It was a year of reckoning for the Southern Baptist Convention as #MeToo scandals swept into the highest level of denominational leadership and for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship a test of unity for churches that disagree about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.
Here are some of the top stories covered by Baptist News Global in 2018.
Differences over LGBTQ inclusion test Baptist cooperation
Growing unease with a policy barring the employment of gays prompted Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leaders to seek middle ground in one of today’s most divisive controversies. The CBF Governing Board in February replaced the reference to LGBTQ Christians with a new policy that the 1,800-church Fellowship “will employ only individuals who profess Jesus Christ as Lord.”
A separate implementation plan clarified that employment of field personnel and top leadership remains limited to individuals “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.” Leaders said the “vast majority” of CBF churches do not have sexual orientation in their hiring policies and that an across-the-board non-discrimination stance would make it harder to work with Baptists in other countries.
“Break her down”
The image of “conservative resurgence” co-founders Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler took a beating in 2018.
In May Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary fired Patterson as president amid reports that he was dismissive of female students who came to him with sexual assault allegations. One example in the trustee report was an off-the-cuff remark that Patterson wanted to evaluate the truthfulness of a reported rape by meeting alone with the woman in order to “break her down.” Patterson said the quote was taken out of context.
Pressler lawsuit winds way through legal system
Paul Pressler, a retired judge and mastermind of the “conservative resurgence” strategy of gaining control of the Southern Baptist Convention through appointive powers of the president, appears to be winning a lawsuit alleging that he sexually abused a Houston man for 25 years beginning when the accuser was 14.
In October a judge dismissed the abuse allegations due to statute of limitations. Remaining issues involve allegations of slander and libel and questions over the status of the confidential settlement of an earlier lawsuit involving the same man and Pressler in 2004.
Pressler denies all allegations of assault, but court records include affidavits from other men who claim he made unwanted sexual advances toward them in the past.
Six years after Sandy Hook and nearly two decades after Columbine, mass shootings continue to plague the nation.
The Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day massacre of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, prompted March for Our Lives protests in March.
In October, America suffered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history when a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and took the lives of 11 worshippers, injuring six others. A week later police in Virginia evacuated a historically African-American church for a bomb threat that turned out to be a false alarm. Another African-American Baptist church near Louisville, Kentucky, survived a near miss when an assailant who tried to enter the building instead targeted black shoppers in a shooting rampage at a nearby supermarket.
Before there was a migrant caravan or government shutdown over funding for a border wall, a CBF-affiliated church in North Carolina got a preview of the impact of President Donald Trumps draconian immigration policies. On Jan. 8 immigration officials nabbed Gilles Bikindou, a member of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, North Carolina, for a dozen years, during what he thought was a routine check-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Charlotte.
Despite protests and humanitarian pleas, the government deported the 58-year-old to the Republic of Congo. Church members said it put him at medical risk, because life-saving medicines prescribed in the United States are unavailable in his native homeland.
#MeToo comes to church
It didn’t take long for protests in Hollywood and Washington against the mistreatment of women by powerful men to reach Baptist life.
The March resignation of Executive Committee Frank Page for what officials called “a morally inappropriate relationship” took everyone by surprise, but the self-styled “chief encouraging officer” and former SBC president was just the first of a number of denominational workers to quietly leave their jobs over allegations of sexual misconduct.
One, a South Carolina Baptist Convention executive named Mark Aderholt, resigned in June during a police investigation. The one-time foreign missionary was indicted Dec. 19 by a grand jury in Texas for alleged sexual assault against a minor while he was in seminary in 1997. The SBC International Mission Board knew about the allegations a decade ago but did not report them to the police.
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast whose testimony helped convict former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar for decades of abuse, told Christianity Today in January that the evangelical church “is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse.”
Other women came forward with similar stories, prompting the Southern Baptist Convention to pass a resolution in June condemning “all forms of abuse” against women.
First woman to lead CBF stepping down
Suzii Paynter, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s third executive coordinator and first woman to hold the job, announced this summer that she will retire after her successor is found. A search is underway for her replacement.
CBF-related seminary forced to close
Trustees of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond – one of 15 theological institutions that receives funding from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship –announced Nov. 13 the free-standing seminary must close “due to financial pressures.”
The original announcement projected the closing date as the end of the academic year, but after further review of seminary finances trustees moved the shutdown up to the end of January.