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Ark. Baptists back diversity, Federal Marriage Amendment

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (BP)–Business sessions during a harmonious Arkansas Baptist State Convention annual meeting included a report on racial harmony and diversity and adoption of a resolution supporting the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

About 900 messengers registered for the Nov. 4-5 meeting, with the theme of “Encouraging Kingdom Growth,” at University Baptist Church in Fayetteville.

The racial diversity report was the work of a unity committee appointed last year by ABSC President Jim Lagrone to explore racial diversity and unity within the state convention. The report noted, “Racial reconciliation and unity will not be achieved without God’s people being infused with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, modeling Christ-like behavior and being led by God’s strong hand.”

The report encourages “intentionality” in becoming multiethnic at all levels of Baptist life and urges churches to drop racial stereotypes.

A long list of suggestions for churches includes encouraging joint worship opportunities, diversifying staff, incorporating strategies of successful multiethnic churches, conducting outreach ministries in ethnic neighborhoods, targeting special needs of ethnic groups, identifying and equipping “unity champions” in local churches and establishing mission congregations designed to become racially diverse churches.

An equally long list of suggestions for the state convention, associations and institutions included developing a module for training churches to achieve racial reconciliation, devising a strategy for creating multiethnic congregations, diversifying staffs and board memberships, encouraging student organizations on college campuses to promote racial diversity and reconciliation, and identifying three to five existing churches willing to become pilot churches for multiethnic diversity.

Messengers approved without discussion the resolution supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment. The resolution also opposed any effort to validate or legalize same-sex “marriage” or unions, while demonstrating “love for those practicing homosexuality by sharing with them the forgiving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Two other resolutions supported American Armed Forces and expressed appreciation to the host church and convention leaders.

Grant Ethridge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lavaca, was elected president without opposition, as was LeRoy Wagner, pastor of Pearcy Baptist Church, for first vice president.

Three individuals were nominated for second vice president, resulting in a runoff ballot election. Larry White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Crossett, was elected by a 51 percent vote in a runoff against Barry Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmington, Ark. Eliminated in the first ballot vote was Steven Bailey, pastor of Earle Baptist Church.

In an unprecedented move, Lagrone, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Bryant, used his president’s message to challenge Ethridge, his successor as ABSC president, to call a summit meeting to explore ways to meet convention needs of the 21st century.

“I challenge the incoming president of our convention to prayerfully call together a group of Arkansas Baptist leaders to … seek God’s face and find a direction of genuine reform and re-tooling so that we can better meet the needs of the mission field this century and fulfill the Great Commission,” Lagrone said. “Everything must be on the table.

“We are having record numbers of men and women surrender to missions,” Lagrone told messengers. “… The doors to take the Gospel have never been as wide open as they are now. This is the day of the greatest missionary possibilities that we have ever seen. What is our Baptist response?”

In such a time, Lagrone noted, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board have laid people off.

“We say we are mission-minded,” he noted. “But we have to say no to our own people because we do not have enough money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills but He cannot get them through the Baptist gate.”

Lagrone said Arkansas Baptists must figure out how to get money to the mission field again, and “our regular solutions are not going to work.”

Few motions were presented during the meeting. One, unanimously approved, called for dedicating the annual publication of convention proceedings to two Baptist leaders who died this year: Bill Fuller, who was pastor of First Baptist Church in Blytheville, and Robert Ferguson, a former ABSC employee.

Bill Fleming, a messenger from Parkway Place Baptist Church of Little Rock, attempted several motions on the “spirit of secrecy” regarding the salaries and benefits of ABSC employees. One, which requested information on such salaries and benefits, died for lack of a second. Another, suggesting that ABSC employees not be allowed to accept salaries or honorariums for serving as interim pastors or supply preachers at churches, was ruled out of order, with the explanation that because churches are autonomous the ABSC has no right to dictate to churches whether they pay such salaries or honorariums. Yet another motion requested that employees who are provided automobiles not be allowed to use them for personal miles. It was ruled out of order because employees pay for those personal miles, not the convention.

Messengers approved a $19,518,232 ABSC budget for 2004, with $8,152,766 (41.77 percent) designated for Southern Baptist Convention causes and $11,365,467 (58.23 percent) for missions and ministries within Arkansas. The total budget amount is the same as the 2003 budget.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 9-10 at Second Baptist Church in Hot Springs.

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  • Charlie Warren