NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Members of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., voted May 11 to not accept all the ballots cast the previous Sunday on removing 71 dissidents from church membership. Their vote reversed the outcome of that balloting and the dissident members will now be removed from the congregation’s rolls.
The church had assembled to vote May 4 after 10 months of controversy over complaints about senior pastor Jerry Sutton’s leadership. In a surprise move, Two Rivers’ deacon chairman Carlos Cobos announced that members of the dissident group would be allowed to participate in the balloting. The 663-337 vote to remove the dissidents from church membership fell four votes short of the required two-thirds majority.
On May 11, however, when a church business session was convened to formally receive results of the previous week’s balloting, a motion from the floor challenged the legality of those 71 votes. On a show of hands, church members in both morning worship services reversed the deacons’ decision allowing dissident ballots, giving the needed margin of victory to the proposal to remove the 71 dissidents from membership.
The May 11 vote to disallow dissident ballots was possible because the congregation had not yet voted to validate the May 4 results, the church’s attorney, Larry Crain, told Baptist Press.
“At the end of both services, they went into a brief business session for the purpose of reporting the vote to the congregation,” Crain explained. “The congregation, of course, is the final arbiter to accept and approve that vote.
“The motion [to disallow the dissident ballots] was made during the report; it was handled in an orderly manner, quiet, a show of hands, and by an overwhelming majority of the church the measure passed,” Crain added. “Roberts Rules of Order, as we understand it, states that the only time such a motion can be made is during that report on the vote.”
Roberts Rules of Order also states that members being disciplined are not entitled to vote. The deacons’ decision to ignore that provision apparently was what prompted the May 11 protest.
The dissident church members had been embroiled in a feud with Sutton and other church leaders since July 2007, when a church trustee was removed from membership. The group filed suit in September 2008, seeking access to detailed financial records.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.