First Baptist Orlando to pay all pastors' conference costs

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) -- First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla., has paid the full cost of the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference, leaders said Monday (Feb. 17) in response to disagreement about speakers and performers slated for the June 7-8 event.

"We will not receive any financial support of any kind from any SBC entity or auxiliary," pastors' conference leaders said in a statement released by Matthew Robinson, First Orlando pastor of administration. "Our hope is that this will ease conflicts or tensions that exist over the slated program for the conference. The 2020 SBC Pastors' Conference is in no way being sponsored, controlled or paid for by the SBC, even though its purpose is still to bless and encourage SBC pastors and wives."

The speakers and performers remain the same as originally announced, the conference said.

Pastors' Conference President David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Orlando, responded as early as Feb. 11 to concerns voiced among Southern Baptists that not all speakers and performers invited to the event are Southern Baptist, as well as to a scheduled performance by a woman who is a spoken word artist but also a teaching pastor at her non-Southern Baptist church.

Others have also been critical of the inclusion of David Hughes, pastor of Church by the Glades, a Southern Baptist congregation in Coral Springs, Fla. The church has received attention for various performances in its services, as well as sermon series with sensual themes.

"My goal, my prayer was that we could open ourselves up to hear from people that maybe were good friends of ours, but not in our Southern Baptist Convention," Uth has said. "I feel like they have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it."

Uth responded after he received both affirming and disparaging feedback regarding the inclusion of Hosanna Wong as a spoken word artist, with many complaining that Wong is also a network associate teaching pastor at the Chula Vista location of the multisite EastLake Church in the San Diego area. Others pointed out Jim Cymbala, pastor of the evangelical non-denominational Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Wayne Cordeiro, founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship, based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In today's statement, the pastors' conference said God's Kingdom is more expansive than the Southern Baptist family.

"We believe that we are part of God's kingdom. His kingdom is bigger than us," the conference said. "We can and should hear from and learn from men and women inside and outside our denomination who have meaningful truth to share that can challenge and encourage us, even if they use different methodology or hold to different theology or ecclesiology."

The greatest commandment Jesus taught is to love one another, the statement reads.

"We believe the way we treat and love our sisters and brothers in Christ demonstrates how much we love Jesus and identifies us as followers of Jesus," conference leaders said. "We seek to build unity and to love."

The conference welcomed pastors to attend the event at the Orange County Convention Center in advance of the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting.

"We are excited to welcome you, as part of our Southern Baptist family, to Orlando. We do hope you will want to attend the 2020 SBC Pastors' Conference. We believe you will be encouraged in your personal walk with Jesus and in fulfilling your calling as pastor," conference leaders said. "If you don't feel comfortable attending, that's okay too. Your participation is desired but by no means required."

Suggestions or comments regarding the conference may be sent to SBCPC2020@firstorlando.com. Leaders also invited donations to SBCPC2020 via texts to 40777, or at sbcpc.net.

In addition to Uth, conference leaders are vice president Michael Wood, lead pastor of First West church in West Monroe, La.; and treasurer Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

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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