AUSTIN, Texas (BP)-Fort Worth pastor Michael A. Bell was elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Nov. 14, the first African American to hold the office.
Bell’s name was placed in nomination by David Currie, a messenger from Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo and executive director of Texas Baptists Committed.
Currie, in his nomination speech, pointed to Bell’s education, civic awards, efforts at racial reconciliation and involvement in various Baptist organizations, the latter including Bell’s induction into the “Mainstream Baptist Network Hall of Fame.” A biographical data sheet for Bell posted on the BGCT website includes his role as chairman of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Committee on Representation and Relationships.
The three organizations — Texas Baptists Committed, Mainstream Baptist Network and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship -– are groups that have been at odds with the election of conservative leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention over the years.
Bell is pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; an adjunct professor at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University; and the past first vice president of the BGCT.
“Electing Dr. Bell will send a powerful signal all across Texas and this country that Texas Baptists are inclusive, progressive and open to letting all Baptists exercise their gifts of leadership,” Curry said.
Bell received a doctor of ministry degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center and Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta, after completing his doctoral dissertation titled “A Doctrine of God in Black Religious Praxis and Its Implications For Liberation.” He has two master’s degrees, one from the University of Texas, Tyler, and another from Howard University. He has a bachelor of science in social studies from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.
In a move that drew vocal disapproval from some messengers, David Montoya, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, nominated an opposition candidate. Montoya nominated Rick Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brownwood, identifying Davis as someone who is the “best man at this time in the life of our convention.”
“For years this denomination was plagued by a fundamentalist threat,” Montoya said. “During those days there was a need for planning and promotion to protect the presidency of this convention from a damaging and controlling takeover. And while that threat still exists, it has not been an open threat to democratic processes in our convention for some years.”
Houston pastor Elmo Johnson of Rose of Sharon Baptist Church, who is black, rose to object to the nomination of any opposition candidate. Noting that an opposition candidate was something that had not been done for years, Johnson questioned, “Why is it this time there is a dispute? It is an embarrassment to me, and it hurts.”
Montoya defended Davis’ nomination on the basis of the convention having “a choice of leadership” and strongly denied any racial motive.
In his objections, Johnson moved that Davis’ nomination be removed, but his motion was ruled out of order by the parliamentarian.
Of the 1,588 valid votes cast, Bell was elected with 1,278, or 88 percent of the vote.
“To God be the glory, thank you very much,” Bell said after the results were announced. “We are one family with one mission. We have much to do together. Let us do those things God has capacitated us to do…. Let us go on and make a great commotion about the Great Commission.”
Bell sidestepped a question asking what effect he thought his election would have on the BGCT’s relationship with the SBC.
“I hate to act as if I am so caught up in what we are doing in Texas Baptist life, that I am just focused that way, but it’s true,” Bell said. “I am just concerned about what we can do together. There are some great resources that have been made available in the convention’s toolkit, and there are some very Christ-honoring things we can do as a convention; I am just excited about that and how we can communicate ‘how’ we are and ‘who’ we are, and intensifying our ability and willingness to cooperate to do the work of the Kingdom. I am enthused and encouraged how we are going to clarify who we are as Texas Baptists and how we are going to connect with the churches. That’s all that I just think about, really.”
“We are just going to focus on what we have the responsibility to do with the 5,700 churches and missions we have in Texas currently,” BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade added when asked to respond to the same question. “We have our own agenda. It is a Kingdom agenda. Everyone who wants to work with us we will work with.”
Messengers elected by acclamation Stephen L. Vernon, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Levelland, as first vice president. Vernon currently serves on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council and the Texas Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council.
Daniel L. Wooldridge, pastor of Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, was elected second vice president.