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Louisiana Baptists elect conservative officers; adopt record CP budget

MONROE, La. (BP)–Nominees endorsed by the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship swept officer elections at the Louisiana Baptist Convention Nov. 15-16.
In an annual meeting marked both by contentious debates and pleas for unity, Louisiana Baptists also:
— Declined to act on a proposal from state convention Executive Director Dean Doster to take appointive powers from the convention president.
— Approved an encompassing resolution affirming the Baptist Faith and Message statement on Scripture and declaring the Bible as the “inspired, infallible, inerrant and sufficient Word of God.”
— Charted the future for the convention by adopting a five-year strategic plan and a record Cooperative Program budget.
In a vote between two pastors presented as agents for peace, messengers elected Tommy French as president. French is pastor at Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
The presidential vote was the first in three years. In 1997 and 1998, Louisiana Baptists had agreed on a consensus nominee in an effort to facilitate reconciliation within the state convention.
This year, no such nominee emerged.
Instead, the annual meeting convened Nov. 15 in Monroe with a pair of announced nominees. Both had the endorsements of groups on opposite sides of the lingering convention controversy. French was endorsed by the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship, while John Alley of Alexandria had the endorsement of the Friends for Louisiana College group.
French and Alley both were presented as nominees who could help Louisiana Baptists unite for the cause of Christ.
Messengers opted for French in a close vote, which has been a tradition in Louisiana. The final tally was 905 (51.6 percent) to 848 (48.4 percent).
The other two elections also featured a pair of nominees each — but the votes were not as close as in the presidential vote.
Jimmy Yocum was elected first vice president on a vote of 714 (53.7 percent) to 615 (46.3 percent). Yocum is pastor at West Side Baptist Church in Bastrop.
Charles Harper of Baton Rouge was elected second vice president on a vote of 570 (62.2 percent) to 346 (37.8 percent). Harper is a member at Goodwood Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
The annual meeting opened in dramatic fashion as Doster challenged Louisiana Baptists to move beyond partisan politics and choose the path of unity and peace.
In a forthright address, Doster decried efforts by persons on both extremes of the lingering convention controversy, saying their actions continue to divide the denomination in a time when a move to peace has begun and when the challenge of reaching the state for Christ looms large.
Doster proposed depoliticizing the convention president by taking appointive powers away from the office. Currently, the state convention president is responsible for appointing three members a year to the nine-member Committee on Committees. That committee then is responsible for nominating persons to serve on the Committee on Nominations, which then nominates persons to serve on convention and agency boards.
As on the Southern Baptist Convention level, a president can influence the direction of a convention by appointing persons who will nominate like-minded committee members and trustees at every turn.
However, Doster said he has observed that more and more Louisiana Baptists “have expressed a desire to get over the political fighting and intensify our efforts to win the lost to Jesus Christ.”
Doster suggested there are four groups within the state — moderates, conservatives, fundamentalists and liberals.
Moderates and conservatives make up the vast middle of the convention, representing about 95 percent of Louisiana Baptists, Doster suggested. “These two groups have blurred the line of division and are gradually uniting for the sake of the gospel,” he said to applause. “They want to rebuild trust.”
The other two groups are small but extremely vocal, militant and active in the state, Doster maintained. Their agendas are dividing the convention and hindering cooperation, he said.
One small group of leaders on one extreme uses loyalty to Louisiana College (the Louisiana Baptist school in Pineville) as a rallying cry for their cause, Doster explained. “If you don’t vote for their candidate, then you don’t support Louisiana College. Listen, we all know that is not true.
“Another small group of leaders on the other extreme uses loyalty to the authority of the Bible as a rallying cry for their cause,” Doster continued. “If you don’t vote for their candidate, you don’t believe the Bible. We all know that’s not true.”
“If these accusations by either of these groups were ever warranted, they are not now,” Doster challenged. “What we did in the past is past and done.”
While affirming the right of the groups to act and publish newsletters and such, Doster also suggested their efforts — intended or not — were unwise, divisive and hurt cooperative efforts. “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘The tail is wagging the dog?'” Doster asked. “Folks, I believe we have a handful of people on both the extreme sides of our convention who want to continue to battle over something that is unnecessary.
“They have become the tail that is wagging this big dog. And I suggest that this has gone on too long and respectfully request we, as a convention, attempt to facilitate a better way.”
Doster offered two ideas to help eliminate annual fighting and promote harmony:
— He requested that a motion be made to empower convention messengers to elect Committee on Committee members each year instead of having them appointed by the state president.
— He also requested the convention to go on record respectfully requesting that Friends of Louisiana College and the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship call a moratorium and cease publication of their newsletters.
Doster’s address was met with standing applause from about half of the convention messengers present. However, discussions of the address during the convention also made it clear some took offense at the characterizations of the executive director.
In addition, only one motion was offered regarding Doster’s proposals — and it failed. Messengers rejected a motion to have the state Executive Board study the idea on selection of Committee on Committees members on a standing vote.
