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$250,000 campaign takes aim at Baptist conservatives in Missouri

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A $250,000 fund-raising campaign is fueling efforts by a Missouri group to elect state convention officers whose sympathies include the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization formed in opposition to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Disclosure of the aggressive fund-raising efforts by “Mainstream Missouri Baptists” surfaced during a series of statewide whistle-stop church meetings conducted by MMB and CBF.

Mainstream Missouri Baptists is using the funds it receives to oppose Project 1000, a five-year plan started in 1998 by the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA) to support conservative, pro-SBC candidates for election to state convention offices. Thanks largely to Project 1000, conservatives have comfortably won the last two state elections. If the conservative wins continue as expected, the balance of power on trustee boards — such as the four colleges affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention — is virtually guaranteed to shift into conservative hands, probably within the next two to three years.

The Mainstream Missouri Baptist meetings in recent months featured Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and, more recently, a president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; R. Keith Parks, former SBC Foreign Mission Board president and more recently the CBF’s missions leader; E. Harlan Spurgeon, a former CBF staff member and former SBC Foreign Mission Board vice president; and MMB’s salaried executive director, Rob Marus, a former reporter for the Word & Way, the Missouri Baptist newsjournal.

Spurgeon is the presidential nominee of Mainstream Missouri Baptists for the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting.

The $250,000 fund-raising campaign was mentioned during one of the whistle-stop meetings at First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, featuring Parks, Spurgeon and Marus, according to two Southern Baptist ministers who attended.

“They made it clear they wanted to raise $250,000 to fight Project 1000,” said Dick Price, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Independence, Mo., who along with associate pastor Carroll Barnett attended the Lee’s Summit meeting. “They would have taken the money that night.

Other Missouri pastors have confirmed that similar fund-raising pleas were made at similar meetings around the state.

“Harlan Spurgeon gave two illustrations — one about a church giving $10,000 and another about an individual giving $10,000,” said David Tolliver, pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, who attended the July 24 MMB meeting at Wyatt Park Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo.

“MMB was pushing for that kind of money,” he said. “They were pushing for as much as they could get.”

Much of the MMB’s opposition to Southern Baptist missions, theology and leadership has entailed an expensive ad and mailing campaign. The organization purchased numerous $1,500 full-page advertisements in the Word & Way newsjournal. One such advertisement promoted Parks’ involvement in the whistle-stop meetings, identifying him as former FMB president while neglecting to mention his more recent leadership in the CBF. Another advertisement uses the pejorative term “fundamentalist” three times to describe the SBC. The terms were placed under a banner declaring, “Because we care … About Integrity in Missouri Baptist life.”

MMB also is distributing “The Fundamentalist Takeover in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Brief History” by Rob James and Gary Leazer, produced in 1999 by Impact Media, Timisoara, Romania, a remake of an earlier book by the same title.

More than 30,000 free copies of the MMB newsletter, The Baptist Voice, meanwhile, are being mailed to Missouri Baptists each month.

Such wide dissemination of its newsletter may have been secured in part by MMB obtaining addresses of Southern Baptist laity and their family members by using the alumni mailing list of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., Tolliver said.

“We checked into that and the president of Southwest confirmed that the MMB obtained their alumni mailing list,” he said.

MMB has used The Baptist Voice to attack SBC leaders and excoriate Roger Moran, research director for the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association whose research has uncovered the relationships maintained between leaders of both the CBF and MMB.

“MMB is bypassing pastors, going directly to the laypeople,” Moran said. “They are causing problems in our churches.

“They won’t debate me, so they end up trying to beat up conservatives with generalities. The only way Mainstream Missouri Baptists can win is if they can convince Missouri Baptists that they’re something they’re not. MMB is a political front organization for the CBF.”

Indeed the CBF offered a workshop during its General Assembly this summer in Orlando, Fla., to provide information about how to engage in political activity in the state conventions through “Mainstream Baptists” and “Baptists Committed” type organizations. Participants were told such state-level movements could lead to partnerships between the CBF and state conventions and to the defunding of SBC agencies. It was suggested that these networks not be overtly identified with the CBF.

Texas Baptists Committed, the stackpole “Mainstream” organization, has played a key role in encouraging leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas — many of whom support the CBF — to stop funding the SBC’s six seminaries and has offered $25,000 grants to anyone in states wishing to start similar anti-SBC organizations.

Marus has been clear about the MMB’s political objective and his disdain for the conservative direction of the SBC. “Our goal is to win the presidency of the Missouri Baptist Convention,” he declared a meeting of “Mainstream” and “Baptist Committed” organizers in Atlanta in May.

Marus said in June that he was combating “liars” and “cunning fundamentalists such as Missouri conservative Roger Moran” who utilizes “guilt by association” tactics. He said the SBC supports “whacko right-wing causes” such as home schooling and Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

MMB continues to deny ties with the CBF.

“Mainstream Missouri Baptists is like Mainstream Texas Baptists and has nothing to do with CBF — no connection, no relationship,” Dilday said while stumping through Missouri earlier this summer.

Yet the appearance of symbiotic relationships between the leaders and the two organizations persist.

For example, Spurgeon is a former associate missions coordinator of the CBF. Three MMB board members have served on the national Coordinating Council of the CBF. Even Dilday, who says he has little involvement with the CBF, was the featured speaker at the CBF luncheon during the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting in 1998.

Messengers to the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 state convention at Tan Tara Resort at Lake of the Ozarks will elect a president, first vice president, second vice president and recording secretary. The presidency is important in the Missouri Baptist Convention because the office has the power to appoint members of the convention’s nominating committee, who in turn approve all executive board and trustee appointments at Southern Baptist colleges and other agencies supported by the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Robert Collins, pastor of the 2,000-member Plaza Heights Baptist Church, Blue Springs, Mo., is the conservative candidate running against Spurgeon for convention president.

“We said in the beginning that our concern was the growing influence of the CBF within the Missouri convention and the willingness of our state convention leaders to open the door to the liberal influences of the CBF,” Moran said.

“The MBLA has been saying all along that this is about whether Missouri Baptists will be SBC or CBF. That’s what it has come down too. The commitment to evangelism, missions and theological integrity is with the SBC and that’s where we want to be. I believe God will finish what he started in 1998.”

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle