IT WAS THE YEAR that was – 2012. For Arkansas Baptists, it was a historic year that included the retirement of a longtime executive director and the election of a new leader. On the national stage, Southern Baptists made history by electing their first African-American convention president and approved a long-debated new descriptor.
As is its tradition, the staff of the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) looked back on the year and ranked the following top 10 stories based on overall news value and significance to Arkansas Baptist life.
1. Tucker elected ABSC executive director
The final ABN edition of the year brought the top news item as J.D. “Sonny” Tucker was elected executive director-treasurer of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) Dec. 4. Tucker, 53, replaced Emil Turner, who had served as executive director since 1996.
Tucker, who had served as team leader of the ABSC evangelism and church growth team since 1997, officially began his duties Jan. 1.
Don Blackmore, discipleship pastor of Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, who served as chairman of the ABSC Operating Committee, said Tucker possesses qualities the committee was looking for in a new executive director.
“We were looking for someone who would continue to serve the churches of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention,” he said, adding, “Somebody that would continue with an evangelistic zeal, keeping
(with) Dr. Turner’s theme, ‘More people in heaven and less people in hell.’ (We) were looking for someone who understood the churches of Arkansas.”
2. Turner retires after 16 years
The leadership of the state convention dominated the top news items during 2012 with the announcement by Emil Turner of his intention to retire.
“For almost 16 years, Mary and I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the Southern Baptist churches of Arkansas; we have enjoyed the kindness of the pastors and the tolerance of the church members and have enjoyed the friendship of the other ABSC entity leaders,” Turner told members of the ABSC Executive Board Aug. 2.
“I have been the beneficiary of the competence and hard work of the ABSC staff members. We are grateful for each kindness shown us by these good people. But Mary and I have prayed about this decision and have concluded that my most effective ministry service at this time will be found in some other capacity,” Turner continued. “We have been treated with grace and compassion by Arkansas Baptists, and I will miss serving the churches as executive director.”
3. Luter elected first black SBC president
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, was elected as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during its 155th session held in New Orleans in June.
Luter grew Franklin Avenue from 65 people in a white-flight neighborhood to a congregation of more than 8,000 prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“He is qualified in every way to hold this office,” said David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, in nominating Luter. “He fully supports world missions through the Cooperative Program. He is a man of integrity with a loving family and an unblemished, untarnished reputation in this community where he has lived all his life.”
4. ‘Great Commission Baptists’ moniker approved
Messengers to the New Orleans convention approved a new descriptor – “Great Commission Baptists” – by a vote of 53 percent to 46 percent via ballot vote after a nearly half-hour debate.
In all, 4,824 ballots were cast; 2,546 were in favor of the descriptor, and 2,232 were not in favor of the descriptor. The measure survived some parliamentary maneuvering.
Garry Hunnicutt, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Benton, spoke against the proposed descriptor, saying, “I see the rebranding as the second step to dismantling the Southern Baptist Convention.”
An informal survey about the name revealed a majority of Arkansas Baptists were not in favor of the new moniker.
“It’s one thing to call yourself or your church ‘Great Commission Baptist’ and entirely another thing to be a Great Commission church,” said James K. Ross, senior pastor and church planter at Life House Ministries, Texarkana.
5. Arkansans help New York Sandy victims
Arkansas Baptist disaster relief volunteers prepared 100,000-plus meals and performed numerous recovery and “mud out” operations in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that devastated areas of New Jersey and New York in late October.
Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers prepared practically every hot meal distributed by the Red Cross in the aftermath of Sandy.
Baptist Press reported that Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from all states deployed after Sandy had prepared more than 1.2 million meals in New York, New Jersey and, earlier, in West Virginia.
6. Arkansas Baptist ‘Mission Haiti’ has big impact
It all began with the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country of Haiti. Throughout 2012, Arkansas Baptists continued to serve faithfully and saw God move extraordinarily – witnessing many salvations among the country’s people.
“Put simply, God opened doors, and Arkansas Baptists walked through them,” explained Bob Fielding, ABSC missions ministries team member and Haiti project coordinator.
Fielding said that since 2010 about 80 teams of Arkansas Baptists have ministered in areas ranging from door-to-door evangelism and preaching to sports ministry and children’s ministry.
One Haitian pastor started Kids Clubs, which Fielding described as church-based programs designed to share with “children about Jesus, teach them the Word of God and reach the country for Christ.”
7. Longtime evangelism professor Roy Fish dies
Roy J. Fish, an Arkansas native and longtime professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Sept. 10 at age 82.
Fish grew up in Star City and graduated in 1952 from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a bachelor’s degree in English. Fish, who’s name is considered by many Southern Baptists as being synonymous with “evangelism,” served Southwestern for nearly 50 years and once occupied the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism, considered “The Chair of Fire.”
Fish held several prominent denominational positions, including second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and interim president of the North American Mission Board.
8. Jones chosen to lead Williams Baptist College
Thomas O. Jones, 56, was selected as the sixth president of Williams Baptist College (WBC) in March. Jones succeeded Jerol Swaim, who retired in June after serving at the college for 48 years – 17 years as its president.
Jones previously served from 1994 to 2000 at Williams as vice president for institutional advancement. He held the same title at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California for the past 12 years.
“Dr. Jones is an incredible communicator, a highly intelligent and perceptive leader and a wonderful Christian example. With his warm, personal manner and his strong support of the vision of WBC, the committee found him to be a perfect fit for the college,” said Dana Kelley of Jonesboro, a Williams’ alumnus who chaired the search committee.
9. Voters reject medical marijuana proposal
Arkansas voters, by a narrow 51 percent majority, defeated a ballot measure on Nov. 6 that would have made their state the first in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
The Arkansas initiative was defeated by a narrower-than-expected margin, according to Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee of Arkansas. The closeness was due in part to the massive amount of money spent by pro-marijuana groups and in part to the short time opposition groups had to mobilize.
Marijuana advocates spent at least $700,000 in the campaign, compared with less than $50,000 spent to oppose the initiative, Cox said. The disparity allowed proponents to purchase a large amount of advertising while opponents were forced to rely on media coverage of the issue to disseminate their message.
10. Acts 1:8 One Day mission project sees 100 saved
More than 100 salvations – as well as other decisions – were reported as a result of the annual Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip Oct. 6.
More than 2,000 volunteers representing 150-plus churches from across Arkansas converged on Forrest City and surrounding areas for the missions day, which is a ministry of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Volunteers divided into groups and ministered at 118 ministry sites in area communities, which are served by Tri County Baptist Association. Among other things, projects ranged from nursing home visits and sports ministry to prayer walking, block parties and evangelism.
For more reflections from 2012 visit www.arkansasbaptist.org.