Lee Porter a former Southern Baptist Convention leader who worked to ensure the integrity of voting in contentious ballots for the SBC presidency during a tumultuous era in the nation’s second-largest religious body, died May 17. He was 83
Porter, of Franklin, Tenn., a retired editor at LifeWay Christian Resources, served 25 years as SBC recording secretary, an annually elected post responsible for casting, collecting and tabulating ballots during business sessions of the convention annual meeting.
He became well-known for meticulous instructions from the convention podium instructing messengers to select “Ballot number two and only ballot number two” and how to correctly mark punch-card ballots long before the term “hanging chad” entered the American vocabulary during the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
Porter also was uncanny in his ability to forecast the size of annual crowds, especially during record-shattering attendances at meetings in the 1980s that featured hotly contested SBC presidential elections during a period commonly known as the “conservative resurgence.”
In 1979 Porter launched an investigation into voter irregularities after conservative standard bearer Adrian Rogers’ stunning first-ballot victory over five other candidates to win 51.36 percent of the vote. His investigation found unprecedented political activity but no major voter fraud, yet discovered double registration, churches that exceeded their allowed number and messengers who registered but were not elected by their churches.
Convention leaders took measures to reform the election process including requiring a registration card or written confirmation for messengers to register and closer scrutiny of how many messengers that churches were entitled to send.
In 1990 Porter’s bosses at LifeWay told him not to seek a 15th term for office, because they did not want to give the impression that a convention employee was taking sides in denominational politics. Porter responded by announcing early retirement at age 61 and then accepted a staff position at a local church in Florida.
Porter continued to win annual elections long after moderates had withdrawn from SBC politics until he finally lost in his bid for a 26th term in 2002. He also was twice elected a convention vice president and served as parliamentarian.
Prior to working 1979-1991 as design editor in Life and Work Curriculum Section of LifeWay’s Sunday School Department, Porter worked three years for the SBC Christian Life Commission. Before that he was a pastor in Texas, Arizona and Louisiana. From 1953 until 1956 he was first director of recreation at Glorieta Baptist Assembly in Glorieta, N.M.
Active in his local community as a sports official, Porter was a member of West Franklin Baptist Church. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Pat Long Porter; two sons; six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Memorial services were conducted May 21 at West Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Alzheimer’s disease research.
— Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.