Political talk heats up as elections near
November 1 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Political talk heats up as elections near | Friday, Nov 2, 2001

Friday, Nov 2, 2001

Political talk heats up as elections near

By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor Political action - both overt and subdued - is spreading among N.C. Baptists as the Baptist State Convention (BSC) annual meeting nears. The BSC will meet Nov. 12-14 in Winston-Salem. Messengers will elect a new president. Current BSC President Mike Cummings is not eligible for re-election.

BSC vice presidents Buddy Corbin and Larry Harper are both facing challenges in their bids for re-election.

Raymond Earp, a layman from Beaufort, and Jerry Pereira, pastor of First Baptist Church in Swannanoa, are running for president.

Bob Foy, a layman from Mooresville, is running against Corbin for BSC first vice president. Hampton Drum, pastor of South River Baptist Church in Statesville, is challenging Harper for second vice president.

Much of the political maneuvering has centered on unexpected developments in the races.

Earp was initially expected to face Charles Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, for the BSC presidency. But Page withdrew when cancer, which had been in remission, reappeared.

Page was widely believed to be heavily favored to win the presidency. His prospects for victory were bolstered by his position as convention preacher, a role he was offered and accepted before he decided to run for president.

When Page dropped out, Earp's chances to win were believed to have greatly increased. Pereira then announced his intention to seek the post. Although not as well known as Page, Pereira describes himself as similar to Page.

Earp is considered the moderate candidate. He has been endorsed by Mainstream Baptists of North Carolina (MBNC), which also endorsed Page.

MBNC supporters say the group aims to protect the BSC from extremism on the left and the right. Critics say many members are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), a missions and ministry alternative to the conservative-dominated Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

MBNC has many moderate members, but it has some conservative support. Its steering committee includes Larry Locklear, who also serves as a regional director for Conservative Carolina Baptists (CCB), a conservative group. Mike Cummings, a conservative, will preach at a MBNC meeting Nov. 12.

Much of the political activity has centered on CCB and MBNC.

MBNC's latest newsletter, which was published in September, included brief notes about Earp, Page, Corbin and Harper; an article on the importance of attending the BSC meeting; an overview of Mainstream values and positive articles about the divinity schools at Gardner-Webb and Campbell universities.

"It is absolutely imperative that Mainstream Baptists attend the convention, especially the session in which the budget is considered, to preserve diversity, autonomy and commitment to cooperative giving through our multiple giving plans," said an article by Larry Hovis, pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville.

The November issue of CCB's newsletter, The Conservative Record, included articles supporting Pereira and Foy, a call for conservatives to stay through the entire BSC meeting, an anti-Mainstream article and a story attempting to paint BSC colleges and divinity schools as liberal.

In the article about Mainstream, M.O. Owens, said the group's name offers a "vivid metaphor."

"The stream of revenge, joined by the ever dwindling additions of skepticism and unbelief, becomes increasingly polluted, while at the same time, having less and less of the inflow of truth and reason," Owens said in the article. "The stream may widen as it goes, but its depth and power will constantly lessen until there is nothing left but the accumulation of religious debris, and the hopelessness of human reasoning."

Don Gordon, chairman of MBNC's steering committee, sent an e-mail to dozens of MBNC supporters responding to the CCB article about Mainstream. He refuted 10 statements in the article.

"We regret that time has to be spent on setting the record straight," Gordon said in his e-mail. "Unfortunately, if falsehoods go unchallenged, the uninformed might come to accept them as truth."

Gordon also denounced the article in a letter to the editor and an interview with the Biblical Recorder.

Gordon said in the interview that MBNC has chosen not to endorse Pereira, Foy or Drum. In addition to Earp, they have endorsed Corbin and Harper.

"We are satisfied with the candidates we have already endorsed," he said. "We believe they will be excellent servants for North Carolina Baptists in their respective positions.

But the political activism does not end with MBNC and CCB.

For the first time in recent memory, the heads of the BSC's colleges and universities have endorsed candidates. In a letter sent to MBNC's 5,000-name mailing list, the presidents of the schools support Earp, Corbin and Harper.

Gordon said the letter was a "collaborative effort" of MBNC and the schools.

In another unusual development, Pereira has been calling some top BSC General Board staff members. Pereira said he wanted to encourage the staff and let them know he supports missions and evangelism.

"I've called it courtesy calls to share who I am and who I'm not," he said.

Earp said he has met with several groups, attended an MBNC meeting, called several pastors and directors of missions and sent out some flyers. He spent 16 days within the last six weeks on mission trips.

Billy Cline, former pastor of Merrimon Avenue Baptist Church in Asheville, wrote a letter to N.C. pastors supporting Pereira. The letter includes favorable comments from two prominent conservatives and former BSC presidents - Mark Corts and Greg Mathis. Mathis will nominate Pereira, according to Cline's letter.

"As I grow older, I realize the importance of working together to obey the Great Commission of our Lord," Cline said in the letter. "Jerry will lead us to do that."

The late flurry of activity finishes off an unusual time in which the perceived edge in the Baptist controversy swung from side to side.

Moderates won two of the three top BSC elections last year, effectively ending six years of conservative control of BSC elected offices.

The victories by Corbin and Harper meant that moderates would likely have two incumbents running this year. Their re-election and a win in the president's race would give moderates a sweep of all three offices.

The likelihood seemed to decrease markedly when Page announced for presidency. Conservatives talked about trying to win all three, especially targeting Corbin because if his ties to the CBF.

When Page withdrew, moderates appeared to had regained political momentum. Pereira's announced candidacy and Drum's challenge of Harper seem to have leveled things out.

Many N.C. Baptists now believe its difficult to say which side will come out of the BSC annual meeting in better shape.

Before nearly every BSC annual meeting recently, convention observers talk about the importance of the upcoming gathering.

It appears this year is no different.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
11/1/2001 11:00:00 PM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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