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S.C. convention elects first African American president

MOORE, S.C. (BP) — The 759 registered messengers to the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s 199th Annual Meeting made history Nov. 12 by electing a Simpsonville pastor as the first African American to serve as president.

Meeting at the Church at the Mill in Moore, under the theme “Engage,” South Carolina Baptists were challenged by keynote speakers — Brentwood, Tenn., pastor Mike Glenn; Chattanooga, Tenn., pastor Micah Fries; Jacksonville, Fla., pastor H.B. Charles Jr.; and Edgar Aponte of Lutz, Fla., — to actively engage the culture, the lost, the nations and the future.

Messengers formalized a missions partnership with East Asia, elected officers, approved an “Advance Plan” operating budget, adopted resolutions, and heard about ongoing work of the convention’s ministry partners, which include three colleges, two senior care facilities, a children’s home, a foundation, and the state Baptist magazine. They also heard reports from South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union leaders, SCBC Executive Board ministries, and a Racial Reconciliation Task Force.


Josh Powell, pastor of Lake Murray Baptist Church in Lexington, will lead the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2020. Powell has served the past 12 months as president-elect. He officially assumed the office of president at the conclusion of this year’s meeting.

In this year’s balloting, Alex Sands, pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Simpsonville, was elected by acclamation as president-elect. The president-elect automatically becomes president following a year of service.

Following Sands’ election, current SCBC President Bryant Sims said, “After slavery ended, virtually every African American left the balconies of our churches to form their own churches and conventions. Our track record on the race issue over the next 100 or so years was not great, to say the least, but today … today, we’ve elected my brother, Alex Sands, and I could not be more thrilled.

“Folks, I don’t want it to be lost on us today, that on our 200th anniversary — the oldest state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention — our first African American will preside as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention,” Sims said.

Sands was nominated as president-elect by Charleston First Baptist pastor Marshall Blalock, a past president of the state convention. Sands has been serving as first vice president. His church, which was planted in 2003, joined the SCBC in 2005. He has served on the SCBC Executive Board and was vice chairman of the executive-director search committee.

“Everyone who knows him, knows him to be a man who’s faithful to his Savior and lives that faith every day,” Blalock said of Sands. “He’s also the kind of leader I know who will serve well in this office because he’ll represent us with distinction and wisdom,” Blalock added. “He shares the passion of our state convention to see every life saturated and transformed by the hope of the gospel.”

Other officers, all elected without opposition, include:

— First vice president Brad Vassey, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in York, nominated by Beau Bradberry, pastor of Willow Ridge Church, West Columbia.

— Second vice president Seth Buckle, student minister at Spartanburg First Baptist Church, nominated by David Wike, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence.

— Recording secretary Kathy Hall, member of Camden First Baptist Church, nominated by Francis Miller, member of Hulon Baptist Church in Batesburg.

— Registration secretary David Dinkins, pastor of Cedar Creek Baptist Church, Bishopville, nominated by outgoing registration secretary Larry Zaky, pastor of Hemingway First Baptist Church.


Messengers approved a Cooperative Program operating budget of $28 million, unchanged from last year. The budget commits 41 percent of receipts, or $11,480,000 to the Southern Baptist Convention and an additional 4.5 percent, or $1,260,000, to the International Mission Board. When combined with the IMB’s allocation from the SBC Cooperative Program portion, South Carolina Baptists are projected to send $7 million for international missions efforts.

The percentages allocations to the SCBC’s seven ministry partners remain unchanged.

New Missions Partnership

SEND Team Leader Ken Owens challenged messengers to be engaged in sharing the Gospel in East Asia. SCBC executive director-treasurer Gary Hollingsworth ceremonially signed a five-year partnership agreement with International Mission Board personnel, committing convention resources, prayer and volunteers to the effort.

Race Relations

A Racial Reconciliation Task Force was appointed at last year’s annual meeting. Chairman Josh Powell reminded messengers of the committee’s purpose of enhancing SCBC efforts involving partnership with the state’s African American Baptist congregations and of the state convention’s goal to saturate every life in the state with the gospel. 

In seeking to eradicate barriers to reaching the state’s growing minority populations, the committee offered three opportunities aimed at making the state convention more welcoming to all races and ethnicities — strengthening and investing in Baptist Campus Ministries on university campuses; developing tactical approaches in church planting to strategically reach areas with growing minority populations; and creating a pastoral care network to provide training, support and fellowship for minority church leaders.


Messengers approved resolutions addressing such social issues as the state’s fetal heartbeat bill, human trafficking, and the Equality Act before Congress. Among the adopted resolutions:

Encouraging School Engagement

Noting that about 225 churches of the state convention’s 2,125 churches have adopted schools, messengers encouraged more congregations to intentionally engage students through faith-based ministries such as Heart 4 Schools.

Developmental Disabilities

Seeing people with developmental disabilities and their families as functionally an unreached people group, messengers called for eliminating any behavior that harms or marginalizes them. The resolution urged every church to engage, include, and minister to people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Fetal Heartbeat Bill

South Carolina Baptists called upon members of the state General Assembly to pass the Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act. House Bill 3020 protects “the most innocent of us all” by protecting the unique beating heart of an infant in its mother’s womb, the resolution stated.

Human Trafficking

All South Carolina Baptists were encouraged to seek to eradicate human trafficking through education and awareness. Noting that South Carolina ranked 12th in the nation in 2018 in trafficking cases per capita, the resolution urged Christians to open their homes and hearts to provide sanctuary for at-risk people to protect them from predators. It also encouraged supporting agencies and ministries which help rescue and rehabilitate victims.

The Equality Act

Stating that The Equality Act “falsely equates sexual conduct with immutable and unchanging attributes like skin color, race, and national origin and openly contradicts biblical mandates,” messengers expressed opposition to the legislation before the U.S. Senate. The Equality Act would effectively destroy religious freedom protections currently enjoyed by houses of worship and force faith-based adoption providers to choose between continuing their life-affirming work or violating tenets of their faith, the resolution stated. 

Bylaw Changes

First reading of motions for adoption at the 2020 annual meeting included an increase in percentage of ordained ministers to laypersons from 60 to no more than 80 percent of either group serving on the Executive Board, and clarification of language related to various convention staff positions. 

Messengers also authorized formation of a study committee to examine the state convention’s structure.

Sale of White Oak

Scott Lee, SCBC chief administrative officer, updated messengers on the potential sale of the White Oak Conference Center. Lee reported that the Executive Board has accepted an offer on the 640-plus acres of undeveloped land for approximately $1.22 million. The conference center’s buildings, however, are not part of the deal, and the facility remains open for business.

Award Presentations

The Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee recognized Walter Belton and Matt Nestbert, co-chairs of the Spartanburg Network Race Roundtable Group, who both received the 2019 E.A. McDowell Award. Other award recipients included San Souci Church in Greenville, 2019 Impact Your World Award; and Sen. Katrina Shealy, Public Servant Award.

SCBC president Bryant Sims presented four Barnabas Awards recognizing ministers who had made substantial contributions in encouraging and equipping the next generations. Award recipients were Don Brock, pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Columbia; David Gallamore, pastor of Rock Springs Baptist Church in Easley; Don Wilton, pastor of Spartanburg First Baptist Church; and Bill Cox, founder of the Seesalt and Chilipepper student conferences and Concoxions Ministries.

    About the Author

  • Todd Deaton