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Alabama Baptists affirm Bible; adopt record-setting CP budget

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–Alabama Baptists reaffirmed their historic commitment to the Bible as their sole authority for faith and practice and reaffirmed their basic belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ during their annual meeting Nov. 14-15 in Montgomery. Alabama Baptists also adopted a record $38,670,000 Cooperative Program budget without discussion. This is a $670,000 increase over the 1999 budget.

The statement on the Bible and Jesus Christ emerged during a time when other state conventions debated whether to affirm the 2000 version of The Baptist Faith and Message approved during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in June.

Alabama Baptists chose to commend all versions of the Baptist Faith and Message but not any one version over the other because “the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) has never written or adopted a confession of faith, and Baptists have consistently honored the Christian faith as a noncreedal people,” said James Bruton, chairman of the ABSC resolutions committee, as he read parts of the resolution “On Doctrinal Heritage and Confessions of Faith.”

The resolution explains the historical development of The Baptist Faith and Message and details ways it can be used as a resource, Bruton said during debate over the resolution.

Passing overwhelmingly by the 1,778 registered messengers, the resolution garnered about 15 minutes of debate that resulted in only one attempt to amend it.

Arby Talley, a member of First Baptist Church, Gadsden, proposed deleting the words 1998 and 2000 in the statement about the sequence of revisions to The Baptist Faith and Message. But Bruton explained that those dates were historical facts and would leave the statement inaccurate. The amendment failed.

Others opposed to the resolution were concerned about the 2000 version of The Baptist Faith and Message, even though the resolution did not affirm any version of the document.

“We have never been a creedal people,” said John Sparks, a messenger from Center Baptist Church in Lafayette. “The 1963 document was a unifying document. It pulled people in,” he said. “The controversial changes made (in the 2000 version) has made a way to divide us. … We need something that will unify us, that’s God’s holy Word.”

“Our unity is not based on what we do together but what we believe,” said Roger Willmore, pastor of First Baptist Church, Weaver, who spoke in favor of the resolution.

Steve Gaines, pastor of First Baptist Church, Gardendale, also supported the resolution. A member of the SBC committee that helped rewrite The Baptist Faith and Message, Gaines said the resolution will affirm the Word of God in this convention, but reassured the messengers that approving the resolution would not bring rules or requirements. “It is not binding. We are not going to make anyone sign off on it.”

Larry Michael, pastor of First Baptist Church, Clanton, affirmed the resolution as one that sets Alabama apart from other states. “This resolution to me speaks to the best of who we are as Baptists, Alabamians and Southern Baptists,” he said, noting his experience with other state conventions that are caught in political posturing and problems among pastors. “When we came to Alabama … we felt welcomed by everyone.”

Another resolution garnering debate and much passion among messengers dealt with resources for the poor and encouraging tax reform in the state.

No one argued against the need for tax reform. Disagreement was about the best way to address the issue. Some wanted an indirect reference, others a direct statement. After messengers decided on the direct approach, the resolution calling for tax reform was approved with only scattered opposition.

Other resolutions approved:

— Called for legislation eliminating video gambling in Alabama as well as the strict enforcement of existing gambling prohibitions.

— Affirmed the Boy Scouts of America for their bold stand in the face of adversity.

— Commended messengers, the citizens of Montgomery, campus ministers and college students for the efforts and participation in Crossover Montgomery.

— Reaffirmed Alabama Baptist support of the Cooperative Program.

— Expressed appreciation to the people of Montgomery for their hospitality and the convention leaders for their guidance during the 2000 state convention.

No miscellaneous business was introduced during the convention.

However, a slate of new officers was elected as each of the present officers had served a second one-year term, all that is allowed under Alabama Baptist State Convention bylaws.

Mike McLemore, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, was elected president with no opposition. He had served the previous two years as first vice president of the convention.

A native of Athens, McLemore has undergraduate degrees from John C. Calhoun Junior College in Athens and Samford University in Birmingham and a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He served several churches in Alabama before coming to Lakeside. He also served as youth minister and associate pastor at Lakeside before taking the position of senior pastor.

Joe Godfrey, pastor of Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, was elected first vice president. He served as the 2000 president of the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference that took place prior to the state convention.

Godfrey narrowly defeated Tom Whatley, pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, by a vote of 610-581.

Henry Cox, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bay Minette, defeated Larry Felkins, director of missions for Chilton Association, by a vote of 593-553 for second vice president.

Other highlights of the convention included a concert by Larnelle Harris and Crossover Montgomery.

The 2001 state convention will be Nov. 13-14 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville.

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash