News Articles

California Baptist name change falls short of two-thirds majority

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–The largest Baptist state convention in the West will keep the word “Southern” in its name for at least one more year, after messengers rejected a bid to remove it at the 1999 annual meeting of the California Southern Baptist Convention.
Final registration figures for the California Convention’s 59th annual meeting Nov. 16-17 in Sacramento included 760 messengers and 379 visitors. In addition to deciding the name change issue, messengers also affirmed the family amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement of the SBC, debated creating a separate governing board for The California Southern Baptist newspaper and approved a record Cooperative Program budget for the coming year.
Sixty percent of those voting on the proposal to change the convention name favored shortening it to California Baptist Convention. But that number was short of the two-thirds vote needed to enact the constitutional amendment.
The convention was organized in 1940 as The Southern Baptist General Convention of California. The name was changed to its current form in 1986, as a compromise by messengers who agreed it should be shorter but insisted on keeping the word Southern. Once again this year the issue centered on identity.
The chairman of the CSBC executive board noted that only 159 of the convention’s 1,783 congregations use “Southern” in their names.
“The convention’s name sends a powerful name that shapes the impression people have about us,” said Ken Patton, pastor of Palermo Baptist Church in Palermo. “A slightly shorter name would better communicate with the convention’s many constituencies,” he said.
“I realize that my identity as a Southern Baptist isn’t just tied to a name,” Patton continued. “What makes us Southern Baptist is the beliefs we have and the cooperative way we go about sharing together.”
Several messengers agreed, saying the name Southern Baptist sometimes creates confusing “barriers” to evangelism in the western United States.
Other messengers argued that location was not the only issue involved and urged keeping the existing name intact.
“Eliminating the word Southern is not eliminating a geographical identity; it is hiding a theological identity. It speaks to who we are and what we believe,” declared Bill Devine, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Tustin in Irvine.
Ron Wilson, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Thousand Oaks, agreed. “What is bad with the name Southern?” he asked. “We live in an age across the country now that the SBC nationally is identified as a conservative, Bible-believing church…. Why would we not want to be identified with that?”
After messengers voted to end debate, a show of hands on the issue was ruled inconclusive and a ballot vote was taken that eventually determined the name change effort had failed.
However, a motion introduced on the final day of this year’s meeting breathed new life into the recurring attempt to change the convention name. Milton Steck, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Vacaville, proposed a new constitutional amendment that messengers will consider in their 2000 annual meeting. It calls for changing the name to California Baptist Convention.
In another vote, California messengers affirmed the family amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement approved at the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Salt Lake City. Dan Nelson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Camarillo, called for the vote “in light of the governor of California recently signing legislation giving homosexuals special preferential rights and discriminating against traditional families….”
Nelson said the family amendment “has been misinterpreted” and urged messengers to “send a clear witness and go on record” supporting the sanctity of marriage in letters to California Gov. Gray Davis, President Bill Clinton and SBC President Paige Patterson.
Although the decision was not unanimous, the motion carried on a voice vote.
The Southern Baptist doctrinal statement apparently will be an issue again at next year’s California convention meeting when messengers consider another proposed constitutional amendment. Joe Caldwell, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Richmond, presented the motion to modify a section listing qualifications for convention membership.
Currently Article III, Section 2, of the CSBC constitution allows membership for churches that financially support the convention and “have not adopted articles of faith in conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.” Caldwell’s motion would remove the phrase “as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Caldwell said his motion is intended to do more than merely signal a distinction between the original 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message and the amended 1998 version which contains the controversial statement on the family.
“In my opinion it allows the [state] convention the right to interpret which amendments they accept and which they don’t,” Caldwell told The California Southern Baptist. “If we leave that [phrase] in … we have to abide by whatever is amended at the national level and according to my understanding of Baptist polity, it doesn’t work that way.”
Messengers this year defeated another proposed amendment to the same article that was introduced in 1998 by Harold Hambley of Crenshaw Baptist Church in Torrance. The defeated motion would have denied membership in the convention to churches that practice “anything contrary to” the Baptist Faith and Message.
Another proposed constitutional amendment rejected by messengers would have increased the size of the executive board to 42 members and lengthened their terms of service to six years. The defeat of that proposal means the board will remain at 40 members serving four-year terms.
The California messengers also defeated a constitutional amendment introduced in 1998 that would have created a separate governing board to oversee the operations of the state Baptist paper. However, a similar motion subsequently introduced at this year’s meeting promises the matter will be debated again in 2000.
Charlie Leffingwell said the proposal he introduced last year was in response to a 1997 convention vote to transform the publication from a newsjournal to a “missions and church promotion magazine.” He said it was one of 13 sweeping changes messengers voted for but did not clearly understand.
“I think many of our Baptists in California are not aware of what happened with that vote. By our meeting next year we will not have a California Southern Baptist newspaper,” warned Leffingwell, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in San Lorenzo.
“I believe that a free press is one of the tenets of our American democracy. I believe we need that news,” Leffingwell said. “To see The CSB disappear will be a sad thing. It is a worthy publication and to have it eliminated sends a terrible message. It belongs to the people of California Southern Baptist Convention — it does not belong as a newsletter for the executive board.”
