BALTIMORE (AP) — An Arkansas megachurch pastor was elected Tuesday to lead the country’s Southern Baptists as the conservative denomination tries to turn around declining membership, church attendance and baptisms and faces increasing conflict with mainstream culture, especially over its conviction that gay sex is immoral.
Also on Tuesday, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination approved a resolution opposing the idea that gender identity can be different from biological sex. The group declined to consider a motion made from the floor by one delegate asking that a Southern California church be disciplined for perceived support of homosexuality. Denomination officials ruled the motion out of order.
In nominating the Rev. Ronnie Floyd for president, the powerful head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Rev. Albert Mohler, told the crowd of 5,000 meeting in Baltimore, “The nation is embracing a horrifying moral rebellion that is transforming our culture before our very eyes.”
He warned of “direct challenges to our religious freedoms and churches” and said Floyd is the person who can “convey our message in the midst of the most trying times.”
Floyd received 52 percent of votes from delegates to the SBC annual meeting, beating out the Rev. Dennis Kim, the Korean-American pastor of a bilingual Maryland church, who received 41 percent of votes.
For 27 years Floyd has been the pastor at Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, where about 8,500 people worship each week at its several locations. He succeeds the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who became the 15.7-million-member denomination’s first African-American president in 2012.
Kim’s supporters had hoped to make history again by electing the Nashville-based SBC’s first Asian president, sending a signal that the denomination associated with white Southern culture is becoming both ethnically and geographically diverse.
David W. Key Sr., the director of Baptist studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, said Kim’s strong showing in the election shows “there’s an element within the SBC that understands demographic realities.”
He said the denomination needs to continue to continue to diversify to reverse its decline.
Later Tuesday, delegates passed, without discussion, a resolution on transgender identity that opposes hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery and other efforts to “alter one’s bodily identity.”
According to the resolution, “God’s design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female.”
The resolution expresses opposition to government efforts to “validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”
The resolution also condemns the bullying and abuse of transgender people and expresses love and compassion for “those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity.”
Asked about the resolution after the vote, Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “I think it’s a great sign that the SBC is taking seriously what it means to minister to a changing culture.”
He said the resolution speaks to “people who find themselves struggling, who find themselves confused.” Moore mentioned a youth pastor who called him for help about a 15-year-old boy who had begun attending church and asked to be called by a female name and addressed by a female pronoun.
“The very reason this youth minister was having to think this through is because his church is actually reaching 21st century America with the gospel,” Moore said.
The denomination also approved a denunciation of government sponsorship of casinos and lotteries as exploiting “poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged citizens by promoting participation in highly addictive behaviors which often result in financial disadvantage or ruin.” And they approved a resolution that denounces predatory payday lending and urges churches and individuals to “provide viable solutions for meeting short-term financial needs within their local communities.”
The meeting continues on Wednesday, where the group will consider a motion asking the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to explain why it admitted a Muslim student.
Travis Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee.