NEW ORLEANS -- Southern Baptists criticized President Barack Obama's support of gay marriage and narrowly approved "Great Commission Baptists" as an optional descriptor for the Southern Baptist Convention in closing sessions Wednesday.
The messengers (attendees authorized by their churches to vote) also declined to consider a resolution by the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Arlington pointing out what he called "racist terminology" in Mormon scripture.
And at a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumni luncheon, Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and 2008 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was recognized as a distinguished alumnus.
The gay marriage resolution, titled "'Same Sex Marriage' and Civil Rights Rhetoric," stated: "For the first time in history the president of the United States has publicly voiced his personal support of 'same sex marriage.'" It urged Baptists to "oppose any attempt to frame 'same sex marriage' as a civil rights issue."
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Homosexuality "does not present the distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections, like the classes of race and gender." The resolution encouraged Southern Baptists to take part in "redemptive ministry" to homosexuals.
It added: "We stand against any form of gay-bashing and disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions toward persons who engage in acts of homosexuality."
The messengers also approved a resolution titled "On Protecting Religious Liberty," which opposes federal healthcare law stipulations on birth control and abortion.
The Baptists also approved, by a vote of 2,446 to 2,232, a much-debated proposal that allows affiliated churches the option of describing themselves as "Great Commission Baptists." Proponents argued that Southern Baptists outside the South and some in ethnic minority churches sometimes find the word Southern to be a handicap. Opponents said the Southern Baptist name stands for trust in the Bible and is a benefit.
The Rev. Jimmy Draper of Euless, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and chairman of a task force studying a possible name change, said members of his committee think the Great Commission option is a "win-win" situation.
"I don't see how we can say no to this," Draper said.
The official name remains Southern Baptist Convention, and no church will be forced to use the optional name, he said.
Thomas L. Law III, former executive director of the Tarrant Baptist Association and now the executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, said the proposal received mixed responses in his state.
"I have a lot of people in Iowa who were anxious to be able to use the new descriptor," he said. "They feel it will help them in relations with Iowans."
But some Iowa churches wanted to keep the Southern Baptist name to reflect its ties with a larger body, he said.
Messengers voted down an effort by McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, to bring a resolution to the floor pointing out what he called "racist terminology" in Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Leaders of the resolutions committee said they declined to send McKissic's resolution to the floor because they thought further research was needed.
During the seminary alumni luncheon, the Rev. Tommy French, pastor emeritus of the Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, was recognized as a distinguished alumnus along with Huckabee.
In an interview, Huckabee, who has a talk show on Fox News, praised Southern Baptists for electing the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. of New Orleans as the first African-American president of the denomination.
"I think it's an absolutely wonderful opportunity for Southern Baptists," he said. "Also, I think it's not just because of Fred's color but because of Fred's character. He is the epitome of what you hope every pastor will be. A man of great courage, he started with nothing and built a great church. And then to see it all destroyed by [Hurricane] Katrina and build it back again."
Huckabee said it's great for Southern Baptists to cross the color barrier.
"But far more significant than that is to elevate a man who illustrates everything you could hope for in a pastor. It's a great Christian story."