Louisville—Kentucky Baptists made history in 2015 by electing an African-American as their top leader, supported county clerks in their stance against gay marriages, hired a lobbyist and chaplain to influence and support state lawmakers, saw the first Kentuckian elected to lead national WMU, and witnessed a possible turning point in baptisms and giving.
Among the top newsmakers for Kentucky Baptists this past year were:
Kentucky Baptists elect first African-American president—Kevin Smith, teaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville and a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made history at Elizabethtown’s Severns Valley Baptist Church by becoming the first African-American to be elected as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Smith was nominated by Lincoln Bingham, senior pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Louisville. The race-relations pioneer in Kentucky for more than three decades highlighted Smith’s contributions as a champion for racial reconciliation, church revitalization, evangelism and missions.
Baptist leaders dismayed by Supreme Court decision—In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court transformed the legal definition of marriage June 26, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Baptist leaders expressed their dismay, as well as their encouragement for the church to respond with courage and compassion. Among them was Paul Chitwood, KBC executive director, who wrote on his blog: “Moving forward, one of the most pressing questions now regards religious liberty. Does the ruling threaten this foundational principle of American law and life?” he asked. “… Appealing to the First Amendment, biblically faithful Baptists in Kentucky will continue to preach and teach God’s truth on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, as well the sinfulness of the homosexual lifestyle.”
Clerk loses, then resists high court on gay marriage licenses—A Kentucky county clerk not only lost at the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 31, but was later found in contempt of court for again refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her deputies turned away gay couples seeking marriage licenses Sept. 1 in Morehead. Their refusal came after the high court denied Davis’ request to block enforcement of a federal judge’s order that she issue licenses for same-sex marriages. Tom James, KBC president and pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, said, “To issue the license would not only violate her conscience but also her protection under the First Amendment of our Constitution, which provides for the free exercise of religion.”
Kentucky Baptists: ‘Stop funding Planned Parenthood’—Convention messengers adopted a resolution calling for ending public funding for the Planned Parenthood agency. Citing statistics indicating that “one of every four abortions performed in America are carried out at Planned Parenthood,” the statement adopted at the KBC Annual Meeting in Elizabethtown noted that 995,787 abortions were carried out at Planned Parenthood in the past three years. Leading to the resolution were several videos released that showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about selling organs from aborted babies.
Baptists have chaplain, lobbyist, journalist at Capitol—Kentucky Baptists implemented a three-pronged strategy intended to give them more input in political issues that have moral and ethical implications. Executive Director Paul Chitwood unveiled the strategy at the KBC Annual Meeting, telling messengers about a grant that is covering the cost of a lobbyist, a chaplain and a journalist, all of whom will be based in Frankfort. Former Kentucky Legislative Research Commission Deputy Director Tom Troth has signed on as lobbyist; Steve Weaver, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church near Frankfort and a teacher at Southern Seminary, has assumed the role of chaplain; and former International Mission Board foreign correspondent Kristen Lowry has been hired to cover news from the Capitol.
Tompkinsville native chosen as national WMU president—Woman’s Missionary Union elected Linda Cooper of Tompkinsville to serve as national WMU president during their Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting at First Baptist Church of Grove City, Ohio. Cooper is the first Kentuckian ever to be elected to the post. A member of Forest Park Baptist Church in Bowling Green, she succeeds Debby Akerman, who served as WMU president for five years. “Please pray for me, for national WMU and for those lives who are being eternally changed through you as you lead missions education each week through WMU,” Cooper requested.
Turning Point: Baptists see rise in baptisms, members, giving—Kentucky Baptist churches baptized 14,223 people, a turning point for the state’s largest religious organization that had been in a gradual decline for the past decade. The state’s 2,400 churches also reported an overall increase in membership, another sign that 2014 may have been a watershed year. Undesignated financial contributions to churches were up substantially from $309.8 million to $314.3 million last year. In September, the KBC reported that Cooperative Program gifts for the fiscal year reached $21,837,101—the largest amount in three years. That was up $432,632 over the previous year’s total.
Crossings sets records, renews missions focus—Crossings not only saw a banner year for decisions and attendance, but this year even the camp staff found a renewed focus on missions. This summer Crossings partnered with the International Mission Board to raise $240,000 to send and support Latin American missionaries in their home countries. In addition, Crossings saw 849 salvation decisions among its 13,166 campers. Pre-registration for 2016 already surpasses this summer’s total. In October, Crossings President David Melber was named senior vice president of Send Relief—a new compassion ministry of the North American Mission Board to offer Southern Baptists opportunities to meet physical needs and serve underprivileged communities.
God’s greatness compels us, (IMB President) Platt tells new missionaries—At Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, 34 candidates were appointed as missionaries by the International Mission Board. The event marked the first IMB commissioning service held at a Kentucky church in recent years. Several Kentucky Baptist couples were among those commissioned, including Nick Moore, pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Fisherville, and his wife Kyndra, to Zimbabwe; Phil and Laura Metcalfe, members of Immanuel Baptist church in Louisville, to Mexico; and another couple, who have ties to Marion Church.
Kentucky Baptists helping S.C. flood victims—Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief teams arrived in Sumter to assist in recovery efforts after more than 20 inches of rain fell on parts of the state in early October. KBC Disaster Relief Director Coy Webb said several Kentucky flood recovery teams, a feeding team, and chaplains were sent to South Carolina. More than 650 homes in the Sumter area alone were damaged extensively by the torrential rains and two breached dams. More than 100 homeowner assistance jobs were completed, and more than 1,250 meals were prepared. Chaplains also reported 35 gospel presentations resulting in four decisions for Christ.
In other Kentucky Baptist headlines … two new agency leaders were elected: Dale Suttles, at Sunrise Children’s Services, and Richard Carnes, at the Kentucky Baptist Foundation … an Owen County teen, Nichole Roberts of Frankfort, won the national high school Bible drill tournament … a Grayson layman, Bill Johnson, was recognized as one of the nation’s top disaster relief leaders for his Hurricane Sandy Relief work … and three Kentucky cities—Lexington, Louisville and Paducah—were listed among the top 25 Bible-minded cities in the country. (WR)