In other business, messengers also rejected a move to add an affirmation of the Bible to their convention bylaws. However, they then gave easy approval to an encompassing resolution on the Bible, marking the first time Louisiana Baptists have gone on record affirming the “inerrancy” of the Bible.
Final approval of the resolution came only after considerable debate of both the bylaw and resolution issue. Discussion was pointed at times — and messengers reacted to comments with obvious pleasure and displeasure. Final adoption of the resolution was greeted with applause and shouts of approval from many messengers.
Just minutes before considering the resolution, messengers fell just shy of amending their bylaws to read: “We, as Louisiana Baptists, believe the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God and is truth without any mixture of error in every area of which it speaks.”
Perry Sanders of Lafayette spoke against the proposal. “Some Louisiana Baptists resent very much being told that they have to use certain words about the Bible to be considered orthodox — and I’m one of those,” Sanders noted. “I believe the Book — all of it. … (But) We’re not creedal — never have been. The Baptist Faith and Message is not creedal. Our bylaws are not creedal. We simply need to say we believe the Bible — period. … The Bible is authentic. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Michael Barnett of Eros countered the proposed amendment was not about a creed but about faith. “This bylaw change will validate our message of the gospel,” Barnett insisted. “The Bible reveals the gospel. And if we … say the Bible is not error-free, how can we tell the world that we preach an error-free gospel. … Let us send a message that we are really a people of the Book.”
The final vote was 654 (61.5 percent) for the bylaw amendment and 409 (38.5 percent) against it, just 54 votes shy of the needed two-thirds margin.
Messengers quickly returned to the issue of the Bible with the report of their Resolutions Committee. Messengers were presented with two proposed resolutions on the Bible — adopted at separate meetings of the state Resolutions Committee. One affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible, while the other did not use the term.
Leaders proposed that messengers be allowed to choose which version they wished to approve. However, a messenger proposed combining the two statements into one resolution.
Jerry Chaddick insisted the combined proposal offered Louisiana Baptists a wonderful opportunity to adopt a statement affirming the infallible, inerrant Bible. “We can rely on (The Bible). … The axehead (in II Kings 6:1-7) did float. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are literal. … Let’s stand today. …One hundred years from now, when people look back on this convention, I want them to know we were a people who would not compromise of the inerrancy of the Word.”
Messengers easily defeated a move to remove the term “inerrant” from the resolution, then approved the combined resolution on a show-of-ballots vote greeted with applause and shouts of approval.
The inerrancy portion of the resolution declares the Bible is “the inspired, infallible, inerrant and sufficient Word of God and is truth without mixture of error in every area of which it speaks.”
It also affirms “the historical Baptist position that the Bible is our only authority for our faith and practice.”
The second portion of the approved resolution reaffirms commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message statement on the Bible.
Messengers also approved resolutions encouraging Christian students and teachers in public schools, encouraging bivocational and full-time pastors and opposing legalized gambling and increases in Internet pornography and television violence.
In addition, messengers took a pair of actions charting the future of the denomination.
In one, messengers approved a record Cooperative Program budget for the upcoming year. The budget goal of $21.5 million for the year 2000 represents the highest mark ever approved by messengers and stands as the fourth consecutive budget increase.
The goal reflects an increase of $1 million (4.9 percent) from the current budget. It continues the practice of forwarding 35 percent of state Cooperative Program receipts to the national convention to support worldwide ministry and evangelism efforts.
The budget was approved without discussion or opposition — as was the strategy plan for the first five years of the new decade.
The approved “Changing Lives in Changing Times” emphasizes the state convention exists “to assist churches to fulfill the Great Commandment (of love) and the Great Commission (to share the gospel with all persons in the world).”
In addition to Bible studies and annual reports, messengers also heard an emotional call for spiritual awakening. In a convention sermon delivered just after the presidential vote was announced, John Alley emphasized the need for spiritual awakening and challenged Louisiana Baptists to focus on that end.
“We need God,” he stressed. “Sometimes we think we need more churches or bigger churches. (But) We do not need more preachers or more sermons. We do not need more ministries or songs or charities. In this country, now, we need a soul-shaking, heart-wrenching, life-changing, Holy Spirit-guided spiritual awakening.
“I am tired of not being able to say, ‘Rise up and walk.’ (Acts 3:6) I am tired of seeing evil take my young people and drag them into drugs where I cannot reach. In my time, I want to see the power of God bring back the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Alley called on Louisiana Baptists to listen anew to the formula set forth in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“You know it by heart — and that’s a part of the problem. You have taught it, and you have preached it, and you have memorized it. But today, I’m asking you to join me in doing the work. If you will, hear it with your spiritual ears as if for the first time.
“‘If my people, who are called by my name, will just humble themselves and if they will pray and if they seek my face and if they will turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven. I will forgive their sins, and I will heal their land.'”
Next year’s annual meeting is set for Nov. 13-14 in the Central Louisiana area.

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  • Lacey Thompson