'Grassroots' network launched to address concerns about direction of SBC

BOSSIER CITY, La. (BP) -- A group described as "grassroots" Southern Baptists announced the formation of the Conservative Baptist Network Friday (Feb. 14). Group spokesperson Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church of Bossier City, La., told Baptist Press the group was launched to address concerns about the direction of the SBC.

Jurkovich is the only person publicly identified as part of the group's leadership. He declined to share names of other leaders, though he said it was "really local pastor-driven."

"There's lots of people involved with the network, and that's really the passion behind it," Jurkovich said. "There's just lots of people around the country and [Southern Baptist] Convention that are involved with this.

"Right now," Jurkovich told BP, "we haven't really shared a lot of those names, etcetera, on a lot of fronts. So, and again, part of that is structurally, we're still putting some things together that when we want to share that, we will certainly be ready to do that."

In a press release, the network said it is not a new denomination or a competitor with other like-minded ministries. In response to potential division the network's founding could cause, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd released a statement Friday.

"Since I arrived at the EC, I have worked diligently on moving us towards a clear, concise, and compelling unified Great Commission vision," said Floyd, who assumed the role in May 2019 after nearly 33 years as pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. "The Southern Baptist Convention is at her best when churches are partnering together for mission and standing on the inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word of God. Regardless of our secondary affiliations or networks, we must continue to uphold the Baptist Faith and Message, cooperating with one another for the purpose of seeing every person reached for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation.

"Anyone who has questions about our future together, please stay tuned.... Now is the time for all of us to come together around the heartbeat of missions and evangelism."

Floyd will announce a major five-year vision to the SBC Executive Committee during its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville.

During a radio interview Friday on The Todd Starnes Show, Jurkovich was asked if it is time for a second Conservative Resurgence.

"Absolutely," he told Starnes.

The network has the support of Chuck Kelley, president emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and various leaders of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.

But when asked by BP, Jurkovich would neither confirm nor deny whether former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson, a prominent leader in the original Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence that began in the late 1970s, is involved in the network's leadership.

About 800 pastors joined the network within three hours of its launch, Jurkovich told BP, but he provided no names nor churches.

The network officially launched Friday with a website and press release, and announced a formal launch event June 8, the evening before the opening session of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. Preaching, worship, encouragement, a vision statement and denomination-related challenges are slated for the event, Jurkovich said.

In its press release, the network said "a significant number of Southern Baptists are concerned about the apparent emphasis on social justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and the redefining of biblical gender roles."

Additionally, the press release referenced Vice President Mike Pence's appearance at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Dallas, suggesting "when all attempts to keep the vice president from speaking failed, scores of messengers exited the convention in protest as the vice president began his address." The press release accused those who exited the Dallas hall of "insolence and disrespect ... foreign to what the Bible teaches about respecting those in authority in 1 Peter 2:11-17."

According to video of the session reviewed by Baptist Press, the meeting hall appeared full, with many messengers standing to their feet and applauding during his speech. A small number could be seen exiting the hall, but it is unclear whether their action was done in protest.

The network has announced no plans to endorse a current candidate nor enter a nominee for elected offices of the SBC.

Jurkovich told BP the network is "prayerfully looking at the coming months and looking at who's running.... We have really been intentional to say there's not anyone that we're backing today, or we have any plans to do so as a network."

Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary leaders endorsed the network on social media and in comments to the Christian Post Friday.

Jurkovich told BP the seminary, outside the Southern Baptist family of seminaries, has supported the network from early discussions that began months ago. There has been no discussion of whether the seminary should receive Cooperative Program dollars, Jurkovich told BP.

"They are a like-minded entity," Jurkovich said of Mid-America, "that shares our burden for the Word of God and evangelism, and they've always been so supportive of Southern Baptists.... They just wanted to partner with us and help us any way they could, and they're excited to be a part."

When asked about the network's funding, Jurkovich said grassroots support has been offered, but the group currently has no official funding stream.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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