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Mercer ties cut, Shorter restored during Ga. Baptist convention

COLUMBUS, Ga. (BP)–Messengers at the Georgia Baptist Convention were greeted by fellow Baptists in more than a dozen languages. With the theme “Celebrate the Harvest,” members from some of the state’s 310 ethnic and 116 African American congregations greeted almost 1,900 messengers during the state missions report.

Messengers to the Nov. 14-15 convention at the Columbus Civic Center celebrated reports that Cooperative Program giving remained strong and approved a record $50,500,000 budget. A birthday cake was presented during the session honoring the 80th anniversary of the Cooperative Program.

Topping the news was an overwhelming vote to sever the convention’s 172-year-old ties to Mercer University over the issue of the presence of gay rights group on campus. The Mercer Triangle Symposium sponsored a three-day coming out day in mid-October which caught the attention of Georgia Baptist pastors and laity.

The issue was further aggravated by the group’s advertisement in The Cluster, the campus newspaper, in which 29 faculty and staff added their endorsement to the event. Among those showing their support were professor of Christianity Margaret Dee Bratcher and assistant professor of Christianity Janell Johnson.

On the group’s website, which has since been closed, a second student organization calling itself the Gay-Straight Alliance noted that it meets at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in Willingham Hall, Room 203. The building formerly housed the campus chapel.

The issue will be voted on a second time at next November’s meeting in Atlanta before the action becomes final.

Also during the convention, Tom Duvall, an attorney who represented Georgia Baptists from 2002-05 when Shorter College sued the convention, announced Shorter’s return as a Georgia Baptist college, which now will receive funds previously held in escrow.

“Georgia Baptists, thank yourselves and thank Dr. White for having the leadership to protect the assets of this convention,” Duvall said. Messengers responded by giving White a standing ovation.

GBC President Tony Dickerson, pastor of Pinehurst Baptist Church in Columbus, passed the gavel to newly-elected President Wayne Hamrick, an evangelist from Cartersville, who ran unopposed.

Other officers elected were: Mike Stone, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Blackshear, first vice president; Billy Duncan, Beallwood Baptist Church, Columbus, second vice president; Bob Baxter, Mt. Harmony Baptist Church, Mableton, third vice president; and Alvin Hobgood, North Metro Church, Lawrenceville, fourth vice president.

Messengers also welcomed a record 104 new churches into the convention, the first time the number has broken the 100 mark in a church year. The number was up 32 from last year.

Messengers voted to extend the Moldova mission partnership for another three years, with nationwide revivals scheduled next June.

In one of Eastern Europe’s poorest countries, pastors of the Baptist Federation of Moldova’s 600 churches and missions live on $50 to $150 a month; many must leave Moldova to find employment in Russia or Europe, leaving their churches for three to six months at a time.

Partnerships in California and New York will continue while partnerships in France and Utah-Idaho end this year. Last year more than 161,000 Georgia Baptists from 48 percent of the churches went on mission.

GBC Executive Director J. Robert White brought a report on ongoing disaster relief efforts in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. He announced that Georgia Baptists have given $4,390,156 for hurricane relief efforts. During the previous 84 days, he said, GBC volunteers have prepared and served more than 1,200,000 meals. Volunteers have also helped repair more than 2,000 homes and cared for 100,000 children.

The state convention has “adopted” Hancock County, Miss., as a partnership area to help in long-term rebuilding efforts.

Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke during the closing session Tuesday evening, recounting in his testimony growing up in a Baptist church.

“I thank a faithful bivocational pastor in Bonaire,” Perdue said. “As an 11-year-old boy [under that pastor’s leadership] I came to understand I wanted what Jesus had done for me. I’m so grateful for His grace and mercy in our lives. Whether you’re a governor or a Baptist preacher or a layperson, it’s not about where you are, but who Jesus is.”

Perdue quipped that Jesus could have been a politician, saying, “Remember those people welcoming Him with praises as He came through the city, then a few days later they were ready to crucify Him.”

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