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Candidates for president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc

By TWILA DECKER, WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 5, 1999


Here are the candidates for president of the National Baptist Convention USA Incq

The Rev. A. Russell Awkard, 54, is pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., president of the Bluegrass State Baptist Convention and a longtime critic of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons. He calls for financial reforms to prevent a recurrence of abuses and says the NBC needs to focus more attention on helping its churches evangelize at home and abroad.

"We exist for the sake of the churches" of the NBC, he says. "I think the churches have been neglected in this whole process."

The Rev. Roscoe D. Cooper Jr., 53, pastor of the 300-member Metropolitan African-American Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., became well-known during the Lyons scandal. Or at least his signature did.

As general secretary of the NBC, Cooper was a key aide and ally of Lyons. But his signature was forged repeatedly on documents that were involved in Lyons' deals.

Though loyal to Lyons till the end, Cooper vows to run a more ethical administration. "I believe we need leadership that is willing to submit to the authority of God," he says. "I am not going to use this office to sell the National Baptist Convention to corporations, to politicians or outside groups for personal enrichment or money or power."

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The Rev. E.V. Hill, 65, is pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles and one of the NBC's best-known preachers. He was a staunch Lyons backer and is regarded by some as Lyons' candidate in this election.

Hill says he doesn't regret his allegiance to Lyons. "I haven't counted up the cost," he says. "It doesn't matter to me. I would take the same stand."

If elected, Hill says, he would hold a meeting in November in St. Louis to evaluate NBC's 73 auxiliary boards. That meeting would give those who are complaining they aren't able to participate in the leadership a chance to do so.

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The Rev. Earl R. Jackson, 65, associate pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Gary, Ind., is a retired educator who wants to restore direction to the convention.

Jackson says he would promote women's rights within the church and the creation of an official Baptist doctrine for member churches. He also would move to Nashville and work out of the Baptist World Center.

"We have never had a president who worked out of any place, other than his home or church," Jackson says. "I think the organization has grown so great now that it requires that the president live where the headquarters is located."

The Rev. Matthew V. Johnson, 37, is pastor of Manasseh Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., and chairman of the religion department at Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.

The youngest candidate in the field, he says he would trim excess positions and instill reform in the convention. He is not collecting campaign donations and is critical of candidates flying around the country soliciting votes.

"This is what led to Henry Lyons," says Johnson, who had a falling out with Lyons in 1993 and remains a critic. "If you want to change the kind of leadership you have in an organization, you must change the method by which they are selected."

The Rev. John D. Kelly, 52, is pastor of Elyton Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit and moderator of the Michigan District Baptist Association. Working with a modest budget, his campaign has been limited primarily to contact with ministers in the Detroit area.

Unlike some candidates, he did not decide to run for president until Lyons was convicted, Kelly says.

"I hope to put the convention back on the right track. The convention's mission and mandate when we started was always missionary, that is, training and educating leaders in our country and preparing missionaries for other countries. We've lost track. We've been sidetracked."

Cleo S. McConnell, 65, a deacon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Homer, La., is the only lay person in the campaign and, he says, the first in the history of the NBC to seek the presidency.

Some members disapprove of his candidacy, he says. "Pastors, I don't think they are quite happy and pleased with my being a candidate. This would not have happened except for the dilemma we are in now. . . . I feel it (the convention) has let the people down with the leadership that we have today. There just seems to be so much greed for money that the people are being neglected," McConnell says.

"My campaign is about reformation. . . . I'm seeking to provide leadership with those people who are desiring to do the right thing."

The Rev. Acen L. Phillips, 64, is pastor of Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Denver, an NBC officer and another staunch supporter of Lyons during his troubled presidency.

Phillips promises reconciliation and reform if elected, saying he would even include his opponents in his administration.

Phillips has had personal financial problems, including several outstanding federal and state tax liens. But he brushes aside questions about them, saying his problems are in the past, and he pledges to bring financial reform to the convention.

The convention should adhere to its spiritual mandate, he says, but it also should address the social, economic and educational needs of the black community.

The Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, 50, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, N.Y., has been both a consummate insider and an outsider in the counsels of the NBC. He was a key member of the administration of the Rev. T.J. Jemison, Lyons' predecessor as president, then was forced to the sidelines when Lyons defeated Richardson and others in 1994.

Jemison's administration, like Lyons', was often criticized for financial mismanagement. But Richardson is running on a platform of reform.

"The current operational procedures of the convention are as much responsible for the current crisis we have as the greed of Dr. Lyons," he says. "We must assure our constituents and the world that we have taken the right safeguards to make sure it doesn't happen again. . . . The convention is in a crisis and we are in a watershed moment."

The Rev. William J. Shaw, 65, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, also ran against Lyons in 1994. He says he wants to restore God and accountability to the convention, contending that the potential of the convention to serve God has been overlooked by presidents hoping to make money off the membership rolls.

"The convention ought not become the marketing source for various businesses that want to exploit our numbers potential." His campaign slogan is VISA, an acronym for vision, integrity, structure and accountability.

The Rev. Jasper Williams Jr., 56, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta, says the convention needs to remember that power is best used when shared. Unless the convention elects a team leader as its president rather than a king wanna-be, he says, it will continue to lose members and credibility.

"I think the convention is just on the wrong road," says Williams, who would prefer the election be postponed until a mission plan is developed.

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