Mission Lab

SBTC Founder David Fannin: ‘We wanted people to know we were Southern Baptists’

Former Floridian wrote much of the SBTC’s constitution

May 13th, 2019 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

SBTC Founder David Fannin: ‘We wanted people to know we were Southern Baptists’

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a year-long series profiling the founders of the SBTC as the convention continues its 21st year.

HOUSTON   A relative newcomer to Texas played a major role in the founding of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in 1998.

David Fannin moved from Florida to pastor Houston’s Nassau Bay Baptist Church, located in the shadow of the Johnson Space Center, in November 1993, only to find Baptists here embroiled in the struggle that would eventually divide the state convention. Although new on the scene, Fannin would write the bulk of the new SBTC’s constitution and bylaws—with its no-debt clause—and serve on the transition committee and executive board.

His involvement with the fledgling SBTC attracted the notice of the national Southern Baptist Convention. He was elected a trustee of the North American Mission Board, serving from 1998 to 2006, and he chaired the SBC’s Committee on Nominations in 2000. Fannin also served as a founding board member of the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation, recently rotating off after completing a second term as president. 

Fannin thought he had said goodbye to denominational involvement at the state and national levels when he left Florida, where he had been well known, to come to Nassau Bay.

“You were willing to give all that up. And God gave it back to you,” a Nassau Bay member once told him.

“When we came to Texas, it was God opening all those doors. It wasn’t that people knew me or that I had a reputation,” Fannin told the TEXAN, calling his experiences “more than gratifying” and crediting his position as a Texas outsider with enabling him to quickly see what many had missed: the increasing liberalism of state convention leaders.

Shortly after their arrival in Texas, Fannin and his wife, Vivian, attended a 1994 evangelism conference sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

“We were shocked at what we were hearing. The leadership was pushing involvement with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” Fannin recalled. During a break, he asked a pastor friend also from Florida, Danny Souder, if there were any conservative churches left in Texas.

Souder told him of the group Southern Baptists of Texas that was “trying to turn the state convention back around.” Fannin started meeting with the SBT, only to experience the frustration of having conservative candidates and policies repeatedly rejected by the state convention.

“You’ve heard the story of the frog in the kettle, who just slowly warms up,” Fannin said, describing his perspective on how the state convention had moved into unorthodox positions with many Texas Baptists unsuspecting.

As the SBT resolved to form a separate convention, Fannin, who had written the charters of several organizations, was asked to chair the constitution and bylaws committee of the SBTC.

He wrote about 80 percent of the original constitution adopted in 1998, so much so that Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, often introduces him as the “James Madison of the SBTC.”

“It was exciting to write the constitution and bylaws for an organization that didn’t exist and see it come to life and see how well it worked,” Fannin said, admitting he was shocked when the convention adopted the document unanimously, without questions or debate, at the inaugural meeting in Houston in November 1998.

Nassau Bay was conservative when Fannin arrived, and once the SBTC was constituted, became dually, and later, uniquely, affiliated with the body.

“We started with 120 charter churches and a budget of around $900,000; now we have 2,700-plus churches and a budget of $28 million,” Fannin said enthusiastically of the SBTC. 

Fannin’s ministry has been characterized by the unexpected, and by being in the right place at the time of God’s choosing. He was the first graduate of Georgia’s Toccoa Falls College to be accepted into a Southern Baptist seminary when Southwestern admitted him in 1969. 

He appeared on television with Larry King the Sunday after the space shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas in 2003. Two of the shuttle astronauts, Rick Husband and Mike Anderson, were strong Christians. The tragedy gave Fannin a national audience to present the gospel when King asked, “Pastor, are those astronauts some place?”

Fannin’s televised statement to King that “legitimate biblical faith is not faith in the place of doubt but faith in the very face of doubt” drew emails and letters from across the world.

Fannin had seen doctrinal challenges successfully fended off in Florida during the Conservative Resurgence before coming to Texas to see that the fight had begun. He joined in when it was “very obvious” that the state convention was moving away from the SBC.

“That’s why we chose the name Southern Baptists of Texas Convention,” Fannin said. “We wanted people to know we were Southern Baptists. That’s who we are. That’s who we want to be.”