Louisiana Baptist groups announce consensus nominee

by C. Lacy Thompson, posted Wednesday, August 27, 1997 (22 years ago)

PINEVILLE, La. (BP)--"Everyone of us needs everyone of us," Bob Anderson said after being presented as a "peace" nominee for Louisiana Baptist Convention president Aug. 19.

"It's time for Louisiana Baptists to bring back that wonderful fellowship we all have enjoyed down through the years," said Anderson, pastor emeritus of Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and founder/director of Antioch Affection Ministries, which seeks to help ministers and churches in conflict.

Anderson's nomination comes with the endorsement of both Friends of Louisiana College and Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love. In recent years, those groups have squared off at state conventions with opposing nominees.

Representatives of both state groups -- as well as members of an unofficial peace group that had gone public with its effort three months earlier -- were on hand at an Aug. 27 news conference at First Baptist Church, Pineville, announcing the nomination of Anderson, who also was the Southern Baptist Convention's 1996-97 first vice president and a former member of the SBC Executive Committee.

Host pastor Larry Baker announced Anderson's nomination on behalf of himself and six others who have been working toward the nomination -- Stan Allcorn of DeRidder, John Alley of Alexandria, Sarah Frances Anders of Pineville, Al Kessler of Shreveport, Calvin Phelps of Winnfield and Roger Sullivan of Leesville.

Baker cited several positive aspects of Anderson's nomination, noting Anderson is a native of Shreveport and has spent almost his entire ministry in the state. "He is an outstanding Baptist minister. ... He is a grassroots Louisiana Baptist. ... His churches have always been committed, not only in name but with their funds, to the work we do."

"Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love has formally voted to support Dr. Bob Anderson for the next president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention," chairman Leon Hyatt of Pineville had said in a prepared statement prior to the news conference. "Dr. Anderson is a strong believer in the Bible, the Word of God, which is Baptists' most vital rallying point. He is a renowned reconciler, a gift earnestly needed in this time. We join others who believe Bob Anderson is the man for this hour and urge fellow Baptists to support him as our president for the year ahead."

Friends of Louisiana College President Jean Brown of DeRidder said that group had voted unanimously to endorse Anderson. "We feel confident that he will make a fine leader for our state, that he will be fair-minded in his presidential appointments and that his election will represent a step forward in healing the hurt we all have experienced in recent years," Brown stated.

Anderson said he has made no commitments regarding his possible presidency and the key convention appointments he would have to make. "I made it real clear at the beginning that I was really going to saturate every one of the appointments in prayer, and I did not want to be leaning toward any group or controlled by any group -- only by the Spirit of God.

"My appointments will be people that God would lead to those places of service," he said.

"I want to see peace and harmony and togetherness. I'm really praying for that. ... We need to get behind our leadership and get back to really being the Baptists that God wants us to be." Anderson said time is short for making that happen. "Brevity of time is staring us in the face. I cannot fumble the ball. I have to pray and fast and build my face before God. I enter this with fear and trepidation. ... All eyes are upon me now to see if it's going to happen. ... Well, it's going to happen. I stay positive and believe that with all my heart."

At the end of July, however, efforts to achieve reconciliation in the convention were at a low point -- with some even saying the process was over. But three weeks later, leaders were announcing a "peace" nominee. How did so much change so fast?

"It's a miracle, an absolute miracle," insisted John Alley, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, president of the convention's executive board and a key player in the events that led to Anderson's unity nomination.

The miracle came through some key persons and through an effort that dates back to last year's annual convention when Allcorn, pastor of First Baptist Church, DeRidder, delivered a sermon in which he urged Louisiana Baptists to remember that Satan -- and not one another -- is the enemy.

Following the sermon, Allcorn was approached by Hyatt, who asked Allcorn to meet with him and discuss the convention. Eventually, the two agreed to invite people from both sides of the convention conflict to meet and explore if there was some way they could all stand together. And the peace process began.

After several meetings, members of the group agreed on some key proposals, including a hope that those on both sides of the conflict could agree on consensus nominees for convention offices. Alley presented the proposals at an executive board meeting in May.

The proposal for consensus nominees was the most ambitious of the six items presented by the group -- and was seen by many as the cornerstone of the effort. As a means of working toward that end, members of the peace group invited representatives from Friends of Louisiana College and Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love to begin meeting with them.

At a July meeting, the group reached the point at which representatives of each side of the conflict offered names as possible nominees. None was acceptable to the whole group.

Members of the group proposed various possibilities -- but to no avail. The process had bogged down -- but Alley refused to give up. He urged one more meeting -- within a week -- for the sole purpose of settling on a consensus nominee.

In the few days prior to that gathering, Alley and Baker began talking about the possibility of Anderson as a consensus nominee.

Meanwhile, three names were brought to the peace group meeting -- but the group could not reach agreement on any of them. The meeting ended without consensus -- with several participants stating they felt the process was over.

However, a trio of peace group members was unwilling to give up on the idea of a consensus nominee -- and on Anderson as that nominee. Alley, Baker and Roger Sullivan, pastor of East Leesville Baptist Church, began talking with Anderson about just such a possibility.

Within days, Anderson agreed to allow his nomination for convention president. The key now was to get groups on both sides of the conflict to endorse the idea.

Endorsement by Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love came first -- at an Aug. 12 scheduled meeting where the group discussed the Anderson nomination for three hours. "Some were skeptical, but we overwhelmingly voted that we wanted to back his candidacy," Hyatt reported, adding many of those who expressed doubts have called now to say they will support Anderson as a consensus nominee.

Endorsement by Friends of Louisiana College came during an Aug. 18 meeting of the group's leadership. Leaders began their meeting mid-morning. At noon, president Jean Brown of DeRidder reported the group had voted unanimously to endorse Anderson.

The convention, as Allen sees it, was "slowly but surely dissipating our strength and not giving our best energies to winning the lost in Louisiana but to politics in the convention," noting recent baptism statistics were down in every church participating in the state convention conflict.

That is not to say the issues being discussed and debated in the convention were not real or valid, Alley added. But they were taking the focus off the priority of sharing the gospel and winning Louisiana to Christ, he said.

"When we talk about peace, we're not talking about peace for peace sake," Alley continued. "It's not just peace so we won't have differences of opinion. It's not just so we'll have peace and we won't argue. It's peace so we can focus on our priority. And there is no one in the state who does not believe that our priority is winning the lost to Jesus Christ. ...

"But the fact of the matter is -- we were losing that focus. And we were saying something to a lost world that we didn't want to say. The secular press was having a field day with our arguing and our bitterness and our public demonstrations. ... Is every issue settled. No. Are all questions answered? No. But is focus and unity being achieved? Yes.

"And I personally believe the Holy Spirit works in unity and not in confusion and disharmony," Alley said. "I think the Bible bears that out over and over and over. So I think it is essential -- if we're going to see the power of the Holy Spirit move in Baptist life and among Baptist people -- that we humble ourselves before God and seek that (unity)."

Allcorn and Hyatt both expressed hope the peace group can continue meeting together and working toward other goals and on ways to promote Anderson as president.

Hyatt said the goals of Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love "remain the same, but I'd rather work toward them through cooperation rather than confrontation." Such work should never end, he continued. "When we are working for Christ, the last hope never comes. I believe God is at work among us, and we should never give up working for what he has taught us."

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