Lay leader Steve Tondera dies

A lay leader in the moderate resistance to the Southern Baptist Convention takeover in the 1980s and early leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is being laid to rest in Huntsville, Ala.

By Bob Allen

A layman active in the resistance to a conservative faction that won control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s has died.

steve tonderaSteve Tondera, 79, of Huntsville, Ala., died Feb. 13. A former NASA administrator and progressive cattleman, he was a dedicated churchman active in Huntsville’s First Baptist Church.

Twice elected president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, Tondera was among leadership of a group originally called Baptists Committed to the Southern Baptist Convention along with pastors Winfred Moore, Richard Jackson, Daniel Vestal, James Slatton and fellow laymen John Baugh and George McCotter.

Tondera ran for second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990 on a moderate slate led by Vestal, at the time pastor of Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta. Vestal lost the presidency to Morris Chapman, a Texas pastor who went on to serve as president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

Tondera lost in a three-way race to Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., garnering 22 percent of the vote and finishing second ahead of another layman, Raymond Boswell, from Highland Baptist Church in Shreveport, La. Boswell was backed by neither faction that ran annual political campaigns in an era remembered today as the “conservative resurgence.”

After a string of losses starting with the election of Adrian Rogers as SBC president in 1979, disenfranchised moderates gathered in Atlanta in 1990 to consider alternative ways to fund Southern Baptist ministries while denied representation in leadership. A second meeting in 1991 launched the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a separate organization now supported by about 1,800 churches with an annual budget of $12.4 million.

Tondera was among moderate leaders selected to serve on the first CBF Coordinating Council, a leadership body currently being downsized with responsibilities being reassigned to two new working councils in a restructuring approved last summer to prepare the Fellowship for its third decade of ministry.

Visitation for Tondera is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, Feb. 14, at First Baptist Church in Huntsville. A memorial service is scheduled at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, in the church sanctuary.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First Baptist Church Foundation, 600 Governors Dr., Huntsville, AL 35801, or Alabama Eye Bank, 500 Robert Jemison Rd., Birmingham, AL, 35209.