By Will Hall, Message Editor
ALEXANDRIA – During a unified annual meeting highlighting a statewide soul-winning emphasis for 2017-2018, Louisiana Baptists overwhelmingly approved a motion for the Executive Board to consider conducting a study of “recent actions” by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and in like manner defeated a motion for a 2018 move toward a 50/50 Cooperative Program split with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Approximately 600 messengers registered for the Nov. 14-15 event which was held at Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria.
Kyle Sullivan, associate pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, introduced the proposed CP measure Monday evening during the opening session of the annual meeting, and the debate on the motion was conducted during the morning session, Tuesday.
The motion called for a “50/50 split of the Cooperative Program giving” in the 2018 budget, citing the “vast lostness of the nations” compared to the lostness in Louisiana, and claiming the “primacy” of making disciples of “the nations” supersedes the needs of reaching the lost in the state.
The motion also listed the SBC’s multiple affirmations of the “idea” of a 50/50 CP split, over the years, and highlighted that the LBC’s 2006 Cooperative Program Advance Plan for giving more to national causes had added only 1.24 percentage points to the SBC side of the CP split.
— Sullivan was recognized to speak for the motion, and for his part he repeated the content of the motion.
— Stan Wyatt, pastor of College Place Baptist Church, Monroe, raised issues that only “37 percent” of the Georgia Barnette Mission Offering had been distributed when he checked, suggesting this kind of “excess” (a misunderstanding corrected later in the discussion) showed an opportunity to give more to SBC causes. He also noted the LBC was only ahead of Mississippi in the Bible Belt in percentage giving to SBC causes.
— Lewis Richerson, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, was allowed to speak twice. In his first appeal, Richerson said he was “a little puzzled” cuts could not be made, citing as examples the $466,450 budgeted for travel expenses and $8.77 million for salary, retirement and like employment expenses. He argued the LBC could afford the shift in CP allocation “without crippling vital ministries in the state.”
— In his second time at the microphone, Richerson said it was his opinion that cuts could be made without hurting Louisiana College, the Children’s Home or collegiate ministries. He pointed again to the line item for travel reimbursements and named the executive administration line item of $600,000 as another area to target. He asked how many messengers would like to have a similar budget “and then claim to your church, ‘I can’t make cuts.’”
— Steve Horn, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lafayette, and immediate past president of the LBC, called the measure: “unnecessary” because the budget process is thorough; “unwise” because it would strip $2.65 million from the budget in one year; and, he described the move by some states to a 50/50 split “unproven,” saying “we certainly don’t know yet the full effect that’s going to have on state conventions and their ministries.”
— David Cranford, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, and president of the LBC Executive Board, said he was “grateful” for LBC missions and evangelism “here in our own beloved state,” and that the action would result in a 13 percent cut in these. He pointed out the Advance Plan “already has moved $350,000 more, per year” to SBC causes, and reminded messengers the LBC “has absorbed in excess of $600,000 per year in cuts brought about by the GCR and cuts in funding from the North American Mission Board.”
— Mike Holloway, pastor of Ouachita Baptist Church, West Monroe, serves as one of three Louisiana Baptist representatives on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and said CP for national causes is about 2 percent above budget, “whereas ours have not reached – is running below — where it should be.” He added the SBC “is not requesting state conventions to make their giving 50/50,” and said such an immediate move would “truly cripple the ministries, the Harvest outreach, the things we want to do here, in our state.” Holloway also corrected statements about the Georgia Barnette distribution plan, explaining Wyatt had accessed only partial information.
LBC President Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church Haughton, presided over the business session and asked David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention to speak to the impact of the motion.
Hankins said the budgeting process is a “very thorough” one, led by Louisiana Baptists with “over 90 churches of the Louisiana Baptist Convention” represented in the Executive Board budget process, and, told the messengers cutting $2.5 million would mean “you would not be able to have the ministries that we have.” He also explained the LBC reimburses travel expenses similar to companies whose employees “drive on their behalf.”
“Some of our other state conventions that have made these drastic moves have either eliminated or do not have a Baptist collegiate ministry at all. So they’re not reaching college students,” he said.
He also used as an example the LBC Office of Public Policy, which had just given a report about its work with the Louisiana state legislature.
“One of our fellow state conventions in the South moved dramatically toward 50/50 and did not have money for work in their state legislature. So they are searching around for outside funds to support their public policy person in that state.”
Hankins assured messengers the Advance Plan will work to move toward a 50/50 split as in the past when income grows, and urged the messengers “to stay the course we’re on.”
Spinney asked if messengers were ready to vote and there were multiple calls for the question.
But Richerson spoke up to make a point of order that someone else should be allowed to speak for the motion, given Hankins’ recommendation against it. Spinney agreed, but no other messenger rose. Richerson then asked to speak a second time, and Spinney consented. After this set of remarks (see “Speaking For” above), a few scattered ballots were raised in support, but subsequently, the overwhelming number of messengers voted no on the motion.
CONCERNS ABOUT ERLC
The motion regarding the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was handled without discussion.
Clark Stewart, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Covington, offered the motion Tuesday morning, asking the LBC Executive Board to “study the recent actions of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission with regard to issues of concern to Louisiana Baptists.”
Stewart did not elaborate on what catalyzed his motion, but ERLC President Russell Moore has come under fire nationally from Southern Baptist laymen and leaders for a number of controversial actions and statements, including: his signing onto a friend of the court brief in a case supporting the construction of a mosque in New Jersey, and, his aggressive attacks on Southern Baptists who supported Donald Trump.
In the afternoon, the motion was referred to the LBC Executive Board with a near-unanimous raise of ballots by messengers.