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Former Alabama Baptist leader Earl Potts, moderate defender of Samford University, dies

The Rev. Dr. A. Earl Potts was executive secretary for the Alabama Baptist Convention from 1984-90. (Photo courtesy of The Alabama Baptist)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - The Rev. Dr. A. Earl Potts, a former top executive for the Alabama Baptist Convention who worked to help protect the denomination's funding of Samford University, died on Dec. 25. He was 93.

Potts, known for his mild manner and calm demeanor,was executivesecretary of the Alabama Baptists from 1984 until his retirement in 1990. He was viewed as a moderate leader who helped turn backefforts by conservatives to reduce funding to Samford University in 1994 after the school voted to elect its own trustees. He was known for compromise and efforts to be fair to all sides in the denomination's theological controversy, and was credited with helping Alabama avoid some of the bitter acrimony that was common in other state conventions.

Potts was born in Randolph Countyand graduatedfrom Samford University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He was pastor of McElwain Baptist Church inBirmingham, before joining thethe state conventionas director of church ministries.

He also served asdirector of ministerial placement at Samford and as an adjunct faculty member of Samford s Beeson Divinity School. He served in recent years on the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission. He was the author of By the Grace of God: Memoirs and Recollections of an Alabama Baptist, publishedin 1997. A state convention academic scholarship was named in his honor.

Potts was co-founder with historian Wayne Flynt of The Alabama Poverty Project, a faith-based organization.

Attending the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City, Potts was an outspoken opponent of a change to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement that created a new definition of family.

Though meant to support biblical ideals in a time of crisis for families, the new addition to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement left some Baptists feeling left out and offended, Potts said.

The statement affirms marriage as "the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime," stressing the need for children to honor and obey parents, and opposing divorce and sex outside marriage. It says that the husband "has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family."

But it included the statement: "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the Godgiven responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

Potts, whose wife, Louise, died of cancer in 1984 and whose daughter was divorced, said the statementwas insensitive to those who did not fit the ideal of family set forth by the statement. Potts favored an amendment that would have taken into consideration single-parent families, and widows and widowers. "It's just difficult to address every aspect of the family," Potts said after the vote.

The Potts family will hold a private memorial service Dec. 28, followed by a public serviceJan. 3at 2 p.m. at McElwain Baptist Church.

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