FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) — Lee Porter, who served as registration secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention from 1977-2002, died May 17 in Franklin, Tenn. He was 83.
The SBC’s current registration secretary, Jim Wells of Missouri, said in a statement to Baptist Press:
“I have been attending the Southern Baptist Convention since 1976 and I had the privilege of serving under Dr. Porter’s leadership both as a member of the Tellers and Credentials committees,” wrote Wells, director of missions for the Tri County Baptist Association who replaced Porter in balloting at the 2002 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
“Dr. Porter served with distinction, integrity and efficiency during his 26 years as Registration Secretary of the Convention,” Wells wrote. “I cannot imagine how he registered such large numbers of messengers in some conventions without computers or the technology we have today. My love and prayer support go out to his dear wife Pat and his entire family.”
Indeed, Porter was registration secretary for the two most-attended annual meetings in SBC history — 45,519 messengers at the 1985 meeting in Dallas and 40,987 messengers at the 1986 meeting in Atlanta.
Porter also was the SBC’s first vice president, elected in 1969, and second vice president, elected the year before.
A native of Mexico, Mo., Porter engaged in numerous other dimensions of Baptist life following his ordination to the ministry in 1948 at First Baptist Church in Wellsville, Mo.
He had been a pastor of churches in Missouri, Texas (leading several 400-mile Vacation Bible School mission trips to the Rio Grande Valley), Arizona and Louisiana before joining the staff of the SBC’s former Christian Life Commission (now Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) in 1972. He was a curriculum editor for the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) from 1978 until 1991.
Porter resigned his post when BSSB officials stipulated in 1991 that he choose between his work for the board or as SBC registration secretary, following comments he had made to a student group at the 1990 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans that were critical of SBC conservatives.
Porter issued a statement expressing regret that his comments had involved him in denominational politics.
“I felt the Lord’s leadership in allowing myself to be nominated for the first time in 1977,” Porter also wrote, in part, in the November 1990 statement. “While many hours of work have been involved, I have enjoyed serving Southern Baptists during these 14 years. In registration, in credentials, and in every balloting process, I have determined to serve with honesty and integrity. I can say with a great deal of confidence that the criteria for every balloting, credentials, and registration decision have been the Southern Baptist Convention constitution and bylaws and the principle of treating every individual fairly. When a church or pastor sought to express a problem in political terms, I sought to deal with people on both sides of the political issue with integrity and fairness.
“I love Southern Baptists. I love our denomination,” Porter wrote.
Porter was re-elected as registration secretary the following year at the SBC annual meeting in Atlanta. He became assistant pastor of a church in Florida from 1995-97 before retirement.
Porter held a divinity degree in Christian ethics from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Earlier, he had earned a bachelor’s degree from William Jewell College in Missouri and an associate’s degree from Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University), also in Missouri.
At age 4, Porter contracted a rare bone disease and was in a cast up to his chest for three years. At age 10, he was converted during a revival service in his home church. “The next night, he was instrumental in leading the son of the pastor to Christ,” according to a 1969 account in a Baptist periodical. “The following night, he led his brother, four years his senior, to be a Christian. Four years later, now fourteen, he became the Training Union director of his church. At fifteen he was elected as Training Union director of the association. At seventeen, at Ridgecrest [N.C.] summer assembly, he made known his decision to become a preacher.”
Porter is survived by his wife of 56 years, Pat; two sons, Lee (Drew) Porter II and Lane Porter; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Memorial services were held May 21 at West Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn. Memorials may be made to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research, a program of the American Health Assistance Foundation.
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.