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Lineup for Pastors Conference Riles SBC Complementarians

spoken word

Soon after the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors Conference released a preliminary lineup of speakers and performers Monday, denominational conservatives took offense at several names. They’re especially troubled by the booking of spoken word artist Hosanna Wong, a teaching pastor at a non-SBC church near San Diego.

On Tuesday, the president of the conference—which takes place June 7 and 8 in Orlando, ahead of the SBC’s annual meeting—defended the lineup, which also includes David Platt, Jim Cymbala, Wayne Cordeiro, and Phil Wickham.

Conference President: ‘She’s not preaching’

Dr. David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando and president of the Pastors Conference, tells Baptist Press that Wong’s role will be as “a musical artist.” He says, “She’s not preaching. She’s not coming as a preacher.” Wong is involved with Celebrate Recovery, Uth notes, and has appeared at his church as well as Saddleback.

All speakers and performers have good relationships with the denomination, Uth says, and only nine percent aren’t Southern Baptists. “My goal, my prayer was that we could open ourselves up to hear from people that maybe were good friends of ours, but not in our…Convention,” he says. “I feel like they have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them.”

Critics Decry a Lack of ‘standards’

Tom Ascol, president of Founders Ministries, shared Wong’s bio on social media. Regarding the controversy, he later tweeted “Pray for the SBC. May God have mercy on us.”

A post on CapstoneReport.com calls Uth’s reasoning—that Wong is only performing—the “same nonsense we always [hear] from the SBC enablers.” It continues: “Today’s SBC…has no standards. It wants the Woke and the Celebrity to highlight its annual events. Will conservatives take back the SBC at the Annual Meeting in Orlando, or will it continue the slide into progressive oblivion?”

Others addressed a slippery slope. Larry Farlow, a church elder in Georgia, tweeted: “It’s OK, the woman pastor is not actually preaching. It’s OK, the woman pastor is not preaching on Sunday mornings. It’s OK, the woman pastor preaching on Sunday mornings is under the authority of the senior pastor who’s male. Meet your new woman pastor.”

On ReformationCharlotte.org, Jeff Maples notes the importance of Wong’s title, saying the key issue is that she “claims to be a pastor when the denomination, according to its own resolutions, rejects this as unbiblical.” Maples also notes that Uth “invited all of the homosexuals in Orlando to take the stage in his church” after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

Outrage is Misplaced, Says Denhollander

The SBC has been grappling with women’s roles in the church, specifically regarding the concept of complementarianism. Author and Bible teacher Beth Moore says a theology of separate gender roles leads to abuse, while John MacArthur says Moore should “go home.”

Sexual abuse advocate Rachael Denhollander entered the debate with a Twitter thread about the outcry over Wong. Some people are calling for SBC Executive Committee funds to be withheld, she notes, while others want a protest letter or for Wong to publicly repent. “Where were the calls for public repentance when Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines repeatedly put sexual abuser [Darrell] Gilyard into the pulpit?” Denhollander asks. “Where were these calls to action when women and children and young men were behind raped by pastors, who were then protected by pastors? … Because sexual abuse isn’t seen as that big of a deal.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 27 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.