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Civic responsibility, SBC seminaries draw discussion at Ala. convention

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Resolutions on a Christian’s civic responsibility and affirming Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, along with a statement on the family, prompted discussion and debate prior to their passage at Alabama Baptists’ 1998 annual meeting Nov. 17-18 at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Birmingham.

The convention celebrated its 175-year history with a dramatic/choral presentation entitled “People of Light” the opening evening.

The two-hour anniversary pageant depicting colorful scenes from days past; video presentations from current Baptist notables and other notables from Baptist history; inspiring music from a 350-voice choir; heart-pounding orchestral pieces; authentic costumes; and a world-renowned master of ceremonies, Cliff Barrows of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -­ all this and more kept the capacity crowd of 2,500 firmly fastened to their seats.

In the election for convention president in which only 1,035 of the 1,829 registered messengers voted, Buddy Gray, pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, was elected by 11 votes over Tom Whatley, pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, 509-498. Gray has been the convention’s first vice president the past two years.

In a news conference, Gray addressed Alabama’s Nov. 3 gubernatorial election in which the idea of a state-run lottery to support education became the central focus.

“Does education need an overhaul? Yes. Is the lottery the answer? No,” Gray said. He said he is not planning to be an outspoken voice for Alabama Baptists, but said opposing the lottery seems clear cut to him. “It becomes a moral issue.”

When asked about a recently circulated letter by the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Alabama endorsing him for state convention president, Gray said he is not a member of the group and did not solicit an endorsement. In fact, “they asked me if they could and I said, ‘No,'” Gray noted. “I’m a conservative pastor. I believe in the fundamentals but I’m not mad about it.”

Referring to a previous statement he made to The Alabama Baptist, Gray said the two extremes among Baptists do exist, but they are few in number. “Our basic beliefs are the same,” he said.

For first vice president, Mike McLemore, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Birmingham, won a runoff with Jerry Grandstaff, director of missions for the Columbiana Baptist Association, 578-282, after an initial ballot with a third nominee, Rick Marshall, pastor of Eastern Hills Baptist Church, Montgomery. John Long, director of missions for the Baldwin Baptist Association, was elected second vice president over Sammie Reid, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Warrior. Also elected to office was Mary Sue Bennett, administrative assistant to Rick Lance, ABSC executive secretary-treasurer-elect, as recording secretary.

The debate over the civic responsibility resolution was a surprise, said Gary Hollingsworth, member of the Alabama Baptist State Convention resolutions committee and author of the resolution.

The resolutions committee decided as a group that encouraging Christians to be involved in voting, seeking public office and educating themselves about candidates would be appropriate, Hollingsworth, pastor of First Baptist Church, Trussville, said in an interview following the annual meeting.

However, some messengers voiced concern that the resolution would encourage endorsement of candidates and distribution of voter guides.

James Walters, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Mobile, called for an amendment to the resolution. His amendment read: “Be it further resolved that churches be discouraged from abusing IRS status by making endorsements of candidates and by allowing the distribution of voter guides.”

While some supported the amendment, others opposed it.

“Our church is very involved in informing our members [about candidates],” said Joe Godfrey, messenger from Taylor Road Baptist, Montgomery. “Our voter guides never endorse a candidate.”

John Garrison, messenger from Southside Baptist Church in Athens, said, “I would hope we would defeat this amendment. It comes close to telling churches what they can or cannot do.”

As debate heated up over the amendment, an amendment to the amendment was offered to take out the statement on distributing voter guides. It passed, followed by a vote on the amendment as amended.

With the voice vote too close to confirm passage, ABSC President Leon Ballard, a pastor from York, called for a ballot vote, which resulted in passage of the amendment with a vote count of 472-376.

Speaking during the debate, Hollingsworth said, “The amendment goes against the spirit of the resolution. It was meant simply to encourage Alabama Baptists to be involved and educate [church] members.” Hollingsworth added later the committee never considered the fact a church might be inclined to break the law by abusing its tax-exempt status. “We assumed a church would do this without breaking the law.”

Also prompting debate was a resolution affirming Southern Baptists’ six seminaries.

Pointing out a record number of missionaries and the “theological direction” of the seminaries, John Killian, a messenger from Maytown Baptist Church, spoke for the resolution, saying, “We are affirming the hand of God” on the theological institutions.

David Jedd, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Gardendale, also supported the resolution. Noting his own studies at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, Jedd said he previously avoided the SBC seminaries because they lacked “a strong stance on inerrancy.” He said he believed the resolution will commend the seminaries for gaining what he calls a stronger biblical inerrancy.

Other messengers, however, were concerned about the resolution’s intent.

