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Hispanic fellowship discusses whether to become a convention

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–Leaders and participants at the National Fellowship of Hispanic Southern Baptist Churches had a busy Sunday, with activities and discussions stretching past 10 p.m.

Among the discussions: the possibility of forming a national Hispanic convention.

After worshiping with various Indianapolis-area churches on the morning of June 13, many of the fellowship participants attended a luncheon at the Omni Hotel in north Indianapolis to build awareness among Hispanics of the FAITH/Sunday School Evangelism Strategy sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The fellowship then convened at Northside Baptist Church for activities that began with afternoon workshops on such topics such as worship, missions, finances, leadership and church planting.

The annual business session, where the topic of a possible national convention came up, began at 4:30 p.m. with nearly 50 participants and lasted until 6:30 p.m., with attendance having climbed to nearly 75. The session was called to a close because of the fellowship’s upcoming worship that night.

While several topics were discussed and several motions were voted on, most of the time was spent on the possible redefinition of the Hispanic fellowship as a convention.

The discussion began with a recommendation presented by the fellowship’s judiciary committee, which deals with legal matters and is chaired by Rafael DeArmas, director of missions of Florida’s Peace River Baptist Association.

The recommendation called for the fellowship to approve the use of a copyright symbol for the name “Hispanic Baptist Convention,” providing control of the legal use of the name. The wording of the motion, as cited by DeArmas, stated that “the name of the Fellowship will exist but in the documentation it will add ‘doing business as the Hispanic National Convention © 2004’.”

The judiciary committee presented the recommendation in response to a motion passed by the fellowship last year calling for the committee to investigate the protection of the name “National Hispanic Convention” to preempt its use by entities not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Raul Vasquez, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s language missions division, spoke against the judiciary committee recommendation, saying that “the use of such a name would cause problems with our denomination and would grant much more independence than the fellowship is ready for at this time.”

Julio Fuentes, executive director of the Hispanic fellowship and pastor of the Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., responded by saying that “the only preoccupation is with the protection of the name.” He noted that a recommendation would be presented at the session addressing “the pros and cons of the issue of becoming a convention,” drawing from a study led by the fellowship’s executive committee.

Someone then raised a point of order, noting that the executive committee recommendation Fuentes had referenced about the prospect of becoming a convention should take priority over the judiciary committee’s recommendation concerning the name of a prospective convention.

The participants voted to affirm the point of order and thus the discussion turned to the recommendation framed by the executive committee, which summarized the pros and cons of the fellowship becoming a Hispanic convention. The executive committee report cited historical antecedents and a table of comparisons between the functions of the current fellowship and the functions of a convention. The report concluded that “there is no intrinsic danger in [using] the name ‘convention’ and there exists no rationale which can change the reality that the Fellowship is already functioning as a convention.”

The executive committee recommendation called for the fellowship to finish “the task of a national network as soon as possible and, for the first time, ask the opinion of all of the Southern Baptist Hispanic churches concerning the existence of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of the United States of North America.”

Much heated discussion followed between those for and against the formation of a Hispanic convention.

Most of those who spoke in favor of a convention were pastors of churches across the fellowship who made it clear they felt disenfranchised from the SBC and were in favor of a more mature independent body functioning as a convention much like a state convention.

Most of those who opposed the recommendation, meanwhile, were in some way tied to Southern Baptist denominational service and questioned whether, in fact, Hispanics are disenfranchised in the SBC.

The discussion ended when someone proposed a motion to table the motion due to insufficient time for debate and a lack of information and direction on a matter of such importance. The assembly agreed by voting in favor of a motion to table the discussion until next year and to convene a study group of selected leaders to analyze the issue with more depth and report back to the assembly.

Nine other motions dealing with minor matters were promptly presented and passed.

Herberto Becerra, pastor of First Baptist Church in Plantation, Fla., was elected by acclamation as fellowship president, along with Moises Rodriguez, pastor of Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, as first vice president and Segundo Mir, pastor of a Washington-area Hispanic congregation in Maryland, second vice president.

A worship and preaching celebration followed, marking a second night of celebrating the Hispanic “There Is Life in Jesus” crusade held in four Hispanic churches in Indiana the week prior to the fellowship meeting.

    About the Author

  • David R. Lema Jr.