ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (BP)–Decrying “secular political strategies” by factions within the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Dilday, past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, traveled to Missouri July 24 for the first of eight rallies in three days hosted by Mainstream Missouri Baptists.
After an hour-long presentation in which he warned Missouri Baptists of a “pattern of fundamentalism” within the current SBC leadership, Dilday turned over the platform for the announcement of Harlan E. Spurgeon, a former vice president of the SBC Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board), as Mainstream’s candidate for state convention president.
Dilday, who was dismissed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1994, was introduced by Spurgeon to the gathering of nearly 200 people at Wyatt Park Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo. Dilday’s appearance at the series of meetings was advertised in Missouri Baptist publications under the headline “Because we care about integrity in Missouri Baptist life.”
Citing a biblical reference to “giants in the land,” Spurgeon said, “Dilday is one of those giants,” commending his 16-year tenure at Southwestern “during the glory days until events overtook him.”
In addition to the St. Joseph meeting, similar sessions in Lee’s Summit, Joplin, Springfield, Rolla, Farmington, St. Louis and Jefferson City were promoted as an opportunity to hear Dilday explain “why Baptists concerned about integrity should be aware that similar things will happen in Missouri Baptist life if Fundamentalists are allowed to take over the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
Spurgeon, now of Springfield, Mo., and a former missionary to Taiwan, resigned his post as an FMB vice president in 1993 in protest of what he regarded as a political agenda pursued at the expense of missions. Explaining the role of the Missouri organization sponsoring the rallies, Spurgeon said, “Mainstream Baptists are conservative, passionate, historic Baptists who deplore the fundamentalists of the SBC and the impending takeover of the Missouri Baptist Convention unless godly people stand up.”
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship sponsored a seminar at their annual meeting in June informing CBF activists how to spearhead moderate political activity in their state conventions through “Mainstream Baptist” and “Baptists Committed” networks. Participants were told that such state-level movements could lead to partnerships with the CBF by state conventions and to the defunding of SBC agencies by their state conventions. They were counseled, however, not to identify these networks overtly with the CBF. Dilday was the featured speaker at the CBF luncheon during the Missouri convention’s 1998 annual meeting.
Bob Webb, a director of the Mainstream Missouri Baptists board and pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., took to the platform at St. Joseph in response to a participant asking for clear instructions about voting at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.
“But how are we to vote?” the man asked. “I was at Dallas and saw what happened,” he said in referring to the 1985 annual meeting at which moderates were unsuccessful in defeating conservative candidate Charles Stanley of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church.
Webb responded, “I don’t try to tell Baptists how to do anything,” though willing to share that he would vote for Spurgeon, lauding him as “someone who is true to historic Baptist principles and follows the concepts of the Baptist Faith and Message.”
At a meeting on the following morning at First Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, near Kansas City, Drew Hill of First Baptist Church, Sedalia, Mo., was identified as a Mainstream-backed candidate for first vice president.
Webb clarified the process by which churches send messengers to the state convention, noting that the vote for president will occur “at 11 a.m. on Oct. 31 on Halloween.” He urged participants to make reservations early and take advantage of the block of rooms secured by Mainstream Baptists at a resort as well as Missouri Baptist Convention’s Windemere Conference Center, a 25-minute commute.
“It’s going to be hard to get in,” cautioned Webb, who said Project 1000, a conservative effort spearheaded by Missouri conservative Roger Moran, is working to have 1,000 messengers at the annual meeting.
Webb said regional Mainstream directors will be in touch with churches for information to ask them how many messengers they are sending.
“We have goals in mind for each region,” said Webb, who admitted to organizing in order to capture votes. “This is not secular politics.” Instead, it is a presentation of “the people we believe in,” he clarified.
At the July 25 meeting in Lee’s Summit, Spurgeon estimated that the organization could secure 2,000 votes for their cause. He said Mainstream Baptists had secured assistance from a Kansas City mathematician and physicist to set projections for voting strength needed to win the state convention presidency. The individual has experience with projections for Apollo space missions to the moon, Spurgeon said.
As the Monday night meeting in St. Joseph drew to a close, an older woman asked whether churches could do more than provide information to their members, urging them to take their concerns about the MBC and SBC “to the Lord in prayer.”
She insisted, “We constantly need to come back to where we pray. We must go to the Lord. We must also get rid of this animosity that is in the hearts of people.”
Dilday commended the woman for her focus on prayer, while Spurgeon responded with an appeal to “put feet to the prayer.”
“There are people who are taking over the hearts of people,” Spurgeon insisted. He warned that Baptist colleges in the state and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Homes “will not be the same” as a result of such a takeover. “It’s important to pray, then put feet to the prayer.”
Spurgeon said he opted for the “Baptist way,” using missionary William Carey as an example to “get on their feet and go.” Defending his tactics, Spurgeon said such action was needed in order to “preserve this great Missouri Baptist Convention.”
Asking those at the meeting to contribute one, five or ten dollars, Spurgeon said Mainstream Missouri Baptists had received contributions from over 400 sources. Two recent contributions of $10,000 each assisted with the $7,000 per issue cost for Mainstream’s publication, Baptist Voice, and advertisements in the Missouri convention’s Word & Way newsjournal at $1,500. A sign-up sheet to register support for MMB causes, it was noted, also may include arrangements for a subscription to the Texas Baptists Committed newsletter.
Later, in a separate interview, Spurgeon denied reports that the Texas Baptists Committed organization has donated $250,000 to MMB’s efforts. In addition, he said there are no plans that he knows of for the Texas organization to financially assist the MMB or Missouri pastors in any way to attend the MBC annual meeting in October.
At the July 25 session in Lee’s Summit, Spurgeon challenged participants to find friends in their own churches and other parts of the state to attend the state convention meeting as messengers including “churches with fundamentalist pastors” because Baptists are “free folks.”
Speaking to a crowd dominated by senior citizens, Spurgeon likened the battle for control of the Missouri Baptist Convention to World War II.
“This is a war for our freedom as Missouri Baptists.” Spurgeon confessed his own “embarrassment” that the MMB turned to him after a three-month search for a candidate. He said he was encouraged by people who said they had known him for 50 years and wanted his name to be used in the campaign.
“I’m not proud of some of my friends out there who won’t run, who won’t put their head up to get shot,” Spurgeon said. He commended Mainstream supporters in the Kansas City area. “You are ahead of the rest of your state in the planning.”
Participants at the early morning meeting on July 25 reiterated the need to involve younger Baptists in securing state convention offices. “Look around you,” urged one woman. “We need to invest in our younger people.”
Another participant added, “Look, we are one generation away from being an empty room.”