Month: August 2004

Former IMB missionary to Spain tapped to lead SBTC’s Hispanic Initiative

The long search is over for a director of the Hispanic Initiative, an effort to increase the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention?s ministry to the state?s fast-growing Hispanic population.

During its summer meeting Aug. 3 at the SBTC office in Grapevine, the convention?s Executive Board voted unanimously, with several glowing verbal endorsements from those present, to elect Mike Gonzales of McAllen, director of missions for Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association, to the post.

Gonzales, 55, is a former Southern Baptist missionary to Spain and former ethnic evangelism consultant to the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Chiefly, he will lead in helping the SBTC advance theological education and church ministry among Hispanics.

Gonzales served in ministry and pastoral positions in several Texas churches, most recently as pastor at First Mexican Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove in Dallas. He has been director of missions in the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association since 2002 and before that was an area director/Hispanic liaison for the Annuity Board and for seven years ethnic evangelism consultant with the BGCT. His longest tenure was as an International Mission Board representative in Spain from 1976-91. Before his missions call, Gonzales said he spoke little Spanish and knew he?d need to be fluent.

David Galvan, board member and longtime friend, introduced Gonzales, saying the search committee ?feels this is God?s man for this position.?

Gonzales told the board: ?I do feel that God is in this and he has guided me through this pilgrimage. And now I?m seeing how God is touching my life and other lives? through Hispanic ministry.

Gonzales said he was saved at age 12 at Primera Iglesia Mexicana in Baytown, lured to the church?s Vacation Bible School by free snow cones.?By the end of the week, through the missionary stories and all the other things we were doing, God touched my heart,? Gonzales said.He said he grew up in that church and attended East Texas Baptist University and later Howard Payne University, where God called him to preach.

Gonzales earned a bachelor?s degree at Howard Payne in 1971 and was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from there in 2000. He holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. ?I?m so happy that God has a hand upon a life,? Gonzales said. ?And I?m so happy at this particular point in my life that God is just tugging at my heart. And I feel that, hey, I?m at 55, and there?s so much to be done in the state of Texas. ?I do speak Spanish now, by the way. I?m very fluent,? he said.

Gonzales said he agrees with the SBTC?s core values of theological agreement based on biblical inerrancy, its missions emphasis and a commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention?s CP missions funding channel.

?I?m a believer in the Cooperative Program,? Gonzales said. ?During the 15 years we were in Spain we were blessed (by the CP) and Lottie Moon. God was able to minister to us and use us in a tremendous way.?

Gonzales said he hopes to help build an ?education superhighway? into the Hispanic culture to reach people with the gospel that might include cooperation with SBTC partner schools. The effort, which is a primary part of the Hispanic Initiative, involves increasing theological education among Hispanics from the G.E.D. level to the doctoral level.

Don Cass, SBTC evangelism director and a former BGCT colleague of Gonzales, said Gonzales ?is a soul winner and you can depend on him when he goes out into the field to share the gospel very faithfully, not only in pulpits, but wherever he is?airports, whatever?he?ll be telling the story of Jesus Christ. I believe God is smiling on this convention in bringing Mike Gonzales our way.?

Gonzales will work with Cass in organizing a Hispanic session of the Empower Evangelism Conference and in developing Spanish-language evangelism tools. Gonzales and his wife, Dalia, have one daughter, Angela Jolley, and two granddaughters. In other action, the board:

– extended the affiliated partnership with The Criswell College. The agreement will be reviewed by Dec. 31, 2009 and at least every five years following. Also, the SBTC will, beginning next year, give 3.25 percent of its undesignated in-state Cooperative Program funds to the college, paid monthly. Until now, the SBTC has budgeted an annual amount rather than a percentage gift to the school. The SBTC will distribute $200,000 in budgeted funds to TCC in 2003.

– witnessed the official signing of an agreement?approved at the spring board meeting?between the SBTC and Jacksonville College. The two-year college is a Baptist Missionary Association of Texas school and is an affiliated institution of the SBTC, which qualifies its for budgeted funding. Houston Baptist University, which has a ?fraternal? relationship with the SBTC, receives no budgeted funding.

– approved funds to dedicate a room at East Texas Baptist Family Ministry in memory of Betty Lane Richards, late mother of SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards.

– changed the job title of Terry Coy, ethnic church planting strategist, to senior church planting strategist/planter and partner development. Robby Partain, SBTC missions director, said Coy will oversee all ethnic church planting and will be the lead strategist in helping associations and churches plant churches.

