MBC turnout plunges to 36-year low
at MBC’s 174th annual meeting
By Allen Palmeri
ST. LOUIS—A little more than 1,000 messengers to the 174th annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) — the lowest total in 36 years — conducted business here Oct. 27-29 at the Millennium Hotel.
Only 1,058 messengers participated. In 1972, the total dipped to 1,030 when the annual meeting was held at First Baptist Church, St. Johns. Apathy and economic reasons may have been factors in the low turnout.
Attendees moved toward peace, approved a trimmer budget and chose a new president amid much electoral activity. A total of 13 candidates – all conservatives – ran for office.
Officially the two warring factions, Save Our Convention and the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, did not nominate candidates. However, a measure of underlying tension persisted throughout the meeting.
“We do have two political groups, whether people want to admit it or not,” said Jay Scribner, retired pastor and a member of the convention’s Peace Committee tasked with finding a resolution to the disputed issues between the two groups.
In the race for president, Bruce McCoy, pastor, Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, and Danny Decker, pastor, First Baptist Church, Warsaw, were separated on the first ballot by a mere five votes (with nine spoiled ballots). McCoy had 369 votes (42.1 percent) and Decker had 364 votes (41.7 percent) in a four-way contest.
In the runoff election, McCoy, who has served as MBC first vice president the last two years, was elected president with 404 votes (51.1 percent) to 387 votes (48.9 percent) for Decker. This time there were four spoiled ballots.
On the first ballot for president, Bob Knight, pastor, First Baptist Church, Cuba, finished third with 120 votes. Jesse Taylor, retired minister, Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs, was fourth with 23 votes.
Only 876 messengers cast proper votes on the first ballot, and only 791 did so in the runoff. By contrast, last year at Tan-Tar-A Gerald Davidson, pastor emeritus, First Baptist Church, Arnold, was elected president on the first ballot with 832 votes out of 1,213 cast.
A total of 1,413 people representing 436 churches registered for the 2008 annual meeting, which carried the theme of “Restoring Fellowship … Reaching People.” The last time the annual meeting was held in St. Louis at the same hotel in 2003 there were 2,115 people, including 1,591 messengers.
A Peace Committee progress report was presented to the convention Oct. 27. The committee is charged with working things out in Missouri Baptist life; McCoy is one of six members on that committee.
“I hear about all this rancor,” McCoy said before the MBC Executive Board on Oct. 27. “I’m not mad at anybody. What do you do with that? Blame me for trying to play both sides? I’m not playing both sides. Watch and see.”
During Tuesday morning’s business session, Jim Wilson, messenger, First Baptist Church, Seneca, made a motion to have the MBC instruct all members of the Peace Committee to not allow their names to be put in nomination for an officer’s position. The motion was referred to the MBC Committee on Continuing Review. Messengers voted the motion out of order on the recommendation of the committee.
Messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution by Kent Cochran, messenger, Calvary Baptist Church, Republic, supporting the continued work of the Peace Committee, creating a covenant “to seek the Lord in prayer, to encourage one another to be peacemakers, seeking a God-honoring reconciliation.”
Other officers elected were: John Marshall, pastor, Second Baptist Church, Springfield, first vice president; Mitch Jackson, pastor, Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, second vice president; and Jamie Hitt, laity, First Baptist Church, Winfield, recording secretary. Marshall is also a member of the Peace Committee and is vice chairman of the MBC’s Executive Director Search Committee.
The only race not decided in a runoff was Marshall’s. He received the most votes of any one candidate, 426, to easily defeat Ron Crow, pastor, First Baptist Church, Diamond, who had 219.
Jackson defeated Jody Shelenhamer, layman, First Baptist Church, Bolivar, 275-239. Hitt defeated Ken Parker, pastor, First Baptist Church, Kearney, 217-190.
Messengers approved a $16.3 million budget for 2009. That is down from the 2008 budget of $16.5 million, however, the amount designated for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes was increased from 36.25 percent in 2008 to 36.5 percent for 2009. In addition the convention approved spending the first three-fourths of one percent of the 2009 budget for Cooperative Program missions education and promotion.
Davidson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, Arnold, opened the annual meeting cheerily as he acknowledged the work of the 100-plus member choir and orchestra from First Arnold.
“You just heard the greatest choir in the world,” he said.
Later in the evening, Davidson preached “Jesus” out of Luke 1:30-33. He chose to teach on the humble Lamb as messengers heard an amplification of the doctrine of Jesus.
