MBC Peace Committee offers report
By Allen Palmeri
ST. LOUIS—The six Missouri Baptist conservative leaders who make up the Peace Committee have concluded they need a mediator.
According to Point No. 5 of their Oct. 27 report to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board, they are at an impasse in their peace process and they will be asking the Peacemaker Ministries group to meet with them “to work things out in Missouri Baptist life.” Peacemaker was founded in 1982 under the auspices of the Christian Legal Society. It is a Billings, Mont.-based organization with a national reputation for mediation founded by Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker.
“I think it’s a good move,” said Danny Decker, pastor, First Baptist Church, Warsaw, who narrowly lost his bid for the MBC presidency to Peace Committee Member Bruce McCoy. “You’re bringing in somebody from the outside that is not attached to either side, and they can hold, so to speak, the nose to the wheel.”
Peace Committee Chairman Jeff Purvis, pastor, First Baptist Church, Herculaneum-Pevely, said he hopes to contact Johnny Johnson, the Peacemaker staff member who specializes in these types of Baptist disputes, to see if he or someone else would be available to help. The work is needed, Purvis said, because “we shouldn’t let less than a dozen people keep this whole convention hostage.” The chairman added that he is hopeful that the committee’s work could come to an end “within a few months from the first of the year.”
So far the Peace Committee has met seven times. Three Peacemaker representatives took part in the committee’s first meeting by means of conference call, but soon they were told that their services were not needed.
Johnson is Peacemaker’s senior ministry consultant with special focus on Baptist churches and denominational agencies. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, who has served for more than 20 years as a pastor. He also has experience as a director of missions for two different associations in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
In his opening remarks to messengers Oct. 27 at the MBC’s annual meeting, Purvis explained that the committee has found various public accusations and charges of power-brokering and legalism directed at various Missouri Baptist leaders to be “baseless.” He noted that he and four other members of the committee apologized to Roger Moran, research director, Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA), concerning these charges.
Two of the founding members of Save Our Convention (SOC), John Marshall and Wesley Hammond, sit on the Peace Committee. MBLA and SOC were politically active at the 2007 annual meeting but were officially inactive this year. McCoy is often accused of being with SOC but denies any association. Purvis and the other committee member, Jay Scribner, are said to be with MBLA.
Marshall is pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, and first vice president of the MBC. Hammond is pastor of First Baptist Church, Paris, and a member of the Executive Board. McCoy is pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, MBC president, and immediate past vice president of the MBC. Scribner is a retired pastor and past president of the MBC, and Moran is a layman from First Baptist Church, Troy.
Under MBC Interim Executive Director David Tolliver for the last 19 months, the ministry emphasis coming out of the Baptist Building has been changing. This is impacting the work of the Peace Committee, Moran said, and it will ultimately shape its final report.
Speaking before board members Oct. 27, Moran said he has observed that there are two kinds of Southern Baptist conservatives—those who say they want to keep the main thing the main thing, and those who say they want to pursue personal holiness. Evangelism, of course, would be the main thing, Moran said. While that is quite clearly a good priority, he went on to say, however, that loving God with one’s heart, soul, mind and strength is very good. It could be the engine that pulls the evangelism train, instead of the traditional Baptist interpretation which would always, with no exceptions, make evangelism the engine each and every time.
“When we make the wrong thing the main thing, first thing you know is we’re trying to carry out the Great Commission in the power of the flesh,” Moran said.
“The power of God comes upon His people to carry out His Great Commission when we have a passion for the first and the greatest commandment, and that is that we are to love God with everything we are, first and foremost, and at that point, our missions, ministry and evangelism efforts begin to take on real, authentic meaning.”
Many of the SOC leaders on the other side of the debate come from big churches and have often clashed with Moran’s theological and methodological opinions. For two years now this big church influence has dominated the MBC elections with McCoy, Marshall and new MBC Second Vice President Mitch Jackson, pastor, Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, riding in on the latest wave.
Marshall and Jackson were two of the 11 founding leaders of SOC. Before the convention they received email support from another one of the founding leaders of SOC, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association Director of Missions Jim Breeden, who noted that “these men will give leadership consistent with the heart and goals of SOC.”
Also in his email Breeden declared that SOC no longer exists, but a little later he mentioned that messengers “again have a clear choice to make,” seemingly referring to the 2007 election of SOC vs. MBLA.
The two groups have engaged in political posturing and repeated accusations of divisiveness over the last couple of years in Missouri Baptist life. It deteriorated to a point early this year where businessman Jody Shelenhamer, a layman from First Baptist Church, Bolivar, who sits on the Executive Board, found himself repeatedly praying about it.
“I’ve been in several committee meetings and I’ve said to people, ‘What’s it take to get this fixed?’ Shelenhamer said. “I just want to see us come together united.”
On April 15, he then made the motion that led to the formation of the Peace Committee.
Questions have been raised concerning a five-year plan by SOC. Nothing has been produced on paper, but one leader has offered a public statement. Marshall told Executive Board members that he and his wife, Ruth, through praying to God, not through SOC strategizing, have a long-range plan of service that they hope will include the MBC presidency. Marshall is the immediate past second vice president of the MBC.
“We prayed, and we felt that we would make a commitment to run for second vice president, first vice president twice and then president twice, as a five-year commitment,” Marshall said.
The newly elected MBC president, McCoy, is doing everything he can these days to distance himself from SOC. For example, Decker said he was talking with Breeden during the annual meeting when McCoy, who was receiving congratulations upon his election, was pulled into the conversation. The subject of political ties came up, and McCoy flatly said in front of the other two men, “I’m not SOC.”
The MBC president sometimes makes his point with humor or by tossing out a few soft-sounding words to stimulate thought, such as when he said to board members in St. Louis, “What do you do with a guy who feels like right now he knows the players? I’ve worked with everyone.”
The man who coordinated the SOC political organization in 2007, David Sheppard, pastor, First Baptist Church, St. Charles, has made no public statements concerning the 2008 MBC elections.
“They can say they have disbanded, but they have given birth to a movement that has kind of developed a life of its own,” Purvis said.
Purvis said he made his opening remarks to the convention because “I feel like I did what the Lord laid on my heart.” He said he will be working in the months to come with the other five committee members toward biblical reconciliation.
“Everybody is ready for the peace and ready for us to put all this behind us and move forward,” Purvis said.
Shelenhamer, who narrowly lost to Jackson in the race for second vice president, is hopeful that the Peace Committee will succeed.
“Keep doing the work, stay the course, and keep working through it,” he said.