– changed the job title of Leroy Fountain, urban church planting strategist, to church planting associate/planter resourcing and mentoring. Partain said Fountain, a longtime NAMB missionary, is skilled in ?walking through the covenant relationship? sponsoring bodies have with church planters. He will monitor church plants and build mentoring relationships, Partain said.

– approved Texas native Joe Atchison for the 2004 Paul Pressler Award. Atchison, born in Harlingen and raised in Brownsville, was instrumental in returning the SBC Christian Life Commission, which once championed moderate to liberal social views on abortion and other issues?to the biblical values of most Southern Baptists. Atchison served as a pastor many years in Texas, for three years in Arizona and later as a pastor and director of missions in Arkansas.

In a letter to the board, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards wrote of Atchison, ?As chairman of the Committee on Nominations and other positions, Bro. Joe worked to bring about the course correction in the SBC.?

– Adopted a 2005 budget of $19.2 million, up from $16.3 million in 2004. Addressing the board, Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis said through June 30, Cooperative Program receipts were $8.9 million?$1.2 million above last year at the same date and on pace to reach $17.8 million by year?s end. The SBTC CP budget for 2004 is $15.7 million. Offerings given through the SBTC to Southern Baptist international (Lottie

Moon) and North American (Annie Armstrong) missions are significantly up from last year, Davis reported, as are gifts given through the SBTC toward the Reach Texas offering for state missions.

Richards: SBTC poised to make difference as it matures

GRAPEVINE-Jim Richards told the Executive Board during its summer meeting Aug. 3 the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is poised to make a difference among Baptists as it passes the five-year mark.

Richards, SBTC Executive Director, said the convention in its first five years had reached its goal of becoming a viable ministry in the state of Texas and is entering a new epoch in its life.

Richards unfurled several goals for the SBTC in the coming years. First, he said the convention should demonstrate that we are the best at missions strategy in the state of Texas because of church planting among under-evangelized groups and developing in the DNA of those churches a passion for planting other churches and commitment to the SBTC’s core values.

Second, Richards voiced the hope that we will be the provider of choice for services to local churches. In our time, as it has changed, local churches resource all types of ministries to meet the needs of their congregation. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a trend away from doctrinal loyalty, defined, If it works, we’re going to use it regardless of where the source has its doctrinal position. We want to not only say that we can provide doctrinal resources, but attractive, positive and innovative resources for local churches.

Third, Richards said, the SBTC should be a good partner to the Southern Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program, continuing on our pace to the end game which is 55 percent (of CP Missions giving) going on to the Southern Baptist Convention. Once the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention reaches that point then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. And our statement is that we?re doing more with less in Texas without Texas having to do with less.

Summing up, Richards said the SBTC can be a leader among Baptists. Up to this point we’ve been a fledgling convention, a breakaway convention, a renegade convention. We?ve had a lot of adjectives attached to us to describe us. But the next adjective that?s going to be used is a leading convention.

Richards said the convention’s commitment to missions and evangelism, cooperation through the CP Missions funding channel, theological agreement without uniformity, and minimal organizational bureaucracy, can be a model for other Baptist entities.

Blessed are persecuted for righteousness sake

An amazing percentage of the government-sanctioned violence in the world today has a religious element to it. Tribal, racial, and political animosities are intensified by the religious differences that often accompany these cultural ones.

The persecuted don?t fit any easy profile. The persecution in the Darfur region of Sudan is of Muslims by Muslims. Sub-Saharan Africans are being wiped out by Arab Africans. It?s racial. Formerly, the Sudanese government concentrated on wiping out Christian and animist tribes. In Kazakhstan, the persecution focuses on ?foreign? sects (not Orthodox or Muslim) like Baptists because they are associated with Western nations. In China, North Korea, and Vietnam we see persecution of all religious people by atheist governments.

In Iraq, persecution is not currently government sanctioned but it occurs and focuses on Christians?recent bombings there hit five Catholic churches of various types. Our murdered Southern Baptist workers in Iraq were likely killed because they were unarmed Americans. Our murdered hospital workers in Yemen died because they were Christians. What is our interest here? As a knee jerk, you might say anyplace where people are mistreated we have an interest. That?s a little broad in reality. Majorities treating minorities badly is nearly universal?beyond our grasp. Some kinds of mistreatment are more basic and threatening than others, though.

