NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Thousands of Southern Baptists will gather next week in Nashville for their big annual meeting.
It will be the first event of significant size in the city since the pandemic killed Nashville's meeting industry. As of Wednesday, 16,000 messengers, the voting representatives of Southern Baptist churches, had pre-registered for the event.
"It is undeniable our SBC Family is facing many challenges. Some are real and concerning," Ronnie Floyd, the president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, said in a Wednesday email newsletter. "For some who may be younger or somewhat new to our family, I want you to know it really is not all about drama when we meet. It is about the mission. We exist because of the mission."
Several of the issues causing division within the conservative evangelical denomination could come to a head as Southern Baptists meet at Music City Center. Here are four things that could come up at the gathering:
Who will be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Southern Baptists are disagreeing over the direction their Nashville-based denomination is headed.
Some say its drifted toward the left and needs a course correction. Others say the convention is a big conservative tent with walls, but plenty of room to unite around core beliefs and to disagree on secondary and tertiary issues.
This fight is playing out in the election of the next convention president.
So far, four men have announced their willingness to be nominated. They are Northwest Baptist Convention executive director and treasurer Randy Adams, Alabama pastor Ed Litton, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Georgia pastor Mike Stone.
Litton will be nominated by Louisiana pastor Fred Luter Jr., who was the first Black president of the convention. Stone was endorsed by the Conservative Baptist Network, which is calling for a "conservative reengagement."
The nominations formally happen Tuesday and the vote follows.
Will critical race theory spur debate?
Critical race theory has been a contentious topic among Southern Baptists, and it could come up at the annual meeting.
Critical race theory teaches racism is ingrained in U.S. institutions and white people benefit from it. Intersectionality looks at how a person's identities, like race and gender, converge and make them vulnerable to bias.
At least two competing resolutions addressing the topic were submitted for consideration. Resolutions are nonbinding statements.
One submitted resolution is in keeping with a controversial statement released last year by the six presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries declaring critical race theory and intersectionality incompatible with the Baptist statement of faith.
The other supports a controversial 2019 resolution that called both concepts analytical tools that should be used only subordinate to scripture.
Could the two leaked letters signed by Russell Moore come up?
Two leaked letters signed by Russell Moore, the former head of the convention's public policy arm, thrust the Southern Baptist sex abuse crisis back into the spotlight.
The letters, obtained by Religion News Service, The Washington Post and a Baptist blog, level allegations related to sexual abuse against the executive committee, which acts on behalf of the convention when it is not in session. Specifically, they detail the mistreatment of sexual abuse victims, the mishandling of abuse claims, intimidation and more.
They also describe racism expressed behind closed doors and the mistreatment of African Americans within the convention.
Some executive committee members have refuted the allegations or disagreed with the recollection of events detailed in them.
Because of the letters, two Southern Baptist pastors plan to call for a third party to investigate allegations against the executive committee, according to a Twitter post.
What about the role of women in ministry?
The role of women in ministry is a long simmering debate within the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Southern Baptist statement of faith specifically restricts the office of pastor to men only. It is widely accepted, but some within the convention extend the ban to other ministry settings. Since views vary across the convention, some Southern Baptist women face criticism for how they serve in the church.
Two recent events have reignited the debate. The first was popular Bible teacher Beth Moore declaring she was no longer a Southern Baptist. The second involves one of the biggest churches in the convention.
In May, Saddleback Church in California, home to high-profile pastor and author Rick Warren, announced it had ordained its first three female pastors. The move drew criticism from Southern Baptist leaders.
Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting will address concerns