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Conservatives continue to win Missouri convention elections

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. (BP)–The Missouri Baptist Convention presidency has been won by a candidate endorsed by Southern Baptist Convention supporters for the third year in a row over a candidate endorsed by supporters of the anti-SBC Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Bob Collins, the convention’s current first vice president, was elected with a 1,984-1,253 vote as 2001 president over Harlan Spurgeon, the candidate of Mainstream Missouri Baptists, a group with ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, like Spurgeon who is a former CBF staff member.

Bob Curtis, pastor of St. Louis-area Ballwin Baptist Church, was elected with a 1,213-884 vote as first vice president, with Charlie Burnett, pastor of Harmony Heights Baptist Church, Joplin, elected by an 877-498 vote as second vice president. John Martin, associate pastor of Hallsville (Mo.) Baptist Church, was elected with an 821-546 vote as recording secretary.

Collins has been pastor of Plaza Heights Baptist Church, Blue Springs, for 20 years, which twice has been named one of the fastest-growing congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Spurgeon, interim pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, most recently was a CBF staff member based in Atlanta. Earlier, he was an administrator with the SBC’s Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board), a missionary and president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

“Be honest and acknowledge both candidates are very similar,” said Mainstream Missouri Baptists’ President Doyle Sager in nominating Spurgeon. “In this election we’re really voting on how we will do Missouri Baptist work. He [Spurgeon] will seek to include, not exclude.”

That “inclusion” is precisely the reason a conservative movement arose to oppose the CBF’s influence in Missouri. Project 1000 of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, led by Roger Moran, started three years ago to get at least 1,000 people to the annual meetings to vote a conservative ticket.

“Our premise was that the vast majority of Missouri Baptists are morally, theologically and socially conservative, and that if they knew what was going on, they would rise up and put a stop to it,” Moran said in a Sept. 28 article in Word & Way, newsjournal for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The Project 1000 initiative included 3-inch buttons that said “SBC” on the top line and “Missouri Baptist Convention” underneath. The buttons were to help Project 1000 supporters each other, one woman explained.

“We define ourselves very narrowly,” Moran said in explaining three criteria for a candidate for an office in the Missouri Baptist Convention endorsed by Project 1000. They should be committed to biblical inerrancy, supportive of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, and not be a part of a church that is supportive of or that contributes to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

One potential point of contention was dealt with in the opening session. The credentials committee recommended that messengers from two churches which earlier this year removed themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention but not the Missouri Baptist Convention — First Baptist Church of Columbia and Warner Road Baptist Church of Kansas City — be seated at the annual meeting.

“In the spirit of unity and peace in this convention and for the cause of Christ, your credentials committee recommends these messengers be seated,” reported chairman James Wells. “We ask the convention to make a gracious decision this year and approve our recommendation.”

The recommendation was approved with a spattering of objection.

Several awards were given during the convention’s Tuesday morning session:

John Ryan was recognized as the outstanding small church pastor of the year. John and Fran Ryan and two other couples started Summit Community Church in O’Fallon two years ago. By May, 175 people were gathering as the church at a local school, and 78 professions of faith and 41 baptisms had been reported. In addition to weekly “base camp” intensive Bible studies, Ryan conducts monthly discipleship workshops.

“We’re not here just to reach the lost, but also to make disciples,” Ryan said. “Reproducing is the life goal of the Christian.”

Alberta Gilpin of Ashland received the religious educator distinguished service award. Gilpin is retiring this year after serving as Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union’s director since 1973.

J.C. Beckner received the first-ever youth minister of the year award from the Missouri Baptist Youth Ministers Association. Beckner is northwest team leader and congregational vitality consultant for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

During the Tuesday executive board report, messengers came within 20 votes of amending the convention’s operating budget by redirecting $200,000 to the SBC Cooperative Program. The executive board had recommended “that the 2001 Cooperative Program Goal of $19,000,000 and Cooperative Program Challenge Goal of $850,000 be designated 35.75 percent for Southern Baptist Convention causes and 64.25 percent for Missouri Baptist Convention causes.”

