Theological meeting turns political, personal
JEFFERSON CITY – It is supposed to be an ad hoc committee to review the theological soundness of all relationships the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has with non-political para-church ministries, but theology was not always front and center during their March 1 meeting.
Committee member David McAlpin told fellow committee member, Jeff White, in the context of a discussion about a specific method of evangelism, that there was no way “we ought to define this, and say pass a policy on it, and get the executive director dismissed because he used The Power Team.”
White was surprised the conversation suddenly turned from theology to politics—especially with MBC Executive Director David Clippard seated directly to the left of McAlpin.
“I didn’t say anything about dismissing the executive director, No. 1,” White replied. “No. 2, what you do in your church as a pastor is between you and Jesus.”
In the July MBC Executive Board meeting at Southwest Baptist University, White expressed his concerns about the theological views of the Smalley Relationship Center, led by noted author Gary Smalley. He said he had spoken with MBC Family Ministries Specialist Joe Ulveling about his concerns with Smalley’s theology and that Ulveling had assured him that MBC Associate Director Jim Austin and Clippard would be informed. McAlpin, who has twice voted against the majority since the committee began its work Feb. 8, said White did not follow the teaching of Matthew 18 in that he did not speak to Clippard directly; White said he rejects that because Ulveling was the one, not Clippard, who lined up Gary Smalley for an MBC event.
McAlpin, pastor of First Baptist Church, Harvester, in St. Charles, said that when White raised the issue last year at the board meeting he was more concerned about drawing “a bunch of attention” to himself than solving the problem. McAlpin did not say how he knew that White made a statement before the Executive Board since it was not reported and he was not in attendance or a member of the board.
White, pastor of South Creek Church in Springfield, said that was not true. He went on to caution his fellow pastor not to judge his motives. “That’s completely out of line,” White said.
Clippard said he thought White was trying to “grandstand” at last year’s board meeting. He suggested that it would be better to handle situations like the Smalley question one on one, as opposed to “writing a whole code of law.” Later on Clippard used an illustration featuring the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as one that may ultimately relate to the committee’s work.
“I don’t want us to try to write an IRS code if there’s a singular ministry issue,” Clippard said. White assured him there was not, and committee chairman Michael Knight said an existing policy for ministry relationships by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is evidence that this type of approach by a state Baptist convention need not be draconian.
At one point the conversation between McAlpin and White became so heated that their fellow committee member, Kim Petty, felt led to jump in so that Knight could complete a sentence.
McAlpin quickly returned to something he called “the very root of the issue.” He said the committee has “no standing” based on his belief that White violated Matthew 18 by not going one-on-one to meet with Clippard over the Smalley issue.
“And I’m telling you, I don’t know that,” Knight said. “That is your assessment of what you know to be, or believe to be, true.”
McAlpin and the chairman, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, Viburnum, debated for a few more moments as Knight clarified that he did not know whether anything unbiblical had been done. When McAlpin persisted in questioning the chair, Knight responded that he had not really been listening to him.
“That’s a very arrogant thing to say, Michael,” McAlpin replied.
The committee is acting on a motion approved by messengers at the MBC’s annual meeting in Cape Girardeau.
After Petty suggested that committee members move on, Knight asked McAlpin whether he wanted to be a part of the process.
“I want to be a part of a process that is a correct process,” McAlpin said. “I am very intent on being a part of a process that is biblical, first of all. If we’re talking about the sufficiency of Scripture, then let’s deal with the sufficiency of Scripture to inform the way this matter was brought to this crisis. Because if you bring Scripture to bear on this issue, I think what it does is it makes very clear that instead of taking the step that the Bible enjoins, that you bypassed it, and you went to the entire convention and made a very public drama out of an issue that could have been dealt with in a one-on-one discussion with the executive director.”
White quickly voiced his objection, saying, “I absolutely, totally disagree with that because I went directly to Joe Ulveling. He was the one that was responsible for bringing Smalley here.”
After the meeting, Knight stated his firm belief that the committee does have standing.
“We have standing (because) we were appointed by the Executive Board, but the foundation for that appointment of an ad hoc committee was a motion that was given in good faith by a messenger to the last annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention,” Knight said. “Everything has been done orderly and I believe to the glory of God in that that motion was followed up on at the Executive Board meeting in December at which this committee was appointed. We have standing, we have merit, and we have work to do.”
The committee’s next meeting is 1 p.m. March 15 in the Baptist Building.
“I want to say thanks to this wonderful committee of five that has already given up two afternoons,” Knight said. “We are working hard on trying to do the right thing for the convention and to submit it to the Executive Board, hopefully in July.”