BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — Budgetary adjustments, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and three contested state convention officer races captured headlines for the annual meeting of the Alabama Baptist State Convention at Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., Nov. 11–12.
The 941 messengers from 380 churches passed 13 resolutions and heard a variety of interpretations of the convention theme “SERVE”: S — Starting new churches, E — Evangelizing the lost, R — Revitalizing churches,
V — Volunteering to be on mission, and E — Engaging the culture with the Gospel.
Garnering the most attention was the surprise announcement by Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland that Samford was voluntarily requesting its portion of the state Cooperative Program (CP) budget be reduced by 50 percent — about $2 million. Samford’s current CP designation is $4,351,231.
Much of the reduction — which will be phased in — will go to help Alabama Baptists reach the goal of dividing CP funds equally between state and national causes. The 2015 budget of $40.5 million is only $601,280 (1.5 percent) short of that goal. Part of the reduction may also go to other state convention work already strained by the downturn in financial support from cooperating churches.
Westmoreland said, “We come to this meeting every year and we celebrate the great work God is doing. We hear compelling stories about what’s happening in individual churches and what’s happening with the gifts that come through the Cooperative Program (CP). We celebrate all of that and we are all grateful for all of it. Then we come to the hard reality that our gifts are not keeping up. It’s hard to make the state convention budget every year.
“I see this, you see it as well. … No one came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to do this’ … but as president of Samford I have to look at the same set of facts you look at as you examine the budget. I see the needs. We all see the needs.
“While all of our ministries across the board have equal value, I have to admit as president of Samford that all of our ministries do not have equal access to resources,” Westmoreland noted. “I can’t in good faith look at this picture and leave these meetings year after year and say we got ours so the world’s OK. I can’t do that.
“We have more important things to do in Alabama Baptist life than to get to the point where we worry and fight over who gets the [dollars],” he said. “I’m saying … we want to be a part of being ahead of all of this and we want to help.
“That is not to say that we do not have our needs,” he added. “This is a step of faith that in some measure God will help us replenish that which we are relinquishing. … In no way am I saying, ‘just go on and don’t worry about Samford’ [saying] ‘Samford will be fine.’ We will be but it’s because I have faith in God that Samford will be fine.”
Convention messengers responded with a standing ovation and lots of conversation, hugs and handshakes after the afternoon session wrapped.
Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) Executive Director Rick Lance responded to Westmoreland’s report saying, “This is statesman-like servanthood of what it really means to be a partner in ministry.”
He noted the last three years of reduced CP funding for Samford have been initiated by the school to help the convention with equitable distribution of CP dollars. That reduction — totaling $315,000 to date — and the current move will help with budget changes going forward, Lance said.
“As we look to the future, we are having to plan … with precision to get budget and receipts in alignment,” Lance said. “Samford’s offer helps with what we voted to do two years ago with equitable distribution with the Southern Baptist Convention but more has to be done.”
Messengers approved the 2015 CP budget with 43.5 percent going to the Southern Baptist Convention, 46.5 percent going to Alabama Baptists and 10 percent in the shared ministry (between SBC and Alabama Baptists) category. The 2015 budget is a $500,000 decrease from the current year ($41 million).
Any money coming in over the budget will be split 50–50 between SBC and Alabama Baptists.
Messengers also approved five special offering goals: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, $11.6 million; Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, $6.1 million; Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, $2,814,700; World Hunger Offering, $800,000; and Disaster Relief Offering, $200,000.
In the form of a motion, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement of faith also was approved by messengers “as an expression of our unity in doctrine and practice.”
The motion proposed by A.J. Smith, pastor of Bay Springs Baptist Church, Shelby, also recommends “the same to all of trustees elected by the Alabama Baptist State Convention.”
The vote was 85 to 90 percent in favor of it.
State convention president John Killian spoke from the floor as a messenger in favor of the motion.
“I’m … 100 percent for it,” Killian, pastor of Maytown Baptist Church, said. As far as what this means for ABSC entities and their board of trustees, he said, “It only says we recommend. This is not getting into the internal affairs of our entities. It just says this is what we believe.
“We are a convention of Southern Baptists. This is what Southern Baptists believe. If we are a convention of Southern Baptists then we should at least go on record and say this is what we believe.”
Ron Madison, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, spoke against the motion.
“I’m grateful for the history and heritage of Alabama Baptists. I’m grateful that over the years of turmoil and strife across the Southern Baptist Convention, Alabama Baptists have stood above and outside that fray,” he said. “We have not needed to affirm formally or request that our entity trustees or anyone else affirm formally anything other than … our only unassailable source of doctrine and truth and that is the infallible, inerrant word of God.
