SOC meetings attendance falling
KEARNEY – Save Our Convention (SOC) meetings are smaller now than when they began May 15 when 169 people attended the group’s first meeting at First Baptist Church, Harvester in St. Charles.
A second meeting June 25 in Marshfield drew 35 attendees, four less than the group drew the next day at its third meeting hosted by First Baptist Church, Kearney. The 39 attendees included two members of the news media and First Kearney’s pastor, Ken Parker, who said the meeting did not necessarily represent his views or the views of the church’s members.
All of the meetings have been nearly identical in that SOC members spoke for about 90 minutes uninterrupted, however, a few questions were allowed following their presentations in Marshfield and Kearney. Their message has been largely an attack on Roger Moran, a layman from First Baptist Church, Troy, who led the Project 1000 group that enabled conservatives to wrest control of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) from liberals. SOC feels Moran and a research organization, the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA), have too much influence over what happens in the MBC.
• Halt the spread of a legalistic spirit and allow for diversity of opinion on non-essentials of the faith.
• Include all those who want to work together with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as the guide. (See the May 29 issue of The Pathway for more details about SOC’s concerns.)
MBC Interim Executive Director David Tolliver attended the Kearney meeting, as did SOC coordinator David Sheppard, pastor, First Baptist Church, St. Charles. Sheppard is the only one of SOC’s 11 leaders to have participated in all three meetings. Sheppard spoke often at Kearney. Tolliver, as was the case at First Harvester, was not allowed to speak. Tolliver did not attend the Marshfield meeting.
“I was pleased to hear that the SOC leadership is completely behind the recommendations of the MBC Committee on Continuing Review concerning the MBC Nominating Committee,” Tolliver said in a June 27 interview. “I am convinced the Convention will be unified on those recommendations this fall.”
Of those in attendance at Kearney, about half appeared to be opposed to SOC. The SOC presentation lasted 83 minutes followed by a question-and-answer period that lasted about 30 minutes.
Much of SOC’s Kearney presentation was criticism directed at Moran, who was given about two minutes to defend himself during the Q&A period. That prompted protests from several attendees, including Moran.
“I don’t even know where to start,” Moran said during his brief remarks. “I’ve been made the center of this controversy. I guess really all I can say is I would be happy to answer any question that anybody has about any issue.”
While Project 1000 ended in 2003, MBLA continues its research and still endorses candidates for MBC offices – at the request of many pastors and lay leaders who were involved in Project 1000. Moran is the MBLA’s research director. SOC has criticized MBLA, calling it a source of “legalistic power-brokering.”
SOC claims there are too many Moran appointees and family members on MBC boards and committees and that a form of “musical chairs” is being orchestrated by a handful of leaders with ties to Project 1000 and the MBLA. SOC notes how a brother-in-law and cousin of Moran’s were voted onto the MBC Executive Board by the Nominating Committee while Moran served as the committee chairman. Opponents point out the rules allow for distant relatives to serve and that SOC people are overlooking that the committee – by a large majority – approved both appointments. They also point out how a former board member served while her husband served as MBC president without objection and how a SOC leader is on the current MBC Executive Board with his uncle.
“It is a tragic time that we are living in when this kind of stuff (SOC criticism) is going on,” Moran said. “If you want to demonize me, fine. I figured Jim Hill (former MBC executive director) would, but I seem to have survived that. Now, I’m being demonized by my own friends.”
At one point in the presentation, Sheppard noted how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story with a headline referring to Moran as “the most powerful Baptist in Missouri.” Sheppard used that to back-up SOC claims that Moran was instigating the “power-brokering.” But the headline did not reflect what the story was about, nor did Moran have anything to do with the headline that was written by a Post-Dispatch editor. The story was about Moran’s opposition to the Emerging Church movement, not “power-brokering.”
During the Q&A, Brian Baker, minister of education and missions, First Baptist Church, Belton, asked how many MBC Executive Board members are victims of the “legalistic power-brokering” that SOC alleges. Baker said he wanted to know so he could help those board members break free from what would seem to be – if true – undue influence.
