It was a perfect storm and Don Currence got caught right in the middle of it last week at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
The large deliberative body meeting in that historic city took important measures to deal with the heartbreaking issue of sexual abuse which tragically exist in some of our churches (as well as in many other denominations and other institutions). This is a difficult issue to engage, particularly for us, since the roughly 47,000 SBC churches are autonomous bodies and there is no hierarchical structure that can direct any local churches to do anything. In other words, the convention as a whole does not have authority over local churches as do our sister denominations.
A proposed change to our Constitution and bylaws will create a new Credentials Committee (after a final vote at next year’s convention) which will have the authority to recommend removal from our Convention’s fellowship any church which is found to be NOT “in friendly cooperation with the Convention.” This would include churches that prove to be out of line with our statement of faith in any number of areas, including those churches who fail to deal appropriately with sexual offenders.
This new Credentials Committee would become a permanent committee and the current Credential Committee, will be renamed the “Registration Committee.” The new Credential Committee would include the President of the Convention and the Registration Secretary as Ex Officio members.
Here’s where I say that Don unfortunately got caught up in the perfect storm.
Don had served for 12 years as the chief assistant of our late brother, Jim Wells, who served our Convention as Registration Secretary for many years. When Jim’s terminal illness made it impossible for him to attend the Convention meeting it fell to Don to take care of the duties. He was elected as Registration Secretary in 2017. He was reelected in Dallas last year with no opposition. Don has done a tremendous job in the position serving our Convention faithfully and professionally. I would argue that he knows more about the registration and credentialing process than any other person in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In light of the current climate and the expected passage of the new constitution changes it appears that the powers that be decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to place a woman in one of our convention-wide elected offices.
I should say here that I first became acquainted with Don Currence the year that he and I were both elected by the Convention to serve as Trustees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We served two five year terms together. Although I made many dear friends on the Board there over those ten years, Don was my closest fellow trustee. I was impressed by his administrative skills and his sharp mind for finances and numbers (one of my greatest weaknesses). But I also learned that he was a humble fellow with a true heart to serve. He was an individual who modeled Grace
Don was assigned to the Budget and Finance sub committee at NOBTS and I was appointed to the Instructional Committee. For a time we each served together as chairpersons of our respective committees and were on the Executive Committee as a result. I saw Don’s dedication to the office of Trustee as he NEVER missed attending ALL of the sub committee meetings (even the ones in which he was not a member). He took it seriously. At our final meeting at the end of 10 year’s service, NOBTS President, Chuck Kelley, said publicly that Don was “the most thorough trustee” that he had ever known, citing how Don had voraciously consumed every page of the volumes of information we were provided, and how he attended every meeting.
This Year’s Election
Along with Don’s nomination this year, Pastor Jimmy Scroggins rose to nominate a wonderful lady and pastor’s wife, Kathy Litton, for the position. Kathy is the wife of popular Alabama pastor Ed Litton and is well-known in her own right. The two respected and qualified nominees presented messengers with a very difficult decision when it came time to cast their ballots.
Would they select the servant-hearted fellow who has faithfully served behind the scenes for many years or would they vote to put a woman into a leadership position for the very first time in SBC history? This was an understandably serious dilemma. Don knows more about the registration, credentials and election processes than anyone alive in the SBC, while Kathy Litton is a kind, personable, popular, capable lady nominated in her home state (which had many registered messengers there in Birmingham).
With about 8,000 messengers registered, and roughly 5,000 ballots cast, the election results were close. Mrs. Litton won by a margin of only 44 votes.
Now, let me say that I do not believe that the nomination of Kathy Litton was in any way intended to be a slap in the face of Don Currence. It was not personal. It was not mean spirited. It was not wrong in any way. In my humble opinion, it was a move motivated by a combination of our current culture and the honest feeling that it was past time for women and minorities to have more seats at the table. It wasn’t intended to hurt Don – but I have to believe it did to some degree.
True to His Form
After last week’s vote in Birmingham, Don handled the defeat with his usual humility and grace. I know he offered congratulations to Kathy and promised any assistance he could provide to her. I understand that she has asked Don to continue helping by overseeing the registration and teller responsibilities for the coming year. Thus, Don will be returning to what he has done for many years… faithfully serving the SBC… but once again, without the title. Mrs. Kathy will be facing a daunting challenge and a very steep learning curve for that important position and I am happy to know that Don will still be there providing clarity, insight and his unique knowledge of the process.
I’m looking forward to see his familiar face in the registration area at next year’s Convention’s Annual Meeting in Orlando. Don Currence has a heart to serve and he is a walking picture of grace. Thank you Don for all you do for our Convention of churches. We should all aspire to your example of humility and service.