RICHMOND, Va. — For the first time in 30 years, Virginia Baptists Committed will not endorse a slate of nominees this fall for officers of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
The decision, taken at the moderate advocacy group’s semi-annual meeting April 14, is an acknowledgement of changed dynamics in Virginia Baptist organizational life since the group’s founding in 1983, said co-chairs Michael Clingenpeel and Timothy Norman in a statement released April 25.
VBC was formed to counter attempts to shift the Southern Baptist Convention and the BGAV to the theological right. Though conservatives eventually prevailed in the SBC, they never gained traction among Virginia Baptists, largely due to VBC’s efforts. For nearly three decades every VBC-endorsed candidate for president won election at the BGAV’s annual meeting each November.
In 1996 conservatives ended their attempts and formed an alternative convention, the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Since then participation in VBC has dwindled and its membership’s interest in endorsing candidates has diminished.
“We are pleased that the threat of ultra-conservatives to the BGAV is no longer significant, because people with that ideology can support Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia,” said Clingenpeel, pastor of River Road Church, Baptist, in Richmond. “We also are pleased to see a renewed interest in BGAV work by others, as evidenced by multiple candidates at several recent annual meetings. This participation is a good thing in Virginia, and we do not believe it is necessary for VBC to take the lead in this effort any longer.”
Norman, pastor of Glen Allen (Va.) Baptist Church, said VBC’s goal “has been to guarantee that every November there would be at least one prepared, committed, fully-vetted candidate for every elective office. The BGAV is in a better place now than before when it comes to this process. Others have done this in recent years and we don’t need to do it this year.”
Clingenpeel said in the press release VBC will not disband and if circumstances change, “we reserve the right to step back in to the process.”
“We believe in the BGAV,” he said. “Don’t look for our voices to go silent on the mission and ministries of Virginia Baptists.”
Also at the April 14 meeting, Clingenpeel and Norman, who have led VBC for six years, announced they will step down this fall.
“Every organization needs fresh leadership from time to time and I need to have one or two fewer things on my plate. So it’s time for me to bow out,” said Clingenpeel.
“My service with VBC is one of the many enjoyable ways I have served Virginia Baptists,” said Norman. “I will continue to do that without being co-chair of this fine group.”
Clingenpeel said VBC’s 10-member board of directors will initiate a process to select new leadership at the group’s October meeting.
No candidates have been announced for election to offices at the BGAV annual meeting, to be held Nov. 8-9 in Richmond. The BGAV’s presidency — constitutionally restricted to a one-year, non-renewable term — is currently held by Bob Bass, a Richmond layman. Almost certainly he will be succeeded by first vice president Mark Croston, a Suffolk pastor, under a decade-long informal practice of electing first vice presidents to the presidency.