New Texas Baptist Head Aims to Move Past Old Struggles

In the midst of a continuing struggle between conservative and moderate Baptists, the Baptist General Convention of Texas has elected a conservative president to lead the group over the next year.

The Rev. David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon, was elected Monday by a narrow margin, 53 percent to 46 percent. His election comes as he has expressed hope to move the convention past earlier theological and political struggles and to set a new course into the future.

"[W]e must be willing to taste the bitterness of our own failures, and disappointments in order to embrace the future. Like the seed that must be buried and die before the new growth can bud, I suspect we are struggling with death in certain arenas, so new life can be born," Lowrie stated in his blog before the vote.

Weeks before the BGCT annual meeting on Nov. 10-11 in Fort Worth, one Baptist pastor from Lampasas warned against renewed attempts by fundamentalists to take control of the state convention's leadership.

"This year, I have been serving on one of the BGCT's key committees, where I have had the opportunity to observe what I believe to be subtle, precursory efforts toward a Fundamentalist 'repositioning' aimed at reclaiming leadership," said Paul Kenley, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church. Although he could not name one specific incident that would prove his suspicion, he claimed a "preponderance of events" has led him to feel alarmed.

Kenley's warning comes ten years after conservatives in the state convention split and formed the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

As a result of the exodus of hundreds of churches, the BGCT suffered financial losses, making it more difficult to carry and promote the mission of the convention. Lowrie believes many churches, aligned with both the BGCT and the conservative group, have been feeling "disconnected from the mission and vision of the BGCT" – a disconnect that could be traced to efforts by the BGCT leadership to distance themselves or to correct moves made by the fundamentalists leadership of the Southern Baptists, he says.

The new state convention president describes himself as a "representative of people within the BGCT who continue to identify themselves as Southern Baptist." He said his election "sends a signal that we (conservatives) still have a voice," according to The Dallas Morning News.

At the same time, however, he calls himself a centrist-type leader and a unifying figure and believes Texas Baptists want to move past politics and desire progressive change.

"I am now convinced that the greater challenge we face today has little to do with the theological and political struggles of the past, but rather to do with the fact that our vision has become very close to 'old wineskins' in a day when 'new wineskins' are a necessity," Lowrie wrote in his blog.

Lowrie hopes to retool the BGCT to be a powerful movement for Kingdom growth and ministry. Part of that vision includes Texas Hope 2010, a campaign that challenges Texas Baptists to share the Gospel to every person in the state by Easter 2010.

Last year, Lowrie narrowly lost the president's race to Joy Fenner of Garland, the first woman BGCT president. This year, he was elected to become the first second-generation president of the 2.3 million-member state convention. His father, the Rev. D.L. Lowrie, was president from 1981 to 1983.

The BGCT annual meeting concluded Tuesday with resolutions that included a call to prayer for the state and nation during a time of leadership transition with the election of Barack Obama. Also, a motion to rename the BGCT the Texas Baptist Convention was referred to the Executive Board for consideration and study.