Long the launching pad for future leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, this year’s SBC Pastors Conference bore earmarks of a passing of the torch.
One of the convention’s rising younger stars, Liberty University Theological Seminary Dean Ergun Caner, paid tribute to a generation of conservative leaders retiring this year. They include former SBC presidents Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, Jim Henry and Jimmy Draper.
“All the men who have led us are slowly transitioning to glory,” Caner said. “Now it’s our time.”
Rogers, 73, pastor emeritus of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., is undergoing treatment after recently being diagnosed with cancer. A popular Pastors Conference preacher for many years, he delivered the closing message Monday night.
The first of a string of fundamentalists to win the SBC presidency in what supporters call the “conservative resurgence,” Rogers said his condition is serious, but he trusts God to determine his fate. That being said, he offered, “I confidently expect to be preaching for many, many more years.”
Before winning a first term as SBC president in 1979, Rogers was president of the Pastors Conference, an annual pre-convention event, in 1976. Other past SBC presidents who also led the Pastors Conference include Jerry Vines, Bailey Smith, Jimmy Draper, Jim Henry, Ed Young, Charles Stanley, James Merritt, Tom Elliff and Jack Graham.
Vines, who retires in February as pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., joked in a message Monday morning that he appreciated being mentioned by Caner the night before but would prefer Caner leave it to God when Vines “transitions to glory.”
Also on Monday, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore called on Southern Baptists to be “salt and light” by exercising the clout of evangelical Christians at the ballot box.
“The church won the 2004 election, and don’t let anybody tell you different,” Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., said Monday afternoon.
Pastors Conference president Steve Gaines introduced Moore, dubbed the “Ten Commandments judge” for legal battles over public displays of the Ten Commandments, as “a hero of the faith.”
Describing Moore’s refusal to remove his granite Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building, despite a court order, Gaines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gardendale, Ala., said, “I, for one, believe with all my heart he took the right stand for the Lord.”
Since being removed as the state’s chief justice in 2002 for his stand, Moore has led the Montgomery, Ala.,-based Foundation for Moral Law.
“The issue was not about a monument,” Moore said of the controversy. “It was not about religion. “It was not about sneaking it in the middle of the night.”
Rather, Moore said, “It was about the acknowledgement of God.”
Moore said the “deeper issue” behind his refusal to remove the monument was, “What do you do when you’re told you can’t?”
Moore said he believes in the separation of church and state, the rule of law and obedience to civil law, but he differed with the attorney general and presiding judge on what they mean.
Moore said separation of church and state does not mean separation of God from government. Rather, he said, “Separation of church and state mandates an acknowledgement of God.”
“Without the acknowledgement of God there would not be a First Amendment,” Moore said. The very day the final words of the Constitution were approved, he said, the founders issued a resolution requesting a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. “The first thing they did was acknowledge God,” he said.
The rule of law, he said, “doesn’t mean rule of man. It doesn’t mean that you obey a judge when he issues unlawful orders.”
Obedience to civil government, Moore said, “does not mean that you submit to unlawful authority.”
“There’s no higher power than God,” he said. “The powers that be are ordained by God.”
“Our schools, our political institutions, are not holding water today,” Moore said, “because we have tried to construct them without God.”
Moore said Americans “have been deceived” by a government that tells them it is unconstitutional for the public to acknowledge God.
Falwell said a “sleeping church” is more to blame than anyone else for “the dilemma Judge Moore pointed out our nation is in today.”
“The deafening silence of our pulpits must cease,” Falwell said.
Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority with an original board of Charles Stanley, Tim LaHaye and D. James Kennedy, said, “We were able to help get a guy named Ronald Reagan in office.”
Last fall, he said, voters with similar values managed to “offset all that Hollywood and liberal media and Michael Moore could do to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush.”
“We’ve got to deal with Hillary [Clinton] in 2008,” Falwell said, “but that’s another subject.”
Falwell, a longtime Baptist Bible Fellowship pastor who upset many independent fundamentalists when he joined the SBC in the 1990s, said he had never been ill much before two recent serious bouts with pneumonia, when “for the first time I realized I was mortal.”
Falwell, 71, said he prayed to God the prayer of the Old Testament figure Hezekiah, requesting to live 15 more years, “with an option to renew.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.