“I don’t know if I’m really speaking against the motion as much as I am asking the question, ‘Why do we need something when we have made it all the way through the conflict and division that has characterized so many of our Deep South state conventions [while] all we’ve done is come closer and closer together?’
“I don’t believe in doing something just to say we’ve done something,” Madison said. “I simply wonder why we need to do this and I’m not convinced that we need to do this.”
Smith told messengers, “We already affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 with our Cooperative Program giving and with the buying of LifeWay literature. We already technically affirm it but let’s be clear [by passing this motion].”
Smith said following the vote that the motion will help address “problems with doctrinal understandings in our church.”
It also will help as “we face cultural challenges that Christians have not faced since the third century,” he said.
“This is about how we are going to address a lost world with the Gospel of Christ and do it with one voice. The big task in our century is apologetics, defending the faith.”
Noting he used the precise wording he did “to make sure it would be clear of any parliamentary hurdles,” Smith said, “I worded this very carefully to protect the liberty of the churches and also to respect the way we do things as Alabama Baptists and as a convention working with the State Board of Missions.
“I did not do this because there is a problem in our convention but because there is a problem in our world — how to speak with one voice,” he explained.
“This is not binding on churches,” he said. “It is being recommended or suggested to the trustees of entities but it is not binding on entities.”
For the first time in 16 years Alabama Baptists had contested elections in all three state convention officer slots. And it was the first time in 12 years there were two nominees for president.
Travis Coleman Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, Prattville, and outgoing first vice president, earned the president’s role with 83.86 percent (478) of the 570 votes cast.
Craig Carlisle, pastor of Twelfth Street Baptist Church, Rainbow City, near Gadsden, brought in 16.14 percent (92) of the votes.
John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City, was elected first vice president with 51.05 percent (291) of the 570 votes. Jim Cooley, pastor of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, and outgoing second vice president, garnered 48.95 percent of the votes (279).
Tim Cox, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Chelsea, and outgoing SBOM chairman, was elected second vice president with 56.99 percent (326) of the 572 votes. Dusty McLemore, pastor of Lindsay Lane Baptist Church, Athens, received 43.01 percent (246) of the votes. Cox also delivered the convention sermon at the close of the annual meeting.
Also reelected as recording secretary and statistical/registration secretary were Billie Davis and Bobby DuBois, both of the SBOM, respectively.
The 13 resolutions approved by messengers garnered some discussion and resulted in a few friendly amendments, but no significant debate nor changes took place.
Following is a list of the resolutions messengers approved:
— on orphan care, that all Alabama Baptist individuals and churches care for orphans whether it be through foster care, adoption, giving, praying, advocacy, etc.
— on payday loans in Alabama, opposing these businesses and urging state legislators to pass legislation to regulate them.
— on science curriculum in Alabama public schools and universities, that religion be presented objectively in science curriculum in Alabama public schools and universities.
— on parental authority through local and state control of education, urging the governor and legislative leaders to repeal Common Core standards.
— on concerns related to illegal immigration, encouraging elected officials to develop a plan to address illegal immigration and encourage Alabama Baptists to demonstrate love and care for them.
— in support of the right of the state of Israel to exist and to pledge to pray for peace in the Middle East.
— in opposition to anti-Semitism and in support of the right of the Jewish
community to fellowship without harassment.
— on religious freedom, that the rights of individuals, businesses, churches, civic organizations, etc., to express religious beliefs in speech and deed be upheld.
— in support of the Alabama Health Care Rights of Conscience Act that would ensure that medical professionals are not forced to participate in procedures that violate their religious views or moral conscience.
— on prison reform in Alabama, to advocate for addressing issues of prisoner abuse, to get involved in ministries in prisons and for at-risk teenagers.
— on appreciation for Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, and for all who contributed to organize the annual meeting.
— on the 125th anniversary of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, commending WMU leaders and encouraging all churches to establish “vital WMU organizations.”
— on commendation for CVS Health, for no longer selling tobacco in any form.
The 2015 annual meeting will be held at Eastern Shore Baptist Church, Daphne, Nov. 17–18. Messengers voted for the convention preacher for the 2015 annual meeting to be Buddy Champion, pastor of First Baptist Church, Trussville, and the alternate preacher to be Henry Cox, pastor of Durant Chapel Baptist Church, Bay Minette.
To read the full text of the resolutions, visit www.abscannualmeeting.org/resolutions/2014-resolutions/.