ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Messengers to the Louisiana Baptist Convention welcomed a new executive director and re-elected the current convention president to a second term during their Nov. 15-16 annual meeting in Alexandria.
The convention’s 1,669 registered messengers — 434 more than last year — also approved a standstill Cooperative Program budget of $22 million for 2005, although it does feature some changes from last year.
For one thing, the amount forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention increases from 35.25 percent of receipts to 35.5 percent. The increase was approved despite a motion that the amount be kept in Louisiana to assist in a time of leadership transition. Messengers easily defeated the motion.
In addition, the Baptist Message newspaper and Louisiana College will receive increased funding in 2005. State missions services will drop somewhat and the line item for the Baptist Retirement Center, which has been sold, will be eliminated.
Messengers also met their next executive director. David Hankins, who will assume the post in February, issued a call for all Louisiana Baptists to come to the aid of their denomination.
“I honor every work and every worker who has served Louisiana Baptists’ storied history to the glory of God,” said Hankins, who currently serves as executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
“But … I’m ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Hats off to the past. Coats off to the future…. Now is the time — now.”
Hankins is no stranger to Louisiana, having served as pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles from 1985-95. Since that time, he has served as an executive with the Executive Committee — first as vice president for convention policy, then as vice president for Cooperative Program and most recently as executive vice president. He was elected as the new state convention leader on a unanimous vote by the convention’s executive board in October. He will arrive in Louisiana at the beginning of 2005 and assume full duties when current executive director, Dean Doster, retires at the end of January.
Messengers re-elected current LBC President Philip Robertson to a second term despite a challenge from a fellow pastor in the state. It is believed to be only the third time in state convention history that a sitting president was challenged in his bid for a second one-year term. Traditionally, those terms have been granted without opposition from any other nominees. But three times in the past eight years, challengers have arisen to oppose the sitting president for a second term.
This year, Gil Arthur of Leesville challenged Robertson for the convention post. Robertson received 54.5 percent (787 voters) to Arthur’s 45.5 percent (656 votes).
Robert Spicer, pastor of Cheniere Baptist Church in West Monroe, was elected first vice president over a challenge from Jared Funderburk, pastor of Peniel Baptist Church in Glenmora. Mitch Harris, pastor of Goodwood Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, was elected second vice president by acclamation.
Convention messengers also vented their feelings about the decision to return control of local directors of missions to associations.
The matter dates back two years. For years, the state convention was responsible for employing and funding local directors of missions. At the same time, some chafed under the arrangement, insisting all authority should be given to the local associations. The matter was studied in 2002. At that year’s convention, messengers approved a plan by which the state would continue to fund directors of missions while associations would assume administrative responsibility.
But instead of holding the number of directors of missions at 19, some areas wanted to add other workers. Determining that the state convention could not fund the added workers, Doster convened a meeting of state leaders in the early fall of 2003. A decision was made to end all funding of directors in 2005. However, the matter was not brought to the 2003 annual meeting. Instead, Doster issued a memo in January 2004 announcing the plan. He then asked the LBC executive board to endorse the move, which it did. That apparently was not received well by some Louisiana Baptists, who said the action superseded the wishes of the 2002 convention and that the problem should have been presented to messengers at the 2003 annual meeting. During the convention, those sentiments boiled over as the executive board presented a resolution that asked messengers to affirm the decision of Doster and the board.
In doing so, convention leaders sought to assure messengers there was no intent to negate their 2002 wishes, but that fell short with some messengers. Ray Boswell of Shreveport said it was too late to change the situation. “[But] I just want to make a plea on behalf of Baptist polity,” he said. “Anytime the Louisiana Baptist Convention acts on any matter, it ought not to be amended or rescinded except by the [convention].”
Messengers defeated the resolution, 51.2 percent (735 votes) to 48.8 percent (701 votes).
Later, Doster spoke to messengers regarding the matter.
“I’m just who I’ve always been….” he said. “I want to be a bridge builder. … I’ve never wanted to have any disharmony. … But sometimes being in a leadership role and an administrative role, it’s difficult to always come out where you want to. So, please know my heart. …
“Let me say to you I accept my chastisement,” Doster said. “Is that OK? I accept it. We all need that sometimes. I know there are those who say the process wasn’t followed, and to this day, I get the pros and cons. I just did what I thought was right … trying to do my job.
“… And so, if you would please, just always give me that benefit of the doubt, even though I may not always land where you wanted it to, OK? Can you do that?” Doster asked to the applause of convention messengers.
Doster continued, insisting he had no intention of thwarting the wishes of the convention.
“We were trying to do the right thing in bringing you this resolution so you would affirm us,” he said. “We just wanted to do the right thing and say, well, let’s all get on board. But you’ve chosen to say, no, we don’t think the process was good, so, we want you to know it. So, I know it. But … I’d just like for us to move on.”
Bill Ascol of Shreveport offered a motion stating, “Resolved that while the messengers to this convention have expressed disapproval with the methods used in the handling of the director of missions changes, we join together now to confirm the action of the Executive Board regarding this transition in the hope that we can lay this matter aside and move forward together.”
Messengers passed Ascol’s motion on a show of hands by approximately a 2-1 margin.
In other action, messengers accepted seven resolutions, although they could not adopt them because a quorum was not present. The resolutions were presented in the convention’s closing session. One opposed embryonic stem cell research while supporting adult stem cell research; another supported a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A third resolution expressed appreciation to Doster, who became executive direction in 1997.
The 2005 annual meeting will be held Nov. 14-15 at First Baptist Church of West Monroe.
Adapted from reporting by Lacy Thompson of the Baptist Message.