The desire to control the conscience of another has implications beyond the practice of any particular religion. Thus, several reasons make religious persecution a matter of concern for Christian Americans.

First, we are moved by mercy. Even if we do not admire the beliefs of a religion, efforts to destroy a belief by violence are universally evil. In fact you cannot destroy a belief by force, you can only kill or intimidate its adherents?people. That should move us to compassion. Religious freedom (and responsibility) is given by God and is no less basic to our humanity than are food and water. It transcends culture, type of government, race, and epoch.

We also have a degree of self-interest in religious freedom. Baptists were born from persecution. As a minority Christian sect in Eastern Europe and South America, we have seen attempts to abridge our freedom during this generation. Baptists are late in a long, episodic stream of persecuted reformers. The drama of earlier times is replayed in Eastern Europe and South America when liturgical Christianity treats Baptist beliefs as heretical and cultic. In some places we face the same persecution as our forefathers.

As a more pedestrian concern, peace and security are enhanced by religious freedom. Richard Land notes a link between global security and religious freedom.

?Representative governments that respond to the needs of their people, governments that protect everyone?s right to practice their faith as they wish to practice it, are not societies that are active breeding grounds for terrorists. To the degree that societies suppress such impulses, they breed terrorism,? he claimed during a June speech at Rice University. If we are interested in peace and freedom for anyone, religious freedom is foundational.

Because religious persecution is hard to maintain without at least tacit government support, we should be interested in how such repressive states will get along with their neighbors. It is not just the repressed people who might endanger the security of other nations by terrorist acts aimed at their own government and its allies. The offending government may also threaten the peace of other nations. Rarely will an oppressive nation to be content to upset the well-being of its own residents. A tyrant is a tyrant in more than one context.

In those nations that adopt an official state religion, the problem is compounded. A nuanced persecution of sects, heretics and backsliders multiplies the victims. Not all religious states are evil but most are in their treatment of religious minorities.

We should also be interested in religious freedom for other nations because our nation has influence. America can help and we should. We can encourage persecuted peoples by standing for freedom. We can withhold support from tyrannical governments. We encourage international bodies toward greater courage in the face of evil. Our nation has so many kinds of strength that other nations count on. We rule our nation. America should not lend its strength to those who will use it to oppress the innocent.

Some have suggested that religion itself, or at least a serious practice of religion, is the problem. This antireligious view ignores the universality of faith. Everyone asks ultimate questions about life and purpose. Some create a god to answer these questions and some worship creation itself. Even secular materialism is a faith. It shows itself so when the state seeks to stifle those who answer eternal questions another way.

If you accept my contention that this is our business, what should we do?

I begin with prayer. It helps that I have met some who continue to live in danger and persecution. These are real, individual brothers in Christ that I pray for as if they were in my Sunday School class. They are involved in spiritual warfare with a demonic religion. I have no doubt that some men and women I have taught and eaten with and prayed with are now dead for practicing their faith. That?s hard to take lightly.

We can also keep this matter before our leaders. Various alliances we make as a nation will affect the freedom of others. Our lawmakers may not be attuned to these implications and we can help them in this way. When our nation provides aid that empowers the evil, we should speak up for the sake of mercy at least. If America conducts her affairs mindless of the oppressed, it?s because God?s people here have been mindless themselves.

The information you need is easy to find. Look at the international pages of your newspaper. Go to the website of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Read Baptist Press and the TEXAN. If you want to see more, use your Internet search engine to find articles on religious persecution. You?ll get more information than you have time to read. It?s there for anyone who wants to know. A final thought: Seek God?s perspective on this even as you do for your own walk. Physical death, even physical mistreatment is not ultimate for Christians. We should pray for more than life and safety when we think of persecution.

One man I often remember was arrested and beaten for days when he was 25 years old because he taught Christianity. We met him during a visit to one of the worst countries on Earth. His prayer request to us was for courage and faithfulness, not protection. He couldn?t imagine safety in this life apart from compromise. I can. I often wonder if that is a blessing or a temptation, or a delusion.

Reach Texas Offering fuels effective, cooperative work

Which ministry of the SBTC is the most widely used and needed by the churches? What service do we provide that ministers to the most churches? What qualifies the SBTC to be the catalyst for funds and participation? There are many resources provided by the SBTC. There are many reasons for churches to come together in the network we call the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. There is one reason that rises above the others.

