Like many other state conventions, Georgia Baptists plan their annual meeting in November each year. Fayetteville's New Hope Baptist Church hosts the meeting this year beginning with an Inspirational Rally Sunday evening, November 10th at 6 pm. The convention ends on Tuesday afternoon, November 12.
Most likely, Georgia Baptists' 2019 annual convention will come and pass with few, if any, wrinkles.
There is one particular item that should at least arouse the interest of most Georgia Baptists and, in many ways, ought to alarm them. I happen to be among those who are alarmed.
Allow me to explain.
Georgia Baptists' convention polity calls for the election of four vice-presidents to work with the President to oversee the 2020 annual meeting as well as serve as ex officio members of the Executive Committee. The election for the vice-presidents is scheduled for the Tuesday afternoon session.
Each of the vacancies for the vice-presidential offices has at least one nominee already publicly announced by The Christian Index. The four candidates and his respective nominee representative is listed below:
- Villa Rica First Baptist Church Pastor, Kevin Williams, intends to nominate Derek Berry, Pastor, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Hiram
- Cumming First Baptist Pastor, Bob Jolly, intends to nominate Grady Caldwell, Pastor, New Mercy Baptist Church, Griffin
- Georgia-based Evangelist, Bucky Kennedy, intends to nominate Javier Chavez, Pastor, Amistad Cristiana Church International, Gainesville
- Fayetteville New Hope Baptist Church Pastor, Rhys Stenner, intends to nominate Josh Saefkow, Pastor, Flat Creek Baptist Church, Fayetteville
All four candidates appear to be highly capable men who are called and skilled in ministry, successful in community involvement, and effective in his respective local church ministry.
One of the vice-presidential candidates above, however, should alarm Georgia Baptists.
Brother Grady Caldwell, intended to be nominated by longtime Cumming First Baptist Church Pastor, Bob Jolly, is founding pastor of New Mercy Baptist Church in Griffin, GA. As Jolly rightly indicates, Pastor Caldwell's biographical vitae remains impressive. Not only is he the founding pastor of New Mercy church, "In 2010 New Mercy Baptist Church was recognized by the Georgia Baptist Convention as a model for church plants in the State of Georgia." Furthermore, Rev. Caldwell's service in Georgia Baptist life appears extraordinary.
Note the following taken from his biographical page:
- The Board of Trustees of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation where he served as Chairman;
- The Committee on Nominations;
- The Cooperative Program Long-range Study Committee;
- The Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board;
- The Membership Committee, where he served as Chairman
- And, he served on the Search Committee for the Executive Director/CEO of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Why, then, should Georgia Baptists be alarmed? Rev. Caldwell appears to be the perfect vice-presidential candidate for Georgia Baptists. Indeed, after considering Rev. Caldwell's credentials, some may perhaps wonder why Brother Jolly shouldn't consider dropping his name as VP and nominating Rev. Caldwell as President of the GBC!
Believe me. I get that.
There remains one factor concerning Rev. Caldwell's candidacy that should nonetheless alarm Georgia Baptists. And the question should be asked, given his broad service among Georgia Baptists for so long, why has this issue not been raised before?
According to the church's website, New Mercy church embraces women pastors. And not just embraces women pastors, but ordains women pastors.
The Reverend Carmen Caldwell, affectionately called “Reverend CC”, is youth pastor at New Mercy Baptist Church. According to her biographical page, she received licence to preach in October 2004 at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington. Returning to Georgia where she grew up, "she was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel at New Mercy Baptist Church (Griffin, GA)."
Two other women appear to serve in a publicized pastoral role at New Mercy: Nadine Roundtree and Ann Sutton. And, though neither of their biographical pages explicitly indicate ordination to the gospel ministry by New Mercy (or elsewhere) as did Mrs. Caldwell, both ladies are identified by the normal means for identifying official members of the clergy: Reverend Nadine Roundtree and Reverend Ann Sutton.
Know I have no reservations whatsoever that New Mercy embraces and ordains women to gospel ministry if that's how their church believes it. I'm one of an increasingly dying breed of Baptists who still embraces and defends a strong local church autonomy.
I do have reservations, however, when Georgia Baptists confessionally and explicitly embrace a view of women in ministry contrary to those who want to cooperate with us. And especially do I hesitate to elect a man to serve as vice-president of the Georgia convention who believes and practices a view of women in ministry contrary to our publicly stated beliefs.
With this in mind, how are Georgia Baptists supposed to respond to a candidate put to them who seems highly qualified by virtually every measure but this one: explicit support for women as pastors? Doesn't support for women as pastors directly contradict Article VI Paragraph 1 of The Baptist Faith & Message which states, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture"?
My fellow Georgia Baptists this nomination alarms me.
Why would Bob Jolly, whose church embraces The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, nominate someone as vice-president whose church explicitly denies in practice the same confession as does Jolly's church?
Even more, why would Georgia Baptists allow a man whose church denies in practice what we confess we believe to become so deeply embedded in convention life? Not only have those who've allowed this to take place wronged all Georgia Baptists, Georgia Baptists have wronged Rev. Caldwell. We've taken advantage of his skills, his ministry, his time, and his church, when the fact is, he should never have been asked to serve in convention life if he did not support and embrace convention belief.
Of course, there's an alternative to the scenario I've just described.
Perhaps Georgia Baptists no longer hold objections to women in pastoral roles. Perhaps we've become "Progressive" as they say. Or, maybe we've become "woke."
If that's the case, then somebody needs to stand up and say so.
Before we go any farther down this road, it needs to be stated clearly, explicitly, and definitively.
And for the record, in 2008, messengers dis-fellowshipped the historic First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA for hiring Julie Russell Pennington as its first woman pastor. So, if we're going to travel down "Progressive" Pike, we need to go back and make that one right with the Decatur church.
If the nomination of Grady Caldwell for vice-president goes forward, Georgia Baptists will make an historic decision.
And, given the weight of it, there will be no turning back.