By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
It was sort of like old times at the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Messengers huddled in groups just outside the meeting hall between sessions, two defined slates of officers had been pre-announced and nearly everyone who spoke lamented the discord within the state convention. That was the atmosphere at Tan-Tar-A Resort on the Lake of the Ozarks last week — a familiar annual meeting site.
At this meeting, messengers heard a lot about the program theme — the Kingdom of God — and many seemed somewhat preoccupied with beverage alcohol and its many dangers. Both topics received a good bit more attention than they usually do.
The 2007 meeting might have been a step back in time, perhaps to when messengers gathered at Tan-Tar-A several years earlier. Back then, some were decrying what they claimed was a good ol’ boy network that controlled who was allowed to participate on boards and committees in Missouri Baptist life. A strategy emerged — a successful strategy — to wrest control from the perceived “haves” and to spread it out to the “have-nots.”
Rallies and mailings helped spread the word. Sabers rattled and there even was talk of spilling blood (figurative speech, no doubt, but very dramatic!).
Fast-forward to 2007.
Complaints about another good ol’ boy network intensify with charges that the MBC victors for the past nine years are closely guarding who will serve where. Some Executive Board nominees feel uncomfortable with the notion that they will be allowed serve on the condition that they are willing to help send the executive director packing. (In fact, David Clippard is fired by the Executive Board in April.)
In addition, the inner circle — the five or six-member Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association — and a few others are charged with choosing the most influential convention and denominational assignments for each other — repeatedly.
The word about the perceived excesses, many of them easily documented from public Missouri Baptist and Southern Baptist records, is communicated again through rallies — “Save Our Convention” rallies — but word moves much quicker in 2007 through e-mail and blogs.
The new complaints come primarily from pastors of influence among conservatives. They wonder aloud why trustees are being tapped from churches with dismal levels of financial support for the MBC.
Almost as soon as the Save Our Convention slate of officer candidates is released, another full slate emerges in opposition. While the laymen’s association does not issue a formal endorsement of the second group, its own Roger Moran is one of the four candidates. The signal to messengers is unmistakable.
For the first time in several years, messengers arrive at the annual meeting faced with a choice.
No one could have predicted how easily the Save Our Convention candidates would win all four posts.
The new MBC president, Gerald Davidson, believes that the rank-and-file grew weary of seeing boards and committees stacked by a small group of people. He referred to them as “kingmakers” at last year’s convention, when he brought the annual message.
Minutes after this year’s annual meeting ended, he told Word&Way that the election showdown easily could have been avoided.
“Roger and I were brought together by another leader to see if we could solve the problem before we ever got to the convention,” Davidson said. “I shared with Roger right on the front end. I said, ‘Roger, I want you to know I love you, and secondly I want you to know that you and I could probably solve and end our problems in the convention right now. Not that we’re that powerful, but conservatives look to me so many times for leadership, and you’ve got your followers.’”
The new president said, “If you would just lay down your arms and say, ‘I’m going to quit fighting,’ and I lay down my arms and say I’m not going to get involved in it…If both of us just let Missouri Baptists, under the leadership of the Lord, move forward to do what they’re called to do, I said, ‘The battle would be over.’
“I said, ‘I’m willing to do that.’ But, not being disparaging toward [Moran], that didn’t happen. I have no desire to run the convention…but I have no interest in sitting by and letting a handful of people run it, either. I want God to lead us.”
Several in attendance underscored the addictive nature of alcohol, but power has a way of intoxicating, too. By their votes, a strong majority of messengers seem to be addressing that condition.