ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Speakers and music performers confirmed for the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference have good relationships with First Baptist Church of Orlando and other Southern Baptists, conference president David Uth told Baptist Press Tuesday (Feb. 11).
“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 Southern Baptist Convention,” Uth said. “I feel like they have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it.”
Hosanna Wong, a spoken word artist who is also a network associate teaching pastor at the Chula Vista location of the multisite EastLake Church in the San Diego area, is performing a specific selection pertinent to the conference theme of “Beloved,” and is not preaching, Uth said.
“She’s not preaching. She’s not coming as a preacher,” Uth told BP. “She’s coming as a musical artist.”
Wong is active in Celebrate Recovery, Uth said, and has appeared several times at First Baptist Orlando as well as other Southern Baptist churches, including Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., which founded Celebrate Recovery under Pastor Rick Warren.
Only 9 percent of current speakers are non-Southern Baptist, he said, including Wong and two preachers, Jim Cymbala, pastor of the evangelical non-denominational Brooklyn Tabernacle in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Wayne Cordeiro, founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship, based in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both preachers have spoken at First Baptist Orlando and are friends of the church, he said.
All preachers and presenters were chosen after prayer with God’s guidance, with the intention of edifying and encouraging pastors, Uth said. None of the speakers or performers are intended to cause confusion or create dissension, he said.
“We knew there would be some who objected,” he told BP. “But then, we look back in our past and there have been others that have spoken, both at the Southern Baptist Convention and at pastors’ conferences that have not been a Southern Baptist.
“And then,” he said, “the other issue is with a musical artist (at past conferences) … I don’t remember doing background checks and investigating every one of the musical artists that came to a pastors’ conference. And I just feel that’s a little bit over the top.”
Uth’s remarks followed social media comments both opposing and supporting the selection of Wong in particular, although many posts also mentioned the non-Southern Baptist pastors.
Wong’s website, hosannawong.com, presents her also as an author, Bible teacher and spoken word artist who has released two spoken word albums. She is executive director of Calvary Street Ministries, described as an outreach to homeless and low-income individuals in San Francisco.
Uth’s staff is monitoring social media to determine whether sentiments are voiced that would endanger Wong for participating, he told BP.
“If we sense that it is going to be an environment that’s not going to be helpful to her,” Uth said, “or it’s going to be in some way hurtful, I would not risk that for anything. She is a precious lady. She and her husband do a great work in San Francisco.”
The pastors’ conference is one of several related events in advance of the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. The SBC Executive Committee requests the conference to reimburse the EC $100,000 each year for conference use of the meeting hall and facilities at the SBC annual meeting, the EC told BP.