkins, Texas, said to Kelley, "Currently, in my understanding, the Caskey scholarship [for small church ministers] is not extended to Texas residents. Is that a possibility in the future?"

In response, Kelley said the seminary hopes to expand the NOBTS scholarship program. "Three states -- Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- currently are being served. We have a very specific plan for extending that scholarship into two other states we're assigned to serve, and that is Georgia and Florida. And ultimately we hope to offer at least 50 scholarships for online theological education to any small church pastor or staff member anywhere in the United States. So, our goal is to get from where we are to everywhere as fast as we can."

NAMB

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, responded to two questions after his report to SBC messengers Wednesday morning, June 13.

Nathan Stuller, a messenger from Sojourn Church in Belleville, Ill., asked, "From last year's Crossover event with 3,498 professions of faith, do we know how many of those professions were actually connected to a local church and are still active in those churches?"

In his response, Ezell stated, "We work hand-in-hand with Harvest America [and] Greg Laurie, and we are connected with the local churches. So all of those decisions are directed locally. Last year in Phoenix, they were distributed to the local churches for them to follow up. Now to track those year-to-year, we have not gone back to attempt. Really, it's impossible to know how many are continually involved in attendance in a church, but we do know that every one of those are followed up. One of the things that attracted us to Greg Laurie and Harvest America from the very beginning was the strong follow-up, and making sure that every person was connected to a local church. We lateral that to the local church, but after that we do not track it from year to year. We have not done that."

Tom Ascol, a messenger from Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., stated, "I want to commend Dr. Ezell and NAMB, Rob Gallaty and his committee [the Disciple-making Task Force] for their work and for the honesty and integrity on reporting these numbers. It's refreshing and I want you to know that we stand with you, and as numbers might decrease in the reporting, we will take confidence in knowing that they are more accurate. I would like to add on to what was just said. Is there a way that we can track the professions of faith made at Crossover from year to year just to see how these new believers are doing? If we find that they are not doing well -- the same problem that was just reported -- can we maybe evaluate that and maybe come up with new recommendations about how they are being evangelized?"

Ezell responded, "Absolutely. We'll do our very best to look into tracking that as best as we possibly can. The challenge is, when you divvy to that many local churches, to stay in communication and connection and get the accurate reporting back from those churches it is very difficult. But I will look into that and we will do everything possible to track the over 3,000 decisions that happened here in Dallas and will do likewise as we move forward to Birmingham next year. Great suggestion. Thank you for your comment. Well taken and we will follow up and do our very best to do that."

Southeastern Seminary

-- Scott Berry, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas, asked a question to all the seminary presidents: "With the rise of online education, how are your schools navigating the balance between residential and online to maintain quality?"

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin responded, "I can just simply say this for Southeastern: We're absolutely committed to an on-campus ministry and on-campus theological training for the foreseeable future, in fact, into the future as far as you can look. At the same time, we recognize that the changes in the world provide an opportunity, as I mentioned a moment ago, to train men and women around the world."

Akin said there is no difference in the content or quality of the assignments between online and campus classes at Southeastern.

"We work very hard to make sure there is no compromise of quality in our online program," Akin said.

-- Kimberly Waggener, a messenger from Dayspring Church in Hot Springs, Ark., thanked Akin for the way he handled recent allegations involving Southeastern and for his statement regarding the protection of women who attend Southeastern.

Waggener said, "Thank you for the statement you just made about how Southeastern is approaching their protection and dealing [with] young women and students with integrity. We are sending one of our young women to you this fall and entrusting them to you with confidence. Thank you, Dr. Akin."

Southern Seminary

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, received two questions from the convention floor. The first related to women's teaching the Bible, specifically whether the men missionary Joanna Moore lead from drunkenness should be discounted because of her gender.

Addressing the broader issue, Mohler explained that every professor in Southern Seminary's School of Theology must be qualified to be a pastor of a Southern Baptist church.

"That means that every faculty member in the School of Theology and every faculty position is going to be filled by a man," he said. "And we say that without an apology. But at the same time, we have other schools and other programs in which there are many women who are on the faculty and wonderfully serving."

Mohler said he thinks the distinction between the School of Theology and other divisions of the seminary is "really important," and he added that "there is not a man in this room who is not indebted to women who have taught him."

The second question addressed the efforts of all six SBC seminaries to raise up godly men to serve as pastors and to be husbands for Christian women. Mohler responded that all six seminaries are striving to develop godly men. He joked that SBC seminaries are "the best place to get married" in the world.

Southwestern Seminary

Following his report for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, interim president Jeffrey Bingham fielded five questions from messengers. First, Lori McDonald, messenger from Corpus Christi (Texas) Community Church, asked how Bingham feels about his working relationship with the board of trustees and its executive committee in light of recent events.

Bingham answered, "May I remind all of us, please, that the executive committee is made up of 12 godly men and women. They are pastors of churches, ministers within churches with a variety of ministries ... These are men and women who are indwelt by the Spirit and who are serving the seminary in the very same manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ came to serve the lost -- they are denying themselves, bearing the cross daily in order to do what they deem is best in light of the Word of God and, in common counsel among each other, what is best for our students."

Bingham said he has witnessed the trustees experience "anxiety and agony" over difficult decisions they recently had to make, adding that they did so through prayer and study of the Scriptures.

"This is a godly group of men and women, and I cannot think of 12 people on the face of the earth now that I would rather be reporting to, that I would rather be submissive to and that, frankly, I have more confidence in," Bingham said. "As the interim president of Southwestern, I am happy to be working with them."

When Ron Wilson of Lakewood Baptist Church in Phoenix City, Ariz., later asked whether he felt the same way about the non-executive committee members of the board of trustees, Bingham affirmed that he did.

The next question was posed by Jay Adkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Westwego, La. Referring to an SBC messenger's motion to remove the executive committee from the board, Adkins asked whether Bingham was concerned about the effects of that motion on Southwestern's accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"I think your question is a serious one," Bingham said. "I take it seriously, but frankly, since the time that we all heard that the motion was coming before us, and with the other matters that are before me and the other responsibilities that I have, this is one thing that I have not been able to investigate in-depth to this point.

"But I guarantee you that it is at the top of my list as to what I will be concerned with and what our VPs will be concerned with once we find out how it is that the matter turns out," he said.

Hours later, messengers voted against the motion, leaving the executive committee in place as Southwestern trustees.

Maribeth Jakis of the Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark., asked whether Southwestern plans to change its hiring practice "as related to due diligence in view of preventing the repetition of this recent scenario and others like it."

Bingham answered, "Every decision that we make, whether it is a hiring decision, whether it is in any possible future investigation of an allegation of any kind, whether it is related to any broader issue at the institution, let me restate my words from the beginning [of my seminary report]: It is my priority to create a safe culture and a safe campus. And that will involve my being responsible to that pledge at every level of the institutional process, from hiring, from staff evaluations and to any other matter that comes before us that is related to personnel issues."

When a messenger asked all six seminaries how many total cases of physical abuse and rape are being reported on their campuses annually, Bingham said all such reporting issues are being handled by Southwestern's board. He called on board chairman Kevin Ueckert to answer, and Ueckert came on the platform. After some discussion among platform personnel, Allen reported for Midwestern then said he suspected each other seminary president likely would have a similar "sparse report."

Compiled by David Roach, Tom Strode, Kathie Chute, Pat Hudson, Marilyn Stewart, Mike Ebert, Lauren Pratt, Aaron Cline Hanbury, and Alex Sibley.
Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Download Story