Southern Baptist gathered this week in Birmingham, Alabama, for their annual convention. Their attention has been focused in recent weeks on a series of bad news: on-going decline in membership and baptisms, revelations of systemic sexual abuse in churches, and a very public controversy over the role of women in the church. A forum preceding the convention featured three women who had been abused by ministers (including Bible teaching superstar Beth Moore) called Southern Baptists to more accountability. Current convention president J D Greear of North Carolina was elected to a second term as president by the approximately 4,000 persons registered for the event. His appointments during the first term have been the most diverse in SBC history.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist school in Louisville, has turned down a call for reparations. A local group called Empower West representing the poor and black side of town had issued a public call, supported by an online list of signatories, for the seminary to transfer part of its wealth to the nearby black Baptist school, Simmons College of Kentucky. Eight months ago, the Seminary released the report of an internal study group that documented the seminary’s extensive complicity in the southern slave culture, during the time of the seminary’s founding, including the launch and growth of its almost-one-hundred-million-dollar endowment. Seminary president Albert Mohler rejected the request, explaining that the school could never give any of its assets to an entity that held to a different theological position, evidently implying something about Simmons College.
Yet another report detailing misconduct among Catholic clerics has dominated the news this week. The statement targets Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese in West Virginia and accuses him of using almost $2.5 million of the diocesan money to finance a worldly lifestyle featuring alcohol, chartered jets, and exotic travel. This is the same priest who is accused of distributing cash gifts totaling $350,000 to other leading churchmen including young priests under his supervision (who he has been accused of abusing sexually) and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and the Vatican. These revelations prompted resignations, reassignments, repayments, and an angry “letter to Jesus” by popular Catholic columnist Elizabeth Scalia, writing under her designation as The Anchoress, and published by America magazine.
The Academy of Preachers, a non-profit based in Lexington, Kentucky, with a mission to identify, network, support and inspire young people in the call to gospel preaching, has announced it is shutting down its programs and dissolving its corporation. The AoP, as it is popularly known, was launched in 2009 with generous grants from the Lilly Endowment, had run into difficulty securing enough non-Endowment money to replace the gradual decline of Endowment support. The organization hosted festivals for young preachers around the country targeting young people ages 14-35. Hundreds have participated in their program, including students from Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Protestant traditions. A final dinner will be held where AoP started, at the St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, on June 23, 2019. People are posting testimonials on the AoP web site.
A federal jury in Tucson failed to reach a verdict in a case against Scott Daniel Warren, who was arrested by federal border patrol agents for aiding illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico. Warren is part of an organization sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church called “No Mas Muertes” (No More Death). He claimed in court that he was upholding both religious rules to show compassion and international covenants that require sanctuary for the persecuted and the dispossessed. He was apprehended after agents observed him providing food, water, and clean clothes to refugees near Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. It is unknown as this time what prompted the hung jury, including whether it is an example of “jury nullification” in which a jury finds sufficient evidence for convictions but refuses to convict because they believe the law is unjust.
And, of course, everywhere around the world, Christians donned the color red and talked about the Holy Spirit in their annual celebration of the feast of Pentecost.