Greear ‘energized’ for third year as SBC president
June 9th, 2020 / By: David Roach | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
DURHAM, N.C.—When J.D. Greear addressed the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in February, he joked that he was looking forward to receiving this summer the most coveted title in the convention: “former SBC president.” But thanks to cancelation of this year’s SBC annual meeting over the COVID-19 pandemic, he will have to wait another year before assuming that title.
In the meantime, he will continue to emphasize his hallmark issues of evangelism, ethnic diversity and combatting sexual abuse, he told the TEXAN, even as obstacles to accomplishing those aims persist.
“This third year, amongst many divisions in our nation, Southern Baptists have been given a great opportunity by God to show a watching world that unity can be found only in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,” said Greear, pastor of the The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. “In this united front, we wish to continue to see our convention reflect the diversity among us and the diversity found in the coming kingdom, while engaging in the next generation, [fostering] a renewed focus on evangelism and seeing how … our cooperative resources can lead to more church planting and missionaries sent.”
Greear becomes the first person to serve three successive years as SBC president since R.G. Lee held the office from 1949-52. The SBC Constitution since has been amended to limit the president to two successive one-year terms, with a one-year break required before he can be elected again. (Adrian Rogers served three terms during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, but not successively, leaving office in 1980 before being elected again in 1987 and 1988.) Yet the constitution also stipulates that SBC officers “shall hold office until their successors are elected and qualified.” The cancelation of 2020 elections leaves Greear in office until his successor is elected in 2021.
Some observers wonder whether he can sustain the fast pace that has characterized his presidency thus far.
Former SBC President Jimmy Draper told the TEXAN Greear “has represented [the SBC] well and has connected with the younger generation.” Yet serving as convention president takes more time and energy than Southern Baptists may realize, he said, and remaining in office a third year will be a challenge.
“I flew 300,000 miles in the two years while I was president of the convention,” Draper said, noting he often was absent Monday through Friday from his then-pastorate at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. “I couldn’t have done that a third year.”
Whatever pace Greear opts to set this year, combatting sexual abuse in churches and SBC entities is sure to be a continued emphasis of his presidency.
Among his first acts in office was launching a Sexual Abuse Advisory Study in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. After a year of work on the study, the SBC strengthened its stance against abuse by approving amendments to the convention’s constitution and bylaws. (The constitutional amendment requires one additional authorization by the convention, expected at next year’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee).
Greear included discussion of abuse in every session of last year’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, and invited to speak on the stage at least one victim advocate, Mary DeMuth, who protested outside the annual meeting the previous year. Earlier this year, the SBC disfellowshipped a church over its mishandling of sexual abuse for the first time.
Yet Greear’s manner of addressing abuse has prompted challenges on occasion. In February 2019, he publicly named 10 churches that he claimed may have mishandled abuse. A work group of the Executive Committee said only three of those churches warranted further inquiry, and some of the churches pushed back against their inclusion on the list. Additionally, victim advocates within and outside the SBC have expressed concern that that the convention has not gone far enough in combatting abuse.
“In this third year,” Greear said, “I pray that God would continue to change the culture within our churches, associations, state conventions and entities where each body would continue to change systems and structures that better protect the vulnerable while caring for the abused.”
In an online SBC presidential address delivered June 9—the day Greear’s successor was scheduled to be elected—he pledged to work with LifeWay Christian Resources to add questions the convention’s Annual Church Profile (ACP) about “each church’s policies” regarding sexual abuse. He also said he will work with the SBC Executive Committee to ensure each SBC entity trustee “has a comprehensive background check to help promote a culture of accountability and awareness.”
Fostering ethnic diversity looks to be another third-year emphasis for Greear. During his first year in office, 48 percent of his committee appointments were people of color. His first SBC annual meeting in office featured culturally diverse worship music that drew praise from messengers.
But as with his confrontation of sexual abuse, Greear’s approach to diversity has been subject to critique. That was apparent last year after the SBC Resolutions Committee appointed by Greear proposed, and the convention adopted, a resolution on critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I)—theories related to institutional racism and disempowerment of minority groups. While the resolution claimed CRT/I should “be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture,” opponents said the resolution undermined the sufficiency of Scripture by drawing too heavily from secular ideologies. A high-profile articulation of that critique came in the documentary By What Standard? released in December by the Calvinistic group Founders Ministries.
Greear knows that continuing to foster racial reconciliation could be especially challenging amid America’s current racial tension, which ignited protests from coast to coast following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in custody of Minneapolis police.
“With COVID, increased racial division and what most likely will be a heated political season,” Greear said, “we as Southern Baptists can demonstrate the gospel by loving our neighbors as ourselves and standing for truth no matter how unpopular.”
He confronted the issue of racism head-on in his presidential address, repeating the phrase “black lives matter” several times.
“Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly as a gospel issue: black lives matter,” Greear said in the address, adding he does not align himself with the “Black Lives Matter organization” or support calls to defund police departments. The Black Lives Matter movement “has been hijacked by some political operatives whose worldview and policy prescriptions would be deeply at odds with my own. But that doesn’t mean that the sentiment behind it is untrue.”
Evangelism will be another emphasis of his third year in office—including continuation of the “Who’s Your One?” campaign encouraging Southern Baptists to focus their personal witnessing efforts on one specific friend or neighbor.
Greear’s evangelism push coincides with the release of data from the SBC’s 2019 ACP indicating a 13th consecutive year of declining church membership and a decrease of more than 10,000 baptisms between 2018 and 2019. Among Greear’s recommendations for countering the decline: “better reporting,” “continuing to emphasize the gospel above all” and “moving our goal posts from attendance and membership to how many of our people are disciple-making disciples.”
As Greear pursues those aims, he is encouraged by “the unbelievable unity” he has experienced among Southern Baptists. At the same time, he is “surprised by how vocal some of the negative elements are in our convention,” who seem to “thrive on controversy”—a reality even his children have noticed.
But in the end, he said, leading the SBC is “an incredible privilege. I get up every day energized by it.” He’s especially thankful for the opportunity to ensure that Southern Baptist missionaries around the globe “are taken care of and supported in the best way possible.”
“Pray for me to really make the gospel above all and to further catalyze our evangelism, church planting and missions efforts,” he said, “and that I’ll be able to lead in a crucial moment of unity and racial reconciliation in our country.”