2012 Year in Reviewcomment (0)
January 3, 2013
By Grace Thornton
It may not have felt like it, because a lot of people burned the candle at both ends in 2012, but in a variety of ways this past year was like one long, deep breath for Alabama Baptists. They picked up a lot of pieces from the year before, dodged several potential crises and made big plans for the future.
It was a building and rebuilding year.
For a number of Alabama Baptist churches, that rebuilding was literal, and the anniversary of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes found a number of Alabama Baptists still holding hammers.
There had been a lot of work to do, and still more to come. Forty-five Baptist churches and hundreds of homes were impacted by the 62 tornadoes that ripped through the state on the second deadliest day in U.S. history. But 2012 saw doors reopening, homes restored and people who experienced the love of Christ through the ongoing help of Baptist disaster relief and construction teams.
“If I had been an unbeliever before all this happened, I would be a believer now,” said Sid Nichols, director of missions for Calhoun Baptist Association, in the commemorative issue of The Alabama Baptist printed in honor of the anniversary.
Calhoun Association was one of many that fed tornado survivors immediately after the storms then started a long-term effort to rebuild and repair damaged homes.
The aftermath of those storms saw unprecedented response by Alabama Baptists. And when 10 more tornadoes swept through Alabama in January 2012, state Baptists found they were even better prepared to respond.
The damage and loss of life was much smaller this time around, something Alabama Baptists gave thanks for as they helped victims. After 2011’s tornadoes they felt they had dodged something that could’ve been a lot bigger deal.
This was a prevailing sentiment of 2012.
Story after story in The Alabama Baptist this past year noted that someone was “breathing a sigh of relief,” not the least of which was the Great Commission Ministries FutureFocus Task Force.
After the task force report at the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) annual meeting Nov. 13, messengers approved FutureFocus, a new “template for ministry and missions” in the state.
The plan is Alabama Baptists’ response to the Great Commission Resurgence goals approved by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2010, and it provides a financial model for taking care of state business while increasing giving to the SBC.
But the new money allotted to the SBC as part of FutureFocus will be available only if Alabama Baptist churches respond to the 1 percent challenge posed by Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. Alabama Baptist leaders propose that churches in the state do this by increasing their giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) by 0.25 percent each year for the next four years.
This comes at a time when the economy continues to struggle and churches wade through tough financial times, trimming budgets rather than increasing giving. The economy also was central to the intense race for U.S. president. This particular election year drew Baptists into politics as much, if not more, than previous years and brought many to their knees in prayer in the hours and days leading up to the election that resulted in U.S. President Barack Obama being re-elected over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
And while the election played front and center for much of the year, Alabama Baptists continued working through the assignments set out before them.
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) continued working to develop and improve upon strategies to reach the state for Christ while also preparing to absorb a major loss in ministry and missions funding.
Beginning in 2013, the state will see the first installment of what will become hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding loss from the North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB has streamlined its purpose and cut away funding for some state ministries in order to focus on church planting.
In September, state convention executives met with NAMB leaders about this and decided to move forward in unity to reach the lost despite disagreeing on strategy and placement of funding. Some of the Alabama ministries that lost NAMB funding will be absorbed into the SBOM budget.
But even so, NAMB is still investing in some traditional ministries, and Alabama is still promoting church planting. In June, NAMB announced that it had expanded its disaster relief fleet to include three new 18-wheelers and four heavy-duty Ford trucks to pull trailers. And the SBOM, as part of FutureFocus, put new emphasis on church planting, specifically new multicultural churches.
Alabama Baptists also set their sights on expanding Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections, a strategy to partner state Baptists with missionaries from Alabama who are serving internationally.
The strategy goes hand in hand with the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Embrace initiative, which encourages churches to adopt an unengaged, unreached people group in order to see it reached. The initiative has seen much success, and it gained steam during 2012.
But the IMB also saw tragedy in September when Christian worker Cheryll Harvey was found stabbed to death in Jordan after 24 years of serving as a teacher there.
And there were other tragedies that rocked the national and international scene.
Violent civil war raged in Syria for all of 2012, and the year ended with a sudden flare-up between Israel and Gaza that involved several days of intense rocket fire.
Back in the United States, a longtime Baptist leader found himself under metaphorical fire for most of the year.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), apologized multiple times in 2012 for comments he made on his weekly call-in radio show March 31. He was accused of being racially insensitive in handling the matter of the Trayvon Martin killing, as well as quoting material without attribution.
He issued his first apology April 16, then a five-part apology May 9 after meeting with key African-American leaders.
The ERLC executive committee was appreciative of the apologies but still handed down two reprimands midyear — one for the racial comments and the other for plagiarism. They also axed Land’s radio show.
The commission must “redouble our efforts … to heal re-opened wounds,” the committee said.
In July, Land announced his retirement, set for Oct. 23, 2013 — 25 years from the date he entered the ERLC’s presidency.
But something else related to the SBC and race relations happened around the same time — Fred Luter Jr. was elected the first African-American president of the national convention June 19.
During the SBC annual meeting in his city, Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, was elected by “acclamation” — cheers, applause and a standing ovation.
Normally the SBC recording secretary casts one vote on behalf of all when there is only one candidate, but then-president Bryant Wright thought it appropriate to go a different direction.
He asked messengers to stand if it was “their pleasure” to elect Luter, and their ovation was overwhelming.
“To God be the glory for the things He has done,” Luter said, wiping away tears. “God bless you. I love you.”