Evangelist Franklin Graham closed out the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in mid-June by announcing a new initiative to encourage public school children to be on-campus evangelists for Christ.
"I want to see a child, at least one child, in every class in every public school in America who is trained as a witness for Jesus Christ," said Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The association plans to enroll children in an Internet-based witnessing program that will give them cards identifying them as "certified evangelists."
The son of Billy Graham and the president of the Samaritan's Purse relief organization urged Southern Baptists to be similarly vocal about their faith.
"There is no other way to God except through Jesus Christ," he said. "Oh, is that offensive? I'm so sorry but it's the truth. … Let's be a true witness."
Graham's remarks capped a meeting in which Southern Baptists formally broke ties with the Baptist World Alliance, elected a new president and rejected a proposal to have a committee study whether the religious body's name should be changed.
President Bush addressed more than 8,000 members of the nation's largest Protestant denomination via satellite during the first day of their two-day annual meeting.
"My administration is defending the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage forever," the president told them Tuesday, drawing a standing ovation. "The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith."
Southern Baptists, agreeing with that sentiment, passed a resolution supporting a federal marriage amendment that would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
In other resolution discussions, they turned back efforts to reject their involvement in public schools, ending a debate that began with a proposal circulated prior to their annual meeting that urged the placement of their children in "thoroughly Christian education."
The Rev. Bobby Welch, who was elected the next president of the 16.3 million-member denomination, announced his plans for a 25-day bus tour in August and September across the United States and Canada to challenge Southern Baptists to be unified in their emphasis on evangelism. Welch, pastor of a Daytona Beach, Fla., church, told reporters that the denomination needs to address the decreases in baptisms over the last four years. "When we say that we are plateaued, that is a large compliment to where we are," he said. "We are declining. … We can do better than that."
As expected, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted to cut their almost 100-year-old ties with the Baptist World Alliance, a global group that conservative leaders accused of having a "leftward drift."
The vote, which had been anticipated for months, removed their denomination's $300,000 in funding and official membership from the global group, leaving it with 210 members. After the relationship formally ends Oct. 1, Southern Baptists intend to use that money for a strategy to build relationships with "conservative evangelical Christians" across the globe.
Messengers, or delegates, to the meeting had a spirited debate about a proposal to create a committee to study the possibility of changing the denomination's name. They rejected the study proposal, with 55 percent of voters opposing it and 45 percent favoring it.
In other action, the Southern Baptists:
- Approved the expansion of their insurance and financial services agency to market its services to other evangelical churches and ministries and a name change from the Annuity Board to GuideStone Financial Resources.
- Requested that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary change its charter to make the Southern Baptist Convention its "sole member," a legal move that has been made by other Southern Baptist entities but which some New Orleans seminary officials thought could create greater legal risks for the denominational body.
- Honored the memory of four "martyred missionaries" who were killed in a March attack in Iraq.
- Marked the 25th anniversary of the start of conservative control of their seminaries and agencies.
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More coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention from our Church Life section includes:
Weblog: Southern Baptists No Longer In, Nor Of, World Alliance (June 23, 2004)
Vacation Bible School Wars | Critics say SBC curriculum about Asia is 'racially offensive.' (Feb. 27, 2004)
Baptists Face Serious Financial Shortfall | Giving decreases surprise observers. (Oct. 14, 2003)
Baptist Alliance Stung by SBC Cuts | Southern Baptist Convention trims funds to Baptist World Alliance. (May 02, 2003)
Option for Alienated Baptist Missionaries | Texans to form 'flexible' alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention's IMB. (Nov. 05, 2002)
To Sign or Not to Sign? | Some Southern Baptist missionaries balk at revised statement. (April 05, 2002)
Southern Baptists Boot Gay Protesters | Messengers at St. Louis convention pick Prestonwood's Jack Graham as new leader. (Jan. 13, 2002)
Weblog: Southern Baptist Leaders So Upset About TNIV That Denomination May Abandon NIV (Jan. 29, 2002)
SBC Agency May Revoke D.C. Funds | The District of Columbia Baptist Convention may lose $475,000 in annual support because of differences with the North American Mission Board. (Jan. 25, 2002)
Southern Baptist Leaders Lament Funding Cuts | Texas board's action to reduce funding called 'bad for common missions causes' (Oct. 2, 2000)
Do Good Fences Make Good Baptists? | The SBC's new Faith and Message brings needed clarity—but maybe at the cost of honest diversity. (Aug. 9, 2000)
Culture Clash | Asserting the Bible's authority, Southern Baptists say pastors must be male. (June 30, 2000)
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