“There are seminaries and divinity schools and local churches equally as conservative and biblical as any SBC seminary,” said Ron Wilson, messenger from First Baptist Church, Hartselle. “Could this resolution be interpreted as saying that we are only approving (SBC) seminary graduates?”

Ron Madison, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Opelika, had similar concerns. “In our association, we have excellent pastoral leadership from men who did not attend an SBC seminary. Are we trying to elevate our six seminaries and minimize schools that are doing an equally fine job?”

Ellie Ficken, chairperson of the resolutions committee, pointed out the resolution did not serve to discredit any other divinity schools. While the resolution dealt primarily with the SBC seminaries, the final resolve affirmed all schools that “teach the Bible as our ultimate guide in faith and practice,” she explained.

The resolution passed with some opposition.

Jim Cooley, vice chairman of the convention’s executive committee, introduced the family statement, saying, “We as Baptists seek to affirm that the family is the creation of God.” The statement had been passed earlier in the year by the convention’s state board of missions.

Alabama Baptists affirm that God often used terms describing the family to describe his relationship with his people, Cooley continued. The statement also affirms singles, he said.

“The real strengths of those statements is that they come in a day when so many negative things are being discussed,” said state board of missions chairman Tom Whatley. “It is our way of making a positive statement for something very crucial to Christian life.”

By unanimously passing the family statement on Tuesday, messengers avoided a possible controversy with a proposed resolution affirming the Southern Baptist Convention’s family amendment to the Baptist Faith and Message. The SBC family article, which was passed during the national convention in June, caused some debate over its call for wives to “graciously submit” to their husbands.

Hollingsworth said the Alabama convention’s position statement superseded the resolution introduced to support the SBC amendment.

Messengers also unanimously passed a statement on sexual morality, which also came from the state board of missions. Ron Madison, pastor of First Baptist Church, Opelika, introduced the statement on sexual morality, saying, “There’s nothing new for us in this position statement, but there are times we need to sound a clear trumpet about what the Bible teaches about biblical sexual relationships.”

Passing without debate was nearly $52 million in budget and special offering goals. Of that amount, almost $29 million will go to causes outside Alabama. That is roughly 56 percent of all the offerings channeled through the state convention offices going for missions and ministry causes beyond the state.

The budget proposal was presented in four parts: a) 1999 Cooperative Program base budget of $36,018,660, which will continue to be distributed 42.3 percent to SBC missions causes and 57.7 percent to Alabama Baptist missions causes; b) 1999 Cooperative Program and State Cooperative Program causes budget of $36,368,660; c) a challenge budget of $37,099,220 which will be distributed in the same percentages; and d) distribution of each according to a plan detailed in the convention’s book of reports.

Special missions offering goals were approved as $8 million for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions, $4.3 million for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, $1.55 million for the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries, $790,000 for world hunger and $100,000 for disaster relief. The total of the goals for special offerings is $14,740,000. Grand total of the 1999 base budget and special offering goals is $51,108,660. Grand total of the 1999 challenge budget and special offering goals is $51,839,220.

In comparison, figures for the current year of 1998 include a Cooperative Program base budget of $33,925,000, a challenge budget of $35,282,000 and special offering goals totaling $13,800,000.

The only change in the special offerings goals is the addition of world hunger and disaster relief goals, which were not included as budget items for 1998.

Grand total for the 1998 base budget and special offering goals is $47,725,000. Grand total for the 1998 challenge budget and special offering goals is $49,082,000.

A recommendation to disburse any monies received over the 1999 challenge budget in the same percentages as the base budget was approved by messengers.

In other business, messengers:
— committed the year 1999 to strategies of prayer, personal witness and proclamation in connection with “Celebrate Jesus 2000.”
— dedicated the 1998 convention annual to the memory of former executive secretary-treasurer George Bagley.

Other resolutions passed by messengers included:
— an opposition to lottery gambling, which serves to encourage “Alabama Baptists to make their opposition known to their respective legislators concerning gambling and the state lottery.”
— an encouragement and appreciation of ministers through designating and promoting October as “Minister Appreciation Month.”
— a commendation of the committee that planned the convention’s 175th anniversary.
— an appreciation and affirmation of Troy Morrison’s ministry and leadership as executive secretary-treasurer of the ABSC the past eight years.

The only resolution not dealt with called for a response to Baptist churches and entities who have dropped Baptist from their names.

“We felt that resolution was inappropriate,” Hollingsworth said. “It was the only one we chose not to act upon, because we could not make a positive action.”
This year’s meeting registered 1,829 messengers.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 16-17 at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile.

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash