Missouri Baptist groups agree to peace committee

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP)—Seven members of rival groups in the Missouri Baptist Convention will go to mediation in an effort to bring about peace within the battle-torn statewide group.

The Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board voted to create a peace committee that will submit to Christian mediation.

The committee makeup and its methodology were proposed by board member Jody Shelenhamer, a layman from First Baptist Church of Bolivar, Mo., according to convention President Gerald Davidson.

Shelenhamer proposed four members who have been associated with the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association. Three others represented 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 Laymen’s Association adherents.

The Laymen’s Association led a successful effort in the late 1990s to wrest control of the convention from the moderates that had dominated its leadership.

At odds with former allies

However, Save Our Convention supporters—many of whom were foot soldiers in the association’s battle against moderates—have taken issue with their former allies on a handful of issues in the past year.

Save Our Convention successfully swept officer elections during last fall’s Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting. That is proof, they say, that rank-and-file Missouri Baptists have grown weary of intraconservative dissension and of what they say is a tightening of trustee representation on boards and agencies.

All seven members of the committee are men.

The four closely identified with the Laymen’s Association leadership include Roger Moran, the organization’s founder and research director; Jay Scribner, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Branson, Mo; Jeff White, pastor of South Creek Church in Springfield, Mo.; and Jeff Purvis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Herculaneum-Peveley, Mo.

The Save Our Convention representatives are John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Springfield and the current Missouri Baptist Convention second vice president; Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis and current first vice president; and Wesley Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church of Paris, Mo.

Two weeks prior to the board meeting, Laymen’s Association supporter Kent Cochran, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Republic, Mo., proposed a similar committee, modeled after the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention Peace Committee.

Peace proposal

Cochran’s proposal, 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 … 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 of Arnold, Mo., was himself once a supporter of the Laymen’s Association’s efforts to drive moderates out of Missouri Baptist Convention leadership.

However, he became one of Save Our Convention’s organizers last year, and he 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,” Davidson said.

“People have to say: ‘Hey, we’re going to have to quit fighting. 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.

There is no timetable for completion of the committee’s work, he said.

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