Arkansas Baptists narrowly defeat Ouachita reconciliation guidelines

by Trennis Henderson & Russell N. Dilday, posted Tuesday, November 11, 1997 (16 years ago)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)--Following a year-long debate over Ouachita Baptist University's trustee selection process, Arkansas Baptist messengers narrowly defeated proposed charter and bylaw changes which would have implemented a reconciliation agreement between the state convention and Ouachita.

Debate over the issue began in October 1996 when Ouachita's trustees voted to resume responsibility for naming their own successors after the state convention nominating committee declined to recommend any of the nominee suggestions presented to them by Ouachita officials. A reconciliation plan which provided for consensus between the groups for future nominees was approved last year by a vote of 801-456.

Although the reconciliation agreement was adopted last year, necessary charter and bylaw changes to implement the plan require a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The proposals were affirmed this year by a vote of 999 to 528 but fell 1.3 percent short of gaining the needed 66.7 percent majority.

Interest in the Ouachita issue produced a record number of messengers for this year's Arkansas Baptist State Convention Nov. 4-5 at Park Hill Baptist Church in North Little Rock. A total of 1,831 messengers registered during the two-day meeting, a 13.7 percent increase over the previous record of 1,610 messengers in 1989 and an increase of nearly 18 percent over the 1,553 who attended last year's convention.

In other actions, messengers elected Greg Kirksey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Benton as ABSC president. He was elected by a vote of 780-761 over 1997 Pastors' Conference President Ben Rowell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rogers.

The convention also voted to seat messengers from a church that had been reprimanded by its association for practicing "alien immersion." Credentials committee chairman reported his committee met with Johnny Hutchison, pastor of Highland Drive Baptist Church in Jonesboro, as well as "the person who delivered the challenge."

The committee determined "there's no obvious violation by practice or intent on the part of the church and so our committee unanimously recommends that the Highland Drive Baptist Church remains seated as part of this convention." Concern over the issue relates to the state convention's articles of incorporation which specify that "The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion."

Messengers also approved an executive board staff restructuring proposal; approved a record Cooperative Program budget; adopted resolutions concerning the Baptist World Alliance, ministry to the poor and abortion; and launched the celebration of the state convention's 1998 sesquicentennial.

Prior to the vote on the charter and bylaw language related to the Ouachita issue, former ABSC President Ronnie Rogers introduced an amendment which would have eliminated guidelines calling for consensus between OBU trustees and the ABSC nominating committee in selecting the university's new trustees. His proposal sought to instruct the nominating committee to give "thoughtful consideration" to the recommendations of Arkansas Baptist agencies.

"I believe this is an 11th-hour word from our Lord Jesus," noted Rogers, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church in Hot Springs. Describing his plan as "God's way of escape from our impending and inevitable split," Rogers added, "A vote for or against the bylaws, without this amendment in place, will result in the convention and the Cooperative Program being irreparably divided and damaged."

Responding to Rogers' concerns, Larry Pillow, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, remarked, "I share Ronnie's concern for the unity of the convention. I'd like for us to all leave here, regardless of the vote, committed to the cause of Christ, still equally yoked together.

Speaking in favor of the original motion and against Rogers' amendment, he added, "Unity is not reflected or damaged in the vote. Unity is reflected or damaged in our reaction to the vote. It is the reaction to last year's vote that has been most disruptive."

Following further debate on the amendment, messengers defeated Rogers' proposal by a vote of 956 to 559.

During debate on the original motion, former Williams Baptist College President Jimmy Millikin voiced opposition to implementing the reconciliation plan. Millikin, a professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis and interim pastor of First Baptist Church in West Memphis, said the proposal "takes us one step removed from the grassroots control of our institution."

Insisting "I just trust the grassroots Baptists to control our institutions," he asked, "If any other of our agencies were to make this request, would we be as willing and excited in voting to give them this particular privilege?"

Speaking in favor of the proposal, former ABSC Executive Director Don Moore told messengers, "I have a desire to help in this situation. I want us to work together." Emphasizing "I think it's really essential that we go on with the recommendation," he added, "The issue is whether or not we want the convention to still have input" into Ouachita's trustee selection process."

In an interview following the annual meeting, ABSC Executive Director Emil Turner said, "The historic relationship between Arkansas Baptists and Ouachita Baptist University has been set aside by the outcome of the votes on the amendments. However, this does not mean that we do not and cannot have a relationship with Ouachita.

"Right now and in the immediate future, our relationship consists of the convention's vote to fund Ouachita through our budget process and to elect Ouachita's trustees for this year." Although "the future components of that relationship are not yet clear," Turner emphasized "my desire is for our convention to continue to be related to this institution."

According to OBU President Ben Elrod, "We have no desire to be alienated from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, and the events of the past week will not deter us from our mission of serving the Baptist churches of our state and region.

"The fact that the convention failed to amend its constitution and bylaws by a two-thirds majority does not suggest, in our minds, a refusal on the part of the convention to retain its relationship with Ouachita," Elrod added.

Among other major issues during the convention were:

-- approval of a restructured executive board staff was the culmination of an in-depth two-year study. The plan, adopted without opposition, changes the staff structure from 12 departments to seven ministry teams effective Jan. 1, 1998. Turner said the proposal "enables us to move into the next century with greater impact on the churches and on lost people in Arkansas."

-- adoption a 1998 Cooperative Program budget goal of $17,682,975, includes an allocation of $2,539,893 for Ouachita. Other major allocations include $7,386,179 for Southern Baptist Convention causes and $5,879,932 for executive board programs. The SBC portion of the budget is 41.77 percent, the same percentage as recent years.

-- passage of a resolution affirming the ministry of the Baptist World Alliance in response to the SBC Executive Committee's recent decision to study the SBC's relationship to BWA. Affirming the purpose of BWA "is to draw Baptists together from all across the globe in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ," the resolution calls on the SBC Executive Committee to "give recognition to the work of the Baptist World Alliance and determine to continue our significant role in the work of our sister organization."

-- approval of a resolution opposing abortion which was presented on the floor of the convention. It emphasized "absolute opposition to partial-birth abortion and abortion" so that "those in this state and around the world might know where we stand in accordance with the sanctity of human life."

-- adoption of a resolution on aiding the poor which urged Arkansas Baptists to "reflect more fully the love and grace of Christ by providing greater assistance to the homeless, widows, orphans, the infirmed, migrant workers and others enduring physical privation."

Next year's sesquicentennial convention will be Nov. 3-4 at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

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