The Southern Baptist Convention took on the character of a campaign stop Tuesday afternoon, as President George W. Bush touted policies popular with the convention’s socially conservative base.

Speaking live via satellite at the SBC meeting in Indianapolis, Bush thanked Southern Baptists for strong support of his war on terror and pledged to keep working to build “a culture of life” in America.

Bush pledged to “finish the job” in bringing freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan. “Freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman who lives in the world,” he said.

In addition to noting “tremendous progress” in issues including tax cuts, the economy and health care, Bush said he was “proud” to sign a number of anti-abortion bills, including a ban on “the brutal practice of partial-birth abortion,” an initiative he said is “not only constitutional but urgently needed…and my administration will fight to uphold it.”

He said he would continue support for funding for crisis-pregnancy centers, incentives for adoption, parental-notification laws and abstinence education. He also pledged to work with Congress for a comprehensive and effective ban on cloning. “Life is a creation of God and not a commodity to be exploited by man,” he said.

Bush also credited his administration with “defending the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage forever.”

“The union of a man and women is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged by all cultures and by every religious faith,” Bush said. Bush said he supports funding to build healthy marriages and a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and woman.

Bush challenged Congress to write into law his executive order allowing religious charities to compete for federal funds “so that people of faith can never again be discriminated against” by being denied government funds.

Bush touted his nominees for federal judges as “people who will strictly interpret the law” instead of legislating from the bench and urged senators blocking their appointment to “stop playing politics with American justice.”

“We pray for God’s guidance, each in our lives and for this great nation,” Bush said. “I thank you for the opportunity to speak to this convention. I’m sorry I could not be there in person. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.”

It was Bush’s third straight year to address the SBC, the most ever by a sitting president, but he has yet to visit the gathering in person. He addressed last year’s SBC annual meeting in Phoenix on videotape. The year before, in 2002, Bush spoke to the convention in St. Louis live via satellite.

Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, also addressed the SBC during his presidency, in 1991. Vice President Dan Quayle spoke the last time the SBC met in Indianapolis, in 1993.

Though both attended Southern Baptist churches, neither Democratic President Bill Clinton nor Vice President Al Gore was invited during their two terms in the White House.

Also on the convention’s opening day, messengers voted by a nearly 2-1 margin to “respectfully request” trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to adopt an amendment to their charter declaring the Southern Baptist Convention “sole member” of their non-profit corporation.

By a 5,645-2,059 vote, messengers sided with the SBC Executive Committee in a dispute over governance between two convention entities.

“We believe the convention ought to be sole member of each of the convention entities,” Executive Committee attorney James Guenther told messengers.

The Executive Committee asked the seminary to adopt sole-member language to ensure that trustees never attempt to remove the school from convention control. Other convention entities have done so in recent years.

“This recommendation is not rooted in suspicion,” Guenther said. “The Executive Committee does not believe this seminary board would ever flee the convention. The time to close the barn door is before there are any horses wanting to get out. The time to act is when the messengers and trustees share a common commitment.”

Seminary trustees asked for another year to bring back a compromise measure next year that they said would protect Southern Baptists better than sole membership. Under Louisiana law, they said, sole membership language could increase the convention’s liability and could be used to usurp the authority of trustees.

Seminary trustee Don Johnson of Missouri called the vote a “very dangerous precedent of micromanaging our entities.”

“Every time one of our entities disagrees with the [Executive Committee], are we going to have a motion at the Southern Baptist Convention,” Johnson asked.

The convention also adopted a $183 million Cooperative Program budget for 2004-2005, which allocates 50 percent for international missions, 23 percent to North American missions, 21 percent to seminaries and 1.5 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Messengers elected Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., as president, to succeed Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Welch, the only announced candidate, defeated All Jarrell by a vote of 3,997-1,020 (79.6 percent-20.4 percent.) Gerald Davidson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, Mo., won election as first vice president without opposition.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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