Megachurches and large membership churches can provide many services for themselves. They can do their own discipleship training, deacon retreats, media services, and the myriad of other church ministries. Small and medium-size membership churches look to the association or state convention for these services. The SBTC does an excellent job in providing over 100 different resources for churches.

Emerging generational leadership demands a reason for state conventions to receive their support. Desiring to get the “biggest bang for the buck,” these young leaders want to network with services that meet their congregations? needs and help them carry out the Great Commission.

There is no other functional aspect that provides a more widespread service to all churches of all stripes than a statewide missions strategy. While one church can plant another church or two, no one church can develop and implement a strategy to reach an entire state.

Partnering with the SBTC in “Reach Texas” missions is the most effective way to maximize the outreach of every single church for Texas. Let me share with you some aspects of “Reach Texas.”

A Week of Prayer is designated for Sept. 19-26. This is a time to call the believers to intercede for state missionaries and the people they seek to reach with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Demographics, spirit-led church planters and sponsoring churches all help determine the under-evangelized and un-evangelized areas of Texas. These are the places where the emphasis of financial and people resources are directed.

An offering is received from Sept. 2004 through Aug. 2005 to provide funding for missionary salaries, mission services and direct evangelism. A goal of $1 million dollars has been set. Zero dollars go to administrative costs.

God has allowed the SBTC to see 240 new church starts with a phenomenal survival rate of over 75 percent. Planning, praying, coaching, mentoring and financial support are all components that make this possible.

September is Texas Missions Month. The “Reach Texas” emphasis will be in full swing. This is the greatest opportunity for us as a group of churches to tell the story of Jesus to Texas. Let’s reach Texas together. We are stronger, together.

SBTC consultant hopes churches capture vision for multi-housing ministry

DALLAS?More than 60 percent of Texans live in apartment units, and 96 percent of those tenants are unsaved. That means great potential for ministry exists for churches, said Barbara Oden, multi-housing church planting consultant with SBTC.

Oden, who has worked with creating and structuring multi-housing ministries for the past 20 years in such cities as New York City, Las Vegas, Houston, and Dallas, is also a former apartment manager, so she knows the rules of the game well.

“I think if we’re going to reach our cities in America with the message of Christ, then we have to get into these communities,” Oden said. “Apartment complexes are growing and growing every day.”

The Texas Apartment Association (TAA), for example, represents apartments in 26 cities providing housing for more than 3.8 million Texans in 1.5 million rental-housing units.

Texas has been very proactive in getting the word out and so there has been more conferencing (in multi-housing ministry) here than in any other state,” Oden said.

Multi-housing ministry provides a sense of community in very close proximities, Oden noted. These ministries offer classes that meet the needs and wants of the tenants such as after-school tutoring for children, crafts, cooking, art, Bible studies, Spanish as a Second Language (SSL), English as a Second Language (ESL) and more.

“The apartment managers want a tool that will keep the people from moving out, so they are looking for something to offer the residents,” Oden said.

The multi-housing ministry provides that with classes, free of charge, run by local church volunteers. “We are looking to create classes and activities necessary to be able to build relationships with people who are not the least bit interested in God,” Oden said. “Multi-housing ministries in Texas congregations are reaching people who would never darken the door of our churches.”

Oden said it is not unusual for church services to take place in the apartment complex after the volunteers have established a meeting place and time. “They are winning people to Christ, baptizing them, starting Bible studies, having regular services there,” Oden said.

One pastor and his wife, Harry and Nilda Impini of Mission Lochwood/La Mission in Dallas, spend each week at a local apartment complex ministering to children and their families.

During the school year, Nilda oversees two kindergarten classes a week fo

SBTC Beirut partnership extended through 2008

The SBTC and International Mission Board have extended the “Beirut and Beyond” partnership through 2008, and the SBTC has expanded its role to facilitate work directly with Lebanese Baptists as well as IMB workers, said Terry Coy, SBTC ethnic church planting strategist.

Meanwhile, members of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches in Pflugerville and El Paso are back from a mission trip to Beirut?the first such trip since an SBTC contingent visited the Middle Eastern city last winter to evaluate an expanded missions partnership there.

The Arab Baptist Seminary sends pastors into other Arab countries, Coy said.

Rex Tillman, pastor of Exciting Immanuel Baptist Church in El Paso, and Mike Northen, associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Pflugerville, were among those who went to share the gospel in the predominately Muslim country.

