By Bill Webb
The immediate former president of the Missouri Baptist Convention and the convention preacher for the recent annual meeting of the organization in Cape Girardeau named names in another battle for MBC control. The names are Roger Moran and David Clippard.
Moran, of course, is the research director and co-founder of the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association and the architect of that group's most significant effort, Project 1000. That was the successful plan to gain control of the MBC. Clippard is MBC's executive director, the first since self-described conservatives took control.
Neither the dispute nor the identity of the principals in it has exactly been secret, but the floor of the annual meeting was the first platform for a public acknowledgement. Many of the rank-and-file among Missouri Baptists — the folks in the pews — will find this flare up more than a little confusing because it is occurring within Project 1000 ranks.
Moran, Clippard and those lining up behind each of them virtually all describe themselves as biblical conservatives who regard the Scriptures as inerrant and who subscribe to the Southern Baptist Convention's doctrinal statement, "The Baptist Faith and Message 2000." For the past few years, such adherence was the litmus test for aspiring convention insiders.
Mitchell Jackson, the immediate past president, and Gerald Davidson, the convention preacher, both praised Clippard and lamented the efforts of Moran, whom they say opposes the executive director.
During the nominating committee's report, Jackson came to a floor microphone to offer a substitute nomination for the powerful MBC Executive Board. Then Jackson referenced the perceived opposition of the nominating committee's chairperson — Moran — to Clippard and his leadership.
Jackson later apologized to convention messengers for his remarks and any offense they caused.
Prior to bringing his message later in the same session, Davidson called for an end to Project 1000 and the efforts of the laymen's association to continue to exercise its influence on who is suitable — and who is not — for leadership in MBC life. "Missouri Baptists do not need a political organization to dictate and build kingdoms and tear down leadership," the retired pastor said.
Davidson inappropriately used his preaching assignment to call out Moran and his group for what the retired pastor described as "kingmaking." But, without a doubt, there was an "elephant in the room," and he and Jackson released it.
We don't know a lot about what goes on behind the closed doors of Executive Board meetings — except for what people on the inside decide to lay out for public consumption. Since the annual meeting, Moran has gone public with his prepared remarks as nominating committee chair during a recent special-called, closed-door Executive Board meeting. He says he is not organizing opposition to Clippard.
But fair questions have surfaced. Some of the answers can be found readily within SBC and MBC records of annual meeting proceedings.
Do the concerns Davidson raised about the laymen's association and Project 1000 have merit? Has the laymen's association benefited from an inordinate share of influence? Is the MBLA continuing to influence who are elected to key positions of influence?
In September 1997, Word&Way's staff produced a series of articles based on the principal parties in a struggle for control of the MBC. We called it "A House Divided," and it drew a good bit of attention. One of the articles came out of a lengthy interview with Moran. In that interview, he confirmed his laymen's association was made up of five people — himself, Kerry Messer, Cindy Province, Richard Stone and Ron Turnbull.
Immediately prior to, but primarily since that time, each of the five has been elected or named to significant places of influence in MBC life, and at least four have been tabbed for Southern Baptist Convention positions.
• Next year, Moran will complete two terms on the SBC Executive Committee, where he was one of three Missourians.
He has just completed a year as chair of the MBC nominating committee and is serving a term to expire in 2007. That committee nominates Missouri Baptists for vacancies on the various institutional and commission boards, including the MBC Executive Board, which hires executive directors like Clippard and, among other responsibilities, supervises them.
• Laymen's association president and co-founder Kerry Messer was named as one of two Missourians on the SBC committee on nominations in 1998. When that committee brought its report to the SBC annual meeting in 1999, it included Moran's nomination to the SBC Executive Committee.
Messer was elected recording secretary of the MBC as part of a Project 1000-approved slate of officers during the 1998 annual meeting and currently serves on the MBC nominating committee with Moran, as well as on the MBC Executive Board. Messer also served on the Missouri Baptist Christian Life Commission from 1996 to 2002, part of that time as its chair.
• Cindy Province is in her second term on the board of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, an SBC-elected position. Along with Messer, she is a member of the MBC Executive Board, where she participated actively in the development of The Pathway, the MBC's alternative to Word&Way, and in the selection of its editor.
Until a year ago, she had been the chair of The Pathway work group of the communications and development committee of the Executive Board, a position she held for two years. She also served on the MBC Christian Life Commission (1994-2000).
• A fourth member of the laymen's association, Richard Stone, served on the Southern Baptist Foundation and later on the SBC committee on nominations (2000-2001). Stone was elected MBC recording secretary in 1999 on the Project 1000-endorsed officers slate, which also gave him an ex officio seat on the Executive Board. He has just finished two terms on the MBC Christian Life Commission (2000-2006).
• A fifth laymen's association member, Ron Turnbull, served a term on the MBC nominating committee (2000-2003) and was elected during the recent annual meeting to the Executive Board, where he joins Messer and Province as active members. He was nominated to the latter post by the MBC nominating committee that included Messer and committee chair Moran.
Are Roger Moran and the other four members of the laymen's association enjoying an inordinate amount of influence in Missouri Baptist life? One could argue that an organization of five people is doing pretty well with two current members of the MBC nominating committee and three current members of the Executive Board.
Moran's advice to those reading his own "research" during the past several years might be applicable here: "Just connect the dots."