A motion was made to make the percentages 36.75 percent to the SBC and 63.25 percent to MBC. The vote: 1,466 yes; 1,486 no.

A related motion, to allocate $250,000 of the challenge goal to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, failed by a vote of 1,054 no; 1,017 yes.

The most heated discussion at the annual meeting centered around the decision of The Baptist Home’s trustees in September to amend their bylaws to become a self-perpetuating board rather continuing with trustee appointments by the convention.

With charges that “The Baptist Home has been stolen from us,” a motion was made to escrow the money allocated by Missouri Baptists for the three-unit system of retirement homes.

Baptist Home President Larry Johnson explained the action entailed nothing more than protection of the board’s financial resources in the face of an escalating risk of liability.

“Nursing homes have become the number one target of litigation in the United States today,” Johnson said. “We have $40 million out there. Forty million dollars is worth going after.”

The vote to escrow The Baptist Home funding failed by a show of ballots. A vote for a substitute slate of trustees failed by a show of ballots. A vote to create an “Institutional Integrity Committee” failed by tallied ballots: 1,165 no; 890 yes.

In a surprising move in another arena, messengers voted 580 to 361 to replace the Christian Life Committee slate to ensure all its members were solidly pro-life.

It was business as usual for the remainder of the convention. On the stage behind speakers’ chairs were seven flags representing the Missouri convention’s partnerships: Belarus, Nicaragua, Wyoming, Colorado, United States, Missouri and Christ. The offerings Tuesday and Wednesday were designated to support the Wyoming Baptist Convention.

“New Directions” was the theme of the annual meeting as well as the name of the statewide initiative developed under the direction of Jim Hill, the convention’s executive director.

Hill explained to the media the need for a new direction for Missouri Baptists: The Missouri convention was formed in 1834 with 150 churches. By 1900 there were 1,862 church, for a net increase of more than 1,700 churches. But by 2000, there were fewer than 2,000 churches, or a net increase of perhaps 125 churches in 100 years. And of its churches, two out of five declined statistically by at least 10 percent in the last five years.

New Directions, in its second year of implementation, needs the support and personal investment of all Missouri Baptists in order to accomplish God’s work in the state, Hill said.

A videotaped presentation by The Baptist Home following the heated business session that dealt with its trustee action people included a number of nursing home residents saying, “Thank you, thank you Missouri Baptists.” An impassioned presentation underscored the effects of Missouri Baptists’ $19,000 gift to the Christian Civic Foundation which kept 2,850 young people off substance abuse last year.

“I thought we had a good convention,” Hill said. “We were able to complete all the work we had to complete. There was a good spirit, but we’re still not one people.

“There still is a major rift in the life of our convention,” the executive director continued. “I don’t think the kind of division we have will be solved at the annual meeting. If it is solved, it will be solved as we work together to accomplish the mission God has for us, and it will be solved as God heals our relationships.”

The annual meeting sessions took place at Tan-Tar-A, a Marriott-owned resort on the Lake of the Ozarks. The final registration of 3,408 messengers and 458 guests taxed the limits of the resort, which had been geared with a maximum complement of support staff, said general manager Len Camden.

Camden, a Southern Baptist layman, was due to retire this summer after 31 years with Marriott, but he stayed to ensure a smoothly run operation for the annual meeting.

“Five and a half years ago, when the decision was made to have this year’s convention at Tan-Tar-A, we anticipated 3,000 guests,” Camden said. “With 4,000 plus, we’re at maximum capacity. Our secretarial staff is on full alert; all buses have been checked, we’ve added security people and we’ve altered our food service — added buffets in order to serve large numbers quickly.”

A cloak of prayer surrounded the annual meeting and contributed to the absence of public animosity during its sessions, said Jim Bryant, prayer coordinator for the convention and a director of missions in southeast Missouri.

“I am sensing for many people there is a real burden for us to connect with God and his agenda, and setting aside our own,” Bryant said. “It is out of this that we’ll see people laying down the things that consume them and picking up the priorities of our mission under God, which is evangelism and starting missions.”

Next year’s annual meeting will be Oct. 29-31 in Cape Girardeau.