US megachurch pastor new Southern Baptist president; group opposes transgender identity

Juliet Linderman And Travis Loller / The Associated Press
June 10, 2014 09:57 AM

The Rev. Fred Luter Jr., at podium, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, smiles while addressing the convention during its annual meeting Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Baltimore. The Southern Baptists are electing a new president to succeed the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who became the denomination's first African-American president in 2012. Contenders include the Rev. Dennis Kim, pastor of a Korean church in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church, with several locations in northwest Arkansas. The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with 15.7 million members, but leaders are concerned about recent membership declines. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

BALTIMORE - A U.S. megachurch pastor was elected Tuesday to lead the country's Southern Baptists as the conservative denomination tries to turn around declining membership and faces increasing conflict with mainstream culture, especially over its conviction that gay sex is immoral.

Also on Tuesday, the nation's largest Protestant denomination approved a resolution opposing the idea that gender identity can be different from biological sex.

In nominating the Rev. Ronnie Floyd for president, the powerful head of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Rev. Albert Mohler, told the crowd of 5,000, "The nation is embracing a horrifying moral rebellion that is transforming our culture before our very eyes."

Floyd received 52 per cent of votes from delegates to the SBC annual meeting, beating out the Rev. Dennis Kim, the Korean-American pastor of a bilingual church, who received 41 per cent of votes.

Floyd succeeds the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who became the 15.7-million-member denomination's first African-American president in 2012.

Kim's supporters had hoped to make history again by electing the SBC's first Asian president, sending a signal that the denomination associated with white Southern culture is becoming both ethnically and geographically diverse.

Later Tuesday, delegates passed, without discussion, a resolution on transgender identity that opposes hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery and other efforts to "alter one's bodily identity."

According to the resolution, "God's design was the creation of two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female."

The resolution expresses opposition to government efforts to "validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy."

The resolution also condemns the bullying and abuse of transgender people and expresses love and compassion for "those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity."

Asked about the resolution after the vote, Russell Moore, the president of the SBC's public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, "I think it's a great sign that the SBC is taking seriously what it means to minister to a changing culture."

The meeting continues on Wednesday, where the group will consider a motion asking the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to explain why it admitted a Muslim student.

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Travis Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee.

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