2016-07-27
Four months after assuming leadership of the scandal-plagued National Baptist Convention, USA, the Rev. William J. Shaw says he is pushing the denomination toward the reforms and accountability he pledged in his presidential campaign.

Shaw, 66, presided at the denomination's midwinter meeting Jan. 18-20 in Nashville, Tenn., a session where about 3,500 NBCUSA members met and enacted new restructuring and accounting procedures.

He was officially installed as president during the meeting, but his position became effective in September when he was elected to a five-year term. Shaw succeeded the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, who was sent to prison last year after being found guilty of swindling millions from corporations wanting to market products to members of the denomination.

Lyons, who also was found guilty of stealing money intended for burned black churches, is serving concurrent state and federal sentences in Florida.

"The possibilities for the convention to move...to another level in its own life are present psychologically and spiritually," Shaw said in an interview with Religion News Service. "I think there's a real good spirit within the convention."

Asked whether he feels the weight of responsibility to rebuild the NBCUSA's credibility, he said, "I recognize the weight but, at this point, I don't feel it."

Shaw ran on a campaign with the acronym VISA, which stands for vision, integrity, structure and accountability. At the midwinter meeting, decisions were made to hire accounting and consulting firms to restructure fiscal operations and other procedures within the denomination.

He scheduled a March meeting with church leaders to focus on his vision of a better, more accountable structure.

"We're going to seek to coordinate the program activities much more effectively," he said.

Shaw decided to make his goal for accountability personal by forgoing the president's annual salary of $100,000 and instead using it throughout his term to endow a scholarship fund.

"I wanted to set another tone for why people become involved and to remove myself from any question of involvement for money's sake," Shaw said.

He said the church where he has served as pastor for 43 years, White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, will continue to pay him a salary, but declined to say how much he earns.

The $500,000 endowed scholarship fund will benefit a number of institutions, including the denomination's financially beleaguered American Baptist College, the Nashville school located near church headquarters.

"It's been hobbling along for some time," he said, adding the convention expects to consider a five-year "reinvigoration" plan being developed by the college's board.

The yield from the endowment fund will provide for books for school libraries as well as books for individual students such as those at the American Baptist College and others attending medical school. He decided to name the scholarships after himself, his parents, a grandson who was stillborn, two now-deceased NBCUSA ministers who served as his mentors, and his wife, Camellia L. Shaw. The scholarship in his wife's name will benefit Barber-Scotia College, her alma mater in Concord, N.C.

"Those persons have been meaningful to me and I will use the proceeds that would normally have come to the...president to set up those funds," he said.

Although major decisions were enacted at the midwinter meeting, Shaw said he began his work toward restructuring as soon as he was elected president.

He initiated a 30-day freeze on spending to determine financial priorities and also called for a 40-day period of prayer and fasting.

"It was to really signal and call for a time of personal purging and openness to the spirit of God," said Shaw, who said he abstained from food during the day but enjoyed evening meals during the period.

In September, he also appointed a statistician to determine the total membership of the denomination, which has been in question since the time of Lyons' state trial. Prosecutors charged the actual membership was far smaller than the 8.5-million-member figure denominational officials have claimed.

Part of the difficulty in determining the membership is deciding at which level members should be counted in a structure where there are currently congregations, local associations and state conventions, he said.

"I still believe it is the largest body of African-Americans in the country, but I'm not going to use figures--not at this point," Shaw said.

At its Feb. 24-25 meeting the board will look again at the goal set at the midwinter meeting to pay off by September the $2.8 million debt on the denomination's headquarters building in Nashville.

As he works on the fiscal structures of the denomination, Shaw also is striving to rebuild good relations among members who differed in the past.

He selected three of the 10 candidates who ran against him to give sermons during the midwinter gathering--the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of Mount Vernon, N.Y.; the Rev. E.V. Hill of Los Angeles and the Rev. A. Russell Awkard of Louisville, Ky.

"That was my choice to symbolize healing," he said. "What we're calling for is a unified convention."


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