Lebanon is the only country in the region with relative freedom of religion. Beirut‘s cosmopolitan atmosphere allows for a relatively free exchange of ideas and the city has a sizable culturally Christian populace.

Northen was among 14 people from Pflugerville who went to Beirut.

“We met with a group of leaders who pretty much said, ‘Ya’ll come help us know how to reach Arab Muslims,’ ” he said, relating it in Texas dialect.

“Our pastor (Steve Washburn) determined that we as a group were going to go. We met with these leaders and discovered there is a lot of things we need to do, but we need to do them with an understanding of their culture. (We need to do it) the way they would do it, not the way we would,” Northen said.

Among the things that needed to be done to reach people in Beirut were literature distribut

Actor not hiding faith under bushel basket

DALLAS–Stephen Baldwin had just told a packed auditorium of students gathered at The Criswell College for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Youth Evangelism Conference (YEC) about his conversion to Christ following the 9/11 attacks.

In the hallway adjacent to the stage, a purple-haired teen, probably 12 or 13 with eyes full of tears, bent Baldwin’s ears for several minutes before the veteran actor whisked him downstairs to the hospitality room to do more serious spiritual business.

After a 15-20 minute conversation, Baldwin gathered several others around and prayed with the student

“Good luck, man,” the teen told Baldwin as he stood to leave.

“I don’t need luck, dude,” Baldwin said grinning. “I’ve got Jesus.”

That Baldwin has Jesus is curious to some.

He’s the youngest of the Baldwin acting clan–with Alec, Billy and Daniel–and a veteran of more than 60 movies (“The Usual Suspects,” “8 Seconds,”) and television shows “The Young Riders” (1989-92), ‘Celebrity Mole” and “Fear Factor.”

His conversion and his work in producing an “extreme sports” DVD to reach kids in the skateboarding and biking culture has been reported in places like USA Today, the New York Times,, Fox News Channel and CNN. Lately he’s been a regular at Christian rock festivals and similar evangelical events–even advocating that Christians turn out for the November elections.

Baldwin said he’s not concerned with potential negative consequences of being a vocal Christian in the entertainment business.

“In my position, I just don’t think I’m supposed to keep my faith to myself,” Baldwin told the TEXAN.

“I’m just doing what the Lord’s telling me to do. You know, if the Lord’s not telling anybody else (in Hollywood) to (talk publicly about their faith), well, then God bless ’em. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are a lot of people who don’t put their faith before everything else, you know. And that’s a big problem. I’m just doing what the Lord’s calling me to do. Period.”

Baldwin told the 2,000 YEC students and sponsors how he came to Christ through the witness of his wife, Kennya, a believer of 10 years, and the 9/11 tragedy, which he called an “impossible” event.

” ‘If the impossible is now possible,’ ” he recalled thinking, ” ‘anything’s possible. And if anything’s possible–my wife’s a born-again Christian, I’ve been reading the Bible and I’ve been praying to the Lord to like, tell me what this is all about–then Jesus could come back tomorrow.’ That’s what I thought. ‘Well if Jesus could come back tomorrow, I’ve got a lot of work to do, because I ain’t the guy that I want to be when Jesus comes back.’ “

Baldwin said he made a covenant with God and was baptized at the evangelical church he and his wife attend in upstate New York.

His YEC appearance included a plug for the DVD he co-produced with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, which he directed and hosts–aimed at the extreme or “core” sports culture of skateboarding and BMX biking, an $8 billion a year consumer segment with its own counterculture music and often hard-edged lifestyle.

The “Livin’ It” DVD was released this spring, the brainchild of Baldwin and Luis Palau’s son, Kevin; they conceived the idea last year after Baldwin attended a Palau organization event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., featuring leading skateboarders who shared their Christian beliefs with youth attracted to the “core sports” subculture.

The 40-minute documentary ( features extreme sports action, footage of engaging street outreach and stories from 11 top “core sports” athletes.

The Palau organization planned 10,000 copies for a 24-month distribution; in five months 40,000 DVDs have sold, Baldwin said.

A Long Island, N.Y., native, Baldwin, 38, told the YEC students the nanny he and his wife hired for their first child was Brazilian–like his wife–and was a devout Christian. She told the couple she believed God sent her to them to help lead them to Jesus; she even predicted they would become Christians and have a ministry, Baldwin said.

After Baldwin moved his family to upstate New York, Kennya began attending Bible studies and became a Christian. By September 2001, her faithful witness had moved Baldwin close to conversion, he said.

