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First Baptist Orlando to Completely Pay for Controversial Pastors Conference

First Baptist Orlando

After controversy arose about the speaker lineup for the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors Conference, its leaders announced that First Baptist Orlando, an SBC church, will pay all costs for the two-day gathering. The conference “will not receive any financial support of any kind from any SBC entity or auxiliary,” according to a February 17 statement.

First Baptist Church of Orlando, which is led by Pastors Conference President David Uth, is paying the entire cost of the event, held June 7 and 8 at the Orange County Convention Center. “Our hope is that this will ease conflicts or tensions that exist over the slated program for the conference,” the statement notes. “The 2020 SBC Pastors Conference is in no way being sponsored, controlled, or paid for by the SBC, even though its purpose is still to bless and encourage SBC pastors and wives.”

Though participants will be “encouraged in your personal walk with Jesus and in fulfilling your calling as pastor,” conference attendance is optional. “If you don’t feel comfortable attending, that’s okay too,” the statement says. “Your participation is desired but by no means required.”

What Sparked the Uproar?

Some SBC members are protesting a scheduled performance by Hosanna Wong, a spoken-word artist who’s also a teaching pastor at a non-SBC congregation near San Diego. Southern Baptist doctrine limits the pastoral office to men. Uth has clarified that Wong will be appearing as an artist, not as a preacher.

Objections also are being raised about David Hughes, a Florida pastor who has used sexually suggestive sermon titles and visuals, and Emerson Eggerich, author of a book that some leaders say is misogynistic.

Uth says he doesn’t necessarily agree with all the speakers but believes “they have a message for us” and “God wants to speak to us through them.” He never imagined how much “division and hostility” would result from the lineup, he says, and asks, “Could I appeal to you to be open and give God a chance to speak through every person who is a part of this program?”

Lineup Underscores Rancor in the SBC

The SBC, America’s largest Protestant denomination, has been experiencing division regarding issues such as social justice, racial reconciliation, and gender roles. Last week, a new Conservative Baptist Network launched in response to what organizers call liberal “drift” in the SBC. Founders Ministries president Tom Ascol, who supports the new network, calls the “problematic speakers” slated for the Pastors Conference “merely the most recent of the SBC foibles.”

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, meanwhile, calls male domination and opposition to female speakers “sick.” Though he feared Wong would be disinvited from the conference, he offered “kudos to David Uth for sticking by his convictions” and urges pastors to “show up and be inspired.”

Burleson tweeted: “I long for the day when the Southern Baptist Convention is known for our love for people from all walks of life, our desire to lead people to follow Jesus above all else, and our desire to cooperate for Kingdom purposes, laying aside all our personal preferences for Christ’s sake.”

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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.