|The Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday passed a resolution urging political involvement by churches.
"Christians should seek to apply their spiritual and moral values to the political process," said a resolution on "political engagement" adopted on the last day of the SBC's 2008 annual meeting in Indianapolis.
The resolution urges "all Southern Baptists" to participate in a new "40/40 Prayer Vigil" being promoted by the North American Mission Board and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
A Web site is recruiting Southern Baptists to sign up for both a 40-day prayer vigil for "spiritual revival and national renewal" between Sept. 24 and Nov. 2 and an intensive 40 hours of around-the-clock prayer just before the election Nov. 2.
The program encourages participants "help make sure your personal spiritual revival turns into immediate public action by participating in the upcoming elections. Register to vote, learn about the positions of the presidential candidates, and then vote your biblical values, beliefs, and convictions."
"We should not be endorsing candidates," ERLC President Richard Land said in a report Tuesday night. "We should be looking for candidates who endorse us and our values and our beliefs and our convictions."
The resolution encourages Southern Baptist churches to "regularly to teach and preach biblical truth on moral issues and to urge their members to vote according to their belief, convictions and values."
"We plead with all Christians to exercise vigorously their responsibilities to participate in the political process by registering to vote, educating themselves about the issues, and voting according to their biblical beliefs, convictions and values," the resolution says.
The resolution cautions churches and leaders to "prayerfully seek God's mind and will and strongly to consider the potential problems of politicizing the church and the pulpit before endorsing candidates."
After eight years of being among President Bush's strongest supporters, this year's SBC seemed less excited about the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain. Messengers interviewed by Reuters, however, tended to view him as a lesser of two evils when compared to Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
A videotaped message from President Bush aired early in the convention's opening session Tuesday morning drew only what one reporter called "polite applause," contrasting with a standing ovation the president received last year for a live video message to the convention in San Antonio.
In a departure from his remarks to Southern Baptists in previous years, Bush made no reference the war in Iraq or thanking the SBC for supporting his policies like judicial appointments. He lauded Southern Baptists for defense of "the sanctity of life" as well as humanitarian efforts like responding to Hurricane Katrina, the cyclone in Burma and earthquake in China.
"So as you gather today, my prayer for you is this," the president said. "May the Lord continue to protect and defend you, and may his spirit fill you with his grace. May he always bless the Southern Baptist Convention, and may he always bless the United States of America."
Other resolutions adopted Wednesday morning and in the convention's closing session Wednesday night included a statement celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel. It calls on world leaders to "renounce the growing tide of anti-Semitism" and commits Southern Baptists to pray for Israel, "the birthplace of our Lord and a bastion of democracy in the Middle East."
A resolution on affirming use of the term "Christmas" in public life denounces secularism as "a pervasive and aggressive movement" and accuses groups like the ACLU and People For the American Way of trying to "remove references to God and Jesus Christ" from the public square. It "encourages believers to be aware of businesses, schools, and all other public institutions in their areas that are removing Christmas as the official designation of the season and to use their influence to restore Christmas to its proper place in the culture."
Another resolution criticizes the California Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage and supports both state and federal constitutional amendments to define marriage as between a man and woman.
Messengers debated but rejected an amendment adding condemnation for a California law that critics say mandates pro-homosexual teaching in public schools. The failed amendment, offered by Ron Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Thousand Oaks, Calif., encouraged "all Christians in California to remove their children from the public schools, which are the main training grounds for the teaching of same-sex marriage."
The chairman of the Resolutions Committee opposed Wilson's amendment, saying in dealing with problems in education the convention has "chosen over and over again that we should engage the culture and not exit."
A resolution on Planned Parenthood calls the organization the nation's largest abortion provider and encourages messengers to evaluate candidates for elected office "based on their affiliation with Planned Parenthood."
A resolution on "Regenerate Church Membership" addresses the need for more accurate keeping of church-membership rolls. An amendment added during debate urges SBC churches to "repent of any failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members."
Other resolutions encourage greater ethnic diversity in SBC leadership and celebrate the 100th anniversary of Royal Ambassadors, a missions-education program for boys.
By mid-morning Wednesday, a total of 7,249 messengers had registered for the convention, making it the smallest annual gathering since Phoenix in 2003 and the second-smallest since 1951. Last year's registration in San Antonio was 8,618. The last time the SBC met in Indianapolis, in 2004, the messenger count was 8,600.
Those crowds are about half the size of conventions during the 1970s. The record year for SBC attendance, at the height of the moderate-fundamentalist controversy, was 45,519 in Dallas in 1985.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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