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Calif. convention opens with credentialing issue

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BP)–Prior to the California Southern Baptist Convention’s celebration of ministries to reach the state for Christ and the 10th anniversary of its executive director, messengers to the 65th CSBC annual meeting voted not to seat a messenger.

In an historic move, messengers voted not to seat an individual instead of not seating all messengers from a congregation. The move came in the opening moments of the Nov. 15-16 sessions at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, when the committee on convention operations, the credentialing agent for the annual meeting, made a motion to seat the “one challenged messenger.”

CSBC President Tom Stringfellow, pastor of First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, said the person being challenged would not be referred to by name. “It is appropriate to talk about an issue rather than an individual. We are not here to attack individuals.”

Bob Kuntz, messenger from First Baptist Church in Gilroy, spoke against the recommendation saying the messenger was instrumental in bringing allegations before the North American Mission Board against Michael Stewart, director of missions for Central Coast Baptist Association.

Kuntz said the association conducted an investigation in which Stewart was “completely exonerated of any and all wrongdoing.”

He noted, “Despite having promised to apologize this man has not only refused to take biblical steps of repentance and reconciliation … he has written on two occasions to all 100 churches in the association ridiculing the investigative process and its conclusions.

“This action will send a clear message that we all desire to be treated with respect. Therefore I ask you to vote against this motion,” Kuntz said.

Speaking in favor of the motion to seat the messenger, Dan Nelson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, said, “… it would be best to avoid further escalation of conflict here. I think it would be appropriate for this body to accept the recommendation to seat the messenger and to go on and have a unified convention.”

Jay Moore, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Salinas, speaking against the motion, said, “Our denominational structure as Southern Baptists does not allow many ways to exercise spiritual discipline to an individual on a convention level. But there are times when we as Southern Baptists need to take a stand and clearly and forcefully declare that we will not tolerate certain kinds of behavior, whether from an elected position or a volunteer.”

With no other discussion, messengers defeated the motion and voted not to seat the messenger.

Shortly afterward, the messenger revealed himself to convention-goers when Ron Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Thousand Oaks, in an attempt to make a point of order, was not recognized by Stringfellow, who said, “I’m sorry sir, but my understanding [is that] you are not a seated messenger.”

Under the theme “Celebrate the Son,” messengers and guests heard about ministries supported by gifts to the Cooperative Program and the California Mission Offering aimed at reaching California and the world.

Two video clips of disaster relief chaplain Naomi Paget of Trinity Baptist Church in Livermore related stories of California Southern Baptist ministry in the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast region. Paget recounted how California Southern Baptist volunteers helped ease the physical and spiritual pain of disaster victims.

The video presentations noted 350 volunteers from California served in various capacities related to hurricane relief, with many involved in the preparation of 1.15 million meals for victims and other relief workers.

Since late August, California Southern Baptists have given more than $965,000 to disaster relief. During the California Baptist University report, CBU President Ronald L. Ellis presented a $15,000 check to CSBC Executive Director Fermín A. Whittaker for disaster relief ministries. Ellis noted the gifts “recognize and support this important work that demonstrates Christian compassion.”

The convention honored Fermín A. Whittaker on his 10th anniversary as executive director. After preaching his annual sermon, a video tribute was presented that opened with the words, “Because Dr. Fermín Whittaker is a man of honor, we choose to honor him today.” The video included photos of his years of ministry, interviews with leading California pastors and a montage of his familiar encouragement for California Southern Baptists to “reach every man, woman, boy and girl” with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The CSBC executive board presented Whittaker and his wife, Carmen, with a gift certificate for a trip for two to any destination of their choosing.

In other business, John Shirey, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Santa Clara, made a motion for the CSBC committee on board nominations to present to the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Nominations a list of at least six names annually that would be a voluntary reference as well as an endorsement to any SBC board or entity as individuals who are “well qualified to truly represent” California.

The motion called for “individuals who have demonstrated a biblically-sound cooperative spirit in their relationships with California Southern Baptists, and whose churches have been bona fide financial contributors to the missions work of the state convention and their own associations shall be deemed well-qualified.”

Monroe Broadway, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Shasta and a member of the SBC Committee on Committees, said, “I think the process is already in place for us to do that.”

“This convention does not tell the Southern Baptist Convention who it can and who it cannot put [on boards and entities],” Broadway said. “We desperately look for names and people who are active serving in their churches, in their associations, in their places of ministry across the state because I also want the best qualified people from California.”

Also speaking against the motion was Dan Nelson who said, “The beauty of our Southern Baptist system is that we start with our headquarters at the local church. It is not in the denominational headquarters. This motion would convolute that or turn it upside down to the point that we have Fresno selecting from the convention who they want … and that is the prerogative of the local church and the national convention.”

The motion was defeated.

Martin Davis, a messenger from First Southern Baptist Church in San Diego and a member of the SBC Executive Committee, moved “in light of recent actions taken by the Southern Baptist Convention concerning their entities over the last decade … that the Executive Committee of the CSBC examine the beneficial affects that sole membership may provide to this Convention.”

He asked that a report and recommendations be brought to the next annual meeting.

Later, parliamentarians asked for clarification on several points of the motion, but Davis was unavailable and Stringfellow ruled the motion out of order.

Messengers approved a 2006 budget of $12,030,230, including a Cooperative Program objective of $7,890,315.

Messengers adopted three resolutions, including appreciation to the city of San Jose and the host association, Central Coast Baptist; sympathy to the family of Tennessee pastor Adrian Rogers, who died Nov. 15; and support to the Pacific Southwest Region of the American Baptist Churches of the USA. The regional group is withdrawing from ABCUSA “over the issue of biblical authority and moral integrity.”

Stringfellow was re-elected to a second one-year term as president; Jim Gregory, pastor of First Baptist Church in Escalon, was elected first vice president; Bryan Harris, pastor of North Hills Baptist Church in Vallejo, second vice president; and Bart Young, music and worship pastor at Stine Road Baptist Church in Bakersfield, music director.

Total number of messengers registered for the 2005 meeting was 507, with 205 guests. The last time the convention met in San Jose was 1979 when 1,102 messengers registered.

The 2006 annual meeting is slated Nov. 14-15 at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield.

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  • Terry Barone