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WMU grants votes to 5 new-work areas
--By Karen L. Willoughby
    ATLANTA, June 15--Woman's Missionary Union voted during its June 13-14 annual meeting to include all members of its executive board in votes on matters that come before the agency.
    The national WMU executive board includes the presidents of each state or regional convention/fellowship affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Previously, WMU board members from five new-work areas that did not meet SBC membership requirements were not permitted to vote. Affected are board members from Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Dakota, Montana and the Caribbean.
    Section 30 of the SBC bylaws limits initial voting representation to state or regional conventions/fellowships that have a minimum of 15,000 members; 20,000 for representation on the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources Board; and 25,000 for the Annuity Board, commissions, institutions and standing committees.
    "We have always followed the procedures of the SBC," WMU President Wanda Lee explained to the 1,500-plus people attending the national WMU meeting at Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. "We just decided that wasn't fair."
    WMU national recording secretary Janet Hoffman, of Farmerville, La., chaired the documents review committee that over the course of two years updated the auxiliary's bylaws. The bylaws were revised to reflect changes in Alabama law, SBC restructuring and WMU management procedures. In addition to expanding the voting privileges, the revisions also established the opportunity for the executive board to have up to three at-large members to represent WMU's ethnic diversity.
    Referring to the expansion of voting rights, Hoffman said in an interview following the vote, "We have valued their input and association and yet they've not had the opportunity to vote on matters that affected them. It was a special joy for us to include them."
    Lee said, "We wanted to give every state or multi-state territory one vote. Missions education is important in every state. WMU is working just as hard in the state and regional conventions that have 99 churches as it is in the state conventions that have 3,000 or more churches."
    WMU could take this action because it is auxiliary to, rather than an agency of, the SBC, she said.
    "Our theme this next year is 'Transformed to take the stand,'" Lee said. "This is a good beginning. We took the stand on including our sisters."
    The presidents of the state and regional conventions affected by the bylaws change said after the session that they were elated to be included as full-fledged members of the organization.

    "We give to the Cooperative Program. We give to the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon mission offerings. But in North Dakota there are only a little more than half a million people total, and in South Dakota only 800,000. We would never get representation based on the old way of figuring," said Dot Carpenter, WMU president in the Dakota Southern Baptist Fellowship. "I didn't feel right, coming to the meetings and not being a voting member. I always felt it was a waste of time and money. Now I feel what we have to say will be of worth."
    Greater denominational loyalty will be a byproduct of the change in bylaws, said Angelia Carpenter (no relation to Dot Carpenter), WMU president in the Baptist Convention of Iowa.
    "The board's work is spread out over the entire United States, and now we have input," Angelia Carpenter said. "That's going to help our people identify with the national organization."
    Holly Lindsey, WMU president in the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention, said she was encouraged by the response of the other presidents.
    "Voting is a privilege. It's something we take very seriously," Lindsey said. "But the 'Well, it's about time' attitude of the other presidents is what made the biggest impression on me. We've always been accepted by the group, but it was just an affirmation of the importance they place on the new-work areas."
    LaVada Murphy, WMU president in the Montana Southern Baptist Fellowship, said she'd never understood why the presidents in new-work areas weren't able to vote.
    "We come to all the board meetings," she said. "This [bylaws change] makes more sense to me."
    Maritza Ocasio, WMU president in the Caribbean, said, "I thank God for this, for the confidence the WMU brings to us." Ocasio said in Spanish as her words were translated to English by Carmen Sigueroa, WMU director in the Caribbean. "We are praying that our decision and this new responsibility will always be guided by God."
    The decision to add the possibility of three at-large members to the executive board was to ensure that the board would always represent the ethnic and cultural diversity of WMU, Lee said. While the option may not always be exercised, a member at-large can be elected annually and serve up to three consecutive terms.
    "Our state organizations have done a great job of electing women as presidents who represent the ethnic and cultural diversity among Southern Baptist churches," Lee said. "Adding the three at-large members gives us the opportunity to expand that diversity in the future if the board deems it appropriate.
    "We have strong WMU work in churches representing multiple language and cultural groups," she added, noting Korean, Hmong, Chinese, Hispanic and African American, among others. "We want to ensure that they have a voice in the work of WMU at the highest level."

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