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Shared leadership fails in N.C.; Baptists to cut Wake Forest ties

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–A proposal to share leadership between conservatives and moderates failed to receive a needed two-thirds majority during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Nov. 15-16 annual meeting.
Messengers also voted to start a process for severing constitutional ties to Wake Forest University, which came under fire during the 1998 convention for selling alcohol at a deli on campus and this year did not prohibit Wake Forest Baptist Church from holding a marriage-like same-sex union in Wait Chapel on the university’s Winston-Salem campus.
Meanwhile, messengers elected a conservative president and moderate first vice president, with the two pledging to work together to foster continuing cooperation among N.C. Baptists of differing persuasions. Mike Cummings of Lumberton, director of missions for Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, was elected president, after first assuming the post in April after the former president, Mac Brunson, left North Carolina to become pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.
David Crocker, moderate pastor of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, was elected as first vice president. Crocker, who was elected second vice president in 1997 and 1998, had become first vice president when Cummings filled the presidential vacancy.
In a contested vote for second vice president, Teresa Brown of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, defeated Rick Jordan, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Taylorsville. Brown was elected with 53.72 percent of the vote. Jordan received 46.28 percent of the votes cast. Brown was nominated by Charles Page of First Baptist Church, Charlotte, who noted that she “didn’t have a political bone in her body,” Brown, whose husband Joe B. Brown is pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, is regarded as a conservative.
In the vote on the shared leadership plan, BSC officials said 2,042 messengers, or about 55 percent, cast ballots for the proposal — about 12 percent short of the required two-thirds needed since it would have changed the convention’s constitution.
The proposal narrowly escaped defeat earlier when an amendment that would have postponed indefinitely a vote on the plan failed by 61 of more than 4,000 votes cast.
The shared leadership amendment called for messengers to elect a president, president-elect and two vice presidents for the state convention one year and the next year elect the same four officers for the convention’s general board.
While the individual receiving the most votes in the presidential election would have been elected president under the proposed plan, the one with the second most votes would have been designated as president-elect. The president-elect would automatically become president the next year while the current president would serve as past-president, effectively allowing all the officers to serve two years. In a separate election, the vice presidential candidate receiving the most votes would become first vice president, and the candidate coming in second would become second vice president, both serving a two-year period.
After the vote, convention officials said they hoped the loss would not mean the end of cooperation between conservatives and moderates.
BSC President Mike Cummings, who was elected without opposition, said the vote does not end his commitment to fairness and cooperation. “The vote on the proposal does not discourage me and does not dishearten me,” he said. “Rather it tells me we’ve understood that something good is going on.”
Larry Harper, president of the BSC general board, noted that a majority of those voting favored the plan. “Further, the assumption cannot be made that all those who voted against the plan are against fairness, balance and cooperation,” he said.
The vote should not be seen as a “collapse of cooperation” among N.C. Baptists, Harper said. “Therefore, my commitment is to continue to work even more intently with Mike Cummings, the other convention officers and anyone else who desires to depoliticize our convention, balance leadership and do what will optimize our Christian witness and work in North Carolina.”
Greg Mathis and David Crocker, who co-chaired the Commission on Cooperation which developed the plan, talked to reporters shortly after the results were announced.
“The vote results are in, but the total outcome may not be known for several years,” Crocker said. “This may be a major step among many steps that get us where we want to be.”
Crocker and Mathis said they have no plans to bring a similar proposal to the BSC in the future.
Earlier, Cummings talked about the plan in his remarks to the convention the morning of Nov. 16. A key to inspiring hope in the state, he said, is for Tar Heel Baptists to heal their brokenness and stand together as a convention.
“We’re exhausting ourselves in a family dispute that doesn’t need to turn into a dog fight,” Cummings said.
Giving and baptisms have increased in North Carolina since the shared leadership discussions started several years ago, he noted “This door, this window is only here for a brief moment,” he said. “Let’s do it for the glory of God.”
The proposal had caused divisions in both conservative and moderate camps.
Some prominent conservatives, including Mark Corts, backed the plan. Other well-known conservatives, including Coy Privette, opposed it.
Some highly identifiable moderates, including David Hughes, endorsed the plan. Other prominent moderates, including Biblical Recorder Editor Emeritus Marse Grant, fought against it.
“We had people who had probably hadn’t voted together for years working together against this,” Mathis said after the vote.
Some conservatives said that the existing system of electing officers didn’t need to be fixed because it wasn’t broken. Conservatives have controlled BSC officers the last four years. Other conservatives said the plan didn’t require theological compromise and benefited both sides.
Some moderates said conservatives can’t be trusted and would never share leadership. Others said the plan was the state’s best hope for peace. They said the BSC’s efforts at evangelism and missions outweighed the controversy between the two groups.
The plan would have taken effect next year.
Messengers, in starting the process of severing constitutional ties to Wake Forest University, voted by a margin of about 10-1 to authorize the executive committee of the BSC general board to dissolve the convention’s fraternal relationship with WFU without impacting the BSC’s support for Baptist Hospital, the Center for Congregational Health and the Poteat Scholarships. WFU has agreed to continue to support the BSC’s historical archives which are on its campus.
The move will require an amendment to the BSC constitution. The amendment will be brought to the BSC meeting in November 2000.
Messengers to the 1998 BSC meeting overwhelming voted to strongly encourage N.C. Baptist colleges and universities to ban the sale of alcohol on their campuses without naming WFU.
This year, some N.C. Baptists called for the end of relations with WFU when the school said it would not keep Wake Forest Baptist Church from holding a same-sex union in Wait Chapel on the WFU campus.
Two speakers spoke in favor of severing the fraternal relationship. One of those was Ray Davis, pastor of Green Meadows Baptist Church in Mocksville, who said a month ago he would make a motion to sever ties. Davis had made a recommendation last year to cut the ties. Two years ago, he said, the BSC offered an olive branch to Wake Forest in hopes the university would stop the sale of alcohol. A similar olive branch was offered last year and Wake Forest failed to respond, he said.
“No one takes any pleasure in an action like this,” Davis said. “But there comes a time when you have to draw the line.”
WFU is a great university, Davis said; the trouble is the school is not dealing with the alcohol and same-sex union scripturally.
“We must send a clear message to the world there are still some absolutes and we are hearers and believers of the Word.”
Joining him in support of the recommendation was Alton B. Watkins, pastor of First Baptist Church of Kure Beach. If this generation doesn’t grapple with such issues, he said, the next generation will not stand a chance.
Speaking in opposition to the recommendation was Wayne Martin of Weldon (N.C.) Baptist Church.
“I think what we have here is more of a family spat,” Martin said, describing WFU like a child being punished. “Do we disown the child? Do we disinherit the child? Whether we like it or not, Wake Forest is North Carolina Baptists’ baby. Whether Wake Forest likes it or not, North Carolina Baptists are Wake Forest’s mother.”
The BSC couldn’t actually sever the fraternal relationship at this year’s meeting because Wake Forest is included in the constitution. Any proposed constitution change must be published twice in the Biblical Recorder prior to the convention.
The general board’s executive committee will write the amendment during the coming year.
Larry Harper, president of the general board, said the executive committee made the recommendation in grief.
“Personally, I think it’s a sad day when we have to come and take these kinds of actions,” Harper said. “We pray God will be redemptive in all matters.”
Later, messengers overwhelmingly adopted a resolution asking WFU to withdraw its permission for the church to hold the same-sex ceremony. The resolution states the permission “violates not only the spirit but also the letter” of WFU’s fraternal relationship with the BSC. The resolution states that messengers express their “strongest opposition to and disapprobation of the action of the administration of the university.”

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