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Ky. Baptists elect first African American president

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (BP) — Messengers to the 178th annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention elected an African American as convention president, called for an end to federal funding of Planned Parenthood and launched a strategy to boost their voice at the state capitol.

Messengers also approved a $21.5 million Cooperative Program budget goal for the coming year, raising the bar by a quarter million dollars. The 2016-2017 budget equally divides Cooperative Program receipts between KBC missions and ministries and Southern Baptist Convention causes, allocating $10,750,000 to each after deducting 7 percent for shared CP resourcing.

Kevin Smith, teaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, made history Nov. 10 at Severns Valley Baptist Church in Elizabethtown by becoming the first African American to be elected president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Smith was nominated by Lincoln Bingham, senior pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church at Shively Heights in Louisville. The race-relations pioneer in Kentucky for more than three decades highlighted Smith’s contributions as a champion for racial reconciliation, church revitalization, evangelism and missions.

“The Kentucky Baptist Convention is ready for the first African American president,” Bingham said. “Smith is a Cooperative Program champion and has proven that he is a quality, committed leader.”

Among five adopted resolutions, the messengers spoke out against the selling of the remains of thousands of aborted babies, calling on lawmakers to immediately defund the Planned Parenthood organization. One-third of Planned Parenthood’s $1.3 billion budget reportedly comes from the federal government.

“The senseless killing of unborn babies and selling of body parts from those babies” is condemnable, according to a resolution passed by messengers.

Planned Parenthood, an agency providing about one out of every four abortions in the U.S., was the target of a hidden-camera sting that revealed the practice of selling aborted baby parts for research. In nearly a dozen videos, the Center for Medical Progress secretly recorded Planned Parenthood officials acknowledging they harvest tissue for scientific research.

“The horror of Planned Parenthood’s murder and selling of babies can no longer be tolerated in our society,” said KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood.

Kentucky Baptists also formally renounced racism and pledged to pursue cooperative fellowship with all Christian brothers and sisters.

“A biblical worldview requires all Christians to unite together in order to advance the gospel,” the resolution stated. Therefore, “we renounce and oppose all forms of racism which distort the message of the gospel.”

In separate resolutions, messengers celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed African Americans the right to vote, and they objected to a growing anti-Christian bias in society, calling on judges to treat followers of Jesus with the respect and dignity afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

New officers

Smith, who was the first African American to serve as first vice president of the KBC in 2006, defeated Jerry Tooley, director of missions for Daviess-McLean Association, who was first vice president this past year.

Smith, an assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, captured 578 votes, for 71.3 percent of the votes cast, compared to Tooley’s 233, or 28.7 percent.

Serving with Smith will be Andrew Dyer, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in London, as first vice president, and Stephen Hall, of High Street Baptist Church in Somerset, who also made history by becoming the first music minister in 15 years to hold a state convention office when he was elected as second vice president.

Dyer defeated Mark Payton, pastor of Dry Ridge Baptist Church; Hall defeated Jonathan Gann, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Cox’s Creek.

Kentucky Baptists heard about the implementation of a three-pronged strategy intended to give them more influence in Frankfort on political issues that have moral and ethical implications on the state’s citizenry.

Chitwood unveiled the new strategy, telling messengers about a financial grant that is covering the cost of a lobbyist, a chaplain and a journalist, all of whom will be based in Frankfort. No Cooperative Program funds, which cover the cost of missionaries and ministries around the world, will be used in the new initiative, he said.

Former Kentucky Legislative Research Commission Deputy Director Tom Troth, a Frankfort pastor, has agreed to serve as KBC lobbyist; Steve Weaver, another Frankfort-area pastor, has assumed the role of Capitol chaplain; and former International Mission Board foreign correspondent Kristen Lowry has been hired to cover news from the Capitol.

Chitwood also announced the launch of an online news resource, Kentucky Today, to help provide Kentucky Baptists with news and perspective on the social issues of the day. Calling it “a complement to the Western Recorder” — which has served Kentucky Baptist churches for 190 years — Chitwood said Kentucky Baptists need to know what’s going on in the world around them to effectively engage that world.

“We’ll strive to ensure that all news articles in Kentucky Today will be accurate, fair and balanced,” he pledged.

In his address, Chitwood urged Kentucky Baptists to celebrate with one another in victorious times and stand fast in the faith with one another in difficult times.

“We have an army of pastors who labor in their churches, serve the sheep, love the lost, and faithfully preach the Gospel every time they stand in the pulpit,” Chitwood said. “While others are caving into the culture, going soft on marriage and pretending the atrocities of Planned Parenthood aren’t taking place, these men are standing strong in their pulpits, faithfully preaching the Word of God, shining the light of the Gospel on sin, refusing to compromise on the faith once and for all delivered to the saints and lifting up Jesus as He draws the lost to salvation.”

Journalism award

Veteran TV reporter Lawrence Smith was the recipient of the Integrity Award for Coverage of Faith Issues, an honor bestowed by the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

A longtime television reporter, Smith currently works for WDRB-TV in Louisville. He was recognized for his coverage of the religious liberty aspects of the Kim Davis story. Davis is the Rowan County clerk who refused to sign same-sex marriage licenses, believing that it violates her conscience and religious convictions.

Other action

In a bylaw change, messengers expanded on what it means to be a cooperating church by adding, “Churches that act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the convention.”

Choe Sergent, chairman of the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, said the new language adds clarity for churches desiring to be “in general agreement with any of the historic Baptist confessions of faith.”

Messengers also approved a change clarifying that Annual Church Profile reports are not a requirement for sending messengers to annual meetings.

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, will preach the convention sermon when Kentucky Baptists gather for their annual meeting in Florence next year. Ezell served as pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville for 14 years prior to becoming NAMB president. He holds a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Messengers also approved gathering in Pikeville in 2018 for the first time in convention history. The meeting will be held at the East Kentucky Expo Center.

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  • Todd Deaton