Texas Baptists will have a choice between two candidates for convention president in November. Joy Fenner, Executive Director Emeritus of the Texas Baptist WMU is the announced candidate of Texas Baptists Committed, the group that has named the candidate for president of the BGCT through the stormy years of the attempted fundamentalist takeover of the convention, and since. David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church of Canyon, is the “independent” candidate.
It does not appear, at first glance, that this will be particularly divisive, at least, that’s my hope. I don’t see that the supporters of one candidate will take their football and go home if they don’t win the game. Of course, any difference of opinion among Baptists can be divisive, but the differences represented by these two candidates aren’t convention busters, at least, not in my opinion.
Joy Fenner represents the current BGCT establishment, the “moderates” who essentially kept the state convention from falling into fundamentalist hands and have minimized the damage from the split when the fundamentalists formed their own convention. Her candidacy appears to be anchored to two particular posts. One is that the election of a woman, long overdue in the BGCT, would be a recognition of their contributions in church life. The other is the long standing Baptist appeal to missions, and the affinity we have as a denomination for those who have served as missionaries and in missions support. Fenner served on the international mission field in Japan, and then as WMU executive in Tennessee and Texas.
Lowrie’s candidacy is an acknowledgement that there is no longer a threat of a “takeover” of the BGCT by fundamentalists, and that it is time to move on. There may even be a hint that it is also time for Texas Baptists Committed to find a new role in the life of the state convention. His candidacy also represents a very realistic appeal to the future, and an acknowledgement that deep change is necessary in the way the convention operates. His vision of the future is in line with the post-denominational perspective. His articulation of cooperation based on “points of connection” demonstrates very realistic and practical thinking.
It’s a clear choice.
Fenner represents the BGCT establishment. She’s a Baptist Building “insider,” a very nice, personable individual with a long Baptist pedigree, a three term missionary to Japan, alumnus of East Texas Baptist University but with the obligatory connection to Baylor. She’s followed the rules by waiting her turn in line and paying her dues in order to move up through the ranks. She’s exhibited appropriate modesty (“I’ve never sought a position in my life,” though she has served as BGCT second VP) in “agreeing” to serve, and emphasized the appeal to missions and to “the value of women in Texas Baptist life.” Her candidacy says that the future of the BGCT lies in maintaining the status quo. And in spite of objections to the contrary, it is very obviously about electing a woman for the sake of adding another notch to the diversity stick.
Lowrie has a bit of a Baptist pedigree as well, particularly with regard to committees, trustee boards and officer positions. He’s a Baylor grad, which says a lot without actually having to go too deep into the issue. He’s a West Texas pastor in a prominent, well established church that’s a strong supporter of the BGCT. He’s had some service in one of the “mission” conventions in Minnesota-Wisconsin.
His candidacy says that future of the BGCT lies in “seeking points of connection with all kinds of Baptists.” It acknowledges that those in the BGCT who still want to find ways to connect and cooperate with the SBC have as rightful a place as those who don’t. It carries a hint of suggestion, though not an all out acknowledgement, that the convention is going to have to make some changes in its way of operation in order to remain vital and relevant. And it will unarguably be a referendum on the role of Texas Baptists Committed in the future BGCT.
Regardless of the outcome, the vote tally will carry a message that both the leadership of the BGCT, and Texas Baptists Committed, need to heed.