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Ala. Baptists call for end to statewide racial prejudice

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Alabama Baptists meeting at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Nov. 19-20 called for changes in the Alabama constitution and state laws regarding racial fairness.

Charles T. Carter, a former pastor and co-author of the resolution, said he hopes to speed up efforts of racial unity across the state of Alabama.

“We want to do everything we can to eliminate racial prejudice in our state,” he said.

The resolution, which passed without debate, requests that the Alabama state legislature and officials consider amending public laws and documents so that no racial minority is denigrated or embarrassed by exclusive language, and that language of racial inclusiveness be the standard for all future laws and documents. It also asks that Alabama Baptists do all in their power to assure that Alabama seeks to have a record of racial fairness.

Joe Godfrey, pastor of Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, was elected in the first contested president’s race since 1998. Winning 51.3 percent of the 1,460 votes cast, Godfrey received 749 votes, while Gerald Hallmark, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alexander City, received 656 votes, with 55 votes thrown out because of improper use.

Godfrey, who most recently served two terms as first vice president of the state convention, has been president of the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference as well as a member of the State Board of Missions and its executive committee. He was a member of the search committee that brought Troy Morrison to the executive director post of Alabama Baptists.

“I want us to be a cooperative body of believers … and focus on the commonality of believers, not what we don’t like about each other,” Godfrey said following his election.

Likening cooperation to the dollars churches give through the Cooperative Program, Godfrey said, “The Cooperative Program implies a cooperative spirit — similar beliefs as far as the nonnegotiable things go — what really matters, what the Bible teaches.”

Henry Cox, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bay Minette, was elected first vice president. Having served as second vice president last year, Cox was unopposed.

Roger Willmore, pastor of First Baptist Church in Boaz, was elected second vice president with 50.2 percent of the votes cast. He received 630 votes, while James Cooley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Aliceville, received 579 votes or 46.2 percent.

Recording secretary Mary Sue Bennett, statistical secretary Bobby DuBois and registration secretary Billy Austin were also re-elected.

Alabama messengers approved a base Cooperative Program budget of $40,427,480, a 3 percent increase over last year, and a special offering goal of $16,575,000. A Cooperative Program challenge budget of $42,427,480 was overwhelmingly approved.

Gary Hollingsworth, chairman of the state board of missions and pastor of First Baptist Church in Trussville, said the board affirms the Cooperative Program as the best mechanism for receiving missions gifts from churches. “Alabama has the purest definition of a Cooperative Program dollar of any state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “The board affirms a strong position of fiscal responsibilities by our messengers.” Hollingsworth also explained that the convention adopts a base budget and a challenge budget each year, noting that the contributions received since 1994 have fallen between the base and challenge budget, with the exception of 1997 when contributions exceeded the challenge budget.

“We support Southern Baptist Convention missions causes with 42.3 percent of every undesignated dollar,” he said. “We support Alabama missions causes with 57.7 percent of every undesignated dollar. This is among the highest percentages of any old-line convention giving in the entire Southern Baptist Convention.”

Hollingsworth explained that the special offering goals set in the amount of $16,575,000 will be designated as follows: Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, $9,000,000; Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, $4,750,000; Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries Offering, $1,850,000; World Hunger Offering, $875,000; and disaster relief offering, $100,000. He said any gifts beyond the challenge budget will be distributed based on existing formulas and percentages.

Paul Hicks, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Cullman, raised a question about the wording of a resolution on Alabama Baptist unity. In affirming that unity, the resolution recognizes that “differences of biblical interpretation do exist and the freedom to influence others and to band together for a common cause is proper and helpful in keeping our Baptist family in unity.” The resolution encourages “open dialogue in the Baptist family” and affirms “the commitment of our Alabama Baptist churches to remain committed to evangelism and missions, education and ministry.”

“The wording of this resolution is too vague to be adopted,” Hicks said. “What does ‘differences of biblical interpretation’ mean?”

Resolutions Committee Chair Curtis Kelly noted that the committee recognizes that not everyone believes the same on every theological point. “Baptists ought to come together in spite of those differences,” he said. “This resolution best affirms our desire for biblical unity.” The resolution passed with some dissenting votes.

In other resolutions, messengers honored Alabama Baptist leaders who died in the past year, including W.A. Criswell; reaffirmed opposition to gambling of any form, specifically the lottery; and opposed the action of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in removing the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Two thousand messengers representing 645 churches and 73 associations registered for the meeting.

The 2003 annual meeting will be Nov. 18-19 at Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile.
Adapted from articles by Sue Ann Miller, Jennifer Davis Rash and Erin Webster.

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