Southern Baptists Flock to Tennessee to Talk Missions, Politics

Rev. Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. (Mark Humphrey / AP)
Rev. Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. (Mark Humphrey / AP)

Southern Baptists from across the United States will crowd into Nashville venues the first week of August for a one-two punch of denominational direction — first, a conference on how every Baptist can be a missionary, and second, one on how to interact with the political world.

The latter, an annual, topical event organized for pastors by the denomination’s policy arm, typically draws lots of interest from outside the denomination. As the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists wield political influence around abortion, same-sex marriage and Religious Freedom Restoration Act issues.

The Send North America Conference is Aug. 3-4 at Bridgestone Arena, touted as an event “for business people, soccer moms, grandmothers, students, lawyers, pastors, baristas, contractors.” The organizers expect 13,000 of those to meet down the street from the Southern Baptist Convention’s headquarters and learn how to address needs in their own communities.

The conference also will host GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who plans to sit for an interview with Russell Moore, president of the denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Scripture doesn’t relegate ministry to a select few, says Dustin Willis, conference coordinator. If Send accomplishes its purpose, attendees will return to their cities and address homelessness, human trafficking and a variety of other societal ills.

And while surveys point to a decline in the number of Southern Baptists — the latest figure is at 15.5 million, down from a peak of 16.3 million in 2003 — the conference isn’t about galvanizing a base or recruiting membership, Willis said.

“Our concern doesn’t need to be on numbers but on how well we are mobilizing people in their communities to love their neighbors as themselves,” he said. “If those types of things happen, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

For Redemption City Church in Franklin, that concern means going out into the community, asking people what they need and then helping them, said Lead Pastor Jedidiah Coppenger. And that help comes regardless of who the recipients are and whether or not they agree with Southern Baptist doctrine.

Most recently, the congregation planted a garden to address concerns about hunger and nutrition in a low-income community.

“People who don’t agree with what we believe in — but we serve them — they will think there is some catch,” said Coppenger, who plans to attend the conference with members of his church. “We tell them, even if you don’t believe what we believe, we’re here to serve you in any way we can, and we love you.”

Send has grown exponentially since its 2012 launch, which drew 2,000 people to Atlanta.

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SOURCE: The Tennessean
Heidi Hall

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