By Bill Webb
OSAGE BEACH — For the first time in nine years, messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting have rejected a slate of officers closely identified with Project 1000, a successful strategy to take control of the state convention.
Since 1998, messengers had backed officer slates endorsed by Project 1000. Among this year’s election casualties was Project 1000 architect Roger Moran himself.
Meeting Oct. 29-31 at Tan-Tar-A Resort on the Lake of the Ozarks, messengers elected an alternative slate of officers endorsed by a group supportive of the so-called “conservative resurgence” in Missouri but critical of what they said was a legalistic spirit and the increased tightening of control by Moran, his five-member Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association and other Project 1000 insiders.
The group held “Save Our Convention” rallies across the state starting in May to press their case for a leadership change.
Messengers elected former president Gerald Davidson, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, and a long-time conservative leader in the state, as president over incumbent Mike Green, director of missions in Twin Rivers Baptist Association, by a vote of 832 to 381.
In perhaps the most closely watched election — for second vice president — John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, garnered 80 percent of the votes to defeat Moran, who is a layperson from First Baptist Church, Troy. Moran received only 160 votes out of the 809 votes cast.
Marshall’s church is one of the MBC’s largest and the state’s leader in gifts through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings.
For first vice president, incumbent first vice president and nominating committee chair Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, was an easy winner over Jay Scribner, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson, 577 to 310.
Chadd Pendergraft, senior pastor of Splitlog Baptist Church, Goodman, was elected recording secretary, easily defeating Jerry Williams, director of missions in Barry County Baptist Association, 601 to 174.
In their Save Our Convention rallies, speakers decried the power of the laymen’s association and other insiders in not only having an inordinate amount of influence in the selection of trustees to state convention boards and commissions but positioning themselves on the most powerful boards and committees in Missouri and Southern Baptist life.
At the annual meeting a year ago, Davidson prefaced his annual sermon with an appeal that Project 1000 shut down its operation. He declared that while the “conservative resurgence” needed to happen, Missouri Baptists did not need anyone or any group to be “a kingmaker.”
At SOC rallies, speakers expressed dismay at a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that called Moran “the most powerful Baptist in Missouri.” They circulated a list of Baptist positions held by Moran and fellow MBLA members Kerry Messer, Cindy Province, Richard Stone and Ron Turnbull, as well as Moran’s brother-in-law, Jason Rogers.
Four of the six — Messer, Province, Turnbull and Rogers — were simultaneously members of the powerful MBC Executive Board until March, when Province resigned, David Sheppard, pastor of First Baptist Church, St. Charles, told participants in the first rally at First Baptist Church of Harvester in St. Charles on May 15.
The SOC’s list of those positions was an expanded version of one reported in an editorial in the Nov. 30, 2006, issue of Word&Way, shortly after last year’s annual meeting.
At the rally, pastors spoke of being contacted the year before by Moran when he was chair of the nominating committee and being told that Executive Board positions needed to be filled by people willing to address “a problem” on the MBC staff — the future of then-executive director David Clippard.
The Executive Board fired the executive director in closed session on April 10. Clippard claimed he was not even given a chance to defend himself.
The new president said in an interview minutes after this year’s annual meeting that he felt the convention had given him and the other officers a mandate.
“I’m going to convey that to the Executive Board as we endeavor to lead,” Davidson said. “We’ll have to wait and see what their spirit is.
“I think Missouri Baptists just got tired of the fact that they really didn’t feel like they were given a choice,” he explained. “Everything was already handpicked for them, the committees were being built and stacked, and there was great dissatisfaction with that. Missouri Baptists want to be heard.
“I think we’re just wanting to get on with the task of evangelism and missions and soul-winning and building churches and quit bickering, fussing and fighting,” Davidson said.
“Baptists believe the Bible. We Baptists as a whole are conservative and we are just interested in getting down the road,” he said. “We can spend our time tearing up one another and tearing up churches and everything else. But there’s no need for it.”
How long will Save Our Convention continue?
“As far as I’m concerned, it can stop right now,” he said.
Sheppard, one of the 11 SOC organizers, said of the effort: “Our desire was to break the stranglehold of power that a small group has grasped in the convention and to halt the spread of a legalistic spirit that focuses on non-essentials. We believe the proverbial pendulum had swung too far in the corrective return to a conservative position.
“I believe that the SOC represented the vast majority of Missouri Baptists and that was reflected in the overwhelming vote of the messengers to elect a full slate of officers committed to restoring balance to the convention,” he added.
Sheppard said he is hopeful the convention can move forward.
“We have had several indications that some who were committed to the other side have expressed a willingness to accept the vote of the convention and move on with the business of missions and evangelism,” he said.
“We are hopeful that a majority of the Executive Board will be ready to focus on essential issues that bind us together and move forward. We are also desirous of the nominating committee nominating people to serve who reflect strong mission support, a zeal for evangelism and who are not being placed on trustee boards to serve the interests of a small power group.
“By electing four very godly and capable leaders, the messengers sent a clear message of support for the message we emphasized these past six months,” Sheppard said.
“The attendance at this year’s convention was an indication that there was no large get-out-the-vote campaign,” he said. “Rather, it was an indication that those who normally come to the convention were in agreement with the position of the SOC.”
Another of the SOC organizers, David McAlpin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Harvester, said in an e-mail response that he believed messengers communicated two points very strongly.
“First, Missouri Baptists desire to reaffirm their commitment to the conservative theology and direction our state convention has embraced since the conservative resurgence really took hold,” he said. “Every man elected either helped to lead or else supported Project 1000 (as did, in fact, all of us who were part of the Save Our Convention effort).
“Second, Missouri Baptists are tired of fighting over secondary issues,” McAlpin said. “The genius of our success as Southern Baptists thus far has been that we have identified the core doctrines that unite us and give us our unique identity, and we have focused on those. And we have resisted efforts by some to insist that we all must walk in lock-step agreement on secondary issues.
“Missouri Baptists will never surrender the fundamentals of the faith,” he said. “And they will also insist that their leaders keep the focus on winning people to Christ, planting churches, sending missionaries and taking the gospel to every person.”