• Pence's speech, #MeToo and more: 3 takeaways from the Southern Baptist Convention meeting

    By: USA Today

    Updated:

    DALLAS — Each year, the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting is one of the largest gatherings of evangelical Christians in the nation.

    And each year, America's largest Protestant denomination is thrust into the national spotlight as its members grapple with not only the pressing issues facing American Christianity, but the country as a whole.

    This year, more than 9,000 Southern Baptists gathered here in Dallas to do just that. The meeting came as the network of churches deals with its own #MeToo moment — just like Hollywood and the media — and generational divisions that continue to show on just how evangelical Christians should mix with partisan politics.

    Here are three key takeaways from this week in Dallas:

    Paige Patterson #MeToo controversy impacts Southern Baptist meeting

    The Southern Baptist Convention made strides to address issues brought up in the midst of their own recent, high-profile #MeToo moment. 

    Whether he was mentioned by name or not, the Paige Patterson controversy impacted the annual meeting even though the major Southern Baptist figure did not attend.

    More: Why this week could be pivotal for Southern Baptists to address treatment of women

    More: Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson withdraws from delivering convention sermon in Dallas

    Patterson, revered for his role in the evangelical denomination's conservative shift, was recently ousted from his top Texas seminary post for his mishandling of past allegations from students who told him they were raped. He also faced pushback for past counsel to abused women and crude remarks about a teen girl's appearance. 

    Patterson has apologized for the harm his remarks caused but disputes that he ever mishandled abuse reports. 

    The controversy colored panel discussions on responding to abuse in the church, the debate on whether to remove those who fired him, and the reports from Southern Baptist seminary leaders on what they are doing to better protect victims. 

    On Tuesday, the convention approved a nonbinding resolution condemning all forms of abuse and standing in support of victims. 

    It also debated and resoundingly defeated a motion to remove those at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who fired Patterson. Instead, Southern Baptists voted to have the seminary's trustees review the actions of their executive committee and report back next year. 

    Southern Baptists will also be able to figure out just how big of a problem they are facing. 

    Russell Moore, the president of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, announced Wednesday that his entity is partnering with LifeWay Research to study the scope of abuse in churches. 

    They may disagree, but Southern Baptists still support Russell Moore

    Speaking of Moore, not all Southern Baptists agree with every decision he and his commission’s staff have made since he became the president of the SBC's public policy arm.

    They did not all like his criticism of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, nor his critique of evangelicals who supported him.

    Neither did everyone care for the ERLC signing an amicus brief in support of a mosque built in New Jersey. 

    But they still support him and the ERLC. 

    More: Russell Moore receives support, talks Baptist controversy over Trump

    That's the message an overwhelming number of Southern Baptists sent during this year's annual meeting by soundly defeating a motion to defund the ERLC.

    Las Vegas pastor Vance Pitman, who leads a diverse church, came to the defense of Moore and the ERLC on the floor this week here in Dallas. 

    "The ERLC under Russell Moore's leadership has done more to bring healing to damaged relationships with people of color, minorities and a younger generation of SBC pastors than all of our actionless resolutions combined," Pitman said.

    "Make no mistake about it, there's been no other SBC entity that has done more to energize African-American, Hispanic and other racial minorities in the SBC than the ERLC," he said. 

    Controversy and impact of the vice president's speech

    Does Vice President Mike Pence's Wednesday morning address mark the last time Southern Baptists will give a political leader at microphone at their annual meeting?

    That remains to be seen, but Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, predicted in a Wednesday Twitter post that no more political speeches will be given at annual meetings. 

    While Pence's remarks were well received by many in the convention hall, others thought it sounded like a stump speech.

    Before and after, those concerned thought it would send the wrong message about Southern Baptists being aligned with the GOP. They feared it would alienate minorities and others who take issue with the Trump administration.

    More: Mike Pence criticized for Trump ‘campaign speech’ at Southern Baptist Convention

    On Wednesday, J.D. Greear, the newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president and a North Carolina pastor, underscored the focus of the network of churches. 

    "I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention — but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the great commission," said Greear in a Twitter post. "Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do."

    Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer

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