FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (ABP) — In a harmonious Arkansas Baptist State Convention meeting Nov. 4-5 in Fayetteville, about 900 messengers approved a 2004 Cooperative Program budget of $19.5 million, heard a report on racial harmony and diversity, endorsed a resolution in support of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and elected Grant Ethridge, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lavaca, Ark., as president.
The racial diversity report was the work of a unity committee appointed last year by ABSC President Jim Lagrone to explore racial diversity and unity within the state convention. The report noted, “Racial reconciliation and unity will not be achieved without God's people being infused with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, modeling Christlike behavior and being led by God's strong hand.”
It encourages “intentionality” in becoming multiethnic at all levels of Baptist life and urges churches to drop racial stereotypes.
A long list of suggestions for churches includes encouraging joint worship opportunities, diversifying staff, incorporating strategies of successful multiethnic churches, conducting outreach ministries in ethnic neighborhoods, targeting special needs of ethnic groups, identifying and equipping “unity champions” in local churches, and establishing mission congregations designed to become racially diverse churches.
An equally long list of suggestions for the state convention, associations, institutions and agencies included developing a training module to help churches achieve racial reconciliation, devising a strategy for creating multiethnic congregations, diversifying staffs and board memberships, encouraging student organizations on college campuses to promote racial diversity and reconciliation, and identifying three to five existing churches willing to become pilot churches for multiethnic diversity.
Messengers approved without discussion the resolution supporting the Marriage Amendment. The resolution also opposed any effort to validate or legalize same-sex marriage or unions, while demonstrating “love for those practicing homosexuality by sharing with them the forgiving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Two other resolutions supported American Armed Forces and expressed appreciation to the host church and convention leaders.
Ethridge was elected unopposed as president. LeRoy Wagner, pastor of Pearcy Baptist Church of Pearcy, Ark., was elected unopposed as first vice president. Larry White, pastor of First Baptist Church of Crossett, Ark., was elected second vice president over three other candidates.
In an unprecedented move, outgoing president Lagrone, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Bryant, used his president's message to challenge Ethridge, his successor as president, to call a summit meeting to explore ways to meet convention needs of the 21st century.
“I challenge the incoming president of our convention to prayerfully call together a group of Arkansas Baptist leaders to … seek God's face and find a direction of genuine reform and re-tooling so that we can better meet the needs of the mission field this century and fulfill the Great Commission,” Lagrone said. “Everything must be on the table.
“We are having record numbers of men and women surrender to missions,” Lagrone told messengers. “…The doors to take the gospel have never been as wide open as they are now. This is the day of the greatest missionary possibilities that we have ever seen. What is our Baptist response?”
In such a time, Lagrone noted, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board have laid people off.
“We say we are mission-minded,” he charged. “But we have to say no to our own people because we do not have enough money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but he cannot get them through the Baptist gate.”
He said Arkansas Baptists must figure out how to get money to the mission field again, and “our regular solutions are not going to work.”
The $19,518,232 convention budget includes $8,152,766 (41.77 percent) designated for Southern Baptist Convention causes and $11,365,467 (58.23 percent) for missions and ministries within Arkansas. The total budget amount is the same as the 2003 budget.