Missouri Baptists oust non-SBC church
November 1 2001 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

Missouri Baptists oust non-SBC church | Friday, Nov 2, 2001

Friday, Nov 2, 2001

Missouri Baptists oust non-SBC church

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) voted to unseat messengers from a church that cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), saying the state convention's constitution recognizes only Southern Baptist congregations. The vote represents a turning point in a long-running power struggle separating conservatives and moderates in the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Missouri is the first major state group to officially require loyalty to the conservative-led SBC as a criterion for membership.

About 2,100 messengers at the state convention's annual meeting, held Oct. 29-31 in Cape Girardeau, voted overwhelmingly to uphold a credentials committee ruling that Second Baptist Church of Liberty, Mo., no longer qualifies to elect messengers to the annual meeting. Ten duly elected messengers from the church were unseated and asked to turn in their ballots.

Credentials committee chairman David Tolliver said the committee reviewed the church's membership status in response to a challenge issued from the floor at the start of the convention's second day.

An article in the state convention's constitution defines an affiliated church as one "in sympathy with the objects of the convention and desiring to cooperate with the convention in her program of single alignment with the Southern Baptist Convention."

Tolliver said the credentials committee interpreted that to mean, "You have to be an SBC church to be an MBC church."

Steve Graham, pastor of the church in suburban Kansas City, appealed the credentials committee's ruling. "We ask you to extend to us the freedom that is every congregation's," he said to messengers.

Tolliver responded by acknowledging the church's long ties with Missouri Baptists but said the congregation's members had forfeited their right to be represented at the annual meeting. "They chose as an autonomous body of Christ to leave the Southern Baptist Convention," he said. "In our opinion, that violates the constitution."

In traditional Southern Baptist polity, local churches decide whether to seek denominational affiliation with local associations, state conventions and the SBC, with each entity cooperating in missions while autonomous in its own sphere.

Graham acknowledged in an interview after the vote that the constitutional language is unclear. The credentials committee interpreted the membership article to mean that to be an MBC church, a congregation must also belong to the SBC, but his congregation disagreed with that reading. "We feel if the constitution intended that, it would say that," he said.

Don Wideman, a former executive director of the state convention, said in an interview that the credentials committee got its interpretation of the constitution "absolutely wrong."

He said the article, which has been in the constitution for many years, originated because as a border state, the Missouri convention early on had churches from both the Southern Baptist and American Baptist conventions. When the convention determined to affiliate solely with the SBC, it changed its constitution to grandfather in already-affiliated ABC churches while stating its intent that the convention would in the future be exclusively Southern Baptist.

Before now, according to Wideman, the membership article has never been viewed as binding a local church to affiliate with the SBC. "I think we have just seen the demise of the convention as we have known it," he said. "It's very distressing to me, as a former executive director," to see a church that has long supported and worked with the convention now excluded.

Graham said the Liberty church voted in April to sever ties with the SBC. "We were a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention before the Southern Baptist Convention began," he said, and desired to continue to relate to the state organization despite differences with the national body.

While Liberty is not the only Missouri Baptist congregation to sever SBC ties, it was the only one whose messengers were included in the specific challenge, Tolliver said.

Messengers from other moderate churches, however, said they were voluntarily turning in their credentials to show solidarity with Liberty Second.

The action fueled talk among moderates, disenfranchised by the Project 1000 campaign that has in recent years delivered control of the state convention to conservatives, of splitting off into a separate state convention.

Conservatives already have taken that step in moderate-stronghold states of Texas and Virginia, but Missouri would be the first instance of a state's moderate Baptists striking out on their own.

Nationwide, however, moderates have organized to distance themselves from the conservative leaders of the SBC. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), organized in 1991, has about 1,800 contributing churches but has stopped short of declaring itself a separate convention. Most churches that support the CBF also give money to the SBC.

In other business, Missouri Baptists approved motions to escrow funding and perhaps sue five convention agencies that recently moved to self-perpetuating trustee boards.

The amendment freezes $400,000 earmarked for Missouri's Baptist Home, $200,000 for the Missouri Baptist Foundation, $150,000 for Windemere conference center, $450,000 for the newspaper Word and Way, money for four campuses of Missouri Baptist College and any other funding for agencies that in the future might become self-perpetuating.

The funds are to be held in escrow until trustees of the affected institutions "rescind their actions and reinstate their former charters" that gave power for electing trustees to the Missouri Baptist Convention.

On the final day of the convention, messengers approved a separate motion by Monte Shinkle, a messenger from Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo. The motion instructs convention leaders to seek a legal opinion on actions taken by the five agencies and "take any and all steps necessary to restore them to their former relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention."

Messengers defeated an amendment providing that the executive board not "violate the clear, inerrant, scriptural injunction that Christians not sue one another in secular courts to settle their disputes."

"The thief has come, and its time for us to wake up and get out of bed," messenger Tom Willoughby said in supporting the escrowing of funds.

Gerald Davidson, a conservative pastor, said in removing their agencies from convention control: "We have a handful of trustees, who have taken it on themselves to say, 'These institutions are ours. Missouri Baptists, you send us your money and we'll run your institutions for you... You'll have absolutely nothing to say about them.' This is absolutely repulsive."

Representatives of some of the agencies responded that they took the action on advice of legal counsel out of concern about ascending liability.

In debate over Shinkle's motion to seek recovery of the agencies by legal means, Randy Fullerton, pastor of Fee Fee Baptist Church in St. Louis and trustee chairman at Missouri Baptist College, said the convention has three times investigated the ownership of agencies. Each time, he said, the conclusion was the trustees own the agencies.

"I am sure that we can get many legal opinions," Fullerton said. "I am sure there are many unemployed lawyers around who would like to take our money. I would urge our convention to seek reconciliation rather than lawsuits."

"We're not the first to hire the lawyers," Shinkle responded. "These institutions belong to the Missouri Baptist Convention, in my opinion."

"I believe it's an issue of legal standing," he said. "I don't want punitive damages. I don't want vengeance, I just want our institutions back."

The convention referred to the executive board a motion by Rodney Albert of Hallsville Baptist Church to appoint a committee to "investigate the feasibility and procedures of publishing a periodic news journal that is directly accountable to the Missouri Baptist Convention."

The motion also would authorize convention leaders to secure funding to begin immediate publication and distribution "until such time as the Word and Way restore its previous relationship" to the state convention.

Later, the convention passed a resolution expressing "disapproval" of actions taken by the five agencies to remove themselves from convention control. "We regard such conduct as inconsistent with the spirit of cooperative missions and as a serious betrayal of trust," the resolution said.

The resolution called on trustees "to rescind their actions and to take any necessary steps of reconciliation to rebuild broken trust."

In other business, conservatives extended a streak of electing presidents of the state convention. Conservative-backed candidate Bob Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church, defeated Marvin Barker for the post by a vote of 1,486 to 518.

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11/1/2001 11:00:00 PM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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