Baldwin told the TEXAN he sees how God, years earlier, was orchestrating his conversion. Raised a nominal Roman Catholic who didn’t attend church much after about age 10, Baldwin said his experience in his mid-20s in a 12-step recovery program awakened his senses to God, but it took no concrete form.

“In reality, there’s just no comparison to the experience I’m having now,” he said.

Baldwin said Jesus Christ has given him peace and has helped him be a better father and husband. “And I couldn’t do that unless I had some understanding of what God’s will was for me. And again, I only have that understanding because I know what it’s based on, which is the Bible, and I read it every day.”

Baldwin said since his conversion he’s had numerous discussions with his brothers about his experience. Baldwin’s brother Alec made news in 2000 after he said he’d leave the country if George W. Bush, a professed Christian, won the election.

“The Lord, very early in my walk, was very clear and just said, ‘I’ll deal with them.’ He said, ‘I need Stephen to focus on Stephen’s relationship with Jesus Christ.’ So I’ve just been walking my walk and I’ve been really busy with everything the Lord’s had me doing.”

Baldwin said Alec, for instance, has questioned him lately about his speaking schedule, which includes many Christian venues. They talk frequently and their kids play together, he said.

“Now with this election coming up, you know, people know that I’m a Christian, so people he interacts with are like, ‘Oh, so, what’s your brother doing?’ And what he explained to me most recently is—probably two to three times a week he walks down the street in New York and probably folks who are visiting New York City from the South and this and that … will go, “Oh, my, Alec Baldwin.’ And he’ll go, ‘Oh, how are you. Nice to meet you.’ And they’ll go, ‘Please tell your brother Stephen, God bless him for everything he’s doing for Jesus.’”

“He said he can’t get away from it,” Baldwin said, laughing.

“I just talk to people and I let them know that I act on what I believe, and that belief is based on the Bible. And I’ll tell anybody, ‘If you’re reading the Bible every day, and you share in that same understanding, then we can talk. And if you don’t agree with me, then you’re not agreeing with me based on your understanding.’ That’s what I like to tell people.”

During his YEC appearance, Baldwin lamented the number of Christians who didn’t vote in the 2000 presidential election and said the upcoming vote might be the most important in the nation’s history.

He stopped short of an endorsement, but said he would vote “for the guy who I think has the most faith.”

Baldwin said plans are being made to organize a “Livin’ It” bus tour for 2005 that would bring some of the top Christian “core sports” athletes to malls in cities across the country.


Corpus Christi church removes 165 from rolls

CORPUS CHRISTI?A Southern Baptist church made news when a large majority of its members voted to remove from its rolls 165 people who oppose the church’s pastoral leadership and direction.

Members of Gardendale Baptist Church in Corpus Christi voted during a business meeting July 18 to “confirm or deny” that Micah Davidson “is the God-called pastor for Gardendale and is leading us in God’s direction or not.”

Members confirmed Davidson by about 750-165, said John Gilbert, the church’s administrative pastor. Davidson promised to leave immediately if voted down; if not, those voting against his leadership would be removed, a letter sent prior to the vote stated.

Davidson, who was on an international mission and not available for comment, was the unanimously choice as pastor when he came in 2002, but had gotten criticism from some members because the church quit holding traditional Sunday night services and reserved congregational decision making to major issues, the Caller-Times newspaper reported.

In a telephone interview with the TEXAN, Gilbert said the Caller-Times report of July 20 was accurate. Gilbert told the newspaper opposition in the church was hindering its ministry and that members could not vote on every decision.

“It was a very difficult day for us,” Gilbert told the TEXAN, adding that Davidson displayed “utmost integrity in walking through that.”

Comment here from dissenting member ?

He said the church hopes for restoration for members who were removed, which would involve attending a membership class and signing a membership covenant. Gilbert told the TEXAN he’d just spent two hours with one member who voted against Davidson and was rethinking his decision.

“I really anticipate a good number will be back,” Gilbert said.

A copy of the covenant faxed to the TEXAN by Gilbert notes four requirements:

?”I confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.”

?”I have been baptized by immersion.”

?”I have completed the new member class.”

?”I am committed to abide by the membership covenant.”

Members also covenant to regularly attend services; participate in small group Bible studies; serve in a God-called ministry; be consistent tithers; model a Christ-centered life; reach out to the unchurched, and protect the congregation’s unity.

