By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Cape Girardeau — Strong words from two former Missouri Baptist Convention presidents during the annual meeting indicated a rift among conservatives in Missouri Baptist leadership continues.
Mitchell "Mitch" Jackson, 2005 president, nominated Gerald Davidson, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, and a former convention president, to a seat on the Executive Board. Jackson wanted Davidson to replace the nominating committee's choice — 2006 president Ralph Sawyer.
Jackson argued that Davidson had led his church to give 8.5 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program while Sawyer's church, First Baptist Church of Wentzville, only earmarks 2.5 percent. He noted that while Davidson had served as MBC president, he had never been an Executive Board member.
Jackson said members of the nominating committee had felt "disenfranchised" during the process of doing its work leading up to the annual meeting.
Nominating committee chairman Roger Moran of Winfield explained Davidson had been considered. But since the retired pastor had been elected to the Missouri Baptist University board last year to serve through 2008, committee members felt opportunities to serve needed to be given to others.
Several messengers spoke in favor of allowing Davidson to serve, pointing out that the nominating committee was placing the current president on the board and that Davidson had never served.
Darren Casburg of The Journey Church, Joplin, called Davidson "an example of leadership," especially to young pastors.
Michael Knight, the MBC's second vice president who also had served on the nominating committee, reminded messengers that a church's CP giving was not a consideration. "What a church gives doesn't qualify or disqualify [an individual]…. It is not a policy," he said.
Knight pointed out that if messengers determined 10 percent should be the standard that members of 75 percent of Missouri Baptist churches would be disqualified to serve.
Saying he was "not interested in dividing the convention," Davidson withdrew his name from consideration. Messengers adopted the nominating committee's full report.
Citing ongoing conflict between Moran and MBC executive director David Clippard, Jackson then asked that Moran not be re-elected to the 2007 nominating committee.
At the time, Jackson did not realize that Moran was not up for re-election because he has not completed his full term. Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church, later publicly apologized for his remarks.
On the program later Tuesday morning to preach the annual sermon, Davidson called for an end to the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association, led by Moran.
The former president noted he had fought the battle against liberalism as early as the late 1950s and through the 1960s. He said he was thankful that Project 1000 – launched by the laymen's association, had stepped up to get 1,000 people out to vote for conservative candidates in the MBC and to stand for the infallibility of Scripture.
"Praise God, the victory's won," he said. "Our agencies are staffed by those conservative, Bible-believing inerrantists."
He said that while he praises God for Project 1000, it is "time that Project 1000 retires."
He was told that Project 1000 ended in 2003, Davidson added, but he believes the parent organization, the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association, had risen to take its place.
"Missouri Baptists do not need a political organization to dictate and build kingdoms and tear down leadership," he said.
Davidson added that the convention does not need a group to endorse some or to say it would not approve others who are nominated.
He said that the last five years have been his "happiest, even with the problem with the agencies," because Clippard and the staff have focused on missions, outreach and church planting "like we never have been before."
But a political group had been allowed to rise, Davidson said. "It's time to let it cease because we do not have the struggle we once had," he added.
He called for Missouri Baptists to cease "picking at each other" and to "get busy" with evangelism, missions, soul winning and church planting.
The rift in conservative ranks surfaced publicly a few months ago through e-mails and remarks made in a pastors' online newsgroup. The Executive Board met in a called session on Sept. 22 in an apparent move by some detractors to oust Clippard from his post.
Following the marathon, closed-door session, billed as a "unity and reconciliation meeting," Executive Board members affirmed Clippard, the 2006 nominating committee and Moran as its chair.
In a press release issued on Sept. 25, board members confirmed they had "investigated concerns" that had been brought to them. In addition, they affirmed conservatism, doctrine and the Baptist Building staff.
During the annual sermon, Davidson urged Clippard and Baptist Building staff to "keep your eyes on Jesus and don't be derailed by your detractors."
After telling listeners to "quit bickering and fussing," he urged the MBLA to "quit thinking that you're the king builders because you aren't…. It's good to be concerned…but you can trust Missouri Baptists to do what's right."
As he concluded his sermon on evangelism, Davidson instructed Clippard, members of MBC churches and the Executive Board.
He encouraged Clippard to "keep us on track" in witnessing to others. "Missouri Baptists, get behind him and support him," Davidson said.
Then he reminded Executive Board members of their responsibility. "You represent Missouri Baptists…. Don't try to micromanage our executive director. That's not your job…. Executive Board, you're answerable to this body right here," he said. (11-15-06)
(See complete MBC coverage in the Nov. 16 print edition.)