By Philip Timothy, Message Staff Writer
WOODWORTH – Much like the last four months, the ‘crisis at LC’ dominated discussion at the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s annual spring meeting of the Executive Board May 7.
In addressing the situation, LBC Executive Director David Hankins in his report to the board began by saying, “I would like to speak to you about the crisis at LC.
“When I first saw the accusations, I was crestfallen,” said Hankins. “I did not want to believe the accusations being made against my friend Joe Aguillard. I realize I did not help myself by staying quiet. I have been asked why haven’t I spoken until now. I have been accused of doing too little by some and too much by others.
“Well, I did not speak before now because it would have been inappropriate. There are rules of conduct for Louisiana Baptists and we expect them to be followed,” Hankins continued. “I do not like trying people in the press or blogging people to death. I certainly do not like mob rule.
“We elect trustees. Interfering with them has its liabilities,” Hankins said. “I felt the trustees needed to be allowed to do their job and it would have been inappropriate of me to speak of these issues before they had done so.”
Hankins also cautioned board members about believing what “you read in some publications and on the internet.”
He also admonished those who “acted unethically and even illegally” by leaking certain documents dealing with the whistleblower complaints and the investigation.
As part of a seven-man committee selected by LC Board President Gene Lee to investigate the accusations, Hankins said he and members of the committee saw evidence – documents, emails, etc. – in a folder provided to the committee by Aguillard and his lawyer that showed ‘certain accusations were just not true.’
“I have been called by many of you, other pastors and laymen from across the state asking me about this matter,” Hankins continued. “I have shared with you – privately – the information in the folder. I, and the committee, thoroughly examined all of the information.”
The seven-man committee reported their findings, and on April 30 Aguillard was exonerated of the complaints by the full board.
“So, where do we go from here? We have rules and we affirm them,” Hankins said. “The process works. We also should affirm the president. He doesn’t claim to be perfect … I am not perfect … he’s not perfect. Not everything he’s tried has worked. But it is time to move forward.”
LBC Board President Bobby Stults, pastor of Oak Park New Orleans, opened the meeting with a challenge to the board. He said, “This is not a pep talk about how great the LBC is, but a call to focus on who we are called to be.”
Stults took the place of Rick Byargeon as president after Byargeon passed away in April following a short battle with cancer. Board members were asked to take a moment to remember Byargeon – who was the first sitting executive board president to die while serving in that position – and his family.
Hankins, who became emotional while speaking about Byargeon, said, “He gave his report at the annual meeting, one week later found he had cancer, and in less than four months it took his life. I ask we pray for his wife Jonann and his family. He will be missed by many.”
Hankins said a page will be placed in the book of reports in his memory.
Speaking from John 17:20-23, Stults said Jesus prayed for his disciples – not only the first group, but the other disciples who were to follow – that God would protect and use them. Jesus knew for unity among the fellowship the focus had to be on unity in Christ. They had to focus on Him and in Him.
“It’s an easy thing to say, ‘let’s all just get along,’” Stults said. “But Jesus knew we can’t do it without Him. Our focus has to be on Christ.”
The board also heard reports from its administrative, business and finance, missions support, and properties committees, as well as the Moral and Civic Foundation and from the heads of each of the LBC’s entities – Louisiana College, Louisiana Baptist Foundation, Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home, and Louisiana Baptist Message.
Bob Adams of the administrative committee offered the most significant piece of business as he asked that his committee be allowed to give a response to a resolution offered by Ken Fryer, messenger from Heritage Baptist Church Shreveport at last year’s annual meeting at the September Executive Board Meeting.
Fryer’s resolution calls for all resolutions from the Resolutions Committee shall be printed in the Baptist Message prior to the annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. The resolution requires an amendment of LBC bylaws and consideration of potential conflict with 15 day notice requirement and publication deadlines for the Baptist Message.
Leading off the reports from the entities, Aguillard began his address to the board by thanking them and telling them he was ‘humbled to come before them.’
He discussed the challenges of running the 107-year-old Baptist College, which included the extensive work needed on the dormitories as well as the upcoming SACs review on October 4 for accreditation. He said “it has not been easy to address all of the problems but the school is working as hard as it can to deal with the needs of its aging facilities.
“We have replaced the roof on Cottingham at the cost of $473,000 and the first 200 churches we’ve contacted have pledged $1 million toward the $12 million goal needed to address repairs to the other dormitories,” Aguillard said.
He also admitted, “It is not easy to start new programs. But I can say the total revenue generated by the new programs we have started has brought in $10,350,789.
“When I took over as president, our budget was $15 to $16 million, this year it is $27 million,” Aguillard said. “That is almost a 50 percent increase since 2006. Our board of trustees approved a budget of $27,453,419 for this year.”
Wayne Taylor, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Foundation, reported the group investment fund, which is blend of stocks, bonds and the other asset classes, had a rate of return of 5.90 percent through the first quarter of 2013, exceeding its benchmark by 1.2 percent. As of March 31, the total assets under management by the Foundation stood at $148,919,975.
“As you all know, 2008 was a very trying time for us and it forced us to re-evaluate the way we invested the gifts we receive and manage,” Taylor said. “We have become more diversified. As a matter of fact, our group fund or blend has done very well compared to other Baptist entities that invest money.”
He was followed by Perry Hancock, president of the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe. Board members saw a brief video from the Children’s Home, which is preparing for the Home’s annual offering on June 9.
“We’ve had a great week at the Children’s Home, and we just want to show you this video as a way of saying thank you for all you do,” Hancock said. “There truly would not be a children’s home without the support of Louisiana Baptists.
Baptist Message Editor Kelly Boggs, who is also executive director of the LBC’s Office of Public Affairs, gave two reports.
“I wear two hats,” he said.
“At the moment, the Louisiana Legislature is in session. Because this is a fiscal year, this is a shorter session but that doesn’t mean there are not bills dealing with abortion, human trafficking, and sexual conduct. House Bill 85 – the Louisiana Fair Employment Act, a measure that would have protected state employees against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression – and Senate Bill 26 – an attempt to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, which allows public school teachers to use approved supplemental materials in the science classroom to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the local school board, were both defeated in committee.
“As the editor of the Baptist Message, we are charged to keep the churches in this state informed. We have tried to do so and obviously, the issue at LC is part of our responsibility. Many of you have seen what we have written,” Boggs said. “If we are given access to ALL of the evidence, I plan on working with our lawyer, and even conducting an investigation on the information that, heretofore, has not been made available to the public. We will do everything we can to give a fair and balanced account.”
Boggs went on to say, “We reported that all the trustees had access to information that both condemned and exonerated the LC president. They chose to vote on the issue via a ballot. When the ballots were counted a majority of trustees – albeit, according to rumors, a slim majority – voted to exonerate the president,” Boggs said.
“In the end,” Boggs told the Executive Board, “each of the LC trustees must answer to God for how they chose to vote. I have to answer to God and my board [Trustees of the Baptist Message] for how I have sought to report the events to you. I am comfortable with that.”
LBC President Waylon Bailey wrapped up the board meeting by giving a brief run down on the strides the 2020 Commission has made since being formed at the LBC’s annual meeting in November.
“The committees gave us their Top 5 priorities and they should come as no surprise. The number one priority was evangelism, followed by Sunday school, small group and discipleship. Third was starting new church works, especially for African American and Hispanic churches. Next was interest for the next generation and finally reaching people and touching lives.
“We still have much work to do but I will come back in September to report to you what our committees report,” Bailey said.