BALTIMORE (AP) — An Arkansas megachurch pastor was elected Tuesday to lead the country’s Southern Baptists as the conservative denomination tries to turn around declining membership, church attendance and baptisms and faces increasing conflict with mainstream culture, especially over its conviction that gay sex is immoral.
Later on Tuesday, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination is scheduled to consider a resolution opposing the idea that gender identity can be different from a person’s biological sex. And a motion made from the floor by one Southern Baptist Convention delegate asks the group to discipline a Southern California church that has stopped preaching against homosexuality.
In nominating the Rev. Ronnie Floyd for president, the powerful head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Rev. Albert Mohler, told the crowd of 5,000 meeting in Baltimore, “The nation is embracing a horrifying moral rebellion that is transforming our culture before our very eyes.”
He warned of “direct challenges to our religious freedoms and churches” and said Floyd is the person who can “convey our message in the midst of the most trying times.”
Floyd received 52 percent of votes from delegates to the SBC annual meeting. Floyd beat out the Rev. Dennis Kim, the Korean-American pastor of a bilingual Maryland church, who received 41 percent of votes.
For 27 years Floyd has been the pastor at Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, where about 8,500 people worship each week at its several locations.
Floyd succeeds the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who became the 15.7-million-member denomination’s first African-American president in 2012.
Kim’s supporters had hoped to make history again by electing the Nashville-based SBC’s first Asian president and sending a signal that the denomination associated with white Southern culture is becoming ethnically and geographically diverse. But supporters of both candidates downplayed the significance of race and agreed the next president should be someone who could help revitalize the denomination.
Delegates will consider resolutions later Tuesday. One declares that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by self-perception. The resolution states that the SBC opposes hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery and other efforts to “alter one’s bodily identity.”
According to the resolution, “God’s design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female.”
The resolution expresses opposition to government efforts to “validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy.”
The resolution also condemns the bullying and abuse of transgender people and expresses love and compassion for “those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity.”
Other resolutions that will be considered include a denunciation of government sponsorship of casinos and lotteries as exploiting “poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged citizens by promoting participation in highly addictive behaviors which often result in financial disadvantage or ruin.”
There is also a resolution that denounces predatory payday lending and urges churches and individuals to “provide viable solutions for meeting short-term financial needs within their local communities.”
Travis Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee.