Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Praising God for Courage

The Southern Baptist Convention is a unique Christian body. Every year, thousands of messengers come to the annual meeting to hear reports from our Baptist organizations, to decide on motions and resolutions, and to elect officers. A large majority of those in attendance sit quietly in their seats and listen, while a few make their way to the microphones to voice their concerns. I have attended eleven consecutive Conventions, beginning in 1998 in Salt Lake City (the best convention I have attended) and continuing through this year's meeting in Indianapolis. For most of those years, only one candidate has been put forth to be the President. It is no secret that a group of leaders from the Conservative Resurgence would decide amongst themselves a few months ahead of time who that candidate should be. All of those put forth during the time of my convention attendance have been godly and respectable leaders who have all done a fine job of leading the convention and being our spokesman. However, a few years ago one man had the courage to challenge the status quo. One man made his way to a microphone to put forth the name of a challenger.

In 2004, when we met in Indianapolis, I was seated with my then-Associate Pastor, Brad Gaines near the center of the assembly, when the presidential nominations were being made. Bobby Welch was nominated by Johnny Hunt, and our assumption was that he would be elected without opposition as had happened in years past. But suddenly, the President recognized a speaker at a microphone. There stood my friend from Seminary, Dennis Conner, who was then pastor of Cashie Baptist Church in Windsor, NC (and now pastor of Crosspointe Church near Phoenix, AZ). I whispered to Brad, "What is he doing?" What he was doing was creating a revolution in Baptist Convention procedure. From the microphone on the floor, Dennis nominated Al Jarrell, another fellow Southeastern Student. Al was pastor of Riverside Baptist in Merry Hill, NC, which was averaging around 70 in Sunday School at the time. In his nomination speech, Dennis admitted that he didn't think Al had a chance and had to beg him to let his name be put forth. I understand from talking to Dennis later that the whole thing went down literally moments before Dennis approached the microphone. But as Dennis stated the nomination, applause began to rise from the messengers, and to the surprise of us all, Al Jarrell received more than twenty percent of the vote. One thousand twenty messengers (including Brad, Dennis, Billy Belk and me) cast their votes for Jarrell.

Two years later when the convention met in Greensboro, Dr. Frank Page was elected as President of the SBC over establishment favorites Ronnie Floyd and Jerry Sutton. Frank has served us well for two years, and I think most Southern Baptists would agree that he has been a breath of fresh air in Convention life. But he would have never been nominated, much less elected, if Dennis Conner had not had the courage to step to the microphone and nominate Al Jarrell in 2004.

This year, 2008, we returned to Indianapolis. The whole time I was in the assembly, I couldn't help thinking about Dennis and his courage. This year, we did not have one candidate. We did not have three candidates. We had six candidates. While I think some of those nominated would have been unfit to lead the SBC, at least we had a choice. I cast my vote for Dr. Avery Willis, a godly man whom I have respected for many years. Dr. Willis did not win, and confessed to me in the corridors on Wednesday evening that he was relieved that he didn't. Johnny Hunt did win, as most people could have predicted. But it was wonderful to hear several names put forth as candidates. In 2003, I would have said it would never happen. But it did happen, and as I reflect on this year's convention, I am grateful to God for the courage of Dennis Conner. I believe that in generations to come, what he did in 2004 will be talked about in circles of Baptist historians. His name may not be remembered by many, but his act of courage will never be forgotten.

Dennis & Cindy Conner
of Crosspointe Church in Buckeye, AZ

1 comment:

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