New president elected for National Baptist Convention USA
Free Press wire reports | 9/12/2014, 6 a.m.
A Jackson, Miss., pastor is the new president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., which claims to be the largest group of black Christians in the United States.
The Rev. Jerry Young, the convention’s former vice president, emerged from a pack of five candidates to take over from the Rev. Julius Scruggs of Huntsville, Ala.
Rev. Young is pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, which, during his 34 years as pastor, has grown to a 3,000-member congregation with 44 ministries. He also is the founder and headmaster of New Hope’s private pre-school and elementary school that serves 300 students.
He won 3,195 of the 6,400 votes that delegates cast to claim a five-year term in the top post at the convention’s 134th annual session.
As president, he said he would seek to build the organization’s capacity and expand its profile.
“The community needs to be able to hear from the faith community,’’ said Rev. Young. “The church has got to be socially responsible. The Bible says that Jesus went about doing good — preaching, teaching and doing good to all the people, whether they were saints or sinners.”
The convention, which traces its roots to 1880, but was officially organized in 1895, has been a conservative group. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the convention’s leadership opposed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.
In recent years, it was wounded by scandal. Fifteen years ago, the group’s president, the Rev. Henry Lyons of Florida, was found guilty of misappropriating $4 million in convention funds, including money donated by a Jewish group to rebuild black churches burned by arsonists in the South.
Rev. Lyons’ successors have worked to rebuild the convention’s reputation, but the membership has not increased nor has church participation, according to Morris Tipton, spokesman for the Nashville, Tenn.-based convention.
Rev. Young takes over leadership of a national convention that is supposed to be the second largest denomination of Baptists after the Southern Baptists.
The convention has long offered unsubstantiated claims to represent 7.5 million mostly black Baptists. It lists 64 state Baptist associations as members and indicates it represents more than 25,000 congregations in 41 states and the District of Columbia.
Most Baptist congregations, though, have only nominal ties, and the ties have grown more tenuous since Rev. Lyons went to prison. Evidence is the fact that only 6,400 delegates from churches participated in the election of the new president. Most of the delegates came from churches in the South.
Rev. Young believes that the next five years might define the convention’s ability to remain an active and relevant voice in American life. “We must have a greater voice in the nation and in international politics.’’
He also believes the national group “needs infrastructure and the capacity to respond to various issues. We’ve got to become systematic, full time. We’ve got to build the capacity to transform the convention into a fully realized denomination.
“A lot of good things have happened because of our tradition,’’ he said. “But the problem is, over our nearly 140-year period, no one has actually challenged us to act like a denomination.’’