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Calif. retains ‘Southern’ in name, affirms SBC statement of beliefs

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–The largest evangelical body in the nation’s most populous state will continue to be known as the California Southern Baptist Convention after a vote on whether to remove the word “Southern” failed for a second consecutive year.

Messengers, meeting Nov. 14-15 in Riverside, also voted overwhelmingly to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs as adopted at the SBC’s annual meeting in June in Orlando, Fla.

The vote to affirm the newly revised Southern Baptist doctrinal statement came in response to a motion by Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield. Spradlin asked CSBC messengers to “affirm The Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, June 2000” and notify the SBC president of that action.

“It’s an important time for us as a convention to express our solidarity with the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Spradlin, who served on the committee that drafted the revised faith statement.

“I recognize it’s already in our constitution, but it is important for us to go on record,” Spradlin stated. “It is a doctrinal statement and doesn’t impede on any church’s authority.”

Willie Simmons, pastor of Greater Cornerstone Baptist Church in Los Angeles, asked whether the statement would be used to bar messengers from churches that endorse earlier versions of the Southern Baptist faith statement.

Spradlin responded that he was simply seeking CSBC affirmation of the new Baptist Faith and Message “as a confession of faith.” He added, “The issue of how that is used in our convention is a separate issue — an important issue, but a separate one.”

Dan Nelson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, favored the motion to affirm the latest version of Southern Baptist doctrinal beliefs. “We are a cooperating entity with the SBC,” Nelson said. “Our [national] convention has spoken. For us not to affirm would indicate we are not in cooperation and not appreciative of the funding we receive.”

E.W. McCall, pastor of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, moved the previous question and messengers voted to end debate. President Larry Dotson, pastor of Panama Baptist Church in Bakersfield, called for a show of hands and ruled that Spradlin’s motion to affirm the BFM had passed “overwhelmingly.”

In the vote by messengers on whether to adopt the name of California Baptist Convention, the proposal received a majority from the messengers who voted but fell 15 ballots short of the two-thirds required to amend the constitution. The final tally was 299, or 63.7 percent, in favor of the name change and 170 opposed.

Unlike last year, there was no opportunity to introduce new business after Dotson announced messengers had defeated the name change. Consequently, no further attempt to modify the name can be considered until the California convention’s annual meeting in 2002, since a constitutional amendment would first have to be introduced next year.

The name change proposal was the fifth such attempt in 15 years. The move began in 1985 when the convention’s executive board recommended that “California Baptist Convention” replace the denomination’s original name, “The Southern Baptist General Convention of California.” While the majority of messengers favored shortening the name, the recommendation failed to gain needed support at the 1986 annual meeting in Stockton and again the following year in Oxnard.

Then, in 1988, messengers in Anaheim approved “California Southern Baptist Convention,” while turning back another bid to delete “Southern” from the name.

Efforts to shorten the name resumed in 1997 when a strategic planning team suggested considering “a slightly shorter name that emphasizes the distinctives of California.” One year later, a missions implementation team once again recommended that the name be changed to “California Baptist Convention,” setting up a vote on the proposal the following year. The name change failed in 1999 by a margin of 61 percent in favor to 39 percent opposed. But the issue was guaranteed yet another hearing when Milton Steck, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Vacaville, reintroduced the proposed constitutional amendment for a vote in 2000.

This year, as in each previous attempt, the name change bid prompted spirited debate. Some of the discussion briefly dealt with an amendment offered by Cal Kerby, messenger from First Baptist Church in Granada Hills, to rename the CSBC the “California Worldwide Baptist Convention” failed on a raised ballot vote.

Returning to the original motion, supporters argued eliminating “Southern” would remove an obstacle to evangelism.

“It is a stumbling block to reaching people who have a negative impression of the word ‘southern,'” declared Mark Milwee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gilroy. Milwee said the proposal was not a “slap at the Southern Baptist Convention,” but “a promotion of Jesus Christ and what we are trying to do here in California.”

E. Glen Paden, pastor of Immanuel Southern Baptist Church in Ridgecrest, urged messengers to approve the change as “an indication that we are coming to maturity. It’s time for us to take a mature stand that we stay faithful to our mission program and the SBC” while remaining firmly identified with the West, Paden stated.

Opponents argued changing the name would send an unwanted signal to the Southern Baptist Convention and others.

“I think it’s the wrong time,” said Bret Capranica, pastor of First Baptist Church in Granada Hills. “With the upheaval of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we need to send a clear signal that we willingly and fully support” the SBC, Capranica said. “If any geographical change needs to be made, it belongs with our national convention.”

Richard Neely, pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in South San Francisco, also spoke against the name change. Neely said retaining Southern in the California convention’s name would “continue to identify with the one large denomination that still stands for righteousness in our society, the one large denomination that continues to lift up Christ and Christ alone as the only way to God.”

Messengers voted to extend time an additional three minutes when the period originally allotted for the discussion expired. When the extended time ran out, messengers voted by secret ballot.

