BALTIMORE – 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 the belief that gay sex is immoral.
The Rev. Ronnie Floyd received 52 percent of votes from delegates to the SBC annual meeting, beating the Rev. Dennis Kim, the Korean-American pastor of a bilingual Maryland church, who received 41 percent of votes.
In nominating 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.”
Mohler 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 has been the pastor for 27 years of 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 black president in 2012.
Kim’s supporters had hoped to make history again by electing the Nashville, Tenn.-based convention’s first Asian president, sending a signal that the denomination associated with white Southern culture is becoming ethnically and geographically diverse.
Kim’s strong support shows, “There’s an element within the SBC that understands demographic realities,” said David W. Key Sr., director of Baptist studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University
Key said the denomination needs to continue to continue to diversify to reverse its decline.
Also Tuesday, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination approved a resolution opposing the idea that gender identity can be different from biological sex.
“God’s design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female,” the resolution reads in part.
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.”
“I think it’s a great sign that the SBC is taking seriously what it means to minister to a changing culture,” Russell Moore, the president of the convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said of the resolution.
The resolution speaks to “people who find themselves struggling, who find themselves confused,” he also said.
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 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.”
Also approved was 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 convention 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.