MBC Interim Executive Director David Tolliver used his address Oct. 27 to emphasize the annual meeting’s theme, “Restoring Fellowship … Reaching People.” That will occur, Tolliver preached, when our character is changed by resting in the Holy Spirit.
Featured speakers at the convention included: Roy Fish, retired distinguished professor of evangelism, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; Kerry Skinner, co-founder, Biblical Counseling Institute (See story, p. XX.); and John Bisagno, pastor emeritus, First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas.
Six resolutions were submitted, and four were recommended for adoption by the Resolutions Committee. Those included one on environmental stewardship and another on Christian citizenship; both were overwhelmingly passed on a raised-ballot vote. The environmental stewardship resolution mirrors the 2007 SBC resolution on global warming, and the Christian citizenship resolution encourages all believers to vote in accordance with biblical values “rather than according to party lines, personalities, or candidate rhetoric.”
The 2009 budget also sets a goal of $4 million for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions as well as a $2 million goal for the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions and $325,000 for the World Hunger Offering.
John Swadley, pastor, Forest Park Baptist Church, Joplin, delivered the convention sermon.
In a rare if not unprecedented action, the recommendation made by the Committee on Convention Preacher was challenged from the floor. Micah Fries, pastor, Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, St. Joseph, was not immediately approved to give the 2009 convention sermon.
Some questioned the selection of the 30-year-old pastor because at the last annual meeting he spoke against a resolution opposing alcohol consumption. So when Committee Chairman Jim Breeden, director of missions, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, made what is typically a routine motion, Jerry Yarnall, messenger and pastor, First Baptist Church, Exeter, went to the microphone and objected.
“I think we need a convention preacher that has demonstrated a passion for peace and reconciliation and unity,” Yarnall said. “And we need a convention preacher who has demonstrated conviction regarding our historical position on alcohol and an understanding of the dangers that …”
At that point, Davidson interrupted and politely asked Yarnall to state his point.
“The point, sir, is that I would like to place (in a substitute motion) the names of Jay Scribner as convention preacher and Aaron Weibel (pastor, New Site Baptist Church, Monett) as alternate.”
Yarnall’s motion was overwhelmingly defeated and Fries was then easily voted next year’s convention preacher, with Norman Noble, a retired pastor from the Springfield area, as alternate.
Last year at Tan-Tar-A, Fries went to a microphone and said, “Though I absolutely detest alcohol use, and I personally abstain—come from a family full of alcoholics—and yet the wording of the resolution specifically encourages that we move beyond the words of Scripture in our expectations of our leadership.”
In Tuesday’s session, messengers approved a series of recommendations from the MBC Executive Board that included changes to the MBC Bylaws requiring new committee members to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages and using any other recreational drugs. Jeff Purvis, Executive Board member and pastor, First Baptist Church, Herculaneum-Pevely, has been pressing for the measure and made the original motion.
“I just felt we needed to have a uniform, standardized set of guidelines for our convention for anybody who serves in leadership,” he said.
The MBC Nominating Committee honored Dorothy Nichols, who is retiring sometime in 2009 after 27 years of service to the MBC. Nichols is the administrative assistant to the Executive Board. Carla Stegeman, who in January will mark 26 years of service to the MBC, is taking over for Nichols. Stegeman was publicly recognized by Tolliver for her long tenure.
Messengers heard a report from the MBC Legal Task Force concerning the MBC’s seven-year legal battle with the five breakaway agencies whose trustees voted to amend their charters without convention approval, making their boards self-perpetuating. The status of Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist College, the Baptist Home retirement center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word & Way newsjournal remains uncertain as the legal fight continues. The MBC’s appeal of a Cole County Circuit Court ruling in favor of the Windermere trustees will be heard Nov. 25 in the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals. A decision from the court could come early next year, according to Michael Whitehead, MBC lead counsel in the case.
A motion to drop the lawsuits by Steven Moseley, messenger, Maplewood Baptist Church, St. Louis, was rejected with only 25 messengers voting in support of the motion out of approximately 1,000 in attendance.
Tuesday night’s session was used to focus on the MBC’s far-flung mission endeavors. Highlighted were the MBC’s continuing partnerships with El Salvador and Colorado. Other Missouri Baptists continue to minister in Romania and Turkey.
For the second consecutive year, the MBC meeting was preceded by a Solemn Assembly. The gathering participated in prayer that focused on repentance and unity. A total of 150 Missouri Baptists prayed to that end on Oct. 26 at the Millennium.
Messengers approved the Millennium Hotel as the site of the 2012 annual meeting of the MBC Oct. 29-31. Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 26-28 at First Baptist Church, Raytown.