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DALLAS -- Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines called last month for Southern Baptists to pray for unity in the 21 days leading up to their annual gathering.

The call from Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, came amid a wave of revelations about sexual misconduct, abuse and harassment involving several of the denomination's high-ranking leaders.

The allegations have led to division among many Southern Baptists going into this year's gathering. One of the allegations also led Paige Patterson, a two-term president of the convention and one of the leaders of the group's conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, to withdraw from giving the keynote sermon at the annual meeting, which will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

Arkansas Baptist State Convention President Greg Sykes said members of the denomination in Arkansas consider the Southern Baptist gathering a "big family reunion," adding that the annual meeting is not where resolution of such issues takes place.

For the Arkansas denomination, Sykes said, the national meeting is about the progress of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.

The pastor of First Baptist Church in Russellville said concerns about Patterson -- who was fired May 30 as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because of his mishandling of a rape allegation -- were handled by the seminary's board of trustees.

"A lot of these national issues, the convention is not the place where they get handled best," said Sykes, who said he was following Gaines' call to pray for unity and peace. "We're kind of living in a sound bite era, social-media-driven time. ... So I think there's going to be some awkward moments, because people are going to go down there looking for some catharsis and resolution."

That doesn't mean the state convention is ignoring the sexual misconduct, abuse and harassment issues that face some of the denomination's leaders, said Andrea Lennon, women's ministry specialist for the state convention.

"I want to make a very clear statement on abuse, assault, domestic violence, and wrong counsel given to women or anyone else in the church," Lennon said. "It is wrong. It is not OK. It must stop."

"Sin, that which we commit and that which is committed against us, has the same effect," Lennon added. "It brings shame, guilt, and causes us to run and hide. Churches today need to deal honestly with sinful issues."

Greg Addison, associate executive director of the state convention, said the most important aspect of the national convention's annual meeting is building support for cooperative mission efforts to send missionaries across North America and around the world.

"There are always issues that arise, resolutions, and elections, but Arkansas Baptists are deeply committed to staying focused on our gospel mission," Addison said.

Those mission efforts are coordinated through the International Mission Board, which supports U.S. missionaries who go abroad to provide help in other countries, and the North American Mission Board, which focuses on mission work in the United States and Canada.

As of December, the International Mission Board was supporting more than 3,500 career and short-term missionaries abroad. Southern Baptists give to the state convention through the Arkansas Baptist Cooperative Program, which funds mission work in Arkansas, the nation and abroad.

John McCallum, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, said his church partners with Garage Church, one of the many he said was established by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Garage Church engages in outreach to those living in poverty and the incarcerated, and it leads self-reliance and anger-management classes that McCallum said are focused on "getting ahead in a getting-by world."

"We're much more focused on trying to extend God's kingdom and God's love right here in Arkansas across racial lines and income lines," McCallum said.

McCallum, who last attended the Southern Baptist Convention in 1988, said his connection to the Southern Baptist denomination lies in its mission programs. His church currently has mission partnerships in Honduras and Senegal, and over the years it has conducted mission work and partnerships in places including Russia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Japan, India and Nicaragua.

In addition, a foreign missionary whom McCallum brought in from the field is working to develop and establish a network of small churches in Hot Springs in nontraditional settings, such as hotels, for those who wouldn't normally attend a church.

According to Lifeway's annual church profile released June 1, there are 1,420 Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas -- 11 fewer churches than there were from 2015-16. That number doesn't reflect the mission churches and satellite churches that Lifeway doesn't include in its count, and it doesn't reflect the 1,550 that the Arkansas State Baptist Convention has on record, up from 1,334 in 1995, according to its records.

The number of churches in Arkansas as recorded by the state convention changes weekly because of the number of closings among legacy churches -- those that were established fifty years ago or longer. Many have shrinking congregations because of population and cultural shifts. As younger congregants move to larger towns and cities for work, the number of older congregants decreases and economic backslides lead to members joining larger churches with more resources.

State convention records show a loss of 26 such churches in 2017, but Addison said churches affiliated with the state convention are on pace to establish 34 churches this year, known in the faith as church planting.

The other factor in the change is what Addison called the "aggressive" establishment of churches, which then go on to aggressively plant churches as well.

