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BGCT messengers elect first Hispanic president

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas elected their first Hispanic president during their Nov. 8-9 meeting in San Antonio.

Messengers also started a two-year process for constitutional changes that will include restructuring the BGCT executive board to 90 members drawn from “sectors” which may include numerous associations from the current 234 members representing 117 associations across the state.

The new BGCT president, Albert Reyes, president of Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio, served the past year as first vice president. Reyes was appointed chairman of the Hispanic Task Force for the White House Initiative on Hispanic Academic Excellence under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. He has served as a pastor, missiologist and educator in Texas, Mexico, Brazil, Spain and North Africa.

Charlie Johnson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, said in his nominating address that Reyes would be instrumental in future Texas Baptist life because 1,500 of the 5,700 churches cooperating with the BGCT are Hispanic. He also said that by 2015, more than half of the population of Texas would be Hispanic.

For first vice president, messengers elected Michael Bell, pastor of the Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, and president of the Tarrant Baptist Association’s African-American Pastors Fellowship. Bell also is a member of Texas Baptists Committed’s board of directors and recently was inducted into the Mainstream Baptist Network Hall of Fame.

With roughly 13 to 15 percent of the BGCT executive board now comprised of minorities, Reyes said in a news conference that he hopes to see that number climb to 30 percent in the near future. He also said he hopes to see diversity in BGCT leadership.

The election of minority officers within the convention signals a “trajectory of inclusiveness” in the BGCT, Reyes said. He said that the changes are a move in the right direction because God is “rearranging the world” to bring lost people to the metropolitan areas of Texas. “Going to other cultures and peoples no longer requires a passport,” Reyes said.

Messengers also elected Stacy Conner, pastor of First Baptist Church of Muleshoe, as second vice president. Conner is a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s national Coordinating Council.

Also during the meeting, messengers adopted changes to the BGCT constitution which President Kenneth Hall said are intended to “streamline” the governing body of the Texas Baptist group.

In addition to reducing the BGCT executive board to 90 members drawn from “sectors” which may include numerous associations, the revised governance plan also would eliminate the Human Welfare and Christian Education coordinating boards, two commissions and several committees. Most members of the boards, commissions and committees are not executive board members. Committees composed of executive board members will replace the groups.

Some messengers objected that the new governing structure would not allow for adequate representation of rural Baptists.

Howard Rhodes, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Dimmitt, said in a plenary session that he did not want to see the BGCT adopt the changes because he felt that the executive board could serve all Texas Baptists better by hearing them all.

“I seriously question whether the wide variety of voices will be represented,” Rhodes said. “I, like some others, have a trust issue with agencies formed to help churches better facilitate their ministries but without having a say.”

Van Christian, pastor of First Baptist Church of Comanche, also said that while each association currently has a representative on the executive board, under the new plan his “sector” would be composed of 14 associations, 247 churches and three board members. “They are not going to have heard of First Baptist Church of Comanche,” he said.

He also said that the proposed pattern of representation seems to be focused on north-south Interstate 35 corridor. “A vote for this today will in effect silence the voice we have at other times outside of this meeting,” Christian said.

But Hall and BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade both said that the rural churches would still have a voice in Texas Baptist life. In a question-and-answer session just before the vote on the proposed constitutional changes, Hall said some may feel underrepresented but “it is presumptuous to presuppose representation on the board. Representation takes place at the BGCT annual meeting.”

Hall also said that the executive board is accountable to the convention, and if messengers did not approve of the direction of the board, they could vote to make the appropriate changes.

Wade said that in the Panhandle, South Plains and West Texas sectors, as proposed, three representatives from each sector would compose 10 percent of the 90-member executive board. Currently, 11.4 percent of the elected executive board members represent the same area and its associations.

“You’re talking about giving up less than 2 percent of the board,” Wade said.

Newly elected BGCT President Reyes pledged that the convention would continue to hear each voice, but that the new method of representation spoke more to the future mission of the BGCT than to anything else. Reyes said the new executive board structure would allow more minorities to be involved in the leadership process.

An amendment to the proposed constitution, which would have changed the document to read that only members of churches singly aligned with the BGCT be allowed to serve as board members, raised objections from black pastors in the crowd.

Bell, of the Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, said many black churches are dually aligned with the BGCT and the National Baptist Convention.

“Single alignment for African American churches would be anathema to our ministry. We embrace the BGCT and love this convention. But voting for this amendment would send a negative message to those on the cusp of joining the BGCT,” Bell said.

The amendment ultimately failed.

Discussion on the issue of restructuring the convention consumed most of the afternoon plenary session at the convention. In the end, BGCT leaders announced that 82 percent of the messengers present had voted to adopt the constitutional changes.

In order for the changes to become effective, messengers must approve them again at next year’s annual meeting by a two-thirds vote.

Further changes to the BGCT constitution include a proviso that “an affiliation or relationship with an agency or institution may be discontinued by the convention upon recommendation by the Executive Board and by majority vote of the votes entitled to be cast by the messengers present when the vote is taken without regard to the total enrollment at any meeting of the convention.”

In the past, the constitution did not provide a way for the executive board specifically to discontinue a relationship.

Messengers also adopted a series of strategic plan statements that describe the convention as a body of “transformational churches,” language reminiscent of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The statements also call on the convention to become a “truly multicultural organization.”

In other business:

— A 2005 operating budget of $47.3 million was approved, with BGCT funds to be allocated as in previous years, with 79 percent of the funds going to ministries in Texas. The remaining 21 percent is dedicated to organizations with ministries focused outside the state, such as the Baptist World Alliance and WorldconneX, the missions organization of the BGCT.

— Joan Trew, a messenger from University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, made a motion that the funds the BGCT normally sends to Baylor University in Waco be escrowed “until unity is restored and confidence re-established in the administration” of the school’s administration to the satisfaction of the Executive Board.

Hall ruled the motion out of order because “it is not in harmony with and not in the spirit and purpose of the convention.” He said the motion “falls far short of celebrating God’s family” and speaking the truth in love.

— Messengers passed six resolutions, including a statement in support of the public education system and traditional, biblical marriage. The resolution on marriage, which also honored and supported single people, drew brief opposition from two messengers.

“This resolution is not in accordance with the sense of inclusivity and the spirit of allowing everyone who is a Baptist to be a part of this group,” said Charliene Hooker, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Fredricksburg.

Cheryl Hill, a messenger from Austin’s Highland Park Baptist Church, said she didn’t understand why the messengers were adopting the resolution. “Are we doing this because this has been such a big topic in the news lately?” she asked. She also asked if passing the resolution would send “the message to the world that our doors are not open to all.”

Marvin Delaney, a black pastor at Houston’s South Park Baptist Church, supported the resolution, saying that the Christian witness on marriage would be lost unless “we follow the principles written in Scripture … and unless we see marriage as honored by God, and that it is between a man and woman.” Delaney said Texas Baptists needed to show “firm resolve” and “bend not the word of truth that has been shared with us for millennia.”

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  • Gregory Tomlin