Dale Aycock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rosedale in Bakersfield and a member of the CSBC executive board, expressed appreciation for the interest in The CSB. But he dismissed claims that the executive board controls the newspaper’s content.
“The board has never directed the editor, to tell the editor what he must write or what slant he might give to it,” Aycock declared. “The convention voted to make this a promotion and missions magazine, however, to some extent I believe this has been misunderstood,” he stated.
Michael Stewart, messenger from First Baptist Church in Gilroy, spoke in favor of a separate board for The CSB. “Most of us get lots of missions magazines that we don’t read,” he said.
Stewart noted that Arizona Southern Baptists ceased publishing a newspaper in favor of a promotional magazine two years ago and said there have been “no stories in the Arizona publication about the collapse of the Baptist foundation” there.
“We need a board that can tell every side of the story,” he said. “We have a separation of powers because there’s a temptation, even when you’re a good person, to control the information.”
Jim Avery, pastor of Clinton Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, said he observed influence being exerted on the paper during his service as a member of the CSBC executive board.
“There are a few very strong-willed, important men that when they have their say the executive board pretty much goes along with them,” Avery declared. “Our leaders need to speak and influence, but I believe that the paper needs a separate group that is not speaking for the executive board,” Avery said. “I’m saying we’re not hearing a lot of news that we should be hearing about,” he added.
Board chairman Patton responded by saying he did not recall “a moment when there was any sense of instruction given” about what the editor should publish. Patton then raised another concern about the proposed board for the state Baptist paper.
“The concern I have is that this addresses the editor only having an accountability to the convention once a year,” Patton said. He was referring to a section in the proposed amendment that would have allowed the editor to “be dismissed by the state convention only at its annual meeting.”
Patton said, “Throwing it into this format would create quite a problem” in the future by establishing such a strict guideline. Other messengers apparently shared that concern and eventually defeated the proposed constitutional amendment on a show of hands.
In a later session, however, Leffingwell introduced a similar constitutional amendment to create a separate board for The California Southern Baptist. That means the issue will be considered again next year.
A short time later, Leffingwell presented yet another motion concerning The CSB. He asked messengers to “instruct the Executive Board to return to a news journal format for our state paper and to continue publishing The California Southern Baptist as the official paper of our state Convention.”
Leffingwell explained that he was “quite disturbed about the apathy of our convention” toward the state paper and called it an essential tool. “Without a paper to hear both sides of issues, it will greatly hinder our convention,” he said.
Brad Wilcoxen, pastor of Bell Road Baptist Church in Auburn, urged messengers to reject the motion because it was essentially the same as one previously defeated and another scheduled for consideration in 2000. Convention parliamentarian Tony Crisp, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, agreed that Leffingwell’s latest motion was “very much akin” to the other two, but ruled that it was in order.
Messengers agreed to end debate on the motion then voted on a show of hands to direct the executive board to keep The CSB operating as a newsjournal. That vote effectively reversed the 1997 action that had mandated the newspaper’s transformation to a promotional magazine.
The vote apparently came as a welcome surprise to some messengers, who greeted the outcome with a scattering of applause.
Leffingwell told The California Southern Baptist he was pleased that the convention approved his motion. “It ensures a continuation of the paper through the next year,” he explained, adding he hopes the convention eventually will agree to create a separate board for the paper.
In contrast to debate surrounding some items of business, California messengers approved a record basic budget of $15,146,542 for the coming year without any discussion. That figure is $774,836, or 5.1 percent, greater than the 1999 CSBC spending plan. California Southern Baptist congregations are expected to contribute nearly $7.3 million toward the 2000 budget.
The new CSBC budget also features a $250,000 missions challenge section. Half of any receipts in excess of the basic budget would support world missions through the Cooperative Program, with the remaining portion distributed among CSBC mission causes and California Baptist University according to a specific formula.
Nearly $4 million of the 2000 CSBC basic budget is earmarked for “cooperative world missions” support. That amount includes $2,107,099, or 29 percent of the California CP objective, for the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program. Although the percentage is unchanged from the current year, California Southern Baptist gifts to the SBC Cooperative Program would increase more than $48,000 in 2000 if income projections are realized.
Also included in the 2000 budget are amounts of $1.25 million for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions and $600,000 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions.
California Baptist University is scheduled to receive 16.438 percent of California CP receipts in 2000. If income projections are met, Cal Baptist would received $1.19 million from CSBC next year, an increase of $27,263 over the amount budgeted in 1999.
California Baptist Foundation is scheduled to receive a $100,000 CP allocation in 2000.
The CSBC’s top elective office will remain in Bakersfield for another year, even though messengers elected an entirely new slate of convention officers for 2000. Larry Dotson, pastor of Panama Baptist Church in Bakersfield, won the CSBC presidency without opposition. Dotson succeeds fellow Bakersfield pastor Roger Spradlin, who was ineligible for re-election. Spradlin is pastor of Valley Baptist Church. He completed his second consecutive one-year term as president, the maximum allowed under the CSBC constitution, at this year’s meeting in Sacramento.
The election of other convention officers followed the pattern set in the vote for CSBC president, with only one candidate nominated for each of the remaining slots. At one point, the election of officers was delayed after nominations were called for but none was presented.
Don Brackbill, pastor of Eleventh Street Baptist Church in Upland, was elected first vice president. Brackbill also is vice chairman of the CSBC executive board.
Brian Wood, a member of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, was elected second vice president.
Next year’s annual meeting of the California Southern Baptist Convention will be Nov. 14-15 at the Raincross Convention Center in Riverside to help mark the 50th anniversary of California Baptist University.

    About the Author

  • Mark A. Wyatt