HOUSTON – The Southern Baptist Convention tackled topics at its annual meeting this week that seemed to show a concern for a broadening array of social issues, including human trafficking and the country's high rate of incarceration.
While a resolution expressing opposition to the Boy Scouts of America's new policy allowing gay Scouts was expected, some other resolutions were not. And even the Boy Scout resolution took a softer tone than many had expected by not urging Southern Baptists to drop all ties with the Boy Scouts.
In the past, the nation's largest Protestant denomination has often been more heavy-handed in its condemnation of homosexuality.
In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention asked its members to boycott The Walt Disney Company, in part because it provided benefits for same-sex partners of employees and hosted gay theme nights at its amusement parks. The SBC dropped the boycott in 2005.
For many years, Southern Baptists have been identified primarily with opposition to abortion and opposition to gay marriage and the general normalization of homosexuality.
This year's wider array of concerns could be a reflection, in part, of a growing ethnic diversity within the Southern Baptist Convention and new leadership in some key positions.
The Nashville-based denomination has been trying to expand its appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base amid declining membership.
Last year, the convention elected an African-American president for the first time in its history. The Rev. Fred Luter was re-elected without opposition Tuesday.
The convention also recently appointed Russell Moore to replace Richard Land as head of its public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.
The Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, Curtis Freeman, said Moore brings a more moderate tone to the convention and a more conciliatory attitude toward working with other groups.
"The new generation is less ideologically motivated," he said.
Delegates on Wednesday also passed a resolution calling on all Southern Baptists to report allegations of child abuse to authorities and one urging Southern Baptists to work to support people with mental health issues.
That latter issue has been on the minds of many Southern Baptists this year after the son of hugely popular megachurch pastor Rick Warren committed suicide. And earlier this month, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page released a book about his daughter's suicide.
Travis Loller reported from Nashville, Tenn.
SBC annual meeting: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc13/