JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) — Seven members of rival conservative groups in the Missouri Baptist Convention will go to mediation in an effort to bring about peace within the battle-torn statewide group.
The MBC Executive Board voted on April 15 to create a “peace committee” that will submit to Christian mediation through Peacemaker Ministries. The Billings, Mont., organization focuses on Bible-based conflict resolution.
The committee makeup and its methodology were proposed by Executive Board member Jody Shelenhamer, a layman from First Baptist Church of Bolivar, Mo., according to MBC president Gerald Davidson.
Shelenhamer proposed four members who have been associated with the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association (MBLA). Three others represented a group called Save Our Convention (SOC), which has criticized what it calls an inordinate amount of control in convention life by a small group of MLBA 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. However, SOC 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 MBC annual meeting. That is proof, they say, that rank-and-file Missouri Baptists have grown weary of intra-conservative 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 current 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 MBC 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 Executive Board meeting, MBLA 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.
Cochran's proposal, which he 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 the three issues of: theology, methodology, political activity and any related matters that involve Missouri Baptist life.”
“I'm hopeful that it will work,” Davidson told Associated Baptist Press. 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, the 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 MBC leadership. But 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,” he said.
“People have to say, ‘Hey, we're going to have to quit fighting,' ” Davidson continued. “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 — a situation Davidson pledged to continue working against.
As far as he is concerned, Davidson said, MBLA may continue to distribute statements critical of SOC, hold regional rallies and maintain its “Right to Know” website during the peace committee process. And if SOC organizers choose to reactivate their organization, they could do the same.
He said there is no timetable for completion of the committee's work.
The SBC Peace Committee was launched in 1985, submitted its final report in 1987 and asked the Southern Baptist Convention to extend it another three years to monitor response to its recommendations.
But many moderates protested the committee's final report, which they said was unfairly weighted toward conservatives. Most of them eventually left the Southern Baptist Convention for moderate organizations, such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance of Baptists and the historic state conventions in Texas and Virginia.