JEFFERSON CITY — Seven members of rival conservative groups in the Missouri Baptist Convention will go to mediation in an effort to bring about peace within their respective ranks.
The MBC Executive Board voted on April 15 to create a “peace committee” that will submit to mediation with Peacemaker Ministries — a Billings, Mont. organization, that focuses on Bible-based conflict resolution.
The committee makeup and its methodology were proposed by Jody Shelenhamer, layman from First Baptist Church, Bolivar, according to MBC president Gerald Davidson.
Shelenhamer proposed four members who have been associated with the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association. Three others represent a group called “Save Our Convention,” which has criticized what it calls an inordinate amount of control in convention life by a small group of MLBA adherents.
The laymen’s association led a successful effort — called Project 1000 — in the late 1990s to gain control of the convention. However, SOC supporters — many of whom were active in the project 1000 campaign — have taken issue with their former allies on a handful of issues in the past year.
SOC successfully swept officer elections during last fall’s MBC annual meeting. That is proof, they say, that the MBC rank-and-file have grown weary of Baptist dissension in the state and of what they say is a tightening of trustee representation on boards and agencies.
All seven members of the peace committee are men.
The four closely identified with current laymen’s association leadership include Roger Moran, the organization’s founder and research director; Jay Scribner, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson; Jeff White, pastor of South Creek Church, Springfield; and Jeff Purvis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Herculaneum-Peveley.
The Save Our Convention representatives are John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, and the current MBC second vice president; Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, and current first vice president; and Wesley Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church, Paris.
Two weeks prior to the Executive Board meeting, MLBA supporter Kent Cochran, a member of Calvary Baptist Church, Republic, proposed a similar committee, modeled after the 1985 Southern Baptist Peace Committee.
Cochran’s proposal, which he mailed to every member of the Executive Board, called for a committee to “research the perceptions, activities, expectations, history, present and future of Missouri Baptists focusing particularly on the three issues of: theology, methodology, political activity and any related matters that involve Missouri Baptist life.”
“I’m hopeful that it will work,” Davidson said. But the effort will have to be more successful than the SBC peace committee, which resulted in one side winning and the other withdrawing from the SBC, he said.
Davidson, retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, was himself once a Project 1000 participant. But he became one of Save Our Convention’s organizers last year, and said he believes the solution to the impasse between Missouri conservatives is not complex.
“We don’t have any big differences except in turning loose and letting Missouri Baptists make Missouri Baptist decisions they think are under the leadership of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“People have to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to quit fighting,’” he said. “I’m tired of all the bickering, fussing and fighting.”
But, he added, “I am strongly opposed to a handful…taking control” of the convention, a situation Davidson pledged to continue working against.
As far as he knows, Davidson said, the laymen’s association may continue to distribute statements critical of SOC, hold regional rallies and maintain its “Right to Know” Web site during the peace committee process. And if SOC organizers choose to reactivate their organization, they could do the same.
The president said there is no timetable for completion of the committee’s work.
The SBC Peace Commikttee was launched in 1985, submitted its final report in 1987 and asked the Southern Baptist Convention to extend it another three years to monitor response to its recommendations.