An even closer vote took place involving a motion introduced last year to amend Article III Section 2 of the CSBC constitution. That section allows churches membership in the California convention if they contribute to it financially and “have not adopted articles of faith in conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.” The proposed constitutional amendment would have removed the concluding phrase, “as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.”

As discussion began, Ed Huffman, pastor of Woodward Park Baptist Church in Fresno, offered a motion to alter the proposed amendment by specifying “The Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2000.” Huffman said the change would remove “ambiguity as to which Baptist Faith and Message would be accepted by our convention.”

The proposal sparked concern by some messengers about how the change would be applied.

“It seems to me if we defined it as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 [and] a church does not adopt that then we are left to determine how to deal with that church. But that ought not to be,” said Willie Simmons of Los Angeles. “I believe each church should be left to determine which Baptist Faith and Message they subscribe to. They’re all good; I don’t see any heresy in any of them.”

Jake Hunt, messenger from Tierrasanta Baptist Church in San Diego, spoke against specifying the most recent version. “If we put a date on that, then every time they change the Baptist Faith and Message … we’ve got to come back here and change our constitution,” Hunt said.

The California pastor who helped draft the new edition of the Baptist Faith and Message urged adoption of Huffman’s amendment. “We have every right to set the perimeters of who will be involved,” insisted Roger Spradlin of Bakersfield. He noted most SBC agencies and seminaries have endorsed the updated belief statement as “an instrument of doctrinal fidelity and accountability.”

“We would be remiss if we did not do so,” Spradlin added.

Tom Crook, messenger from Castlewood Baptist Church in Vallejo, cautioned against raising the faith statement beyond a list of doctrinal guidelines. “The Bible to me is the most important document that God ever gave us,” Crook said. “I don’t want us to elevate this to the level of a creed.”

That drew a quick response from Dan Nelson of Camarillo. “The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed; it is an affirmation of the Scripture that we believe,” Nelson declared. “I’m tired of people calling it a creed. This is just a smokescreen to say let’s just keep everything nebulous.”

Billy Hayes, pastor of Irvington Baptist Church in Fremont, sought to clear the air by asking, “If churches that adopt the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message will not be seated … how is that not a creed?”

Hayes’ hypothetical question went unanswered as time for discussion of the proposed amendment expired. The CSBC committee that oversees the annual meeting extended the discussion by five minutes, but messengers quickly approved a motion by E.W. McCall of La Puente to end debate and vote immediately on Huffman’s amendment.

President Dotson ruled messengers approved Huffman’s motion on a show of raised ballots. Messengers then cast secret ballots on the revised amendment. When the results were announced later that day, the proposed constitutional change had narrowly failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority. The vote count was 240 votes, or 65.93 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment, 124 against. That means the CSBC constitution still requires that member churches not oppose the Baptist Faith and Message, but does not specify a particular version of the statement of doctrinal beliefs.

Messengers also amended Article VI of the CSBC constitution concerning the election of the 40-member executive board. The amendment was presented by the executive board in response to a motion introduced last year by Dewey Squyres, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in San Jose. The change separates the issue of executive board representation by “geographic regions,” from the delivery of executive board services to churches in previously defined “service areas.” However, the article continues to guarantee two executive board members for each of at least nine geographic regions defined by the state convention. The remaining members will be elected according to a formula “based on the ratio of churches within each region compared to the total number of churches in the Convention.”

In a related action, messengers approved a map designating nine geographic regions for executive board representation. It is the same map that currently defines Executive Board service areas.

In contrast to lively debate on a number of issues, messengers voted without comment to approve the executive board’s record state convention budget recommendation for the coming year. The 2001 spending plan totals $16,060,146, an increase of more than 6 percent over the 2000 CSBC budget.

Included in the basic budget is a one-percentage-point increase in the amount California Southern Baptists contribute to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified giving plan to support national and international missions and ministries. The increase — from 29 to 30 percent — represents an additional $76,292 for SBC worldwide mission support in the coming year. If fully funded, the 2001 CSBC budget will direct nearly $2.3 million from California Southern Baptist congregations to SBC causes. It also anticipates more than $2.1 million for SBC mission offerings, an increase of $300,000 over 2000 budget figures.

In a series of mostly uncontested elections, messengers chose new officers to lead the convention in 2001. Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, was elected president by acclamation.

Larry Dotson of Bakersfield previously had announced he would not seek a second one-year term as president. While presiding over the election of his successor, Dotson quipped that Setzler was elected “by one vote,” a reference to the practice of recording a single vote for unopposed candidates elected by acclamation.

The next two posts also were elected without opposition: first vice president William Eng, pastor of Chinese Baptist Church of Orange County in Anaheim, and second vice president, Robert E. Houston, pastor of New Hope Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in San Diego.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 13-14 at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield.

    About the Author

  • Mark A. Wyatt