Jarvis Smith, pastor of one of two churches that goes by the name Second Baptist Church in Helena-West Helena, has established four new churches in the past five years -- including one in Marvell housed in the same building as an operating funeral home -- and revived two churches that closed.

Smith emphasized it is vitally important to meet people where they're comfortable, and that means breaking out of what he called "traditional churches."

"Church was never meant to be inside four walls and to be contained there," Smith said. "Even though we go there to worship, the church has to be a fluid body of people who go anywhere and everywhere, and engage people where they are."

State Desk on 06/11/2018

Print Headline: Focused on mission, Southern Baptists say

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  • RobertBolt
    June 11, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    Nothing fails like prayer, so pray away, misogynists, bigots, and racists. Far away.

  • 3WorldState1
    June 11, 2018 at 9:52 a.m.

    The trend will continue.

  • JakeTidmore
    June 11, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    One paragraph is very telling:
    "We're much more focused on trying to extend God's kingdom and God's love right here in Arkansas across racial lines and income lines," McCallum said.
    Supposedly God's kingdom extends everywhere and ignores race and income. Reading between the lines of McCallum's statement, he is saying that God's kingdom has been a gated community with restrictions, fears, and faith "profiling".
    What should have been, never was; what needs to change won't necessarily happen. Baptists remain leery of others - color, faith, politics, etc. They prefer open carry over open doors and open arms.

  • Delta2
    June 11, 2018 at 10:32 a.m.

    I ran out of Baptist jokes yesterday, so it's time for someone else to step up with some new material.

  • GeneralMac
    June 11, 2018 at 11:29 a.m.

    Of coarse gays believe.........." there is no right or wrong"....." if it feels good, do it"

    They have to keep telling themselves that so it numbs their conscience .

    Soon those practicing incest and beastiality will be proclaiming the same.

  • mrcharles
    June 11, 2018 at 11:58 a.m.

    James Petigru Boyce and John A. Broadus were founding faculty members of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; they were also slaveowners who served as chaplains in the Confederate army. Basil Manly, Sr., served as the founding chair of the board of trustees at Southern Seminary. This same man owned forty slaves and flogged at least one of them as punishment. Manly declared that, when it came to his right to buy and to sell African Americans, “I had no more doubt or compunction than in pocketing the price of a horse or anything else that belonged to me.” Manly’s son and namesake drafted the Abstract of Principles that every professor still signs when elected to the faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    In 1860, a Southern Baptist pastor from Virginia, Thornton Stringfellow, defended the institution of forced enslavement of millions of African men and women in Cotton Is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments, with the full force of scripture: “Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command. … Under the gospel, [slavery] has brought within the range of gospel influence, millions of Ham's descendant's among ourselves, who but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin.”

    Now who can trust these baptist , evil then, ??? so now has their god changed or how do we know they have changed???. Yet they hate influence in politics.

    yet in their defense basically their version of the ancient book basically supported slavery. Now I know some modern thinking and/or liberal thinkers try to soften this jesus and/or his father/boss institution, but the haters are right, slavery is supported in the bibe, which explains many of their positions against civilization, humanity and good morals.

    All you have to do is search some of the vile statements of Arkansas's own Rev Floyd to see that their leaders are still unworthy of good humanity.

    I heard chis hitchens prayed once.

    Would jesus approve the west little rock giant Babylonian type deity temple .

  • GeneralMac
    June 11, 2018 at 12:23 p.m.

    why would Jesus be offended by a ..DISPLAY....of the 10 Commandments?

    Jesus specifically went over all 10 in his teachings.

  • RobertBolt
    June 11, 2018 at 12:40 p.m.

    Which commandment says, Thou shalt not enslave? If that commandment was omitted in favor of resting on the Sabbath and in support of prohibiting the manufacture of idols, the priorities are morally bankrupt, and those who consider these commandments as worthy of monuments are ridiculous.

  • hah406
    June 11, 2018 at 1:07 p.m.

    My conscience is completely clear Mac. Born This Way! Bigots and homophobes like you and those folks in the SBC are what nearly drove me to suicide as a teenager. The great thing is my personality, my character, and my morals are so much stronger than yours will ever be, you can't hurt me. Hell, you can't even touch me from the gutter you live in.

  • Delta2
    June 11, 2018 at 1:12 p.m.

    hah, don't call Harrison a gutter. That's an insult to gutters everywhere.