Gilbert said the entire staff was ready to resign if members fired Davidson.

In a letter from Davidson to members that announced that a vote would be taken on his leadership, he wrote that since January more than 800 adults have joined “Home Teams,” 200 are serving in a church ministry and more than 100 have signed up for mission trips. He also noted that 45 people were baptized on March 7 and 43 salvation decisions were recorded during the church’s Vacation Bible School.

Davidson wrote, “gossip, rumors, slander and secret meetings must stop.”

Who should vote?

The political doctrine of my childhood was summed up in two statements: “Anyone can become president,” and “Every American should vote.” I don’t think I’ve believed the first statement since my voice changed but I’ve more recently come to doubt the second just as much. Maybe the reasons we vote have become less idealistic.

A recent news story shows the cynicism of modern political campaigns. The story was comparing the sources of campaign funding for candidates Bush and Kerry. No surprises really; some favor one man, some the other and a few send significant amounts to both campaigns. Listening to some of the contributors talk, I was saddened to hear a strictly bottom-line mathematical reasoning. If one candidate is likely to be beneficial to a person’s personal business or broad field of endeavor, that candidate is the only candidate he will consider. A law professor was quoted as speculating that some trial lawyers will pawn their Lear jets to see that John Kerry is elected so that the limits on business liability and lawyers’ fees supported by the Bush administration might be overturned. Is it really that simple? Is it only about money in my pocket?

With this and so many other examples in mind, I’d like to suggest that not all Americans should vote. Governing our nation is a high privilege. Those who make critical decisions for America (its voters, I mean) should come up to some minimal standards before leaving the house on Election Day.

Voters should be able to see beyond self interest. Let’s be honest. We have low unemployment, low inflation, and a standard of living beyond the imaginations of most people. This election is not about whether we will starve. There are some important things at stake, but seeing them requires that we care about the nation rather than just our own bottom line. Voters who can be controlled with promises of personal prosperity are unfit to govern their nation.

Voters should be able to tell the difference between worldviews. Regardless of where you come down on the issues, this presidential election presents the most distinct choice we’ve faced since 1980 at least. Those who say “it doesn’t matter since they’re all the same,” or “it’s all just politics,” are being lazy. The candidates don’t claim to see things the same way and they are objectively coming from different perspectives. It’s hard to understand the high regard our nation gives to “undecided” voters. Are they undecided about their own convictions or are they uninformed regarding the convictions of the candidates? Columnist Jonah Goldberg tells of a young woman who listened to the 2000 Gore/Bush debates as an undecided voter. Afterward, she expressed disappointment that Mr. Gore was not as liberal as she’d hoped, so she was going to vote for George Bush. I doubt she’s the only scary voter out there. Those who don’t make up their minds until they enter the voting booth should be better informed now.

Voters should not spend their franchise on empty gestures. Third party candidacies sound more noble than they are. No one truly expects Ralph Nader or any other third party candidate to become president though these candidates may better represent their constituents on a few issues. That doesn’t make them qualified to lead and it doesn’t make this gesture a worthy investment of support. Evangelical Christians have been susceptible to these campaigns in the past. No successful politician is as strong on every issue as we would like. Our own pastors and parents can’t pass this test in their much smaller contexts. Rather than striking a blow for purity, we risk giving up our influence altogether when we follow a man with only one or two “perfect” ideas.

Voters should be free of regionalism and other types of “group-think.” A clever old song refers to Grandpa who, “voted for Eisenhower ’cause Lincoln won the war.” I am the son of a county that voted Republican for a hundred years because of that same war in a state that voted Democrat for the same period and reason. You might argue that block voting empowers a minority but it also makes individual convictions useless. If such solidarity was ever a good idea, it is now a stupid reason for voting the way we do. Vocations, unions, ethnic groups, and age groups that vote in lockstep are not behaving as free people. Citizens whose consciences are ruled by others should not govern a free nation.

Voters should value their vote, but not sell it. Some misunderstand our decision making process by saying “it doesn’t matter.” Others misconstrue the value of their vote by inviting politicians to bid for it. “If you want my vote, you’ll need to?” This thinking may explain the ascendance of the undecided voter. They are hoping candidates will respond to their whims. A man should already know and show what he is by the time he becomes a national candidate. Our job is to discern that reality and compare it with truth and right. Candidates that come up with new convictions based on polls of undecided swing voters are the untrustworthy pandering to the immature.