- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

The new president of the National Association of Evangelicals has resigned amid concerns that his plan to rapidly expand the group's influence left longtime constituents and fund-raising concerns behind.

Bishop Kevin Mannoia, a leader in the Free Methodist Church, resigned during a Washington board meeting last week after two years in office.

In that time, he moved the association headquarters from Wheaton, Ill., to Azusa, Calif., reached out to megachurch leaders like Robert Schuller, changed the bylaws so members could relate to liberal ecumenical groups, and failed to keep up fund raising.

The chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) board, the Rev. Ed Foggs, in an interview lauded the young evangelical bishop's "vision" and efforts to move the group beyond an NAE public image of being "too aged, too Anglo and too male."

"But you can't carry out the vision if you don't have the bulk of the people with you," said Mr. Foggs, the first black chairman of the 59-year-old association. "If you move too fast for your constituents, you create problems."

He said the NAE, which has a $1 million annual budget, "is not bankrupt" from the two years. "It is true we experienced some decline in income."

He noted that after leasing for decades, the group bought a Washington governmental affairs office two months ago.

The NAE membership includes 49 Protestant denominations, which have 43,000 churches; many independent churches; and 250 "parachurch," or ministry, organizations.

The NAE was founded in the 1940s in association with names such as the Rev. Billy Graham and the journal Christianity Today. It was based in Wheaton, Ill., a major evangelical enclave, and grew to include all conservative Protestants, including Pentecostals.

In a statement, Bishop Mannoia, an attractive churchman and public speaker, said he had "invested heavily in a climate of change" and did see "significant changes" over the two years.

"I have come to the point where I cannot be effective in moving the NAE forward in the ways necessary to assimilate or coalesce that change into the broad and corporate mind of the NAE," he said.

The move away from historic roots in Wheaton shook some members, Mr. Foggs said. Others noted — that as Bishop Mannoia tried to invite into membership — megachurch pastors such as Mr. Schuller, Bill Hybels and T.D. Jakes, he overlooked longtime members, in one case missing a meeting with the top Assemblies of God leader.

For 28 years, the NAE operated like a "trade association" managed quietly by an executive director, the Rev. Billy Melvin.

With his retirement, the posts of director and president were merged. First to hold the new office was the Rev. Don Argue, an Assemblies of God college president. In his three-year term, he played a high-profile role with religious liberty and spiritual counseling at the Clinton White House.

Supporters of Bishop Mannoia — who was elected in spring of 1999 by the 167-member board — believed evangelicals needed an influential national voice to lead a "movement." But others say that was a miscalculation, since traditionally the leader had been a quiet manager who consulted everybody.

"It's never been run by a star," said one minister in the NAE.

A turning point came when Bishop Mannoia led a bylaw change saying denominations in the NAE may also affiliate with the liberal National Council of Churches (NCC), which also had been calling for closer ties with evangelicals.

However, when the NCC leader, the Rev. Bob Edgar, joined Bishop Mannoia in a Nov. 20 proclamation backing heterosexual marriage, the homosexual lobby in the liberal churches protested and Mr. Edgar withdrew — signaling to NAE members that the new ties were not going to work.

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