Baker also inquired as to the number of seats that SOC leaders or their church members have occupied this year on MBC boards and committees. SOC members could not answer, but after the meeting it was confirmed by MBC sources that the number is 22.
“It’s a little bit disingenuous to assert that this (‘legalistic power-brokering’) is only happening because of a small group of people (tied to Moran),” Baker said.
Counted among the SOC leaders are three MBC Executive Board members: Wes Hammond, pastor, First Baptist Church, Paris; Tom Willoughby, pastor, First Baptist Church, El Dorado Springs; and Wayne Isgriggs, pastor, First Baptist Church, Lincoln. Board members who disagreed with their view were not allowed to speak – except briefly during the Q&A at Kearney.
SOC claims not to be political, but said they intend to offer a full slate of candidates for MBC offices when the MBC holds its annual meeting Oct. 29-31 at Tan-Tar-A, Osage Beach.
“To stand up here and say, ‘We’re not a political group,’ is misleading,” Baker said. “You are a political group. To stand up and say that there are members of the Executive Board who are micromanaging … and then not to give the names of those people and specific examples is paramount to gossip.”
SOC has also been critical of the MBC Executive Board-approved Theological Review Committee. While the committee has not issued its final report, SOC leaders, including Theological Review Committee member David McAlpin, pastor, First Baptist Church, Harvester, St. Charles, have labeled much of the committee’s work as “legalistic.”
During the Q&A, Michael Knight, pastor, First Baptist Church, Viburnum, and chairman of the five-member committee, spoke for about two minutes, aiming his comments directly at McAlpin‘s allegations.
“We are not legalistic,” he said, noting that a prepared statement by he and three other committee members – refuting SOC’s charges – was available in the hallway. SOC’s criticism of the committee has caught many by surprise since the committee has yet to file its final report, prompting Knight to say that any criticism is premature and unfair. Nearly every vote thus far by the committee has been either 4-0, with McAlpin abstaining, or 4-1, with McAlpin casting the lone dissenting vote. The other three committee members include Jeff White, pastor, South Creek Baptist Church, Springfield; Kim Petty, layperson, Grace Community Church, Smithville; and Denny Marr, associate pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic.
Sheppard, during his presentation, said the MBC Executive Board is split and that is causing problems for the Convention.
“The Executive Board is, from what I have observed of it, almost 50 percent divided on many key issues, and that board now is at odds with each other and many of those are still trying to micromanage our state staff,” Sheppard said. “And the result of that is complete chaos and confusion in our state.”
“In the last Executive Board meeting, we had three unanimous votes to move forward on student ministry,” Tolliver said. “In the days leading up to our upcoming meeting (July 9-10), we have seen a lot of unanimity in the board committees. There is not mass division on the board, and I can say that the Executive Board has not micromanaged this office at all.”
A check of all MBC Executive Board meeting votes dating back to April 2006 shows that 88 percent (76 of 86 votes) have been recorded as “without opposition.” Perhaps the most important vote taken in the last half decade, to dismiss former Executive Director David Clippard, was 44-7-1 on April 10.
Near the conclusion of the Kearney meeting, David Baker, pastor, First Baptist Church, Belton, tried to offer a word of encouragement to everyone concerned.
“We need to stop accusing each other,” he lamented. “We need to trust each other and we need to be kind. We need to not make accusations. We need to have 10 people nominated for president of the Convention and then let everybody choose who they want.
“We don’t need to be doing this stuff. This is wrong. I understand your (SOC’s) concerns, and I think we ought to get everybody to the convention that we can possibly get there, but we don’t need accusations. And if we’ve got to have a devil to get people to come to the annual meeting, then there’s something wrong with us,” he said.
“Let’s walk away from this thing, because it’s going to work out. I think you have expressed your concerns, I think you have sounded your alarm, (but) it really needs to die. You just need to let the Convention decide what it’s going to do.”
The June 25 Marshfield meeting was hosted by Webster Baptist Association Director of Missions John Shuler. In an email sent to invitees prior to the meeting, Shuler expressed the possibility that the topic of the MBC dropping its lawsuit against the five breakaway agencies might be discussed. Reports by those in attendance described attendees’ allegiance as being split about evenly and that the topic of dropping the lawsuits did not come up.