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Two Rivers votes to affirm Sutton

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Members of Two Rivers Baptist Church voted Oct. 7 to affirm senior pastor Jerry Sutton following weeks of charges against him by a splinter group.

The vote was 1,101 votes (79 percent) in favor of Sutton and 286 opposed (21 percent) to him remaining as pastor. The vote at the Nashville, Tenn., church took place in the morning services and the results announced in the evening service.

Sutton is a former SBC first vice president who finished third in the presidential election last year. He’s also a former president of the Pastors’ Conference and the author of “The Baptist Reformation,” a history of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence.

“I want to thank you for your overwhelming support,” Sutton wrote in a letter to the congregation posted on the church’s website Oct. 8. “Quite honestly, it saddens me that it ever had to come to a vote. Having said that, I felt like the church spoke very clearly about its desire for me to remain as pastor.”

Sutton said “less than 4% of the total church membership” voted for his removal. The 2006 Annual Church Profile showed that Two Rivers had 6,829 members. About 20 percent of the total membership cast ballots.

“I want to encourage you to keep praying that the Lord will bring resolution to the present conflict,” he wrote. “All of this has been very trying on me, my family, our staff, their families, our leadership and our entire church family. Please pray that the Lord will bring all of this to a conclusion as quickly as possible.”

There remains an ongoing lawsuit filed by 54 members against Sutton and eight church leaders. The allegations focus mainly on financial and church governance issues. The lawsuit says Sutton and the eight members “misapplied, misappropriated, and mishandled the finances of Two Rivers” and they “intentionally and purposely” prevented the church from being governed according to its constitution and bylaws. The 54 members tried to get a judge to stop the Oct. 7 vote, but she refused.

Sutton told Baptist Press in August that the church undergoes an external audit each year and “always gets a clean bill of health.” He is being represented by Larry Crain, a senior counsel with the American Center for Law & Justice led by attorney Jay Sekulow of Virginia Beach, Va.

The judge ordered the church Oct. 5 to provide the plaintiffs the names and addresses of church members. Sutton said in his letter the motion was granted only “on a limited basis.”

“A listing of the members and their addresses was provided on Friday, with instruction from the court that they could only use this information in matters relating to a vote or election by church membership,” Sutton said.

Although the lawsuit by the 54 members contends that Tennessee law gives them the right “to seek judicial intervention if a corporation does not allow a member to inspect and copy” various records, Crain said in a response letter that state law “expressly recognizes a distinction between nonprofit corporations and religion nonprofit corporations.”

“The Supreme Court of the United States has long recognized the right of a church to operate free from governmental intrusion into its decisions affecting self-governance as paramount,” Crain wrote.
Compiled by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press, with reporting by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press.

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