Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Southern Baptist minister to perform a same sex marriage

That claim has been made concerning the February 9th Alabama wedding of two females officiated by the Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson. Rev. Jimmerson is an unpaid staff minister of the Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville who describes her staff title, "Minister to the Community," as "an honorific."

A progressive Patheos blogger, David R. Henson, allowed her to write of the event on his blog, "edges of faith".  Henson introduces her article:

Today it is my honor to host the Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, the first (and perhaps only) Southern Baptist minister to perform a legal same-sex wedding.

That a judge in Alabama opened the door for such weddings in Alabama is old news. There were reports of this particular wedding as it happened. In fact, it was national news according to Jimmerson. But this article, carried by Baptist News Global as curated content, is the first I've seen to trumpet the line about the first Southern Baptist minister to perform such a wedding.

I don't know Ellin Jimmerson. She is a friend of a friend who attends Weatherly Heights Baptist Church. I did meet the pastor of the church some years ago. Not unexpectedly, the local Baptist association has moved post haste to disfellowship the church. Such action is expected in a few days.

One expects the Alabama State Baptist Convention to do likewise. WHBC is dually affiliated, having a long relationship with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I understand their financial support of the ASBC and SBC to be minimal; nonetheless, they may accurately be described as a Southern Baptist church.

The Rev. Dr. Jimmerson (I understand she has a PhD from the University of Houston, an Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University, and an undergrad degree from Samford) was ordained by WHBC, a Southern Baptist church.

Here's a thought: She has as accurate a claim to a title of "Southern Baptist" minister as I do, both of us having been ordained by Southern Baptist churches. That's our good old Baptist polity, brethren and sistren.

Which raises an interesting question: How far do we Southern Baptists plan to go to separate ourselves from churches and ministers with whose actions we disagree?

I'm not sure how strongly WHBC desires to be known as a Southern Baptist church. They are prominently Baptist, not so much "Southern Baptist." Their website lists the Baptist Faith and Message Statement, 1963 as their doctrinal guide.

Were I a member of the local association, I would likely vote to disfellowship the church. Even though the church itself has not endorsed same-sex marriage formally, nor held such a ceremony on their premises, it looks as if the church and association do not share common purposes in this area. Churches make decisions about affiliations. So do associations.

But here's a point. Any minister ordained by a Southern Baptist church may certainly call himself or herself a "Southern Baptist minister." There's no fix to that short of the ordaining church withdrawing their ordination.

I have occasionally heard someone suggest that state conventions and the SBC at the national level take action so that any church with an affiliation with the CBF be excluded. This could be done actively, name them and disfellowship them, or passively, require all churches who wish to affiliate with the state or national convention to adopt the current Baptist Faith and Message.

It would be complicated, not to mention a public relations disaster, to set up a mechanism to scrutinize each of the 50,000 or so SBC churches to see if they give to the wrong group, or have some group (maybe "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith"? No, wait, I think that was the Inquisition) set up to handle this stuff.

But hey, this is our polity - local church autonomy. We might have to learn to like it, whatever may come.

Incidentally, does our Executive Committee have a trademark on "Southern Baptist" or is it up for legitimate use by any church or minister who can make a connection?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can't get a crowd at any national SBC event these days?

"No one goes to the convention anymore," laments some of the brethren who have been around long enough to remember the sardine days where 20,000, 30,000, and 40,000 messengers could pack into a meeting venue.

Not quite true. It's just that the crowds are heavily diminished. Here are the past five years:

2010    Orlando          11,070
2011    Phoenix            4,814
2012    New Orleans    7,814
2013    Houston           5,103
2014    Baltimore         5,294

Toss out Orlando, the attendance bump for which we can thank Mickey Mouse. Look askance at New Orleans because it's a nice venue with the crawfish, beignets, and all that. That leaves SBC attendance in the 5k range. Pretty low for a denomination where millions gather each Lord's Day to worship in almost 50,000 churches.

Consider this: The North American Mission Board's SEND NORTH AMERICA conference scheduled for this summer already has over 7,200 registrations. Toss out maybe a couple of hundred unpaid registrations and that is 7,000 registrants paying $129 per person (early registrants paid $89) to attend.

The SBC annual meeting costs zip, only food, transportation, and lodging, nothing to attend.

So, why would seven thousand Southern Baptists pay good money to attend an SNA conference when the SBC meeting is free?

There are a lot of reasons why in 2015 Southern Baptists aren't that keen to attend the SBC annual meeing and slap backs, glad hand, and engage in the annual bragfest with old friends.

  • It's boring.
  • There's nothing much going on these days.
  • Folks don't see much value in attending.
  • Nothing much will change in the old ship SBC.
  • Neither my presence, my vote, nor my voice count for much in the SBC.
  • Decisions are pre-made by an oligarchy of SBC grandees and conventions just ratify them.
In contrast, NAMB's SNA conference engages enthusiastic participants who have an interest in planting churches. Church planters, potential church planters, churches that are interested in sponsoring a church plant all are eager to attend.

Of course, the goal is not to have a rousing conference with a great attendance. The goal is to plant churches. So far, SNA is young enough not to have a reportable track record of churches planted and a record of how they are doing, but Southern Baptists are engaged in the process.

Factor in the reality that a vocal segment of SBCers don't really like NAMB and the attendance figures are indeed impressive.

Suppose, pastor, you have a modest budgetary item, say $1,000, to spend on conventions and conferences. How would you spend it?

Many are choosing to forego the SBC annual meeting for SNA or other opportunities. 

Why?

You tell me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Those low life pond scum Old earth creationists

To listen to the Young Earth Creationist crowd, especially those who drive the movement, we Old Earth Creationists are low life pond scum - slimy, unevolved paramecium and other low lifes. OK, so my YEC brethren stop short of putting it like that but they don't stop short on much else. And feel free to sue me for making a broad generalization of the YEC crowd.

Twenty years ago I enjoyed some informative and enlightening online dialogue with YEC folks. It's only my anecdotal read on the thing, but I don't see much of that any more. The main reason, I will opine, is that YEC folks are steeped in polemics, in breathless, chicken little pronouncements about how accepting an old earth will lead to the death of conservative, evangelical Christianity. I see this all the time. Unfortunately, there are only a handful people and organizations who drive the YEC movement and I see their brusque treatment of OEC folks parroted incessantly, down to the same arguments, even vocabulary.

This is why I particularly appreciate Baptist Press for reporting like yesterday's piece, Length of creation days debated.

What? There is an actual debate to be had on the subject?

Non-24-hour-day people can actually have legitimate arguments?

OEC folks aren't a short step from apostasy and perdition?

There are intelligent, articulate Southern Baptists, including seminary professors who are OEC?

Seminary leaders allow differing views on the matter by their employees?

OEC/YEC belief is a secondary doctrinal issue?

Belief in old earth creationism falls within the Baptist Faith and Message?

All true.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary theology professor Ken Keathley, who has been on my radar for several years, says flatly that, "Many of the strongest proponents of the old-earth interpretation are Old Testament scholars." He believes that OEC is gaining more adherents among pastors and leaders. It's about time.

Maybe we can get back to having reasonable, respectful discussions of the matter.

But then, reasonable, respectful discussions don't stir the masses to give to the YEC organizations, nor do they generate those hearty "AMENs" from the pulpit.

Try it. Respectful dialogue might be less profitable for the YEC fundraisers but more profitable for the Kingdom. I think the latter is our goal, anyway.