Churches plan withdrawal from state Baptist network

Saturday, January 19, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- More than 100 Baptist churches sent representatives to Sedalia on Thursday to start planning a new statewide Baptist group. Many of those congregations are expected to withdraw from the 168-year-old Missouri Baptist Convention.

The new organization, for now using the working name Baptist Convention of Missouri, will meet for the first time April 18 at the Fee Fee Baptist Church in Bridgeton, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday.

The departure from the larger association, which had 1,900 member churches with 625,000 members when it met in October, follows a gradual change of leadership. Over the past three years, leaders from a more conservative group called Project 1000 have won election to most offices in the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Moderate-conservative churches have become disillusioned with the leadership. Many participants in Thursday's meeting said they never would have imagined leaving the state convention.

The pastor of Fee Fee Baptist, the Rev. Randy Fullerton, compared the actions of the state convention to a woman who has had her face lifted and rearranged so even God doesn't recognize her.

"I don't recognize the Missouri Baptist Convention anymore," Fullerton said. "That's why we must begin a new convention."

In the fall, Project 1000 leaders tried to control nominations to the individual boards of five statewide Baptist-funded agencies. By late October, each of the agencies had changed its rules to keep out new nominees. The convention reacted by putting funds for the agencies in escrow, and threatening to sue the boards for not allowing the new members elected at the annual meeting in October.

The Missouri Baptist Convention was formed for mutual aid and mission. Most of its churches are affiliated with the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, which has 15.7 million members, making it the nation's second-largest denomination after Catholics.

Most of new association's member congregations are expected to remain affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but they are not required to do so.

Since the October meeting, several congregations have withdrawn.

Speakers Thursday said that they were tired of the infighting and looked forward to new ideas from a leaner, less bureaucratic state convention.

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