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Midwestern’s interim assures balance in course on state Baptist conve

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–A new one-day course on state Baptist conventions’ history and governance will have representatives of both conservative and moderate viewpoints when it is held Oct. 11 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Michael Whitehead, the seminary’s interim president, in a statement to Baptist Press Oct. 7.
“We have no agenda in this class but to educate ministers about the Baptist way of doing business, and to encourage them to be active in their local associations and state conventions,” Whitehead said.
The course became a point of controversy when Jim Hill, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, withdrew as a speaker, and Hill’s concerns were reported by the state Baptist newspaper, Word & Way, in its Oct. 7 edition.
Hill, according to Word & Way, learned that Roger Moran, research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, also was scheduled as a speaker for the course. Moran is the leader of a “Project 1000” campaign which was successful in electing conservatives as convention officers during last fall’s MBC annual meeting. A second Project 1000 effort is under way for this year’s Oct. 25-27 annual meeting.
Hill learned of Moran’s place on the program when he saw a Sept. 23 letter Midwestern had distributed about the course, titled, “State Baptist Conventions: History and Polity.” Also scheduled to speak is Jay Scribner, the MBC’s current first vice president and a likely conservative nominee for MBC president this year.
“When I received a copy of the memo, it appeared to me that the course at least had the appearance of having a political agenda,” Hill told the Word & Way, “because one [presidential] candidate was being asked to speak and the head of a political organization that was seeking to get him elected was being asked to speak.”
Hill continued, “The reason I didn’t think it was appropriate is that I serve all Missouri Baptists, and I’ve tried to stay out of the political activity in the convention.”
Whitehead, in his statement to Baptist Press, noted that a local pastor and former MBC president, John Hughes, had been invited to speak for Mainstream Missouri Baptists, a moderate group opposing the Project 1000 effort. Hughes had a conflict, Whitehead said, so now, the coordinator of Mainstream Missouri Baptists, Rob Marus, and an involved pastor will speak for the group. According to the Word & Way article, neither Mainstream Missouri Baptists’ president, Doyle Sager, nor Marus had been invited to participate as of Oct. 4.
Whitehead said Midwestern students “should have the opportunity” to hear from the Mainstream Missouri Baptists’ perspective — and from Moran, “an active layman who gives through his local church to help pay the bills at [the] MBC. He is a trustee on the SBC Executive Committee.”
Whitehead continued, “We must respectfully disagree with those who would deny a platform to either Rob Marus or Roger Moran. As Jim Hill desires to be inclusive, we also want to be a seminary where all members of our Missouri Baptist family are welcome.”
Scribner was invited to address the course as an MBC officer, Whitehead said, and will be filling in for MBC President Gary Taylor due to illness. “We disagree that [Scribner’s] current office or any future office he may seek should somehow disqualify him from appearing in our class,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead said he hopes Hill “will reconsider” his decision not to address the course and that he will “give our students the opportunity to hear him explain the New Directions strategic plan” encompassing various recommendations in evangelism, missions mobilization, stewardship, church planting and other areas to be presented to the convention’s messengers. Among the New Directions’ key concerns are an estimated 39 percent of Missouri churches which are declining in membership.
Hill, in the Word & Way article, stated he is open to sharing information about the New Directions initiatives with seminary students and others.
Whitehead said, “Even if Jim Hill will not come now, I intend to invite him to a future chapel service to preach to our students and faculty. We really do love Missouri Baptists and pray for our executive director and his leadership.”
Whitehead was named Midwestern’s interim vice president when trustees terminated Mark Coppenger as president in September.
The one-credit-hour course, which is being offered at no charge, has drawn 62 registrants to date. Course requirements include attendance at the presentations, panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions slated Oct. 11 at Midwestern’s campus in Kansas City, Mo., along with two written papers and attendance at an annual meeting of a state Baptist convention.