Former Southern Baptist Convention President Dead At 89

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Rev. Wayne Dehoney, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention for two terms in the 1960s and later became pastor of Louisville's oldest Baptist church, has died. He was 89.

Dehoney's daughter, Kathy Dehoney Evitts, said her father had suffered health problems since a massive stroke in 1996. He died Thursday, a little more than three weeks after the death of his wife of 63 years, Lealice.

"I think that's why he passed 23 days later," Evitts said Friday. "It was just too hard without her. ... They were so interconnected. It was a true partnership in ministry."

He began an 18-year ministry at Walnut Street Baptist Church in downtown Louisville in 1967, leading the church into its television ministry and the development of nearly an entire city block surrounding the church.

The church had a reputation as one of the most progressive congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention, with black and white members from the city and the suburbs, both affluent and low-income.

"I must write a sermon that will be interesting for everyone -- from the functional illiterate to the university Ph.D.s," Dehoney once told The Courier-Journal. "I have to always be conscious of the great diversity of the congregation.

"But, you know, human nature is the same. Personal human needs are the same, and the Gospel has a message to meet those needs, so the content of my message is universal."

His moderate stance on theological and social issues helped Dehoney become president of the Southern Baptist Convention for two consecutive years. There were 10 million members during his first term and 10.5 million members by his second year as president, the largest Protestant denomination in the country. He was pastor of the 2,000-member First Baptist Church of Jackson, Tenn., at the time.

"He was a great pastor. Everything began to take off with him," said Kenton Hayes, a deacon of Walnut Street Baptist for more than 50 years who was superintendent of the Sunday school department when Dehoney arrived.

Dehoney went on missionary tours around the world and had been president of the Southern Baptist Pastors COnference and a leader in the Baptist World Alliance, a broad-based organization that focused on missions, human rights and religious freedom.

"He had preached all over the world," said Evitts, of Clarksville, Ind.

Upon his retirement from Walnut Street in 1985, Dehoney was named a senior professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, only the third person in the school's history to be named to such a post with no previous faculty history. He also had been a trustee of the seminary.

He is survived by two other children, Rebecca Richardson of Jackson, Miss., and William Dehoney of Fort Myers, Fla.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. EST Monday at Walnut Street Baptist with private burial in Cave Hill Cemetery. Visitation will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to noon Monday at the church.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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